Video games have come a long way from an tantalising pastime to a multibillion-dollar industry that has revolutionised the way we perceive art. The medium has changed, and those who grew up playing Super Mario, might not recognise the narrative landscape of today. In 2015, the titans of yesteryear, came back to offer a gaming tournament of destruction, with a hefty dose of comedy in the mix, in Pixels.
Sam is adept at video games, taking his talents to the height of the 1982 video game championship, with his buddies, footage of which will be broadcast into outer space. Around 33 years later, Sam is in a rut and his childhood friend Will is now the president, and mysterious happenings are plaguing his already fragile presidency. Aliens have picked up the signal, and have interpreted it as a gauntlet to galactic conquest. Now it’s on, as humanity’s ultimate hope lies in the hands of an unimportant tech-support worker who is called in by his buddy, The President, to ready earth’s defences. In the hope to prevent the earth from receiving a game over.
Sam joins in the long-line of everyman protagonists, his highest claim-to-fame is a silver ribbon over 30 years ago and must be settled in a meaningless life offering tech support. Having “Chewie” be the President is a fun counterpoint, Paul Blart himself, Kevin James, is swamped with political complications, and now a looming alien invasion, with only his wife, and his friend for support. The conspiracy-obsessed Ludlow is also played well by Josh Gad, complete with an unhealthy infatuation with fiction video-game protagonist Lady Lisa. Peter Dinklage plays Sam’s rival Billy Millage also a fine addition with his arrogant brashness. The dream team, (dubbed the Arcaders) aside, there’s a lot of joy to be had in the extended casting. Brian Cox’s belligerent admiral is a highlight, bringing the tell-tale traits that are completely recognisable to Logan Roy here. The appearances from Toru Iwatani (played by Denis Akiyama, but he also briefly appears himself) show a real reverence for the source material.
The title is a bit of a misnomer, as the entities rampaging earth are mainly Voxels but nomenclature aside, the recognisable chanters are vividly recreated. Like the short film that inspired it, Pixels is steeped in references from the iconic history of video games. With references to Tetris, Donkey Kong, Galaga et al. Q-Bert also makes an appearance before transitioning to the film’s creation Lady Lisa (it is complicated). The ways these iconic characters integrate into the real world are inventive, from sight-gags to using Mini Coopers as characters for Pac-Man. As these aliens continue their onslaught of earth, the Arcaders sell the cathartic enjoyment of blasting a real-life Centipede with a real-life laser cannon, for example. Video Game recreation is only part of the story, as the time capsule was filled with other 80s ephemera, that Pixels references well. One sequence that I guess is some deep fake chicanery evolves some of the biggest names of the decade, it is a sequence that is both effective and memorable, in a film that has many to its name.
Pixels celebrates how far we came, from retro-pixilated time-wasters to photo-realistic masterpieces, regardless of graphical fidelity. Fun is fun, and the team behind Happy Madison know this big-blockbuster spectacle will appeal regardless of the decade it is. Star-studded, action-packed and unashamedly silly. Bringing arcade-like energy to the blockbuster of today, with Its plethora of ideas mixed nicely with the rising wave of nostalgia, Happy Madison has another high scorer here.
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