Adam Sander achieves Nerdvana with Pixels
By Jim Bray
It won't go down in history as a Hollywood classic, but Chris Columbus' Pixels still manages to be an entertaining romp in the home theatre - just leave your mind in neutral, sit back and enjoy the ride.
If you are or were a gamer, you'll probably get an even bigger kick out of Pixels than if you're just, say, an Adam Sandler or Chris Columbus fan, because it brings to life some of the most famous video games of the early days of gaming, when (as a character notes in the film) people actually left their homes and headed down to the arcade to squander their quarters.
I remember those days well; I've never been a huge gamer, but I've played enough to be familiar with most of the games on display in Pixels - which in the movie turn out to actually be an invading force sent by aliens as a response to what they thought was a challenge from earth - kind of like how Voyager 6 became V'ger in Star Trek the Motion Picture or the TV broadcast of Hitler at the Olympics in Contact.
So here we have Galaga, Centipede, Pac-man and Donkey Kong on prominent display - as weapons being wielded against humanity - along with lesser looks at some other famed games such as Tetris - and while the Tetris part is really just a throwaway, the special effects look very cool as the game takes down a building.
The movie opens back in the day, when a young Adam Sandler (played by a young not-Adam Sandler) and his little friends are on top of the gaming world. Sandler's character, in fact, is participating in the gaming championships and would have won, probably, if not for some shenanigans we learn about later.
Moving to the present, Sandler and his little friends are now grown up. He's never really made much of himself and is working as a home theatre installer (nerd alert: he's supposedly installing an 80+ inch TV but anyone who knows TV's knows it's not nearly that big). He shows up to hang that not-as-large-a-screen-as-purported in the home of a woman (Michelle Monaghan) whose marriage has just broken up, leading to some contrived (but not too unbelievable) warmth as he tries to cheer her up.
Suddenly, he gets a call from his best friend from childhood (Kevin James), who has actually made something of himself: he's president of the United States! He wants Sandler's help because it seems that a U.S. base on Guam has been attacked and despite the best military minds (and some others, such as Brian Cox' character's), he's the only one who diagnosed the invasion correctly as - Galaga brought to life. Hence his summoning of Sandler, the big time gamer.
As it turns out, Monaghan isn't just an angst-filled single Mom, she's a national security poobah as well, so she and Sander are thrown together professionally as well as personally, and guess where that will lead.
To fight the invasion, the president builds a team of "Arcaders," including Sandler and his slacker friend Josh Gad, as well as Monaghan (who we don't think of as a gamer till she shows up in the Arcaders uniform) Peter Dinklage - the guy who had defeated Sander back in the day but who is now warming a seat in the penitentiary. The result is kind of like Ghostbusters meets Tron, and that's enough to say about the plot, such as it is.
Sure, you can figure out what's going to happen all through the movie, but that isn't the point.
Mindless fun, mostly, and it's done justice on Sony's Blu-ray, which is available in both 2D and 3D versions. Sony sent us both, under separate cover, and I'm glad they did because I enjoyed the movie a lot more the second time, and it had nothing to do with the 3D. Maybe I was just in a better mood - I was not going to recommend the film initially, but after the second viewing I do. I doubt there'll be many awards given to Pixels, but it's fun and reasonably entertaining, more so than some other recent Sandler movies I've seen. Maybe that's Chris Columbus' influence, because he's done some pretty great stuff in the past, including Bicentennial Man and the first two Harry Potter movies.
Anyway, whether you opt for 2D or 3D you're in for a lovely audio and video presentation. The 1080p image is razor sharp (well, some things are pixilated, but that's because they're, well, pixilated), colours are top notch, black levels are deep and the overall widescreen image (2.40:1) is quite satisfying.
The audio is presented in Dolby's new Atmos format, which would probably be pretty cool if anyone had Dolby Atmos equipment at home - though more people probably will over time if the format catches on. Like most people, I don't have Dolby Atmos capability yet - heck, I don't even run 7.1 (just 5.1) - but the format dumbs itself down to being Dolby TrueHD compatible, which is handy. It rocks, too, with plenty of opportunity for all your audio channels to shine (the closing credits, with its animated "eight bit" version of the story, really excels here).
Both versions also come with redemption instructions for a digital version of the film, and the 3D package contains both versions of the films, including a bunch of extras. You get a music video, a series of making of featurettes that are mostly pretty forgettable, a photo gallery and a few trailers.
Sandler fans will probably enjoy Pixels, but its appeal should go beyond that. It's a decent film, made well, and if you leave your mind in neutral, it's a lot of fun. And you can watch it with your kids!
Copyright 2015 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.