Hollywood made a movie about classic arcade game characters and I write a blog about classic arcade games, so I had to review Happy Madison Production's new flick Pixels, whether I wanted to or not.
Anybody who calls themselves a gamer, anybody who grew up in the 80s and anybody with kids under 12 will have had Pixels on their radar for the last few months, and the trailers show you everything you need to know about the film. In 1982, NASA sent a probe out into space that contained, among other things, footage of several hit arcade games. Decades later, a race of aliens find this footage and take it to be an act of war. So they launch an attack on Earth using that very same footage as the inspiration for their weapons of mass destruction. Cue Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Frogger, Galaga, Centipede, Arkanoid and a whole host of other classic sprites tearing up city streets around the world as giant, voxel monsters, while Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Peter Dinklage, Josh Gad and Michelle Monaghan try to stop them.
|Galaga kicks things off by attacking an air base|
Fast forward 30 years and Sam (Adam Sandler) is now a divorced 40-something, installing TVs for a living, despite his promise as a youth, while his chubby best friend Will (Kevin James) is the freakin' president of the freakin' United freakin' States of freakin' America! The only possible explanation for this is that it puts both characters in positions that allow them to be involved in the ensuing chaos. Enter also Violet van Patten (Michelle Monaghan), a hot single mom who's also happens to be a Lieutenant Colonel and weapons specialist. Sam and Violet cross paths when he is sent to her house to set up a new TV and PS4 for her son. Naturally, there is a clash of personalities, with an undertone of attraction, as you might expect from a film like this.
When a US military base is attacked by unknown forces, capable of rendering people, hardware and buildings to little glowing cubes, President Cooper brings both his friend and the Lieutenant Colonel on-board as advisors. On studying footage from the attack, Cooper has a hunch that the aggressor's formation resembles that of the aliens in the Namco classic Galaga and he wants his friend to confirm or deny his suspicions. It's around this time that an adult Ludlow (Josh Gad) is brought into the picture as a "typical gamer", i.e. a 38 year-old virgin, living with his gran, obsessing over fantasy female characters, namely Lady Lisa from Dojo Quest. This is the only non-authentic video game and character portrayed in the movie and also the only circa 1982 video game character to appear as flesh and blood, rather than a bunch of primary-coloured cubes, because bewbs! As well as being a true-to-life representation of us gamers [insert sarcasm here], Ludlow is also a conspiracy nut, who already knows about the invasion and has come to the same conclusion as Sam and POTUS Will.
|The Arcaders, Lieutenant Colonel Violet, Sam, Wonder Kid and Fire Blaster.|
|The Centipede scenes are genuinely great|
However, despite all this, I must confess to enjoying the film. There is no denying I got off on all the obscure gaming references and it was great to see Q*Bert getting another moment in the spotlight (he also appeared in 2012's Wreck-It Ralph). I will also admit to laughing from time to time too, but then this is only my fifth Sandler movie (the previous ones being Eight Crazy Nights, The Wedding Singer, Big Daddy and Airheads — yep, they are really the only ones I've seen), so his schtick is still relatively new to me. I also got a strong Ghostbusters vibe from this movie, although I won't pretend it's in the same league as the original. They both have a group of no-hopers in jump suits trying to save the world from forces they don't really understand, they both feature futuristic, bespoke guns, designed to deal only with the enemy at hand and the pixel monsters can be likened to the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. My kids (who are 5 and 9) loved it too and the only video game characters they knew were Donkey Kong, Pac-Man and Frogger. So as someone who has had to suffer such kid-friendly dross as the Nativity movies, the Tinkerbell movies and Post-Man Pat: The Movie, Pixels really did not seem all that bad. In fact, I'd happily watch it again and if I had to chose just one kids movie to see this summer, I would chose Pixels over Minions every time. Yes, I really did say that.
However, if you're a big gamer who wishes the medium was treated with more dignity or your're an adult with no interest in video games, you probably won't enjoy this movie at all.
P.S. They actually made an 8-bit mobile game of Dojo Quest, which is available for free on iOS and Android.