I was very intrigued while watching the previews for PIXELS. All of them were for films aimed at children, which is interesting to me because this movie never seemed to be marketed exclusively to that crowd. In a way it’s quite brilliant because here we have (in theory) a film kids could enjoy while the adults whom were playing these arcade games back in the day could also have a blast with. Sadly, it’s terrible either way.
In Pixels, when intergalactic aliens misinterpret video-feeds of classic arcade games as a declaration of war against them, they attack the Earth, using the games as models for their various assaults. President Will Cooper has to call on his childhood best friend, ’80s video game champion Sam Brenner now a home theater installer, to lead a team of old-school arcaders to defeat the aliens and save the planet.
Based on the 2010 short film by Patrick Jean, “PIXELS” was a fun concept to be sure. The first trailer garnered a considerable amount of hype. For longtime gamers, it was quite a treat to see PAC-MAN, Donkey Kong, the Centipede and others getting the big screen treatment. Unfortunately once the name “Adam Sandler” appeared, many hopes were quickly destroyed. The second trailer introduced the signature comedy you’d expect from a movie with him as the lead. Some part of you walking into the theater knows it’s going to be pretty bad, but there’s that other part holding onto the hope that it might even be a little decent. There are some really cool things to see certainly. But it doesn’t justify putting down $12 for. Chris Columbus delivers a film that could flop worst than Jupiter Ascending, if that’s even possible.
Before we get into the many negatives, let’s talk about the few positives. Obviously the primary draw is the 80’s arcade games brought to life. The graphics are some of the most unique I’ve ever seen on film. The Galaga scene happened way too fast to appreciate, but Centipede, Donkey Kong, and Pac-Man all satisfy in comparison. I find it incredible how the writing managed to incorporate all the things about the games which longtime players understand, such as Pac-Man leading a ghost to a Power Pellet and Centipede splitting into multiples when shooting the middle. There’s definitely a lot of fun things to look for near the climax, such as Frogger hopping around and even a short appearance from Jumpman. (Super Mario’s original name, for those that don’t know their Nintendo history!)
The fact is that it feels like we should be getting more. After the all-too-brief Galaga scene, it feels like forever since we’re treated to some more 8-bit action. Instead, we get some very bad dialogue and eye-rolling scenes with the characters, which we’ll address momentarily. Being supposedly a love letter to the games of old, it’s only natural that the film would touch upon the classic debate of old vs. new. One of my favorite pieces of dialogue is when Brenner (Adam Sandler) is talking to Matty, a young kid, about the “classics,” and then the latter responds, “Oh you mean Halo and Call of Duty?” It emulated the interesting fact that today’s kids are looking at these first-person shooters as the “classics,” never knowing what the original Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and Asteroids were like.
Well, I’ve listed just about everything good I can say about PIXELS. The sad truth is that this film has a very, very awful cast which bring down the story catastrophically. Ironically, Sandler’s character is one of the most likable. (As far as Sandler standards can go, though he did have some solid one-liners.) Let’s talk about perhaps the worst aspect of the film: the romance between him and Violet. (Michelle Monaghan) So, let’s say you have a carpet cleaner come to your house, flirts with you, then finds you crying inside a closet. You literally let him come in, and then you pour out your heart, to the guy you just met 25 minutes ago. This is basically what happens near the beginning of the story, and what follows from there is one of the most painful-to-follow romance stories in the history of film. In what happens over the course of one or two days, these two are talking like they’ve known each other for months…it’s really sad my friend. The fact that Violet is going through a divorce and the husband is cheating with a 19 year old was just an unnecessary, distasteful add-on to the story.
Josh Gad as Ludlow I think is supposed to represent the stereotype of gamers. This guy is pure comic relief, and pretty awful at that too. I’m still trying to figure out what his purpose was other than being terrible…or maybe that’s it. The scene for example where he’s yelling at the soldiers was just to the point when you’re thinking “…What?” Not only that, but he has a very unwelcome singing scene at the party. Also, the romance established between him and Lady Lisa is almost as bad as Brenner and Violet. (And why would the film go to the trouble of inventing an arcade character? Lady Lisa is just unnecessary.) Come to think of it, you can cut Gad’s character completely out and it wouldn’t have made much of a difference since he adds nothing but pain for the viewer. Kevin James as the president was fun as a parody.
Peter Dinklage as Eddie Plant was perhaps the most interesting, with charisma attempting to hold the viewer’s attention. What I can’t get over is that if this is a movie aimed at a young audience, there are just things which are beyond questionable. (And really for any age.) Eddie for example in negotiating for his help against the threats demands to have, to put it in blunt terms, a threesome, and at the end of the movie it happens off screen, portrayed as humorous and some kind of victory. I believe people should uphold moral standards when making movies, (and anything in media) so to see things like this glorified is unacceptable, and juvenile to say the least.
Wonder who the aliens are? Keep wondering, because they never actually appear and the viewer is left wondering with the thought “Huh?” Who they are is never explained. Then near the ending something transpires for no logical reason and just happens, just to happen. I’d like to say the climax makes up for most of this, but it doesn’t. Still, it’s exciting. It’ll be tough to say which won out: the Pac-Man scene or Donkey Kong’s. The soundtrack is solid, but surprisingly doesn’t take advantage of the subject. I was hoping to hear some 8-bit inspired themes or remixes, but what we got was still pretty good. (Pac-Man’s scene for example had some nice choir.) Still, I have to question the usage of the song which played during the Centipede battle, which killed what should have been a very serious fight. I did like usage of Queen’s “We Will Rock You” in the climax.
Overall, PIXELS is not a good movie. You’re better off watching Wreck-It Ralph for a true gaming-inspired story or the Video Games documentary on Netflix. The writing is awful, and it seems like no one was even trying to make a decent film. The fact there was only about 10 people opening night at an AMC already says that a good majority is passing on this, and for good reason. If a person is not into 80’s video games, there’s nothing of redeeming value here.
Pac is not amused