Pixels (Action, Comedy) [Based on Short Film] (2015)
Director: Chris Columbus
Writer: Tim Herlihy, Timothy Dowling, Patrick Jean
Stars: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan, Peter Dinklage
Back in 1982, a videocassette was launched into space, including footage of an arcade competition. Many years later, Earth is invaded by alien lifeforms. Misinterpreting the video game footage as a declaration of war; now those having participated in that tournament will have to assist in fighting off the aliens in the form of classic arcade games.
Having directed projects such as ‘’Mrs. Doubtfire’’ alongside the two earliest Harry Potter films and the initial Home Alone films, Chris Columbus seemingly ended his directorial career with Pixels and, much later in 2020 ‘’The Christmas Chronicles: Part Two’’. Pixels serves as a prime example of video game comedies at the time, doing a fair job representing nostalgia. It was filmed in Toronto, standing in for real-life New York. It has been produced by Columbia Pictures, Happy Madison Productions, 1492 Pictures, LStar Capital, China Film Co. Ltd., and Film Croppers Entertainment while distributed by Sony Pictures Releasing.
Avid arcade gamers Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler) and his friend Will Cooper (Kevin James) join the 1982 Worldwide Video Arcade Championships. Despite losing in the final round against a braggadocios Eddie ‘’The Fireblaster’’ Plant, the footage of this competition is included in a time capsule to be sent into space should alien life ever find it. Many years later, Brenner now works installing electronics such as TVs, consoles and WIFI Routers. After a memorable job at the home of divorced U.S. Army lieutenant colonel Violet van Patten (Michelle Monaghan), he’s summoned to the White House as his childhood friend Cooper is now the President of the United States. Called into a meeting discussing a sudden alien attack in Guam, including the same lieutenant colonel he just met, quite frustrated that a lowly electronics installer is considered a vital asset, the council concludes the attack on Guam was due to aliens misinterpreting the footage from the tournament back in 1982 and Brenner alongside others has to safeguard humanity and fight back through classic arcade games entering the real world.
Throughout the years since space travel was made possible, many time capsules have been launched into space, featuring music, film and all kinds of other things celebrating human culture. ‘’Pixels’’ takes the idea that one such capsule has been received by alien life and interpreted as a call to war.
Where video game films are concerned, ‘’Pixels’’ perfectly represents the 00s style. Where these flicks had little to do with actual games, instead often amalgamating nostalgia factors and low-brow comedy, in this case, Columbus and his writers provide an entertaining feature as long as you don’t dive too deep. It’s far from excellent, yet an effective family comedy, transferring arcade games into neon-lit abnormalities invading Earth as ‘’Space Invaders’’ turned reality.
While Sandler and James are often seen as bargain-bin comedy actors, their acting chops can be underrated at times, they know perfectly well what they’re doing, reflecting their staying power. Within ‘’Pixels,’’ admittedly, there’s an abundance of clichés, such as forced romances and aforementioned barely passable jokes—Josh Gad’s Ludlow isn’t helping on that front. ‘’Pixels’’ does provide more actual references and nostalgia than dime-a-dozen movies such as ‘’Need for Speed’’, ‘’Hitman’’ or ‘’DOOM’’ that’s without even talking about Paul W.S. Anderson’s flicks.
If taking the film with a grain of salt, it quickly proves to be a perhaps overly ambitious yet more than serviceable Sandler film. Which sounds like more of a downplay than it is. Heavily reliant on those references and arcade gimmicks, it works for self-implied old-school nerds and might even prove a bonding session for parents and their children. Even the visual effects are pretty nicely worked in; they stand out purposefully and provide a myriad of excitement. It’s incredibly wacky, and there are unspeakable acts performed to Q*bert in the post-credits sequence you’ll have to see to believe. Still, from my initial viewing years ago to rewatching it years later, it stands out as perhaps an underrated highlight in the Happy Madison Productions catalogue.
Being released not long after ‘’Wreck-It-Ralph,’’ it has a fair amount of convincing to do since that film still holds up as one of the best portrayals of what video game cinema can be. Yet, much like ‘’Pixels’’ it was also a union of many IPs and ideas within a shared video game universe. Columbus’ feature might not come as far, but it certainly isn’t as bad as some fellow critics made it out to be.