Pixels – Christian Movie Review
[A quick note before you read about why Pixels will delight ’80s fans but why it is not a family movie: if you’re a fan of U2 or C.S. Lewis, please check out my new blog Stabs of Joy that explores dozens of Lewis books and U2 albums to answer one question: how do we find joy in the midst of extremely difficult circumstances?]
The critics need to lighten up a little. They destroyed this movie with such personal vindictiveness that you’d think Adam Sandler personally burned down their houses and stole their cars.
In terms of film craft, “Pixels” is not as bad as the critics make it seem (though some of the criticism is definitely well-deserved). All PG-13 elements aside — talking about film craft only — it’s actually a fun movie if you’re in the mood for something silly, nostalgic, brightly colored, and purposely unintelligent. But from the point of view of parental guidance, it’s also — despite its fun Wreck-it Ralph-like vibe — not an all-ages family affair at all (which is why it’s rated PG-13). We’ll start with those issues before diving into the film craft…
Parental Guidance Issues at a Glance for this PG-13 rated film…
Sexual Content/Nudity/Themes of Sexuality and Romance: One character is obsessed as a boy (and as an adult) with a scantily clad female video game character who, at one point, is depicted by a live actor who is also scantily clad. One character expresses his desire in somewhat descriptive innuendo to describe a threesome and imply he wants to have group sex with Serena Williams and Martha Stewart. When the two women wave to him from a bedroom window later in the film, it is implied strongly that he will. A woman discusses the details of her husband’s recent affair with a 19-year-old female pilates instructor, and she discusses it with an IT repair man in front of her son and talks (in adult, suggestive terms that seem inappropriate for a PG movie) about why her husband likely wanted to have sex with the younger woman. Another character is escorted to a competition by two scantily clad women. A male character tells a female character to grab on to the weapon he’s holding during a battle, but his tone of voice implies obvious sexual innuendo, which is played for laughs.
Violence/Gore/Scary Content: Aliens suck people into their mother ship, and when they do so, we see their bodies slowly disassemble into pixels. Although it’s not gory, the screams of the people as their bodies fragment create a sort of disturbing feel to it that might be too much for younger viewers. A man gets his hand bitten off, though it is pixelated, so it’s not gory. (And his hand is restored to him later.)
Language: A consistent use of “minor” swear words sprinkled throughout movie: d-words, a few b-words, a-words, s-words. Josh Gad goes full drill sergeant and comes up with some vivid put-downs for a group of Navy Seals.
Alcohol/Drug/Smoking Content: A man and a woman drink alcohol in a closet together (the man’s drinking from a bottle; the woman’s drinking it from a sippy cup). Characters celebrate over beer and liquor in a bar.
(Review continues below)
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Entertainment Value and Film Craft
This movie does some things well: it channels serious ’80s nostalgia, it presents a notably fun premise for an alien invasion that is extremely silly but somehow delightful, it showcases the comedic talents of Peter Dinklage and Josh Gad (who are newcomers to the Happy Madison family), it has a surprising amount of high-caliber actors in minor roles (i.e. Sean Bean, Dan Akroyd, Brian Cox), and it puts it all together into some genuinely funny moments.
But it sort of runs out of steam.
And I chalk that up to the way it takes a fresh premise and plays it out with predictable plot development and screenwriting. The way they transitioned into some of the important plot points were just lazy. The writers didn’t seem to be trying very hard at certain critical points. As a result, the plot eventually wore out its welcome.
All of that being said, it really is just a movie that wants to have fun with old video games and giant, beautifully animated pixels crashing into cities. And if that’s all you need from a movie, there’s nothing wrong with that. The critics need to lighten up a little. (And I’m referring to the ones who just blasted this movie to smithereens with great seriousness.) There are weeks when I’m just so mentally burned out from work that a silly, non-demanding movie like this with some fun visuals really is all I’m looking for.
But the point of some of the critics, I suppose, is that this was a sadly missed opportunity because the premise was so fresh and delightful. The writers could have done so much more with this.
Worldviews, Subtext, Symbolism, Themes of Redemption, Social Commentary, Etc.
Whew. Not sure how deep you can go with this movie. The sort of underlying theme is an underdog story in which the “nerds” finally get to become heroes. Having been an 8-bit Nintendo video game nerd myself, this aspect of the film was irresistible. And the filmmakers (and especially actors) did a nice job capturing that joy of that come-uppance. (Though, as I mentioned before, the writers could have done a whole lot more with it, I suspect.)
There’s also a prominent message that “cheaters never prosper.” Despite using a woman’s recent divorce and her cheating husband as a source of a few comedic moments, the film actually takes a moment to depict the intense suffering that the affair brought upon the woman. In those moments, the film doesn’t take adultery lightly, and we see the intense
pain it can cause. We see how emotionally devastating it can be. I applaud the film for doing that. But then (weirdly) the mother’s son just shrugs the whole thing off casually as if he were talking about something inconsequential.
One thing I will definitely give Adam Sandler props for: he often rails against the way modern use of technology has dumbed down social engagement for kids. He’s done this in previous movies, and he does it again in Pixels when his character has a conversation with a kid who’s playing a violent first-person shooter video game common in today’s culture. In the conversation, he shows a strong contrast between the rich social environment of ’80s arcades and the way kids play now (in isolation).
Conclusion: A Mixed Bag of Pixels
There were genuinely funny moments, especially in the first half of the film — and especially with Josh Gad and Peter Dinklage’s performances. And the premise is creative and fun. The pixelated animation is awesome and joyous, in a giddy, child-like way, to watch. Unfortunately, the screenwriters followed a predictable, buy-the-book approach to the plot’s unfolding (especially in the final act), which made the concept feel tired by the final third of the film. It was a missed screenwriting opportunity. The premise was such a curious, fun one — and many of the actors involved were genuinely funny (especially Gad) — that if the screenwriters had shown the same thoughtful, careful, inventive plot crafting as, say, a Pixar screenwriting team, this movie could have been something truly special. It has a clear use of sexual innuendo with obvious implications about what the characters are saying/wanting. I wouldn’t recommend this film for an all-ages family event. If you’re an adult with a penchant for ’80s nostalgia, however, you will find quite a few things to like, but don’t expect a movie masterpiece. It’s a little frustrating. It feels like the writers could have done so much more with what was a very fun concept.
My rating for “Pixels”: [usr 4 ]
[If you’re a fan of U2 or C.S. Lewis, please check out my new blog Stabs of Joy that explores dozens of Lewis books and U2 albums to answer one question: how do we find joy in the midst of extremely difficult circumstances?]
Note about my ratings, which only rate the movie’s film craft and entertainment value:
1 star = one of the worst movies ever made (the stuff of bad movie legends), and it usually (not always) has below 10% on Rotten Tomatoes
2-3 stars = a mostly bad movie that has a handful of nice moments; it usually falls between (but not always — as is the case with “Spy”) 10-30% on Rotten Tomatoes
4-6 stars = a decent movie with some flaws, overall. Four stars mean its flaws outweigh the good. Five stars mean equal good, equal bad. Six stars mean it’s a fairly good movie, with some great moments even, that outweigh a few flaws. A 4-6 star rating usually means it falls between 30-59% on Rotten Tomatoes (but not always).
7-9 stars = a rare rating reserved only for the best movies of that year; and a film must have a Fresh Tomato rating (60% or higher) on Rotten Tomatoes to be given 7 stars or higher, with a few exceptions (if I strongly disagree with the critics).
10 stars = one of the best films of all time, right up there with the all-time greats (i.e. Casablanca, The African Queen, Gone With the Wind, Lawrence of Arabia, Star Wars Episode IV, Indiana Jones, etc.).
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