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Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 10/27/2015
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/26/2015
Those who know me well will tell you that I am the best (worst?) at turning my back on a band. I'm a firm believer that bands put out their best music when they are young and hungry and the quality decreases as they age. I'm am the quintessential person yelling, "Play some old stuff!" at a concert. Similarly, I've been known to write off those in cinema as well. For example, I was a big fan of Adam Sandler's early movies. I actually saw Billy Madison in the theater. But, about a decade ago, Sandler's movies began to fall into two categories; they were either self-indulgent and Sandler was cast as someone nothing like him, or they gave the impression that Sandler was looking for a free vacation to places like Hawaii and Africa. Therefore, I approached Pixels with a great deal of trepidation, as I've reached the point where I expect to be disappointed by anything Sandler touches.
Pixels opens in 1982, where we meet Sam Brenner (Anthony Ippolito), a video game whiz who is attending a big tournament with his friend, Will Cooper (Jared Riley). Also in attendance is the annoying Ludlow (Jacob Shinder). Brenner advances in the tournament, but loses in the end to Eddie Plant (Peter Dinklage). The story then leaps ahead to the present, where we find that Brenner (Adam Sandler) is an AV technician, having abandoned his dreams of being an engineer after losing the tournament. But, he's remained friends with Cooper (Kevin James), who is now the President of the United States. Cooper turns to Brenner for help when a military base in Guam is attacked by what appears to be video game characters. Ludlow (Josh Gad), who is still creepy and annoying, appears to report that he's deciphered an alien signal and learned that extraterrestrials intercepted footage from the video game tournament and interpreted the games as a threat, so they are now attacking Earth with familiar video game elements, such as Centipede and Pac-Man. Recruiting Eddie Plant for help, Brenner and Ludlow, working in conjunction with Lieutenant Colonel Violet Van Patten (Michele Monaghan), are now the experts in a war against aliens.
(Before we go any further, allow me to say this: Aliens attacking the Earth in the form of classic arcade game characters? I'll buy that. Kevin James as not only the President of the United States, but also married to Jane Krakowski? That's why this movie belongs in the science-fiction section.)
At first glance, Pixels has all the attributes of a dud, which may explain why the movie didn't recoup its budget at the box-office. Not only do we have Sandler, who has lost his appeal, but a movie whose premise was featured in an episode of Futurama over a decade ago. But, one must also note that Pixels was helmed by veteran director Christopher Columbus. I know that many don't like Columbus and, for some reason, they question his work on the Harry Potter films he directed, but he's proven himself to be someone who can make crowd-pleasing movies. So, I would like to think that he has something to do with the fact Pixels isn't a complete disaster.
But, as that implies, the movie isn't exactly a winner either. There are two main problems with Pixels and they are both biggies. First of all, the movie never moves beyond the main premise. We are introduced to the idea that aliens are going to attack the Earth in the guise of video game characters and that's about it. The story doesn't dig any deeper into what these games could represent and there's only a couple of references to video game culture. There's no twist or real payoff here. The "trophy" sub-plot is never fully explained. Instead of giving us a story, the movie wants to hang its hat on the idea that nerds will have to win this war. Which brings us to the second problem, the cast. As usual, Sandler appears to be playing yet another version of himself, although, to be fair, it's much more believable than James character. I find Josh Gad to be incredibly annoying under most circumstances, and he really wears out his welcome as Ludlow. In theory, it's nice to see Peter Dinklage cut loose and do something which is so different from his Game of Thrones character, but, to be honest, this role is beneath him.
Those issues keep Pixels from being anything but mediocre. But, that doesn't mean that the movie isn't watchable. Generation Xers will enjoy seeing the classic game characters brought to life (although I thought that they could have done more with Centipede). Speaking of which, a lovable character makes an appearance here that adds to the comedy (although, not surprisingly, what should have been a cameo is stretched too far). The movie does contain some good comedic lines, most of which are insults from Brenner. The action scenes are very well done, most notably the Pac-Man chase. I was never bored while watching Pixels, but I was never emotionally invested in the film either. It's a fun distraction which will inspire more people to dig out video game emulators, as opposed to giving the movie a second thought.
Pixels could have used a lot more Dig Dug on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look very good and the image is never overly dark or bright. Even in this 2D version, the depth is excellent, most notably in the action sequences and the level of detail is spot-on. The Disc carries a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 5.0 Mbps. (Although the bitrate did spike up close to 8 at times.) The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The action sequences provide phenomenal sound, as we are treated to highly detailed surround sound effects, and stereo effects which show notable separation. We are always aware of sounds coming from off-screen. The subwoofer is palpable and the big scenes provide a wall-shaking experience.
The Pixels Blu-ray Disc contains an assortment of extras. Instead of giving us one long featurette to take us behind the scenes, the extras are split up into different selections (with no "Play All") which break down the individual action sequences. The selections are: "Pac-Man" (5 minutes), "Donkey Kong" (4 minutes), "Centipede" (4 minutes), "Galaga" (4 minutes), "Dojo Quest" (4 minutes), and "Qbert" (3 minutes). These pieces contain comments from Christopher Columbus and some of the cast, as well as a good amount of on-set footage. We also hear from the visual effects artists who explain how the digital characters were rendered. (The most interesting thing here is the Donkey Kong set.) "God of the Machine" (2 minutes) shows how the real Tour Iwatani, creator of Pac-Man, was in the film. "The Space Invader" (2 minutes) shows us how real-life Space Invaders champ got a walk-on role in the film. We get the MUSIC VIDEO for the song "Game On" by Waka Flocka Flame featuring Good Charlotte. The final extra is a PHOTO GALLERY.
Review Copyright 2015 by Mike Long