Steven Spielberg's "Ready Player One" (out now on 4K, Blu-ray, DVD and Digital) explores the nerd version of Stolen Valor. James Donovan Halliday invented a virtual reality world called The Oasis, an elaborate online game that's become a refuge from reality in the near future.
Halliday littered his game with references to the '80s pop culture that he loved growing up and, after his death, he promises to give his multi-billion dollar company to the first person who can solve a series of puzzles embedded in the game.
A giant online advertising company called IOI has invested heavily in winning the challenge and it's fronted by ruthless businessman Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), who fakes his love for The Oasis with an endless string of pop culture references fed to him by compliant company nerds through an earpiece.
Orphan gamer Parzival (Tye Sheridan) is the kind of kid Halliday wanted to win the challenge and he leads a band of misfits against IOI in an attempt to win the competition and keep The Oasis safe from rampant commercialism.
There's a snaking-eating-its-tail quality in play here: Spielberg either directed or produced many of the '80s movies that inspired author Ernest Cline to write the "Ready Player One" novel. Some of the novel's Speilberg references have been deleted from the movie but there's still a bit of the old man making a movie that's a tribute to his own youth.
Apparently the proprietary rage that fuels Star Wars fans born in the '70s extends to the rest of '80s popular culture. Games, music and other movies are sacred. Apparently, Cline's novel was both loved and really hated long before the movie was announced. The very existence of the movie has fueled controversy in the Nerd Community.
For everyone else, this plays like a 1980s Spielberg movie made with 21st-century movie technology. A parentless child finds a family with other misfits and outwits the dishonest adults. You might enjoy the movie more if you're not an expert on the Atari 2600 or the Goonies. It probably helps to get a few of the thousands of '80s references buried in the background here but "Ready Player One" is just a very good movie. Anyone looking for a religious treatise on pop culture needs to go outside and get a life.