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Summary / Analysis
Times of India
Story: A message is beamed out from Earth in the past to try and connect with extraterrestrial life. Among other pop culture elements, the message contains some old videogames. In the present day, aliens unleash those videogames on Earth in real life, in a destructive way. Only a few gamers can save the earth from annihilation.
Review: What do you get when you take a dollop of Adam Sandler-style goofball humor and supplement it with nostalgia-laden videogame visuals from the 1980s? Pixels presents a barrage of this and more that can at times, hammer on the senses.
Brenner (Sandler) and Cooper (James) were excellent at videogames as kids. The only person, who could top Brenner, was Eddie Plant (Dinklage, the movie's hilarious highlight) who defeated Brenner in Donkey Kong. Brenner and Cooper are also buddies with Ludlow (Gad), who lives and breathes gaming. This was in the early 80s.
Cut to the present day and Brenner works in the electronics industry. While it pays the bills, it certainly isn't what he hoped he'd be doing. Especially when compared to his childhood buddy Cooper, who is now - wait for it - the President of the United States!
The games begin when Cooper tells Brenner that Earth is under alien attack and only their knowledge of the vintage videogames can save them. The aliens beam their messages using manipulated TV footage of Hall and Oates, Fantasy Island characters and so on, conveying that they have three rounds to play. If the humans lose, Earth is kaput.
Pixels is heavy on 80s iconography, with games like Pac Man, Centipede, Donkey Kong and even characters like Max Headroom being represented. While an older generation may get these references, the same might be lost on younger audiences. Sandler unfortunately brings nothing new to the table; his expressions remain the same as you'd have seen in The Wedding Singer. It is Dinklage rather, whose presence lifts every scene he's in, with his faux-suave routine as a ladies' man. So, if you watch this, it'll only be for his and Gad's movie-saving performances.
The list of the film’s pixelated co-stars reads like an all-star team of the 1980s: PAC-MAN, Donkey Kong, Centipede, Galaga, Frogger, Q*bert, and Space Invaders, among many others. “These classic characters were part of the DNA of the project, so it was critical that we work together to bring them on board,” explains Allen Covert, one of the film’s producers. “Fortunately, they were all extremely receptive. We approached them with a deep love for their characters and a respect for the elements that make them unique and iconic, and we worked with the companies to incorporate those elements into the film.”
Executive Producer Michael Barnathan, who also serves as president of Columbus’ company, 1492 Pictures, adds that the filmmaking team also found 1980s inspiration in other ways. “I think everyone involved with this movie has a great love for the great summer action-comedies of the 1980s,” he says. “We definitely wanted a movie for today’s audiences, but our goal was also to capture something of the feel that made those movies so special – that mix of action and comedy that the movies of that era did so well.”
Columbus says that one other reason he felt attracted to the project was the chance to make a film that would truly appeal to audiences of all ages. “Of course, the parents out there are going to remember playing these games at a video arcade, and their kids will be just as amazed by the characters – there are a hundred jokes in the movie that work for parents, and a hundred that work for their kids,” he says. “But it’s more than that. I think there’s a lot of nostalgia for these games and about the 80s in particular. I certainly hear it all the time – I talk to college kids and their favorite movie is The Goonies. There’s a lot of love for that era right now.”
Gad was excited to join the project not only because of the chance to work with Columbus and Sandler, but also because of the chance to play out the iconic games from his childhood on an epic scale. “I was born in ’81, right at the height of arcade fever,” he says. “I had two older brothers, so I remember going to the local arcade in South Florida – it was called Grand Prix – and we would just play nonstop on a Saturday or Sunday. To get the chance to chase these creatures that I remember playing against as a kid was like being a child all over again.”
In real life, Gad’s own favorite game wasn’t Dojo Quest. “I was always addicted to Galaga,” Gad continues. “It was one of those games that I was never quite great at, but for some reason, I loved it.”
Peter Dinklage rounds out the Arcaders as Eddie Plant, a/k/a The Fire Blaster. Though he has risen to fame with his dramatic role in “Game of Thrones,” Dinklage is equally adept at comedy, as he’s shown over the years from roles in Living in Oblivion to Death at a Funeral.
“Eddie was the other guys’ childhood nemesis,” says Dinklage. “He has quite a large ego, in terms of his championships, and he loves to remind everyone else how good he is. That’s the way he’s portrayed as a child – and when we jump to the present day, his attitude hasn’t changed all that much.”
“Most visual effects movies – including movies I’ve been involved with – set out to create extraordinarily realistic visual effects. Even if you’re creating a dragon or a monster, you try to give it the texture and skin of a real creature,” Columbus explains. “On Pixels, we were aiming for something you’ve never seen before. When these videogame characters come to life, they take on this pixelated form with an aura lit from within, and constantly moving. It’s literally a three-dimensional version of the 8-bit games you used to see on your arcade screen."
Butler explains that just as the filmmakers made extraordinary efforts to be honest with the look of the characters, it was equally necessary to make callbacks to the way those characters moved and interacted. “It was very important that we emulated these games as closely as possible,” says Butler. “If you look at PAC-MAN, he chomps at a certain rate and moves at a certain speed. Donkey Kong, too, has very specific motions, like his semi-step – we animated that in a continuous flow, but maintained the ‘sprite-based’ essence.”
Of course, the filmmakers did take some liberties with the real history. For example, the fictitious history of the Galaga game in the film – in which a “‘glitch” in the game is akey plot point – is a purely fictional element which was created for dramatic purpose.
The movie's video game high scores are based on real scores.
Jennifer Aniston turned down the female lead role.
Real Pac-Man creator Toru Iwatani, also plays a cameo in the film.
Iwatani does not know English and so could not play himself.
Way back in the day back in 1982, Sam Brenner and Will Cooper were kids and were playing in the arcade, and Brenner enters an arcade game world championships. At the event, the MC tells everyone that a time capsule will be launched into space containing elements of the present culture. Brenner and Cooper meet Ludlow Lamonsoff, a weird but brilliant kid who's in love with Lady Lisa (the main character of the game Dojo Quest). After Brenner gets through every game, he faces hotshot gamer Eddie Plant in Donkey Kong. Eddie mentions the pattern to the game, causing Brenner to lose focus and come in second place.
Now 2015, Brenner works for a company that installs software and Cooper is the President of the United States. In Guam, a military base picks up a threatening signal. Alien life forms attack them. The soldiers try to fight back, but are easily taken out. One soldier gets taken by the aliens.
Brenner is send to work at the home of Violet Van Patten, a divorcee who lives with her son Matty. Once finished, Brenner hears Violet. He listens to her problems and comforts her. He thinks they're having a moment and goes in for a kiss but gets shut down. He then gets a call from Cooper telling him to meet him immediately at the White House. Brenner heads there with Violet close by in her car. To his surprise, he finds out she is a Lieutenant Colonel. Cooper brings Brenner into the Oval Office to show him the attack in the base. Brenner says that the way the attack was organized reminds him of the videogame Galaga in its first edition.
Later, Brenner drives home when Ludlow makes an appearance. Ludlow takes Brenner to his home where he says that the aliens are sending creatures with classic video game designs to attack. Ludlow received a message using manipulated footage of 80's icons like Ronald Reagan and Madonna to explain their plans: since they perceived the items in the time capsule as a declaration of war, they are using the video games as a challenge, giving the people of Earth three rounds to fight back or it's game over for everyone. They also show that the soldier they took was a "trophy". They show the video to Cooper and determine that the next attack will happen in India. Sure enough, the aliens attack the Taj Mahal with Arkanoid paddles and they take an Indian man as a trophy as well.
Brenner and Ludlow are brought in to "train" soldiers to fight back by showing them how to play these games, to which Admiral Porter objects. Violet shows Brenner and Ludlow that the pixels are taken down by strong light beams. Cooper is with his wife Jane at a bakery fooling around with a cake when his assistant comes in to tell him that the next attack will happen in London.
They head to London to meet with Corporal Hill. The soldiers brace for attack as the creatures from Centipede attack. Brenner tells the men to shoot for the head and anticipate the pattern, but they have no luck. Brenner and Ludlow take over with permission from Cooper and they blast away at the Centipede. The final boss makes its way into town and nearly devours a boy until Brenner blasts it away for good.
The aliens send a message using the Fantasy Island guys to congratulate Earth on their victory, and give the Duck Hunt dog as a trophy, but remind the Army that the aliens are leading 2-1. It is learned that the next attack will happen in New York City. Needing more help, Ludlow and Cooper agree that they need someone else to help them. Brenner, Cooper, and Violet go to a prison to find Eddie who got busted for adding charges to phone bills. He still taunts Brenner and makes demands in exchange for his help. Among the demands are an island, not paying taxes, and a threesome with Serena Williams and Martha Stewart. Cooper agrees to let him out of prison and the no taxes part.
The team goes to NYC to discover that the next boss is Pac-Man. Violet presents the guys with four cars based off the ghosts in Pac-Man, with the fourth car driven by the game's creator Toru Iwatani. When the team gets downtown where Pac-Man is chomping through everything, Iwatani tries to appeal to Pac-Man's good side by talking to him like a father. Unfortunately, this gets his hand chomped and pixelated. The remaining three chase after Pac-Man. He eats a power pellet giving him ten seconds to be able to eat the ghosts, and he eats Ludlow's car as he jumps out, Eddie hits the first Pac-Man after catching up to him quickly. The second one also gets taken out by Eddie. The third causes him to drive into the water. Brenner chases him near a parking garage where Pac-Man finds another power pellet. Brenner counts down and drives backward through a parking garage. At the last second, the power pellet wears off and gives Brenner a chance to defeat Pac-Man, and they're given Q*bert as a trophy.
The team has a ball held for them as thanks for their heroics. Brenner brings Violet out, while Eddie brings Serena Williams (who only showed up because she was promised an island). After Brenner spends time with Violet, the aliens send another message saying the rules have been violated, and they will launch a full-scale attack momentarily. Matty finds Eddie and sees that his shades that were fished out of the water contain cheat codes, which allowed him to beat Pac-Man and also explains how he beat Brenner in Donkey Kong. Eddie flees and Matty is taken by the aliens as Violet watches. Q*bert tells the heroes that the aliens were peaceful until they felt threatened by the time capsule. They realize they have to go to the ship and stop the aliens.
The aliens bring down more video games upon Washington, D.C., including Frogger and Defender. Brenner, Violet, and Q*Bert gear up and are joined by Cooper while Ludlow stays behind to fight. One of the aliens takes the form of Lady Lisa to Ludlow's joy. However, she still fights him until he says he only wants to love her. She drops her swords and they kiss. Eddie comes to fight and apologizes for ditching the team.
Brenner, Violet, Cooper and Q*Bert get brought up to the ship where Brenner faces his biggest challenge, Donkey Kong. Donkey Kong rolls barrels down as the heroes try to reach Matty and the other two captives. Matty tells Brenner that Eddie cheated all those years ago, making him realize he is the true Donkey Kong champ. Brenner takes the hammer and smashes the barrels before hurling it at Donkey Kong destroying him. This causes the rest of the video games to freeze and be brought back up to the ship. Unfortunately for Ludlow, that includes Lady Lisa.
The team is recognized as heroes in the White House garden. Cooper announces he's made a peace treaty with the aliens. Eddie apologizes to Brenner for cheating, and reluctantly admits Brenner is the best in the world. Ludlow misses Lisa until Q*bert randomly morphs into her. Brenner and Violet become a couple. Eddie then gets a text from Serena to meet him in the bedroom along with Martha Stewart. Eddie sneaks off with excitement. The aliens leave Earth, and Iwatani's hand is restored. One year later, Ludlow has married Lisa and they are the proud parents of five Q*berts.
Hollywood film Pixels is getting rave reviews from the moviegoers for bringing alive the '80s era of the video games. Know what the cine lovers said about the film...
Just watched the #PIXELSMovie with the Fam. Loved it, but now I'm craving classic games! Every child of the 80's needs to take their kids.👍🏽
Positively painful movie. Kids too will not like it. The President is shown more as a buffoon (not the Bush type though) who is more comfortable as a Mall Cop than in the Oval. Was waiting for the movie to get over....and oh did it drag, and some more after all was over, as if it was a punchline.