I'll cut right to the chase: I haven't been this disappointed in a movie in a long time. The picture to the left above, while of the main character, Wade Watts, is also probably what I looked like while watching the movie and realizing most of what I'd been looking forward to about the movie had been unceremoniously thrown out the window. Being a child of the 80s and a pop-culture junkie, I loved the book by Ernest Cline. I recently listened to the audiobook version, narrated by Wil Wheaton, which I have to say I enjoyed even more than reading the book. So everything was fresh in my mind, and I went into the movie with high expectations. Unfortunately, team Spielberg threw out 80% of the pop-culture nerdiness that was the heart of the book. In its place they plopped a generic Hollywood sci-fi action movie (with admittedly very well done visual and sound effects).
For those who haven't read the book (no spoilers), about 30 years in the future most people in the world spend the bulk of their time in a worldwide virtual environment known as the Oasis. The creator of the game, James Halliday, has died a few years earlier and left three keys hidden in the Oasis. Whoever finds the three keys (and in the book, solves a puzzle in order to pass an associated gate), wins Halliday's fortune of half a trillion dollars and, more importantly, control of the Oasis. A nasty multi-national company is trying to win the game through brute force by assembling an army of gamers and scholars in an effort to win through sheer resource superiority. However, at the time the story starts, no one has managed to find even the first key.
What I found so disappointing was this was a book that begged for a movie adaptation to adhere to its details as much as possible. While it's always a problem for movies to live up to the expectations of the people who read the book, the entire plot of Ready Player One centered around characters slavishly mining every nugget of 80s trivia, be it video games, movies, TV, or music, in hopes of uncovering clues to the whereabouts of the three keys. (Which is kind of an insane plot when you think about it, as this excellent review by Lili Loofburrow points out). Geeking out on specifics was at the heart of RPO, so it stood to reason that a screenplay should pay careful attention to the details of the book.
But this movie changed just about everything, and in my opinion, 90% of the changes had nothing to do with the standard challenge of turning a book into a movie. They simply seemed to be changed for change's sake. Spielberg threw out many of the specifics in the book and replaced them with other ones for no particular reason. There were several arcade games in the book that were critical to the plot, including Joust, Tempest, and especially Pac-Man, but none of them showed up in the movie. Also in the book, the protagonist Wade Watts had to re-enact various roles in movies like Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Monty Python and the Holy Grail in the Oasis in their entirety, but the movie decided to pay an extended homage to The Shining instead. Spielberg may have been trying to pay tribute to Kubrick and arguably his greatest movie, but the pace of it is completely different than the action-blasting scene in RPO they attempted to inject scenes from it into. For me, the result fell completely flat. They also spent next to no time on character development, another thing the book did very well, so I didn't really care about any of the people in the movie.
If I was Ernest Cline, the author of RPO, I would be frustrated and borderline horrified at this adaptation, particularly when you look at the faithfulness with which Ridley Scott brought another recent breakaway sci-fi bestseller, The Martian, to the big screen. Part of me wants to say the creators of this movie did a marketing bait and switch, in which they knew all of the Gen X people who read the book were lock-ins to come to see it, so they decided to treat our loyalty cheaply and reach for a wider audience by clearing space for later references that Millennials would appreciate. But really, there's not much in terms of more references added to the movie. They just changed stuff for reasons I frankly don't understand, and in the end, produced an inferior result for having mucked around with it.
Having said all that, if you haven't read the book, the movie version of Ready Player One would probably be fine. I enjoyed I Am Legend because I never read the book but people I talk to who loved the book get apoplectic when you bring the movie version up. But if you read and loved the RPO book, I think you'll wind up feeling they made a mess out of what could have been a fantastic, fun movie you could watch over and over again. Sadly, my recommendation is to skip the movie and go listen to the audiobook version instead, so you can enjoy this story the way it was meant to be experienced.