One of the biggest questions coming out of this movie is how closely it resembles the book. The book has a bit of a cult following, due to the constant barrage of 80's nostalgia mixed in with the virtual reality world. Others who didn't like the book as well due to those same elements are wondering how much of that they'll have to endure while watching the movie. Based on the 16,000 Amazon reviews of the book, you either loved it or hated it.
So, without further delay, let's cut to the chase. The movie is loosely based on the book, or some could say, it was inspired by the book. Those looking for 1:1 correlations throughout the movie will be disappointed. Yes, the 80's nostalgia is rampant, but doesn't crowd out the plot. Sometimes the references lost their emotional poignancy due to the obvious throwback to the 80's. (I'm looking at you Iron Giant/Terminator combo scene!) And there are plenty of nerd references, video game action, real world cross over, ect. to give the book some life. My book review summary would be that it's an interesting storyline buried beneath nostalgia and exposition. Too much telling, not enough showing.
Our main character, Wade Watts, Parzival in the OASIS, is less of a selfish loner and gets sucked into becoming a team player pretty quickly. Each of the members of the High Five get introduced in the real world early on in the movie and while Wade continues to insist he isn't part of a clan, their constant teamwork through the challenges makes the group feel more like an entourage rather than several lone wolves reluctantly working together. Despite this, I felt like I understood each character better, and their motivations, due to reading the book. The movie didn't spend much time on them as individuals.
While the three keys are still the objective, the clues and the challenges are completely different. One of my biggest issues while reading the book was that I couldn't figure out the clues on my own because I never had all the information and I had to take for granted that Wade really was smarter than the average gunter. In the movie you get a better sense of how he gets his information, and the movie is better at showing his obsessiveness with Halliday, without the info dumps found in the book.
Speaking of Halliday, the neurotic OASIS creator, the book once again tells the reader about him and his obsessions and even his past but wasn't as good at making him a real solid person with a personality beyond the obvious facts. The movie brought him to life in a way that made him enduring and personable. As a movie-goer you could understood why so many people would become obsessed with him and mourn his passing so intently.
The book was a fine, and easy read. It had a lot of information, the story was understandable, the characters were likeable, and the worlds believable. At the same time, it felt like it was written for a select audience. It lacked the ability to suck in those who may not have lived through the 80's, or who don't understand the history of video game and video game lore. The movie takes what was interesting about the book and brings it to life in a way that should appeal better to the masses.
In this instance I would say the movie is better than the book, as the story will be able to reach more people. However, those who loved the book, may struggle with the liberties taken in the movie to get to that point.