Tuesday, January 26, 2016

"Pixels": heed Stephen Hawking's warning about broadcasting our dirty laundry to aliens

Pixels” (2015), directed by Chris Columbus, is a sci-fi comedy that picks up on a warning issued by Stephen Hawking.  Specifically, if aliens find messages we broadcast to them, they just might pay us a hostile visit.  Apparently, according to the premise of the film, NASA made the unwise decision to send the specs of some of our favorite early 80s video games.

I can recall the appeal of the Pac-man style pastimes of the early Reagan era (and in the film, the aliens use Ronald Reagan’s proxy to announce their threat – but really, they just want to “play”).  People would get disciplined for being seen in convenience stores playing video games when they should have been at work;  and these were the old mainframe days before people had PC’s at work capable of games (which employers usually removed).

As the movie opens, Sam Brenner wins a tournament playing “Donkey Kong” at age 13 in 1982.  The tween, played by Anthony Ippolito, shows a lot of charisma that would predict great things in young adulthood.  But he does not become another Taylor Wilson.  At age 48, in present day, he’s played by Adam Sandler, who does in-home entertainment installations, wearing shorts shamelessly revealing embarrassingly hairless, ladylike gams.  But in the intervening years, his best friend Bill Cooper accomplished a lot more, becoming President of the United States, played by Kevin James.  (To me, Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen are of the same ilk.)

Suddenly, Guam is attacked, and then India, and pretty soon the homeland is under threat.  The NSA (Brian Cox, from L.I.E., plays Admiral Porter) figures out that they have to outplay the aliens in a video game, and Brenner gets called to the White House, still in shorts.  The alien missiles look like little fireflies (like in “Skyline”, on my “cf” blog, Nov. 14, 2010), but they pixelate their targets, even people, into little pieces.  (By the way, I’ll mention here that the end of “Skyline” (the Strauss Brothers), showing what could happen inside to an abductee inside an alien spaceship, really was pretty convincing; nothing like that here.)

The whole concept of “Pixels” is not much more than comic mechanical manipulation of a possibly serious idea.  But saying it’s only a summer movie is a lame excuse.

The official site is here (Sony and Columbia Pictures).  It is available on DVD rental now.

Picture: Huntsville, AL (mine, 2014).

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