(2015) * 1/2 Pg-13
105 min. Sony Pictures. Director: Chris Columbus. Cast: Michelle Monaghan, Adam Sandler, Peter Dinklage, Kevin James.

/content/films/4817/1.jpg"Fast-food cinema" presents the critic with something of a quandary. The critic knows the food lacks sustenance and, in fact, is actively bad for the consumer. On the other hand, such a meal every once in a while won't kill anyone. And some get big satisfaction, temporary joy even, out of the greasy, salty stuff passing for food. Who are critics to argue? And who would listen anyway? Ladies and gentlemen...Pixels!

Based on a clever little French short film by Patrick Jean (which is available for free viewing on YouTube), Pixels is a soulless commercial enterprise: its only "art" the art of the steal, and smart only in marketing terms. Pixels enthusiastically rips off Ghostbusters by jumpsuiting up wisecracking misfits whose long-scoffed-at specialized knowledge becomes vital to saving New York City and, indeed, the planet, when fantastical invaders begin making a scene (proving my point, Dan Aykroyd generously makes a cameo). In this case, the invaders are "space invaders" (yeah, like the game!) who emulate 1980s arcade games while forcing Earthlings into a competition played for the stakes of the planet.

Adam Sandler stars as Sam Brenner, a champion of the first Worldwide Video Arcade Championships who's now a self-described "loser who's good at old video games." But for one thing: his best friend is the President of the United States (Kevin James, natch), and when the space invaders start assaulting the planet in the form of Galaga, Centipede, Pac-Man and the like, Sam's skills suddenly become of vital (inter)national interest. He's soon joined by others from the past—socially inept arcade rat Ludlow Lamonsoff (Josh Gad) and cocky champion Eddie Plant (Peter Dinklage)—and working side by side with inventive scientist Lt. Col. Violet van Patten (Michele Monaghan), on whom he has a crush.

Certainly, if you can suspend disbelief enough to imagine Kevin James as our idiot President, you can swallow the rest of Pixels as the "Arcaders" bicker and defend us from the onslaught of alien tech capable of pixelating everything in sight, from buildings to people. The action comedy has a leg up on most Sandler pictures in competent director Chris Columbus (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone), and there's a strong nostalgia factor to both flatter and placate middle-agers accompanying their kids to the latest colorful special-effects extravaganza.

That said, Pixels resembles its own remarks about predictable patterns in the circuitry of arcade games: here is a series of crass caricatures, obvious setups and payoffs (not to mention a woman problem reflecting the worst of the gaming world), further suffocated by overweening commercialism via product placement. The original short film at least offers 2 1/2-minutes of creativity, which is about 2 minutes more than the feature version has to show for itself. The dumb jokes just keep coming, like asteroids, Donkey Kong's barrels, or those salt-and-fat snacks you know you'll later regret.

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Aspect ratios: 2.39:1

Number of discs: 3

Audio: Dolby Atmos, Dolby TrueHD 7.1, DTS-HD Master Audio

Street date: 10/27/2015

Distributor: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Sony Blu-ray releases come with the promise of top-of-the-line A/V specs, and the Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray +Digital HD combo pack of Pixels is no exception; it seems unlikely this presentation could be beat under the current standards. Though a bit dimmer than the 2D version, the hi-def 3D transfer provides the best overall experience of the film (except for the 3D-intolerant). As in theaters, the 3D effects prove to be the feature's best feature, adding pop and energy and excitement to the action scenes and more visual interest than usual to the dialogue scenes of an Adam Sandler comedy. The latter elements provide convincing depth, but the transfer shines when the video games and laser weapons come to life, begin flying around the screen, and take roller-coaster-esque drives or dives toward the viewer. Like basically every 3D transfer, this one can be prone to occasional crosstalk, one's mileage varying by equipment and positioning; also, some of Pixels' biggest action moments take place at night, which challenges the 3D transfer in the area of shadow detail, sometimes succumbing to crush. Mostly, though, you'll be bouncing back in your chair, laughing and gasping at the approaching video-game monsters or rocketing debris. Also included in the set—and easier on the eyes—is the 2D transfer, an unambiguously perfect, always bright, tight, and finely resolved image. Colors appear truer than in the 3D transfer, while detail and textures remain equally good.

Sound comes in three flavors in this set: Dolby Atmos and Dolby TrueHD 7.1 on the 2D version and DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio on the 3D version. Presumably the 3D version gets an audio downgrade due to disc space, but the average listener won't notice any difference in these three highly capable presentations. Best in set goes to the lossless 7.1 mix, but audiophiles will probably want to take the Atmos presentation for a spin, while 3D viewers can take what they get, a very impressive lossless 5.1 mix. All feature outstanding separation and placement of dialogue (well-prioritized), effects, and music; these are nicely detailed, even subtle mixes, that all support the action with punch and the not-so-secret weapon of a powerful LFE kick when the alien creatures rumble hardest.

Not much effort or many resources seem to have gone into the package's bonus features. The 3D disc includes 3D previews for The Walk, Hotel Transylvania 2, and Goosebumps while the rest of the extras reside on the 2D disc: Making of/Special Effects/Scene Recap Featurettes take us on a quick tour of the featured video-game characters "Pac-Man" (4:32, HD), "Donkey Kong" (4:07, HD), "Centipede" (3:36, HD), "Galaga" (3:33, HD), "Dojo Quest" (4:20, HD), and "QBert" (2:32, HD); promo-length pieces "God of the Machine" (1:36, HD) and "The Space Invader" (1:40, HD) pay very brief tribute to, respectively, Toru Iwatani (noting his importance in video-game history and his cameo role) and a Space Invaders high-scorer who won a walk-on role; and we get the "Music Video 'Game On by Flocka Flame ft. Good Charlotte'" (3:59, HD) and a Photo Gallery (HD).

For those who dig(-dug) Pixels and have 3D equipment, the Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray +Digital HD combo pack is a no-brainer, but casual fans won't miss terribly much in simply picking up the 2D edition, while the uninitiated are probably better off staying that way.


Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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