Most filmmakers would die to have Chris Columbus’ career. From writing films like Young Sherlock Holmes, Gremlins, and The Goonies to directing Adventures in Babysitting, Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire, the first two Harry Potter films, and Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief, he’s had his fingers in a lot of very beloved (cinematic) pies.
Now, his latest movie sees him teaming up with Adam Sandler, Josh Gad, Peter Dinklage, and…Pac-Man. (Not to mention Donkey Kong and Q*bert.)
We recently sat down with Chris at the NYC junket for Pixels and talked about what drew him to the film and what it was like to return to (in his words) an “Amblin-esque” move in the vein of Gremlins and The Goonies.
Pixels is largely a movie about video games, obviously, among other things. In the ’80s, were you into video games? Did you have a favorite?
Chris Columbus: Nah. I played them in bars. Because they used to have tabletop games, so you’d have a couple beers with friends [while playing]. So we played Donkey Kong and Pac-Man. I knew those games pretty well, I had to learn – or relearn – some other games that were featured in the film as well.
Great. Have you played games since?
Now I’ve played a lot of them. Basically, some of the big research for ‘Pixels’ was playing ‘Centipede’ and ‘Galaga’ and ‘Q*bert’ and really understanding the rules.
In your career, you’ve gotten to play with so many interesting toys. From Young Sherlock Holmes to Goonies to Home Alone to Mrs. Doubtfire to Harry Potter to Percy Jackson and now Pixels. I’m curious what drew you to this project?
People were always saying to me, why don’t you go back to ‘Gremlins’ and ‘Goonies’? The movies you wrote, those Amblin films. Or why don’t you do an Amblin-esque? That’s what they’d say. I never really had the opportunity. When I read ‘Pixels,’ I felt this is an opportunity to at least try to give the audience that experience they felt – can’t really define what it was – back in the ’80s, watching something like ‘Ghostbusters’ or ‘Back to the Future.’ And try to recreate that vibe in this particular movie.
So that was the first thing I thought about. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to get involved. The other reason was – I fell in love with the concept. The concept of these characters – because I remember these guys back in ’82. Guys who thought they’d win the World Video Game Championship, thinking they were going to be the rock stars of the video game world. Suddenly it all falls apart after two years and they’re kind of left with a useless skill. So I loved the idea of these characters going off and kind of being lost souls. They’ve really achieved nothing in their lives. And the fact that the president of the United States needs to get these guys together to help save the planet because they’re the best at these particular video games – it made me smile, that concept.
Pixels is based on a really cool short film by Patrick Jean. I’m curious how much you used that film as a template for the feature film, or if you just said, ‘We’re going to take the idea and do our own thing after that.
Yeah, I read the script first, and then Adam – or someone – told me about the short film. So then I watched the short film, which – I loved the short film. We just wanted to take it to the next level in terms of visual effects. You know, it took us about 18 months to design the effects so that they – you’re taking basically an 8-bit Pac-Man, flat screen, and turning him into a 40-foot, voxelized, live-from-within character that has to be menacing, but at the same time, has to feel as if he’s a little mischievous and charming as well.
The thing that really drew me visually to the picture, was this concept of, when these creatures attack our planet, or attack anything, like a bus or a person, those things become pixelated as well. So it’s pixelated destruction, which is kind of psychedelically mind-blowing in a weird way. That’s what drew me – trying to create visuals people hadn’t seen before.
Pixels obviously explores the 8-bit arcade era of video games. If it’s successful, would you want to explore a different era of video games in a sequel?
CC: I don’t know. You know, two years is a long time. I’ve got an independent film company that I spent a lot of time with, producing films for first time filmmakers, that’s really important to me. And the success of ‘Pixels’ just helps thrive that. So I don’t know what’ll happen next. I just want this to open and then I’ll think about the next thing.
Pixels hits theaters July 24th, 2015.
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