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Gamer becomes savior in jam-packed 'Ready Player One'

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FORWARD TO THE PAST  Steven Spielberg’s latest sci-fi venture - is a love letter to the ’80s.
  • FORWARD TO THE PAST Steven Spielberg’s latest sci-fi venture is a love letter to the ’80s.

The 1980s-filia of Ready Player One is unsettling to those who don't consider the 1980s a paradise lost. From the numerous references to Back to the Future, released in 1985, it's clear that director Steven Spielberg considers this a particularly evocative film.

Ready Player One is set in the OASIS in 2044, a VR Imagination-land. It's a place where the Chucky doll bursts through windshields and where King Kong smashes roadways during a Speed Racer tournament in which, among the participants, are the light cycles from Tron.

Before game-master James Halliday (Mark Rylance) dies, he deeds the OASIS to whoever can find three hidden keys—"invisible keys in a dark room." This Willy Wonka–like challenge attracts Ohio's Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), an orphan in a trailer park stacked skyward. Wade named his avatar Parzival in honor of the seeker of the Holy Grail.

But the OASIS is in danger of being taken over by the much-loathed Innovative Online Industries, chaired by evil capitalist Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) and his crew. These evildoers operate a debtor's prison/slave labor colony for those who've lost their money wagering on the games.

Spielberg wouldn't be Spielberg if he didn't know how to make this galaxy of pixels alluringly strange, a wow-machine jam-packed with cool stuff. One sub-realm is a recreation of the Overlook Hotel from The Shining. It's highly funny when Aech (Lena Waithe), whose avatar is a jumbo robot, bears the brunt of the maze. Not knowing the plot of that scary movie, she presses the elevator button and is wiped out in torrent of blood.

The quest could be about love, but it's more plausibly about getting out of that single-wide trailer. If viewers end up uninvolved as this box of recycled toys is emptied out and shaken, it's due to the film's synthetic quality, which can leave you cold: with all these avatars, it's like there's no skin in this game.

'Ready Player One' is playing in wide release in the North Bay.

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