Film Review: Pixels

by Vincent Chan

Rated PG. Starring Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan. Directed by Chris Columbus.

Pixels is that film that you dream about as a kid and one you wish were real. Not only getting to play arcade games, but getting to play arcade games in real life, doing it around a city – all whilst saving the world. You get the gist.

Pixels takes us to 1982, where a time capsule is sent into space containing videos and images of earth’s activities with the hopes that it will encounter extraterrestrial life. The good news is there was such life. The bad news is the aliens took the messages to be hostile, and chose to attack the world in a form of a video game.

Enter Sam Brenner (Sandler), a man who has nothing much to his name apart from being runner-up in the arcade championships when he was a teenager. He notices patterns while others only see random moves. However, these skills will now be vital to the survival of the world as he faces off with the aliens in some real life action games.

Along the way, the film celebrates the arcade games of the 80s that would become household names of that time. In many ways, the games represent a whole different era. It was a time when people didn’t play games on their phones by themselves. Instead they went down to the arcades with some coins to hang out with their mates. Games weren’t simply about shooting anything that moves but about trying to think about the logic and beat the system. This is one of the smart things about this film – it introduces to this generation the entertainment of the previous – all being played out in a live action battle!

So that begs the question: Does it actually work to take classics such as Donkey Kong and Pac Man and make them into live action battles? If you’ve seen the trailer for the film you’ll see bits of what this looks like and I think the great thing is that it looks even better on the big screen. From shooting the heads off aliens in Space Invaders to jumping over barrels in Donkey Kong, the battle scenes are a blast and I enjoyed every moment of them. In fact, the only downside was that it left me wanting more – but I feel like that’s always a good problem to have.

However, the film in its entirety was a bit off-putting at times. By all means, the battle scenes were original and well constructed, but the scenes in-between left a lot to be desired. I think the big problem was trying to work out the film’s target audience. Pixels’ cartoonish premise means that families will be attracted and the retro games mean that adults will enjoy a good dollop of nostalgia as well. However, the jokes often were more crude than smart. It felt at times it was trying too hard to please the adults when clearly kids would be having the most fun in this film. It’s a pity considering the big budget and a great premise – it just felt like messy scripting at times.

It’s funny thinking about the film. As I mentioned earlier, I think there would be quite a number of us who would love to play these games in real life, just like in Pixels. Yet the reality is that life is not a game. Unlike games where you can just switch on or switch off, in real life when things get hard you can’t simply walk away. Neither can you just restart or choose a different level. Life is real and can be complicated at times.

That’s why I’m glad I know Jesus. You see, Jesus isn’t just some person that Christians decided to make up. Jesus lived, breathed, slept and hung out with people. He was real as real can be – people even touched him and ate with him. But even more than, Jesus knows the reality of the mess of this world because the people he hung out with were often those rejected by society. Jesus didn’t close his eyes to the problems. And that’s why even though Pixels can make me forget about the problems of the world for a couple of hours, I know that Jesus actually holds the true answers for life’s problems. Why not check him out if you haven’t already?

Did I have fun in Pixels? Definitely. I’m giving it three out of five stars.

Pixels releases in Australian cinemas this Thursday, 10th September. It is already screening in the US and the UK.

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