Adam Sandler is a life time pass kinda guy for me. I know its cool to bash the guy because his movies have been lacklustery cash grabs for over a decade now, but I won’t hate because of two reasons, he made “Billy Madison” and because of he made the comedy album “They’re All Gonna Laugh at You.” These two things are both masterpieces in their respective genres and for better or for worse contributed greatly to forming my sense of humor as an impressionable youth. I’m also an arcade guy. Even though I wasn’t born until 1982, the greatest year of the ‘cade, I got into the arcade collector scene almost a decade ago now and through hours of research, conventions, restorations, and most importantly playing, I feel a kinship with these classic arcade games and have come to appreciate their honest and pure gameplay that would be the foundation for this entire industry I love going forward.
Slap these two things together, a movie about Adam Sandler saving the world from arcade pixel aliens using his gaming skills and it should be the movie made most for me since Scott Pilgrim. Sadly both parts are a little cut off at the knees, with Sandler never quite getting to go into the outrageous person territory where he shines the most and the arcade enemies, while cool, feeling a little hollow at the end. Still though, there are some good laughs along with the cringing, some arcade easter eggs along with some blatant arcade character missteps. A good example is the final battle has Grunts from Robotron in it, I would say thats more on the obscure side and was very cool to see. But before that we’re treated to a Q*bert who speaks in English. The whole point of Q*bert’s voice was Gottlieb couldn’t get the sound chip to produce real words so they gave him the distinctive bleeps and bloops that made him famous. This might seem knit picky but if you’re a Q*bert guy its going to piss you off.
Then there’s Peter Dinklage. I’m not sure what kind of direction he was getting from Chris Columbus here, but his performance falls super flat. He’s going for the over the top Billy Mitchell type 80s gaming icon but it just comes across as a fake voice. And somehow his character uses a cheat code in real life to skip around the streets of New York. I don’t really understand this part at all, they present the aliens as living in reality but I’m not sure how you use cheat codes in real life. Was there even a maze cheat code in Pac Man?
The Pixel aliens in Pixels are probably the highlight, which is good, but since the movie doesn’t really give them their own voice there isn’t a lot of characterization here and they are used only as the alien threat, all visual flair but nothing really interesting about them. I think thats okay though with the five alien attacks , Galaga, Arkanoid, Centipede, Pac Man, and Donkey Kong feeling unique and each being a pretty fun visual spectacle. Centipede and Pac Man are the stand outs here with each of those scenarios feeling very true to the game complete with their classic patterns and sounds on display.
Video game movies have rarely worked out. Its hard to capture gaming in a movie format I think because games require that interaction to be a special. Its a different experience to play a game and to watch a game for the most part and movies starring gamers playing games are apparently tough to pull off. From The Wizard to Gamer it hasn’t really worked, I hope it does someday but until then we can put Pixels in the long list of movies that tried to make a good story about gaming but in the end got pwned.