An entire generation of children built fond memories in the arcade, trying to master video games like Pac-Man, Space Invaders, and Donkey Kong. These characters (among several others) became touchstones of American pop culture during the 1980s, defining the zeitgeist just as much as any classic movie hero or music star of that era. In the grand scheme of things, the skills acquired by spending hours blasting aliens or eating dots didn’t add up to much, but they certainly made for a really fun time.
But what if your expert knowledge of video games could actually benefit society – or even save the world? That’s the question being asked by Chris Columbus’ (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) latest film, Pixels. Set in a world where extraterrestrial forces misinterpret old school arcade games as declarations of war, the film revolves around President William Cooper (Kevin James), who calls upon his childhood friend Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler), an ’80s game champion, to help fight off the invading forces. Sony has released the movie’s first trailer, which you can watch above.
The biggest takeaway viewers will have after seeing the preview is that Pixels will be banking heavily on the nostalgia factor. Given Columbus’ filmography to this point (directing the first two Harry Potter films, writing Gremlins and Goonies), it should be expected that the film will be a family-friendly adventure, leaning towards the younger side of the spectrum. However, the movie is making plenty of attempts to appeal adults taking their kids to the theater, recalling a simpler time when beating the final boss was the most important thing in life.
For what it’s worth, Pixels also seems to be a clever spin on the arguably over-played “alien invasion” story archetype, replacing the typical Independence Day-esque alien army with a cast of colorful video game icons. This element will obviously be used in full effect throughout the film’s running time, giving Columbus several opportunities to get creative with how our enemies attack and what we must do to stop them (see: the Pac-Man “ghost” cars). In that sense, it should be a refreshing deviation from what moviegoers are accustomed to in this genre, potentially making it a more memorable experience.
Of course, the inclusion of Sandler and James will cause more than a few moviegoers to raise the red flag and toss Pixels aside, as both actors’ recent projects will lead to many pre-conceived notions about Pixels’ quality. Justifiably, their choice in films makes it difficult to go into this one with much enthusiasm, but there are signs suggesting things could be different this time around. For starters, Pixels looks like it’s fun to watch, which is more than you can say about something like Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2. Columbus knows the premise of his film is meant to be outrageously entertaining, and based on what’s presented here, he may have succeeded.
There’s also the chance that Pixels can deliver more than just the genre thrills it showcases in the trailer and also serves as a touching tribute to its source material (Toru Iwatani’s cameo), injecting some good-natured heart as well as big laughs and stunning visuals. Columbus’ history indicates that he’s the right type of director for a film with those goals, as the previous movies he’s worked on became landmarks for youngsters in those generations. Seeing Sandler, Peter Dinklage, and friends band together to save Earth recall the adventurous vibes of old school blockbusters, which is fitting given the subject matter.
Once upon a time, many scoffed at the notion of something like The LEGO Movie, only for it to turn into one of the most beloved films of 2014. It’s too early to tell if Pixels will have a similar fate, but it’s definitely on the right track. Hopefully, this will be a return to form for one-time comedy stars like Sandler and James, giving viewers a rollicking good time at the multiplex to boot.
Pixels will be in theaters July 24, 2015.