Pixels gives old gaming favourites (and a new one) the Hollywood treatment
Movie is inspired by the 2010 short film of the same name that depicted old-school games wreaking carnage on New York
Q*bert is ready for his close-up.
After bringing such characters as Harry Potter and Mrs Doubtfire to life on the big screen, director Chris Columbus is inserting classic video game characters into the real world in his latest film. Pixels follows a trio of 1980s arcade champions who are recruited by the government to stop an alien force that's taking the form of Donkey Kong and other interactive critters.
"I was excited about bringing these characters to life in a way we haven't seen," says Columbus. "I've done visual effects before, but they've all been reality based. In this particular situation, we were creating 30-foot-tall, lived-from-within creatures that had to be menacing enough to destroy a city, yet also have a mischievous charm about them."
Pixels is inspired by the 2010 short film of the same name that depicted old-school games wreaking carnage on New York. Columbus included imagery from about 20 titles, such as Burger Time and Tetris. During an interview on the Sony backlot, the Home Alone director discusses bringing the games to life in his movie.
For their first mission against the misunderstood extraterrestrials, the Pixels protagonists, played by Adam Sandler and Josh Gad, encounter the slithering baddies who star in the 1981 shoot-'em-up Centipede. In the movie, behemoth renditions of the game's bugs descend from the sky onto human forces positioned on a football pitch in London.
"I wanted Centipede to be a surrealistic three-dimensional moment," says Columbus. "I pushed it into Yellow Submarine territory where, in the middle of that scene, it just totally turns psychedelic. You shouldn't do any mind-altering drugs before you watch that particular sequence."
An oversized tyrannical take on Pac-Man goes on a chomping spree through New York as the movie's heroes tail the pellet-eating character in Mini Coopers. Columbus filmed the chase sequence over 31/2 weeks, having the actors followed by a yellow golf cart, which was later replaced with a computer-generated Pac-Man.
"Because the visual-effects toolbox is so giant these days, there's a temptation to do everything CGI, but I wanted a tangible, hand-made quality to the film," Columbus says.
In the movie, the cube-hopping Q*bert serves as an intergalactic trophy who eventually becomes a sidekick to the human heroes. Despite Q*bert's habit of speaking only in cartoon bubbles filled with punctuation marks, the Gremlins screenwriter opted to give the aliens' Q*bert a voice and beef up his role.
"When we started playing around with the designs, it was like my Gizmo moment from Gremlins," Columbus says. "I could actually create a fun, loveable character that kids would respond to."
Although the filmmakers licensed characters from real-world video games for the movie, they crafted a ninja-fighting heroine named Lady Lisa (Ashley Benson), who serves as an unconventional love interest for Gad's character. And to promote Pixels, Sony released a mobile game resembling Dojo Quest.
"I thought it would be fun to create just one game that didn't exist back in the '80s," says Columbus. "A character like Lara Croft could've worked, but I loved the fact that Josh Gad's character has been pining for this woman all his life."
The climactic battle takes place inside the aliens' mother ship, where filmmakers recreated the barrel-jumping game from 1981. Columbus called Donkey Kong "the holy grail" of game characters and said talking Nintendo into letting them use the angry ape wasn't easy.
"We literally built the game from scratch," says Columbus. "It was mind-blowing to see actors 100 feet (30 metres) in the air on harnesses running from barrels that we later added."
Pixels opens on August 20