Videogames are treated as nothing more than a pop culture anomaly in Pixels. Played by nerds, played by geeks – the archetypes are decades out of place. Between the anachronisms of the portrayed games and the perpetual cycle of self-depreciation, Pixels’ goal is only to use video games as far as their failed public perception allows. It’s a cynical, cruel, sophomoric, sexist, and demeaning film.

And yet Pixels is expensive – millions of dollars expensive to render Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Galaga aliens, and Paperboy (in 3D) so meek hero Adam Sandler can ascend from his loss at a phony high score championship in the ’80s. Pixels casts males as blubbering goofballs who lose their will to succeed because of a video game and portrays digitized women as something to yearn for. Oh, and Kevin James as President. Of America.

Between the parade of inexcusable stereotyping, Pixels wants desperately to revel in nostalgia. The script is blindly screaming to anyone who will listen – Remember the ’80s? Weren’t the ’80s awesome? They had, like, tubular video games! In arcades! And they played music! Here’s that music! At a nitpicky level, Pixels does not appear to understand what it’s riffing. High score competitions are incorrectly played, arcade game screens are shown on LCDs in 1982, and cultural references date from years later than the noted 1982.

Frogger, Paperboy, Space Invaders, Pong – they’re ingrained pop culture characters or in this case, mass market entertainment waiting to be abused.

Video games and their players are not part of an invincible coven. Both parties often deserve the riffing. Pixels never cares though. The film and filmmakers know whatever is on screen will work as long as it extends from basic tenants of the culture. Frogger, Paperboy, Space Invaders, Pong – they’re ingrained pop culture characters or in this case, mass market entertainment waiting to be abused. Even still, Pixel is cautious. Pac-Man’s rules have to be clearly explained as exposition.

The alien video game characters, who have descend to Earth after misinterpreting a NASA time capsule, exist for war. That’s it. They simply enjoy fighting, something which could be a unique observation given the medium’s violent nature. But no, not here. As an invasion tale, Pixels lacks merit and begins plugging away on nonsense just to be coherent. Puffy polygon leaper Q-Bert appears without context because the film needs him to exist. There is no solution to the world’s problem otherwise.

Or rather, it’s an American problem. Aliens snatch up Guam and India – more stereotyping – and no one acts until American soil is covered in glowing blocks. Pixels casts Brian Cox as an admiral who wishes to “blow up Galaga,” a militaristic hard head who could work if Pixels used him for something emblematic of America’s armed muscle. Instead, he exists to yell. That’s all most of the characters seem to do.

That’s all this entire movie seems to do. [xrr rating=1/5 label=Movie]

Gangs all here @ 1:33:03

Coating flashback images of the ’80s in plentiful color, Pixels digital cinematography does not fit that era, but is appreciable in clarity. Primaries are rich and contrast is superb. That carries over into the modern day for the rest of the film, giving off copious amounts of black levels and saturation. Flesh tones are where they need to be.

Resolution is thick, presenting plentiful fidelity in medium shots and proving generous with close-ups. There is no noise to be bothered by. Sony’s Blu-ray encode is a monster. Even as the screen fills with shattering voxels, the image remains stable. Compression work remains one of Sony’s admirable traits on this format.

For its faults, Pixels is a movie designed to look pleasing. Production work which was made to give the aliens their glowing, internally lit appearance is appreciated. Their color is striking, even brilliant against the nighttime situation in New York. Even as the sun rises for a final daytime battle, their visual energy is not lost. Color keeps pumping out from every frame. Cities look stunning in their establishing shots.

Pixels needs to give nothing else. The enormity of its scale is enough to sit among some elite discs, even if the material itself is such a dud.

And yet for all of the wow factor of the standard presentation, this listless 3D disc bombs. Post conversion is far too careful as to avoid any issues with sensitivity. Take away those shots peering down New York’s streets or low angles in meeting rooms, and Pixels barely appears to realize it’s in 3D.

Attempts at showmanship – voxels popping toward the frame – are negligible. Action is far too fast. During the major Pac-Man chase, views from inside the ghost cars are totally flat. Scenes which SHOULD be made for 3D, like the hectic high score montage in the opening, are simply dead. Dialog exchanges shouldn’t even bother. [xrr rating=5/5 label=2D-Video] [xrr rating=2/5 label=3D-Video]

Attack sequences feel less like assaults and more like being in the middle of an arcade. Accurate sound effects spread into the surrounds as digital beings leave their mark on the various cities. The full width of the rear speakers is used extensively. This is not a wasted 7.1 mix, or Atmos for those so equipped (we’re not so equipped). Channel separation is given all of the attention. Voices split off into the stereos and chase scenes are great. The Pac-Man brawl is a showcase.

All of this will be aided by mammoth LFE force. Each chomp of Pac-Man seems unbeatable until the Tetris shapes begin forming their lines to take down buildings. Every line is a boomy thud. Explosions and Donkey Kong’s tossed barrels provide added force. Tightness in the low-end is as expected for blockbuster cinema.

While fidelity is often to useless to discuss in modern contexts, the audio turns scratchy at 57:49. Sandler’s words are a fault and a single instance where this track makes a mistake.

Note: 3D viewers are only given a DTS-HD 5.1 mix. Added surrounds are noticeable on the 7.1 track, if not enough to alter the score. [xrr rating=5/5 label=Audio]

Bonus features are primarily split between the action scenes, three to four minute segments named after the games used. Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Centipede, Galaga, Q-Bert, and the inaccurate for-the-movie creation Dojo Quest all receive (brief) attention.

God of the Machine speaks with Pac-Man’s actual creator Toru Iwatani who received a cameo in the opening of the film (that’s not him in the later role). It’s a short chat at 1:36. The Space Invader briefly details a cheap cameo from a Comic Con contest winner. They buried the poor kid in a crowd. A music video, photo gallery, and trailers tick off the boxes of generic extras. [xrr rating=2/5 label=Extras]


Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.

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