Critics pretty much couldn’t stand Adam Sandler’s videogame vehicle, but who couldn’t see that coming?

The pitch alone promised that it probably wouldn’t deliver on the promise of the superior short film of the same name, directed by Patrick Jean. Less indeed is sometimes more.

But what director Chris Columbus’s Pixels did manage to deliver was much more in the way of visual effects and animation — which is the the main reason we’re writing about it. The problem is that there wasn’t enough to save Pixels from being an anachronistic nostalgia trip to ’80s gamer culture way out of tune with today’s cultural sensibilities.

Pixels is a special-effects eyeful burdened by the fact that it is also yet another film in which Adam Sandler plays a man-child who somehow turns the head of an attractive woman,” argued Neil Genzlinger at the New York Times. Inkoo Kang of The Wrap added, “[T]he point of Pixels — other than some genuinely thrilling special effects of matter evaporating into digitized blocks of confetti — is the dumb message that guys who peaked in middle school totally deserve hot girlfriends because of their awesome gaming skills.”

Audiences today don’t really want to watch Generation X relive the glory days of games like Galaga and Pac-Man that comparatively suck standing alongside today’s more limitless simulations, enjoyed by both older and younger demographics who can easily dial up digital immersions on a variety of platforms. They can even find better movies about pretty much the same games that Adam Sandler and his usual suspects are trying to repackage. “Pixels is no Wreck-It-Ralph,” Todd McCarthy said at The Hollywood Reporter.

“For a movie that’s supposedly about delivering weightless, uncomplicated fun, Pixels is an overwhelmingly sad experience,” Andrew O’Hehir mourned at Salon. “As for the elaborate CGI action sequences,” he added, “it’s all perfunctory and embarrassing psychological theater designed to prove that Adam Sandler is way more of a badass than an entire team of Navy Seals put together.”


Once in a while, Pixels’s VFX and animation did manage to outshine Adam Sandler’s mid-life white male crisis, especially in its character stable. “An adorable life-sized version of Q*bert is easily the most engaging character in Pixels,” said Justin Chang at Variety. “[T]his slapdash, casually sexist revenge-of-the-nerds fantasy offers some mild visual distraction with its massive CGI renderings.”

But size evidently may not matter in the final analysis, if CGI cinema’s mind-blowing scale cannot compete with a small-minded narrative that was already on the wane at the close of the last century. Which is something important to consider for both animators and executives who are pinning their hopes on the promise of short films evolving into widescreen winners.

With this purportedly upgraded Pixels, “the promise of the short film — the cathartic thrill, really, of watching Pac-Man played on the streets of New York, or Tetris being played with actual buildings collapsing each time you finish a level — is eradicated in short order by a familiar, sleepy languor,” said Will Lietch at Deadspin. “Adam Sandler and his crew are the only people who could put less thought and effort into a 100-minute feature film than the original filmmaker put into a two-and-a-half-minute short.”

Incidentally, Sandler’s next starring role will be in an animated film — Hotel Transylvania 2 — which he also exec produced. The Genndy Tartakovsky-directed film will open in the United States on September 25, 2015.

Have you seen Pixels? Did the critics get it right or wrong? Report back here with your thoughts in the comments below. This talkback is reserved for readers who have seen the film and wish to comment on it. General comments about the film, or commentary from those who have not seen the movie, will be deleted.

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