Should I Watch..? 'Pixels' (2015)
What's the big deal?
Pixels is an action sci-fi comedy film released in 2015 and is loosely based on an animated short film of the same name by Patrick Jean. Directed by veteran Chris Columbus, the film sees aliens attack the Earth by assimilating the guise of various video game characters with only a handful of hardcore gamers able to defeat them. The movie stars Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Peter Dinklage, Michelle Monaghan and Josh Gad. Despite receiving the same sort of negative reception that usually greets an Adam Sandler release, the film still managed to make more than $244 million worldwide. However, it also received a total of six Razzie nominations at the 2016 ceremony - the joint highest amount of that year alongside Fifty Shades Of Grey, Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 and Jupiter Ascending.
What's it about?
In 1982, Sam Brenner and his friend Will Cooper attend the Video Game World Championships when Sam finishes second to the arrogant Eddie Plant in a Donkey Kong play-off. A video of the championship, along with other clips of cultural phenomenon, is then launched into space by NASA as a time capsule in the hope of finding other life-forms. Fast forward to the present day and Sam now works as an installer of home entertainment systems while Will is now a deeply unpopular President.
However, he has bigger concerns than his plunging poll ratings - a military base in Guam is reduced to a pile of cubes after being attacked by UFOs that appear to resemble the video game Galaga. Receiving a message from the aliens stating that they intend to conquer the Earth, President Cooper feels compelled to recruit Sam, Eddie and fellow gamer and conspiracy nut Ludlow Lamonsoff alongside Lieutenant Colonel Violet Van Patten who has developed a possible weapon to use against the 8-bit bad guys...
What's to like?
Whisper it but underneath all the crude humour and Eighties nostalgia is actually a really good idea somewhere. Pixels has an intriguing nucleus at its core, allowing the CG wizards to work their magic and unleash all your old favourite characters on unsuspecting cities. From seeing Pac-Man munching his way through the streets of New York to the retriever dog from Duck Hunt popping up as a trophy, the film has no problem wheeling out an impressive number of digital cameos - even if a number of them were from later than 1982. The effects are certainly worth the ticket price alone.
A pity that the story can't manage the same standard as the concept - it quickly falls back to the sort of ill thought-out rubbish that studios love to pump into cinemas in summer. The cast can't make the weak material stand out although Monaghan gives it her best shot. But she looks uncomfortable at times when the film forgets about her character and focuses solely on Sandler saving the day. She deserves better than this, you know!
- Dan Aykroyd, who has a brief cameo, is the co-owner of Crystal Head Vodka which is seen in the bar scene being drank by Monaghan and Sandler.
- Matt Frewer also has a cameo as his old TV character Max Headroom, the first time he has reprised the role since 2007. It also marks the first time Max has been portrayed in CG instead of the traditional makeup normally used.
- The version of Pac-Man creator Toru Iwatani is actually played by Denis Akiyama. Iwatani does have a silent cameo as an arcade repairman - he doesn't speak any English.
What's not to like?
It's been a while since I've seen a Sandler film but I suggest a change of career might be advisable - as an actor, I've seen more animated and expressive tombstones than Sandler's woeful performance in Pixels. What makes it worse is that he appears to drag everyone else down with him. James struggles to project any sort of Presidential authority, Dinklage's character is far too unlikeable while Gad's eccentric behaviour also meant that he never felt like a genuine person. None of them do, in truth - the two most believable characters in the entire movie are Matt Lintz as Monaghan's smart-aleck son and Q*Bert.
The lack of thought invested in the screenplay is mind-boggling - the film plays fast-and-loose with logic, cohesion and basic truths. Given that there was no warning that Pac-Man was coming to eat the Big Apple, how convenient it was that someone had the foresight to conjure up four Minis in the same colours as the ghosts fitted with the same nonsensical cannons used in the big battle scenes? Speaking of which, when did obvious slacker Sam and the others find the time to perfect their marksmanship and driving skills? As a film, it treats you like an idiot and hopes that you'll laugh at the weak attempts at humour (the film resorts to childish insults and snidely-spoken backchat) or be simply blown away by the effects. The effects are good but not that good - Pixels is as big a wasted opportunity as I can recall and does about as much good for Sandler's career as Grown Ups does.
Should I watch it?
Razzie voters may be compelled to but at least you have a choice and frankly, it's an easy one. Pixels takes a great concept and then stomps all over it in a typical summer-blockbuster fashion. The film's irritating characters and moronic storyline cannot be overshadowed by the pretty visuals and anyone expecting to have a laugh are going to feel short-changed as well. For me, this should be "Game Over" for Sandler.
Great For: video-game nerds, adults who should know better
Not So Great For: anyone brought up on a PlayStation 1, untickled funny bones, Adam Sandler's career prospects
What else should I watch?
In case you think I'm being unfairly harsh on Mr Sandler, who I admit has made far more from movies than I ever will, allow me to make a brief point. Since 1997, he has picked up a total of 21 Razzie nominations - winning six - with films like I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, Mr Deeds, Jack And Jill and the downright offensive That's My Boy. I'm not saying that Adam Sandler has never made a good movie because The Wedding Singer and The Longest Yard are perfectly acceptable ways to passing the time.
If you're after a decent movie based around video games then I'm afraid your choices are pretty limited. Wreck-It-Ralph is a much better proposition which sees a video game baddie travel through a number of other games in order to become a good guy. It also features cameos from more recent games than the early Eighties hits on display here. Other than the two Tron films, there isn't much out there to inspire - maybe this is also the reason there hasn't been many decent adaptations of video games either...
President Will Cooper
Lt Col Violet Van Patten
Tim Herlihy & Timothy Dowling*
Release Date (UK)
12th August, 2015
Action, Comedy, Sci-Fi
Worst Picture, Worst Actor (Sandler), Worst Supporting Actor (Gad), Worst Supporting Actor (James), Worst Supporting Actress (Monaghan), Worst Screenplay
© 2016 Benjamin Cox