It’s surreal to realize how far video games have come in the last 30 years. What was once an obscure hobby in pizza shops and arcades, and the later in people’s living rooms and bedrooms is now one the biggest media forces on the planet. If you didn’t get the memo after the Halo 4 launch made history in 2012 by breaking all records for 24-hour sales of an entertainment release (overtaking not just other games but films like Harry Potter and The Avengers) then perhaps now it is clear- videogames have arrived in the mainstream in a big way.
The upcoming 3D feature film Pixels starring Adam Sandler, Peter Dinklage, Kevin James and Michelle Monaghan is just the most recent evidence of that, and I’m sure I speak for most gamers when I say “I hope it will be freaking awesome!“ and “Please… don’t be terrible”.
Adam Sandler’s production company Happy Madison has teamed up with Columbia Pictures to make the film, with Chris Columbus directing it. The basic plot is that old-school pixellated video games are attacking earth- Donkey Kong, Pac-Man ghosts, and everyone else you battled in the 1980s. Sandler’s recent films are not exactly the best, but Columbus is an encouraging part of the equation with iconic films like Gremlins, The Goonies, Home Alone, and two Harry Potter films under his belt. If anything has me hopeful for Pixels turning out well, it is Columbus.
The Short Film That Started it All
The feature film Pixels is based on a short animated film of the same name that was created in 2010 by French writer-director Patrick Jean. The film went viral and really wowed people with its well-done special effects and awesome premise that gamers could really relate to. In the short film version, the “attacking” pixels shoot out of an old television screen. As you can see in the official trailer for the feature film, though, this abstract and slightly surreal source for the pixels has been replaced by a fully Hollywoodized story of aliens intercepting a message from humanity about our culture that includes examples of videogames, and treating it as a declaration of war. It is definitely par for the course when it comes to Hollywood, and Pixels obviously has had the blockbuster treatment bigtime. The question remains: how well will they pull it off?
Will it Please Gamers?
What every gamer would love to see in Pixels is that the subject matter be treated with genuine appreciation and familiarity, and not just be a hollow appropriation of gaming icons for the purpose of putting on a big special effects show. Are the writers gamers? There could be some wonderful opportunities for inside jokes and subtle references to the gameplay of the games involved. How about the cinematographer? Some great nods to the original games could be captured in how scenes with the videogame creatures are shot. I think those nuances and subtle nods to gamers (or lack thereof) will make or break Pixels, defining it as either a genuine love poem to old school videogames, or a superficial cheese-fest. Of course, it could also be somewhere in between.
What makes Pixels stand out to me is that the film is not just tapping a franchise (like Mario Brothers or Mortal Kombat), it is drawing on the entire whole of videogame nostalgia. I suppose that is why I’d really like to see it do justice to the millions of gamers who grew up in the 80’s and the culture of gaming in general. I guess we all get to find out how true-to-gaming Pixels will be this July at the in the multiplex.