'Pixels': A movie needs more than nostalgia to win over audiences

Pixels stars Adam Sandler, Peter Dinklage, and Josh Gad as video game experts who must take down real-life versions of game characters. But critics are saying the film relies solely on memories audience members would have of these characters without supplying satisfying humor or a good story.

Courtesy of Sony Pictures/AP
'Pixels' is directed by Chris Columbus.

“Pixels,” a movie about video game champions battling real-life versions of famous characters, stars Adam Sandler and Peter Dinklage and opens on July 24.

In the film, aliens attack Earth and are inspired in doing so by '80s video game characters like Q*bert and Pac-Man, and the president (Kevin James) decides that the people most equipped to deal with this problem are those who have spent hours fighting the characters onscreen. Characters played by Sandler, Dinklage, and Josh Gad of “Frozen” step up to try to take down the attackers. 

Sandler’s recent work includes the little-seen 2014 movie “The Cobbler” and the 2014 movies “Top Five” and “Blended,” while Dinklage stars as court plotter Tyrion Lannister on the HBO fantasy series “Game of Thrones.”

The movie, which banks on the nostalgia audience members would feel when seeing a large version of a video game character like Donkey Kong, continues the trend of Hollywood betting big on audiences wanting to be reminded of entertainment experiences they’ve already had. This summer saw the release of “Terminator Genisys,” the newest film and a reboot of the classic science fiction film series, while this December will see the release of a new “Star Wars” film, complete with original series stars Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill. 

However, for some audience members, nostalgia by itself isn’t enough to make a film interesting. One reviewer called the film’s storyline “moronic,” while another found the film’s humor to “seldom hit the mark” and one critic wrote that the film has “soul-sucking emptiness… lazy.” 

In addition, some feel the pull of nostalgia isn’t enough for audience members to not notice when an idea for a film is similar to a very recent one. Some critics pointed out the similarities between “Pixels” and the 2012 Disney animated film “Wreck-It Ralph,” which centered on an original video game character of the same name but featured cameos by various classic video game characters including Bowser, Mario, and Sonic the Hedgehog as well as Q*bert, who also pops up in “Pixels.” One critic wrote that the movie is mostly “’Wreck-It Ralph’ novelty without the character development,” while another wrote that “within the rarefied realm of 1980s video game nostalgia, ‘Pixels’ is no ‘Wreck-It Ralph.’”

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