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Pixels: Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + Digital HD Review

Pixels (2015) movie poster Pixels

Theatrical Release: July 24, 2015 / Running Time: 106 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Chris Columbus / Writers: Tim Herlihy (screen story & screenplay), Timothy Dowling (screenplay), Patrick Jean (short film)

Cast: Adam Sandler (Sam Brenner), Kevin James (President Will Cooper), Michelle Monaghan (Lt. Colonel Violet Van Patten), Peter Dinklage (Eddie Plant), Josh Gad (Ludlow Lamonsoff), Matt Lintz (Matty Van Patten), Brian Cox (Admiral Porter), Sean Bean (Corporal Hill), Jane Krakowski (First Lady Jane Cooper), Dan Aykroyd (1982 Championship MC), Affion Crockett (Sergeant Dylan Cohan), Lainie Kazan (Mickey Lamonsoff), Ashley Benson (Lady Lisa), Denis Akiyama (Professor Iwatani), Tom McCarthy (Michael the Robot), Tim Herlihy (Defense Secretary), Jackie Sandler (President's Assistant Jennifer), Serena Williams (Herself), Martha Stewart (Herself), Dan Patrick (White House Reporter #1), Robert Smigel (White House Reporter #2), Anthony Ippolito (13-year-old Sam Brenner), Jared Riley (13-year-old Will Cooper), Andrew Bambridge (13-year-old Eddie Plant), Jacob Shinder (8-year-old Ludlow Lamonsoff)

Buy Pixels from Amazon.com: Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + Digital HD Blu-ray + Digital HD DVD Instant Video

Many have accused Adam Sandler of making the same kind of movie again and again.
Now, here is Pixels, which is genuinely unlike anything in the actor's past; you can just as easily classify it as action and sci-fi as comedy. Nonetheless, critics hated it even more than many of the actor's lazy signature vehicles and the film failed to hit the $100 million domestic mark that Sandler's comedies habitually crossed from 1998 to 2013.

Pixels is adapted from the 2010 animated short of the same name. Written and directed by France's Patrick Jean, that 2-minute 'toon unleashed vintage arcade characters on New York City. That concept drives this feature, which necessarily expands the destruction into a story of global peril and salvation. That's not uncommon ground for a major studio's 3D summer spectacle, though it's new for Sandler, for whom this is the seventeenth wide Sony release he's headlined over the past sixteen years, many of them summer openings.

In what is now typical for Sandler, the movie begins in the past with our attentions fixed on an adolescent actor resembling the star. In the summer of 1982, Sam Brenner (initially Anthony Ippolito) virtually lives at the arcade, along with his best friend Will "Chewie" Cooper (Jared Riley). Memorizing video games' patterns, Sam is so good at Pac-Man and others that he enters a world championship tournament and only narrowly loses to egotistical dwarf Eddie "The Fire Blaster" Plant (Andrew Bambridge) on a battle of Donkey Kong.

"Pixels" casts Kevin James as President of the United States and Adam Sandler as his underachieving lifelong pal, whose knowledge of '80s video games might be the only thing saving the planet from alien attack.

Flash forward to the present day and Will (now Kevin James) is the President of the United States of America, while Sam (Sandler), still valued as a friend and confidante, wears a bright orange polo and matching shorts and socks to work as member of the Nerd Brigade, a tech installation outfit clearly modeled after the Geek Squad (missed opportunity at brand promotion, Best Buy!).

The president and his military are baffled by an inexplicable surprise attack launched on Guam, in which review of the tape shows the attack to resemble action in the old arcade shooter game Galaga. After determining that some alien life form has misinterpreted the space-transmitted video of that 1982 arcade tournament as a declaration of war, President Cooper brings Sam in as an expert on old games. Also partaking in the world-saving efforts are Ludlow Lamonsoff (Josh Gad), a "wonder kid" gamer from the '80s who has grown into a nutty, nerdy conspiracy theorist; Eddie Plant (now Peter Dinklage, having fun), who is released from jail with a list of demands met; and Lieutenant Colonel Violet Van Patten (Michelle Monaghan, trying to have fun), the latest in a long line of V-named Sandler love interests who are younger and more attractive than he is.

As foretold by videos putting aliens' words into the mouths of '80s icons from Madonna to Max Headroom, additional attacks are carried out on India and London. Strangely, the poster art's image of Pac-Man laying siege on San Francisco never comes to fruition. The big finale does bring the yellow gobbler into the mix, but in New York City, where by now the gamers and president wear uniforms proclaiming them the Arcaders, Earth's only line of defense against extermination.

Lt. Colonel Violet Van Patten (Michelle Monaghan) shows these old gamers what the military has at their disposal.

The screenplay, attributed to longtime Sandler collaborator Tim Herlihy (who wrote Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, and many others with him) and Timothy Dowling (Just Go With It, Role Models, and the 1999 short George Lucas in Love), puts a lot of thought into this global threat and the forms it takes, which seems kind of unnecessary, since the plot is 100% bonkers. Yes, this is supposed to be a summer blockbuster and maybe fortysomethings who played arcade games in the late '80s being asked to save the world isn't all that more outlandish than dinosaurs attacking tourists and an ex-con shrinking down to a superhero the size of an ant. Pixels feels a lot more ludicrous, though.
It's certainly more childish than its fellow PG-13 summer tentpoles. Even in a comedy, it's tough to take seriously at all the notion of Kevin James as President still palling around with his tech guy friend played by Adam Sandler. Aliens attacking Earth with plans drawn up from 8-bit video games might just be the dumbest premise of any major movie ever.

And yet, there is some fun to be had from this escapism. Turn off your brain, appreciate that Sandler and James aren't quite regurgitating their standby personas and their broad comic hijinks, and you can almost see Pixels as belonging to a tradition that includes Ghostbusters and Men in Black, two of the most successful franchises in the long history of Columbia Pictures. The film drew applause at the conclusion of my theatrical screening, a rare occurrence even in packed-full theaters high on the excitement of seeing a new movie a few days early and for free. Maybe if I was twenty years younger, I would have really enjoyed this movie the way that I still enjoy those other sci-fi comedies and most of Sandler's mid-'90s to mid-Noughties vehicles. But I'm not a pre-teen and therefore I'm seemingly not the target audience. The few smiles and couple of chuckles I had were far from the wall-to-wall enjoyment the movie aims to provide. I've defended Sandler more than any critic, but it's become almost impossible for anyone but a professional contrarian to admire his latest output.

Pixels is probably the most fun Happy Madison production since the first Grown Ups, but most would tell you that means very little because the bar is continually being lowered. Sandler has shown himself to be resistant to reinvention and unrewarded when he attempts to shake things up. Pixels is not a signature Adam Sandler comedy. It's not directed by Dennis Dugan or one of the other derided filmmakers he's repeatedly trusted in. Appearances by famous friends are kept somewhat scarce, with only Dan Patrick, Dan Aykroyd (whose crystal skull vodka gets into the characteristically long list of product placement opportunities), Robert Smigel and Sandler's wife briefly spotted in character roles and Serena Williams and Martha Stewart providing self-cameos.

Even if it had surprised and performed exceptionally at the box office, Pixels would have represented the end of an era for Sandler. As of now, it's the actor's last live-action film being distributed by Sony, who has handled most of his films over the years. His next four comedies are being made for Netflix, who has apparently given him creative control and comfortable budgets he's used to. People will probably watch those movies in great numbers, but they won't see them in theaters. That fact will further diminish Sandler's brand, which has endured longer than the brands of just about every other major movie star who emerged in the '90s.

Despite what the poster indicated, Pac-Man lays siege on New York, not San Francisco.

Although Sandler will still be getting paid and not having to really answer to anybody, his movies won't carry the luster they long did and his star power and asking price are sure to drop accordingly. The descent is only being expedited by media determined to unravel his commercial empire by creating scandals out of extras protests,

casting call complaints, and red carpet attire. Why attack Sandler, who by all accounts seems to be a nice guy, a loyal friend, and a dependable employee? Probably because many do not like his movies and because rich and famous people make for the most attention-grabbing reporting. Sandler already got his name dragged through the mud in the coverage of last year's Sony hacking on account of employees not liking the generally profitable movies he makes.

Forget all the noise, the clickbait stories, and the very likely possibility that Sandler's stardom is on the wane. Pixels is not a good enough movie to lament the forthcoming absence of Sandler from theaters, but nor is it bad enough to celebrate a Hollywood in which Sandler's work doesn't feature as prominently.

If you really want a career trajectory to ponder, consider that of Pixels director Chris Columbus, who graduated from writing Gremlins and The Goonies to directing the highly entertaining family comedies Adventures in Babysitting, Home Alone and Mrs. Doubtfire to helming the slightly underrated first two Harry Potter adaptations to an assortment of movies that are disliked by critics and fall short of commercial expectations. Pixels is simply the latest Columbus movie to face such a fate.

Though its $88 million budget was modest for summer spectacle (compared to the $130-$250 million spent on Marvel's movies, Furious 7, Inside Out, and Jurassic World), Pixels still disappointed at the box office, grossing a Jack and Jill-like $78.6 million and becoming the fourth straight live-action, non-sequel Sandler vehicle to stumble at the box office. Despite that string of disappointment, Sandler has been the closest thing to a bright spot during Sony's terrible 2015. His three Happy Madison productions -- Pixels, Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, and Hotel Transylvania 2 -- are Sony's three biggest hits of a year that has seen them lose money on gems (The Walk) and duds (Chappie, evidently Aloha) alike. Spectre couldn't come any sooner and you've got to wonder if Sony doesn't regret letting its still most bankable talent leave for Netflix.

Three months after opening in theaters, Pixels hit home video last week in Blu-ray and DVD editions, plus the Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + Digital HD set reviewed here.

Pixels: Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + Digital HD combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray 3D & Blu-ray Disc Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
7.1 Dolby Atmos/TrueHD (English), 5.1 DTS-HD MA (Portuguese),
Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish, Thai), Dolby Surround 2.0 (Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English, English SDH, Cantonese, Chinese Simplified, Chinese Traditional, French, Indonesian, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, Thai
Extras Subtitled in English, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, Thai
Release Date: October 27, 2015
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50s)
Suggested Retail Price: $45.99
Clear Keepcase in Lenticular Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as standalone Blu-ray ($38.99 SRP), DVD ($30.99 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Sony has always put out some of the nicest looking five-inch discs and Pixels, unsurprisingly, is no exception. The sharp, vibrant, and spotless 2.40:1 visuals (atypically wide for a Happy Madison production) are complemented by a 7.1 Dolby TrueHD track (Dolby Atmos for those who can support it), which immerses you with sound effects in action scenes and keeps dialogue crisp throughout.

Director Christopher Columbus takes us behind the scenes of the large green screen Donkey Kong set. Josh Gad shows us the light-up stand-in of Q*bert.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The standard Blu-ray's all-HD extras do not invite clear expectations with their titles. Short featurettes bearing the featured game names gather comments and behind-the-scenes footage regarding the set pieces of "Pac-Man" (4:32), "Donkey Kong" (4:07), "Centipede" (3:36), "Galaga" (3:33), the fictional "Dojo Quest" (4:20), and "Q*Bert" (2:32).

"God of the Machine" (1:36) looks at Pac-Man creator Toru Iwatani's cameo as a video game repairman.

Next up comes the music video for "Game On" (3:59), the end credits' irritating original song by Waka Flocka Flame featuring Good Charlotte. It surrounds the performers with CG video game imagery, frequently cutting away to Pixels clips.

Pac-Man creator Toru Iwatani discusses his brief arcade cameo, but not the fact that another actor plays him for laughs in the film. Waka Flocka flame can't believe he forgot his shirt on the day he was making a music video with Good Charlotte!

"The Space Invader" (1:40) takes us inside the filming of the 1982 tournament scene where
the winner of a 2014 Comic-Con Space Invaders tournament landed a small walk-on role.

Finally, a Photo Gallery displays 40 publicity and promotional stills, most of them completely unremarkable, either as a slideshow or a viewer-navigated gallery.

The DVD edition, strangely not included here or with the standard Blu-ray outside of a Best Buy exclusive, only gets "Q*Bert", "Dojo Quest", and the music video.

The Blu-ray opens with trailers for Goosebumps, Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, Aloha, Ricki and the Flash, and Hotel Transylvania 2. The Blu-ray 3D loads with 3D trailers for Goosebumps, The Walk, and Hotel Transylvania 2. The same reels can be played from the Previews listings.

The menu attaches score to a static image, only animating the highest level's cursors in the style of Pac-Man. The discs support bookmarks and, for the most part, resuming unfinished playback.

This edition of Pixels is packaged in a clear standard-sized keepcase and topped by a lenticular slipcover offering a 3D rendering of the artwork below. Joining the full-color discs inside are directions and codes for accessing the digital copy included with purchase and getting a bonus Blu-ray or DVD for $5.99 shipped. A second insert promotes the Pixels play along game app and, for reasons unknown, Jarlsberg cheese.

"Pixels" asks that age-old question: Can arcaders save the world from destruction via 8-bit video game?

CLOSING THOUGHTS

You can't accuse Adam Sandler and friends for relying on their old formulas in Pixels, which packs in more sci-fi action than the rest of the star's films put together. Unfortunately, this summer tentpole is light on fun and altogether devoid of intelligence. Though it wants to be a new generation's Ghostbusters, it plays more like an out-of-touch wannabe blockbuster that for now concludes Sandler's long run as a marquee attraction.

Sony's Blu-ray 3D edition sports terrific picture and sound, an okay handful of lightweight extras (though surprisingly no deleted scenes or gag reel), and very little replay value if you don't buy in to the movie's absurd alien invasion by 1980s video games plot. It may be worth a look for a mindless family movie night or if you really love the cast, but I doubt it will provide as much enjoyment as you'd like.

Buy Pixels from Amazon.com:
Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + Digital HD / Blu-ray + Digital HD / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
New to Blu-ray: San Andreas Jurassic World Southpaw
Adam Sandler: Grown Ups Grown Ups 2 Bedtime Stories Blended Just Go With It Jack and Jill
Adam Sandler: The Cobbler Men, Women & Children That's My Boy Funny People Hotel Transylvania
Kevin James: Paul Blart: Mall Cop Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 Zookeeper Here Comes the Boom
Michelle Monaghan: The Heartbreak Kid Due Date Gone Baby Gone | Josh Gad: Frozen
Peter Dinklage: Elf The Station Agent X-Men: Days of Future Past Underdog
Directed by Chris Columbus: Adventures in Babysitting Mrs. Doubtfire | Written by Timothy Dowling: This Means War
Wreck-It Ralph Scott Pilgrim vs. the World Men in Black The Lego Movie Galaxy Quest

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Reviewed November 3, 2015.



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