Stars: Adam Sandler, Michelle Monaghan, Kevin James, Peter Dinklage, Josh Gad, Jane Krakowski, Brian Cox, Sean Bean, Ashley Benson | Written by Tim Herlihy, Timothy Dowling | Directed by Chris Columbus
OK, let’s get this out of the way first. Pixels is an Adam Sandler movie and despite what anyone may say, your enjoyment of it will undoubtedly balance on whether you like his particular brand of humour. As someone who does AND as someone who grew up on the games featured within the film, it’s safe to say I am, without a doubt, the target audience for this movie. Which is probably why I found myself not only laughing out loud to some of the jokes but actually invested in the story.
Pixels tells the story of three friends who met as kids in the 1980s: Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler), Will Cooper (Kevin James), Ludlow Lamonsoff (Josh Gad), and Eddie “The Fire Blaster” Plant (Peter Dinklage). All of whom saved the world thousands of times – at 25 cents a game in the video arcades. Now, they’re going to have to do it for real after intergalactic aliens discover video feeds of classic arcade games from the 1982 World Championships and misinterpret them as a declaration of war! Launching an attack on the Earth using the video games as the models for their assaults, Will Cooper – now U.S. President Cooper – must call on his old-school arcade friends to save the world from being destroyed by Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Galaga, Centipede, and Space Invaders.
Based on the short film by Patrick Jean, Pixels is a retro gamers wet dream. After all, who – as a gamer – doesn’t want to be able to apply those skills to “real” life? Even if that real life in this particular case involves an alien invasion! But the game references don’t just stop at the invading beings. It’s clear that the characters of Sam Brenner and Eddie “The Fire Blaster” Plant are based on some rather well known old-school gamers, who may or may not have appeared in a documentary about retro gaming a few years ago (a documentary whose title resembles one of this films pivotal villains). Speaking of characters, Sandler knows that he’s not necessarily the only star of this show, letting Josh Gad take centre stage at numerous, hilarious, points during the film. Gad gets the majority of the films laughs, playing up the nerdy nature of his character (and no, as a nerd myself I was NOT offended by the characterisation – unlike some of my movie-reviewing brethren) and throwing in some Three Stooges-esue slapstick to boot; all the while maintaining the same sweet nature that made him such a fantastic central character in The Wedding Ringer. For me, it’s Gad’s conspiracy theory nut Ludlow who is the REAL star of this movie. Well, him and the oh-so-cute Q-Bert!
Of course you can’t review Pixels, or mention Q-Bert, without talking about this movies visual effects. Rendering the 2D characters of video game history in our three dimensional real world – managing to walk the fine line between cute and evil with ease – the villains of this film are at once familiar yet frightening; and they’ve definitely had a graphical upgrade! Of course the film does trade on the familiarity of the characters, creating something of a shortcut in storytelling but it works. We, as an audience of game nerds, know these video game villains from years of playing Space Invaders, Centipede et al – though to be fair there is very much a US focus on the alien invaders and there were a few, in the huge swarms of digital demons towards the end of the film, who I didn’t quite recognise. On the other hand there were some I’d love to have seen used a little more… Paperboy anyone?
In his review of Pixels, our own Mark Allen said that this film doesn’t seem to be aimed at anyone other than the man-children starring in it. Wel count me amongst them, because as a man-child myself I found myself loving this tale of man vs
machine videogame, it appealed to the very heart of the retro gamer in me, making me want to go back and replay – and beat – those games just like Sam Brenner and co. And save the world along the way. OK, maybe not the latter…
Pixels is out now on DVD, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D and VOD (iTunes etc).