My anticipation for Pixels had been ramping up for over a year.
Still riding on the high of 2012’s classic gaming themed Wreck-It Ralph (which, if seeing it nearly a dozen times in the theater and dozens more at home counts as liking it, then I liked it), I was eager to see what would come of this live-action comedy featuring the beloved games from my childhood.
Then in mid-July, the reviews started trickling in. And almost none of them favorable.
I don’t necessarily try to avoid reviews, but when I do read them I take them with a grain of salt and try to look at the bigger picture. Why would a New York Times reviewer have anything positive to say about Machete? His high-brow publication isn’t the target audience for that Sharknado-style film making.
But the reviews were bad. Like 15% Rotten Tomatoes bad. And worst of all, everyone I knew was throwing me links to the worst of the reviews as if to say, “Look at how shitty this movie you’ve been looking forward to turned out! Wanted to make sure you knew how disappointed you were going to be!” Of course that wasn’t the intent, but it started to feel that way.
And so, my enthusiasm really took a dive. So far down, in fact, I was considering not even going to see it. And not that I was going to let other reviewers influence my own opinions, but if what I was reading was true I didn’t want to support the film with the money from my ticket. I found a moral loophole, though, when I realized I had a free ticket voucher from Regal, so I mustered my courage and headed to the theater.
In an ironic twist, having read so much vitriolic press about Pixels demonizing everything from casting and performances, to plot holes, to the treatment of the classic characters, I probably came out on the other side with a more positive experience than if I’d gone in cold.
For every terrible thing I watched and read in the days leading up to seeing the film, I was braced for it when it came. Reviewers had such a negative opinion that they’d thrown spoiler etiquette out the window and were lambasting every single plot point all the way to the the finale.
So as I watched, I was braced for each stupid/offensive joke. I was prepared for every mistreatment of characters (pee jokes? really, Q-Bert?). I went in half expecting to walk out halfway through. But instead, it exceeded the horrendous expectations set forth by the negative press.
Now don’t misunderstand me — it’s not a good movie. It’s not even a good video game movie; but it’s a far sight better than 1990 Super Mario Brothers film with Bob Hoskins & John Leguizamo!
A lot of what you’ve probably already read about Pixels is probably true, but take it down a notch from how bad you expect.
Fully half of the jokes are at the expense of the target audience of nerds (aka, me) who would be expected to love this film. In a time when loving games is pretty mainstream, it seemed insulting that despite ending up the heroes of the story, the “Arcaders” got their laughs by leaning on tired stereotypes of the loser game nerd who doesn’t fit in with society, is picked on by the athletic kids, and never gets the girl (or any girl, for that matter).
And then there are the gaming characters. Hey, those exist. Funny, right?
Remember Galaga? There it is! Hahaha!
Remember Joust & Robotron? Oh, hilarious!
Hey, remember Pac-Man and Donkey Kong? Yep, them too. Stop, my sides are splitting!
No, Pixels. Just because you have a CG game character on the screen doesn’t equal funny. Unless of course you’re killing a smurf — that one was pretty funny. My point is, the characters were used without any context but just nostalgic props for an alien story. There wasn’t a Pac-Man specific joke about Pac-Man. Just, “Hey, it’s Pac-Man.” Donkey Kong was the final boss, but aside from, “Oh, Donkey Kong!” it could have been anything.
I think that’s my biggest gripe with Pixels. Aliens saw something and mimicked it to attack us. You could take the whole Pixels plot, replace classic gaming with classic TV, call it TV Land Attacks. Then you’d have aliens take the form of Lucy, Gilligan, and The Honeymooners to attack Earth. “One of these days, Earthlings… POW! Straight to the moon!”
My beloved, iconic characters are not window dressing. They mean something. If you’re going to use them, make use of them to further the story in a way that nothing else can. Cue up Wreck-It Ralph and take notes.
One final positive take-away is the ending credits. No, not the post-credits Marvel-style scene, but the credits themselves. As the credits roll the entire movie’s plot is replayed scene-for-scene in 8-bit format. It’s really quite impressive, and if you decide to skip Pixels entirely, at least watch the ending credits.