A few years ago, I happened upon the audiobook of an unknown author named Ernest Cline. He had this dystopian novel about how an internet game had become a way of life and the contest that became a quest for all of mankind. The kicker was that because of an obsession of the "Creator," society had re-embraced everything of the 1980s from its tv shows, video games, music and even their wacky fashions. Personally, being a child of the 80s, this was just as much a welcome walk down memory lane that playing GTA: Vice City had been the first time I powered up my PS2 with the game DVD inside. I screamed thru the book and finished it one single driving period across 3 states and then started over to listen to it again the next day. This book quickly became one of my newest favorites and jumped up to become one of my top 5 books of all time.
Fast forward to 2018 and I read on the Interweb that someone had decided to translate my newest favorite book to the silver screen. I honestly felt the same way I had back in my childhood happily unwrapping the best Christmas gift I ever received; My Atari 2600 on December 25th, 1977. Then to put a cherry on the top, I find out that Steven fricking Spielberg will be behind the project. Only George Lucas or John Hughes could even come close to matching Spielberg for his overall influence for the era and for having their finger on the pulse of a generation. No doubt about it, this movie was going to be EPIC! I couldn't wait. This might be the movie to finally get me back into a theater in almost 2 decades.
My attitude started to waver when I saw the first trailer for the film. While everyone was going ga-ga over seeing the Batmobile (even though it was the Batmobile from the 60s) and the A-Team van, along with many other well-known 80s vehicles prepping for the all-out race, I started scratching my head and questioning what I was seeing. Yes, this looked like it would be awesome with so many icons immediately seen, but what was I seeing? This wasn't in the book anywhere, so how were they going to tie this in? Well, that was the point where I decided I'd better wait for the DVD to come out and boy was I glad I did.
Almost NOTHING from this movie matched the novel. Take out the character's names and any reference to the Oasis and I doubt 99 out of 100 viewers would have associated this with RPO. The story starts out in the wrong city, has the characters meet up IRL way before they do in the book, NONE of the challenges are the same and even the fact that the keys allowed you access to a second level of challenges, instead of being a means to the end, were removed from the story completely. How Wade wins the quarter, how and where the main characters fight the final battle and even the fact that not all the main characters live up to the battle, or through it, are misconstrued or completely rewritten. Moreover, most of the epic vehicles that we saw in the preview trailer never made an appearance in the race. Obviously the movie ran into licensing issues and most of the non-Spielberg properties were cut from the film completely.
However, the biggest sin is the complete loss of the vibe of the era that the book radiated. The biggest point for the book was a walk down memory lane while you read it. Every game, song, movie and tv show that were mentioned brought back individual memories of actually sitting down with a bowl of popcorn and watching them for the first time yourself, the emotions the music gave when you danced to songs at the school dance or the victory you felt bringing the Holy Grail back to the Golden Castle with Rhindle hot on your tail. If you take out a couple of songs from RPO's soundtrack, and the Delorean from "Back to the Future," it's just another generic SF adventure, and not a very good one at that.
Honestly, Spielberg has sucked every last drop of life from this property and left its dried husk to blow away in the desert wind. I can't think of any way that he could have made this movie worse, in any possible aspect. Even the special effects are more or less blah and do nothing to get the juices flowing. None of the actors seem really invested in their parts, the dialog is weak and has nothing really to do with the "real"story, the "expert" Gunters know almost nothing about Halliday or the media of the era and even the wrong character ends up indentured by IOI for the wrong reason. Personally I think the 1.5 stars is too generous of a rating, but I can't go any lower with a clear conscious.
If you never read the book, obviously like most of the people who gave this movie gracious scores, I'm sure you'll find it at least a mind diversion from everyday life. All others need to stay away and rewatch a copy of Monty Python and the Holy Grail or War Games instead.