Luke Owen looks at Adam Sandler’s latest box office bomb…
“It’s the cinematic equivalent of receiving a supermarket brand deodorant gift set on Christmas morning: you don’t want it, you’ll never use it, and frankly, it stinks.” – Chris Blohm, Little White Lies
“Some movies are so interminable that it seems they might never end, while others are assembled with such indifference that you are essentially left waiting for them to start. Pixels somehow manages both.” – Mark Olsen, Los Angeles Times
“I see Pixels as a 3D metaphor for Hollywood’s digital assault on our eyes and brains. Not funny. Just relentless and exhausting.” – Peter Travers, Rolling Stone
“Somehow manages to be less fun than Pixels” – Red Eye’s review… of Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four
Those are just a sample of the reviews written about Adam Sandler’s latest box office blunder, Pixels, a movie about a former arcade whizz being called in to help the President fight an incoming war against a group of aliens who believe that video game footage sent into outer space as a way of communicating with intelligent life was a declaration of war. Based on the 2010 short film of the same name – directed by Patrick Jean, who serves as an executive producer on this feature adaptation – Pixels was not just a bomb with critics but a box office calamity. With a reported budget of $88 million, Pixels managed just $77 domestically and although the film performed much better around the world, it wasn’t enough to save it from being considered a ‘flop’.
But was Pixels really that bad?
The short answer is, no. It really wasn’t.
Pixels is every Adam Sandler movie you’ve ever seen, and as such there are things we’ve come to expect. Sandler plays the idiot man-child who is just your ‘everyday kinda guy’ not living up to his full potential but then does live up to his full potential while pulling the girl who is out of his league, it features the same cast of characters that appear in all of his movies – including regular co-star Kevin James (though thankfully not Rob Schnieder) – and also manages that ‘how-did-you-get-involved-in-this-movie’ casting like Peter Dinklage, Michelle Monaghan, Jane Krakowski, Sean Bean, Brian Cox and Dan Aykroyd. Josh Gad at least makes sense after watching The Wedding Ringer. It features the same Adam Sandler comedy we’ve come to expect after seeing his movies for the last twenty years which involves – but is not limited to – toilet humour, pop culture name calling, and screaming at the top of your lungs when it would be inappropriate to scream at the top of your lungs. Although, oddly, that last gag is saved exclusively for Josh Gad this time around, like Sandler passing the torch somewhat. In reality, Pixels is nothing new outside of its very creative plot which, arguably, came from a more talented filmmaker.
Patrick Jean had originally been signed on to write and direct, but struggled to get his short concept into the feature-length realm. In the end Jean took the film to Sony who in turn took it to Sandler and Happy Madison as, according to the filmmaker, it was a guarantee to get the film made. “We ended up signing with Adam and his production Happy Madison for three main reasons,” Jean told Polygon. “One: Adam was perfect as the lead character of our story. Two: With him, the movie was probably going to happen. Looks like we were right on this. Three: I love his movies. I knew he would give the project a truly unique identity.”
Jean retained the director’s chair position, but as the script became more visual and bigger in scale based on the draft written by long-time Sandler collaborator Tim Herlihy, Jean vacated the project to Chris Columbus. In 2012, Timothy Dowling (who worked with Sandler on Just Go With It) came in to do re-writes, moving it further away from a Patrick Jean production to a Happy Madison film. “It wasn’t easy because it was my baby at one point,” Jean told Business Insider. “But I still wanted to be attached to the project, so I learned to watch and not interfere with what Chris wanted.”
Dowling believes that the script he wrote was in vein of what the studio and Jean wanted: a Ghostbusters/Jurassic Park style of summer blockbuster. Grand, epic and fun, with a rag-tag group of characters coming together to fight off a giant adversary. “One of the big things I tried to do was make sure the threat and stakes and the set pieces felt like they came out of a big summer action film,” Dowling told Polygon. “And then the comedy comes from the fact that its not Tom Cruise or Harrison Ford saving the world but Adam Sandler, Josh Gad and Peter Dinklage.” He added: “I was also excited because this is a different type of movie for [Sandler]. His partner Jack, when he read my draft, told Adam, ‘We’re making a Will Smith movie starring you.'”
And that attempt to create a Ghostbusters-style comedy starring Adam Sandler does come across in the final product. The third act of the movie, which is a big screen version of the short film, even has our heroes put on matching jumpsuits just as Venkman, Stanz, Spengler and Zeddemore did in the 1984 comedy classic. The problem with Pixels, however, is that it’s not as funny or as charming as Ghostbusters, and Sandler is no Will Smith.
What you get instead is this bizarre hybrid of a movie that is trying to be a Will Smith action comedy – much like 1997’s Men in Black – but just comes across like every Adam Sandler movie you’ve ever seen with a slightly different colour pallet. The same jokes, the same style of cast, and even the same style of direction despite being helmed by the man behind Gremlins, Mrs. Doubtfire and Home Alone.
But yet somehow, Pixels isn’t as bad as people are making it out to be. If you go by the consensus of the critics – both in print and online – and the general movie-going public, Pixels is “one of the worst movies of the year”. But with competing titles like Terminator: Genisys, Fantastic Four, Jem and the Holograms and Hot Tub Time Machine 2, it seems slightly unfair to label this rather-fun and fairly innocuous outing as one of 2015’s worst.