Release: 7th December 2015
Format: BR / DVD / DGTL
When aliens intercept video feeds of classic arcade games and misinterpret them as a declaration of war, they attack Earth, using the games as models. Knowing that he must employ a similar strategy, President Will Cooper (Kevin James) recruits his childhood pal, former video-game champ and home-theater installer Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler), to lead a team of old-school arcade players and a military specialist (Michelle Monaghan) in an all-out battle to save the planet.
What do you get when Adam Sandler takes on the nostalgia of the ‘80s? An Adam Sandler movie!
What happens when that when that film is naff yet inoffensive? You get any Adam Sandler film from the last 10 years.
During its early buzz, Pixels director Chris Columbus threw around terms like “Amblin-Esque”; comparing his film to the likes of Gremlins and The Goonies. The fact that both of these classics were celebrating big birthdays during the film’s production and release, might have explained why they were at the forefront of his mind. But other than Columbus’ prior connection with Spielberg and co, there is no discernable logic why he would make such a comparison. Where these Amblin classics defined childhood, Pixels merely looks back on it fondly and then proceeds to demonstrate just how preoccupied with spectacle modern cinema is.
There are roughly five set pieces throughout the film, and all of them look great and feel well made; but beyond the veneer lies very little ‘magic’. Nothing feels awe-inspiring or requires savouring. They are candy stripped puff balls, designed to numb the pain of the forgettable characters taking up screen time between them. There isn’t a single quotable line of dialogue in sight. Amblin films gave us the likes of “great Scott!”, “phone home,” “we have a T-Rex,” “this is a bank, not a pet store,” and, of course, “HEY YOU GUYS!” The best that Pixels can muster is “Pac-Man’s a bad guy?” No quite the sort of thing you can imagine on a t-shirt 30 years from now.
But good films aren’t all about quotes. There is plot, and character and entertainment value to be considered. Well Pixels has a basic plot…about on par with the depth of the games it depicts. There are characters, but they are about as three-dimensional as the games they depict. And the film IS entertaining…for about as long as it takes to get bored of the games it depicts.
The cast are all harmless and watchable, but no amount of Gosh Gad mugging will make him the next Jonah Hill. In fact, why didn’t they just get the real Jonah Hill? He no doubt would have elevated the film ten-fold. Special mention to Sean Bean for staying alive in this one, and to Denis Akiyama for immortalising Toru Iwatani as the only noticeably funny character in the movie.
Film Grade: D
Pixels comes with a healthy does of features, but none of them really go beyond advertorial content. There are features devoted to each game in the movie, and a rough overview of the special effects involved. Donkey Kong seemed like a particularly fun set, whilst the efforts that went into the Galaga explosion are dwarfed by over-editing of the final film. There is even a love letter to Ashley Benson with Dojo Quest.
God of the Machine and The Space Invader take a brief look at some special cameos in the movie. These feel more like self validation rather than cute insights into the fandom surrounding these games and the film. The Space Invader particularly feels like overblown marketing as a competition winner gets to sit two rows from the front as an extra; whilst getting his own on set trailer!
If out of shape and heavily tattooed rappers is your thing, then there is a Music Video. And to top things off, we have a few Previews of other Adam Sandler / Kevin James movies and a Photo Gallery that absolutely refuses to let you go back to the main menu.
Sony also took the time to produce an App that lets you play the arcade games from the film on your phone whilst they appear in the movie. It is a neat way to settle the nostalgia bug, but also a major distraction from the film’s only decent parts.
Special Features Grade: C-
Let my closing statement reflect the groan-inducing comedy and ham-fisted gaming references of the movie.
In short, Pixels is a barrel of laughs (Donkey Kong reference), and at times a real blast (Centipede reference), but it is far from out of this world (Galaga reference) and will hardly have you hungry for more (Pac-Man reference). Actually, for the most part, Pixels is pretty S@!#?y (Q*bert reference). You’re welcome.