Why Does Everyone Hate ‘Pixels’?


The new Chris Columbus directed Adam Sandler vehicle, an ode to arcade games of the 1980s called Pixels, has been released and the response has been pretty poor. In fact, publishing the most creative insults about Pixels has become a Twitter-baiting trend this past week. So, naturally, I went to see it.

I’m not going to say that the movie doesn’t deserve to be hated on. It’s really, really bad. Not one joke works and some are borderline offensive (what’s with all the gay jokes during the military scenes?), the characters are awful people and, most aggravatingly, it doesn’t even play by its own rules. They keep going on and on about the aliens being strict on the games rules and it never sticks to them! PAC-MAN CANNOT COME TO A COMPLETE STOP AND PIVOT. This kind of stuff annoyed me more than Kevin James being president. When Tony Abbott is the leader of your country you have low expectations.

But here’s the thing. Pixels is far from being the worst movie there is. It’s not the worst movie we’ve seen this year, and it’s not the most offence movie out there. In the grand scheme of things it’s pretty harmless, just another shitty Adam Sandler movie for us to ignore. The question on the table today it this: why is this movie attracting such anger and hatred?

To address it, I’m going to begin with this:

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That’s Poochy the Dog, in case you didn’t know. In an episode of The Simpsons we see a group of media producers create a character that will ‘appeal’ to kids by amalgamating every cliché about youth trends they could think of, the result being a cold, cynical and insulting product that every one hates. Pixels is to geeks what Poochy was to Bart and Lisa Simpson. It’s a cheap and hollow cash in on what’s been identified as a profitable market.

In this case it’s worse than usual for the studio because that market is the most vocal group online, the medium that drives cinema advertising and box office potential. Whoops. That’s a big screw-up. Not the only one though, so let’s break it down.

There’s No Passion Behind this Film

Pixels is not the first movie to tap into this market. We can point the finger at Wreck-It Ralph and Scott Pilgrim VS The World for appealing to the same market, that being people who are nostalgic for retro video games. But those films were successful, whilst Pixels has been getting butchered by critics and looks unlikely to make back its budget. That’s because they were auter driven films that put story, style and character ahead of marketing. It’s clear to even the most amiable viewer that there’s very little passion on the screen. The direction is by the books and Adam Sandler looks irritable to have been woken from his medicated nap.

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A movie made because they wanted to tell a story, not for a profit.

No, this is a movie made by the marketers. It’s little surprise that director Chris Columbus is also the producer on this number. For those unfamiliar with the role of the producer, one of their main roles is managing the budget and delivering the profits, whilst the director is in charge of the creative vision and bringing it to life. When you hear about the director having to fight the studio to get the film they want made, it’s the producer who acts as the studio’s representative. In the case of Pixels the creative mind behind the film is equally invested in turning a profit rather than telling a great story. That means playing it safe and going by the focus group charts rather than challenging the audience and spinning an original tale.

On the note of Columbus, there’s been a lot of fuss made in the marketing about him having directed the first two Harry Potter  movies. Now refrain from spitting on me in the street for saying this, but those were the blandest of the series. There was little style, little creativity…the film-makers seemed content with letting the strength of the story to carry the film rather than give it some real flavour. Alfonso Cuarón showed us how it was done with Prisoner of Azkaban. Roughly 75% of Columbus’ directional output is bland drivel, so it’s little surprise Pixels has turned out like this.

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Do they LOOK like they give a shit?

It Insults the Very People It Wants to See the Movie

He’s a point we touched on earlier. This movie banks very heavily of arcade nostalgia, so one would assume that adult geeks are among their target audience. We may be a picky group of viewers but we’re not shy about our hobbies or throwing money around. We love having all this great stuff being made for us. Please, keep up the great work!

But don’t base your film around calling us ‘losers’.

Revenge of the Nerds

We don’t actually see ourselves like this.

The first time we get introduced to the ‘hero’ of this movie, Adam Sandler’s character Adam Sandler, he is stealing money from a child who is selling lemonade by the side of the road. He’s a young teen at the time, but this doesn’t put him in good stead with the viewers as there’s no repercussions or even guilt following this mean-spirited theft. After establishing the characters as super-genius video game players we jump ahead to see that they…complete losers. Adam Sandler has some kind of preternatural mathematical ability for detecting patterns, allowing him to master any game on the first try. This leads him to a miserable existence installing TVs and consoles, where he routinely gets called a loser, because that kind of instinctive mathematical ability is not needed in any other line of work. To be fair he’s a shitty character, insulting a woman who wouldn’t make out with him (after he hits on her in front of her son, intrudes on her life, tries to take advantage of an emotional and drunken state and admits to not cleaning his teeth).

Of the other nerdy characters we have Josh Gad who plays a demented conspiracy theorist who still lives in his grandmother’s basement and wears an anorak. He’s clearly the one based on the marketing research taken from The Big Bang Theory as he dresses like Leonard and his Jewish grandmother screeches at him from off screen like Howard’s mother. He’s also a social disaster, proving to be the deliverer of awkward gay innuendo and obsessing over a mute fictional character. Then there’s Peter Dinklage, a former champion turned loser turned convict later revealed to be a cheat and, again, obsessed with unusual sexual needs.

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I don’t hate this show, but let’s not use it as our only frame of reference, please.

Much of the character arc (I use the term loosely) for all three is based around being ‘accepted’ as geeks. They like to jump around after successfully fighting aliens saying stuff like ‘See! Nerds are useful!’ Everyone around from the military on down constantly makes fun of them for playing video games and being antisocial losers. The movie is setting itself firmly in 1980s geek culture, but the rest of us grew up. This Revenge of the Nerds schtick simply doesn’t apply any more. In 2010 San Diego Comic-Con had about 130,000 attendees and pulled in nearly $200 million for the local region, and that’s one out of thousands on conventions happening worldwide. We’re not a minority group of basement dwellers and obsessives any more – we’re one of, if not the, driving market force in the modern entertainment industry. Portraying us as outdated, insulting stereotypes and expecting us to flock to your movie is completely bloody stupid.

If That’s Even the Audience

Yeah, that’s all assuming the older geek who lived and loved the arcade era is the audience. It’s hard to imagine who else it would be because everything in the movie banks on familiarity and adoration of those retro games. As we’ve said before this group is consistently insulted throughout the movie. In addition to this the humour in infantile and the plot as original and imaginative as a pre-school First Reader book.

Based on that you might think the movie was made for kids. Except they won’t understand most of the references and it insults them for playing modern games. Who was this made for?

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They Don’t Treat the Material With Respect

Getting pissy about ‘Pac-Man’ not being shown accurately on film might seem…sad and pointless…but you have to remember why they’re making this movie in the first place. They want us to spend our money and they’re using our shared cultural history to do this. If you want to do that, fine, but you have to do it right. Even if the characters weren’t walking insults and the approach to the project wasn’t totally indifferent they’d still get hated on for the shitty way they treat the video games.

They very specifically make a point of saying all the aliens are based on arcade games from 1982. It’s a very clear plot point. But they don’t bother sticking to this either because they don’t give a damn, assume that we don’t know the difference or, most likely, both. Dropping in the Duck Hunt dog for a cheap laugh doesn’t work because he’s from a console game released in 1984. Likewise, dropping in a fucking Smurf for some bullshit cross-promotional by Columbia to reference their fucking Smurf movies is garbage because there’s never been a Smurf arcade game. EVER. 

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So many levels of Fuck You.

This are pretty minor complaints but they are indicative of the disrespectful attitude the film-makers have for the material and the audience. Need further proof? Q*BERT pisses himself.

In summary, this could have been a mediocre movie that may have scraped by on the nostalgic appeal. But everything about this movie is done wrong. They made this movie for us not because they like us, or feel like one of us, but because they want our money and think we’re stupid enough to play along with this because it has something we like on the poster.

That’s why everyone hates Pixels.

If you haven’t seen the wonderful short film this shitty cash in was based on, give it some love right here.

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