Being a child—and subsequent teen—of the 1980s, there are a lot of memories I treasure and sometimes wish could go back to on a daily basis. It might sound clichéd, but I’ve always felt it was a better time, a more relaxed and unforgettable era, a period where kids could go out on their bikes and play outside for hours on end. It was before or after meeting with the guys to play football or baseball, and there were many video games to be mastered, saving up quarters for a trip to the arcade, and just having good times wasting those coins away. Roughly, between the years of 1982 and 1985, that’s just how my days were spent—further into the decade, I used a car to get to the arcade instead of a bike, but what I’d done with my time didn’t change.
Nowadays, as I reminisce about those years, I have to recognize that time cannot be reversed. Not only that, but I don’t think any of today’s demographic would want to visit that era. People under the age of 20 would probably find it horrifying that there was no Internet, no cell phones, and no video games that equaled or were better than what you’d find in the arcades (Are there still arcades?). In the 80s, there was no texting, no emails, no YouTube uploads… What did we children of the 80s do for fun?! Listened to vinyl records or cassette tapes, talked to our friends through a phone hard-lined to the house, watched TV on just a handful of networks…MTV actually played music videos! There were no DVDs, but we had a few outlets to rent a VHS (What’s a VHS?) or two, if we had a VCR. What kind of hell did we live in???!!!
Yes…that was the 80s.
But back to the subject at hand…
I might be blasted by some people for admitting that I’ve never really been a fan of Sandler’s films. Probably the one film I can watch repeatedly, and regard as one of his best, is Big Daddy. I know a lot of his other films have a cult following, especially Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore, but they’re not my favorites in any way. If anything, Adam Sandler seems to share my nostalgia for the 80s (although the music aspect of that decade is something I can do without), starring in The Wedding Singer back in 1998 and, recently, in 2015’s Pixels.
Straight off, when I first viewed the trailer for Pixels, I thought it was a novel idea, particularly when they were explaining the time capsule sent off into space back in the 80s (I suppose the story’s borrowing from the two “Golden Records” that were sent off with Voyager 1 & 2 back in 1977…but it’s close enough), which included the popular video games of that time. The aliens viewing it as a threat and invading Earth with the guise of those videos games seemed original and unique, certainly a plot that could work into a full feature film.
So, in case you couldn’t decipher what the synopsis was in that last paragraph, here it is…
When aliens misinterpret video feeds of classic arcade games as a declaration of war, they attack the Earth in the form of the video games.
The movie had gotten into a great start, showing us life in 1982 for Sam Brenner (Anthony Ippolito, playing the young version) and his best friend, Will Cooper (Jared Riley, playing the young version as well), collecting quarters and riding their bikes over to the local arcade to play video games. Like in real life back when I was a teen, there was always someone declared the best at certain games. Here, we have Eddie (Andrew Bambridge), shown a little exaggeratedly as arcade royalty, but the message comes across and it brought back memories for me.
Even the showdown between the young Sam and Eddie, as they are the two contestants in a video game face-off, Eddie mentions that there is a pattern to the game to help you win. It always seemed like a myth to me, when I was in my teens, because you always heard other kids saying that. The one big one I’d heard back then was that there was a location in the Pacman maze where you could hide and the ghosts wouldn’t see you. I guess I’ll never find out if that was true or not, but I had a smile on my face when that was mentioned.
Well, when the movie cuts to present time, that’s when it loses me.
Now, I don’t mind seeing Sandler playing the Brenner in his 40s, holding a “Geek Squad” type of profession…I don’t have to suspend disbelief for that. But Kevin James as the older Will Cooper—President Will Cooper?—is too far-fetched for me. Maybe if he was a White House assistant or clerk or…just anything but the POTUS, I’d buy it.
The choice for Will Cooper’s profession aside, the story just seems to stop in its tracks and gets really boring, giving us some impossible exposition on how Brenner just schmoozes his way into a woman’s life that happens to be a lieutenant colonel for the U.S. Army (played by Michelle Monaghan). But I guess they needed that threadbare subplot to make sure Brenner has backing from someone in the military when the time comes for him to help out in the attack.
Although the film has some interesting special effects, it really doesn’t save this film. But I did like seeing a giant Pacman wreaking havoc throughout the streets, the Centipede and Galaga attacks, and especially the Donkey Kong climax. It’s just a shame they couldn’t work these scenes into a good movie.
The story relies on knowledge of the video games of the 80s, but a lot of young viewers won’t be able to relate to what they’re seeing on the screen (they may know Madonna—which was clever to CGI her lips to give Earth a warning message—but most kids won’t know many of the other 80s icons). The only humorous parts I’d noticed when watching Pixels were the ones featured in the trailer. In fact, the only real laugh I had was when the inventor of the Pacman Game, Professor Iwatani (Denis Akiyama), walks up to the giant Pacman only to get his arm bitten off by pixilation (by the way, the filmmakers should’ve reversed this feature of the film because the ghosts were always the bad guys of the game—but I guess you wouldn’t be able to showcase that gag if you didn’t make Pacman the bad guy). But there were so many parts that fell flat and made me feel sorry for the actor who was featured in such scenes and one of those is when Josh Gad is singing “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” It was just an unfunny scene and was unnecessary.
So, my final “bit” on Pixels?
It’s sort of interesting, like I’d mentioned about the beginning of this movie, taking place in the early 80s. The references throughout might put a smile on your face or even make you want to break out some of your classic video games if you’ve got your Nintendo stored away in the attic. But it’s not very funny and even less entertaining. I really can’t recommend it, but if you’re a big Sandler fan, maybe you’ll enjoy it…
Anyway, thanks for reading!