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16 September 2015 | 7:11 pm | David O’Connell

"This may develop a cult following, or may just fade into obscurity."

Aliens invade the earth once again, but this time there’s a twist. Instead of tentacled xenomorphs, gleaming metal war machines, and that booming note from Inception, get ready for Galaga, eight bit graphics and the sounds of a midi synthesiser in Pixels.

After a message containing footage of an ‘80s video games competition is misinterpreted as a martial challenge by an advanced alien society, earth comes under attack. As the world struggles to work out why Arkanoid blew up the Taj Mahal, an elite team of retro video game players is formed to meet the threat. Lead by Brenner (Adam Sandler), a former video game savant but current real life underachiever, the Arcaders are fighting back from two lives down.

Ripping it off quick like a band-aid is probably the kindest approach. No matter what metric you use, Pixels is just a failure in film making. The plot is as cumbersome and unbelievable as it seems. Maybe this is not surprising for a story about aliens shaped as video game characters invading the planet, but even by its own internal logic it seems clumsily wedged together, as if by a monkey playing Tetris. Many threads go absolutely nowhere in the narrative, while others are quickly and randomly resolved. The chemistry between Sandler and Michele Monaghan is completely lifeless, with the dialogue continuing to shovel dirt over the corpse. In hindsight the nostalgia factor of retro-gaming is probably not a strong enough draw card to base a movie on. Beyond the characters of Pac-Man and Donkey Kong, you find yourself in some pretty unfamiliar territory (fortunately kids love Qbert and Duck Hunt.....right?!). Pixels just seems like an ill-conceived and muddleheaded disaster.


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Somewhere along the line, this film actually becomes an enjoyable experience. As a person stuck in a sensory deprivation tank will often hallucinate in a desperate attempt to manufacture stimuli, so to the audience soon settles into the groove Pixels has dug itself. Jokes start to land, scenes are actually riotously funny, and that whole ‘80s Revenge Of The Nerds theme finds its mark. Dinklage performs his own impersonation of Pacman on the scenery, as his character, Eddie  “Fire Blaster”, steals every scene. Josh Gad also follows suit and delivers some screamingly funny sequences that seem out of place and completely unrelated to the rest of the movie. It’s still a disastrous mess, but director Chris Columbus fills it with enough ‘80s retro charm and film references, to make audiences not really care. Well, almost. 

A bug-riddled glitch of a movie, Pixels tunnels right through to the other side, hitting the “so bad it’s good” Goldilocks zone. Given time and distance, this may develop a cult following, or may just fade into obscurity. It really is too close to call. 

Originally published in X-Press Magazine.