I remember seeing Patrick Jean’s short film “Pixels” when it first hit the internet a few years ago. It’s a cool short film with a fun concept. It does what it does and is great for it. Then there was Freddie Wong’s “Old School vs New School” which took a similar idea and, though not quite as visually spectacular or narratively sound, was a great ode to nerd culture (Lara Croft from Tomb Raider gets in the lander from Lunar Lander!).
Then along comes this new movie Pixels, based on Patrick Jean’s eponymous short. It’s always exciting to see an independently made short get a feature based on it, especially one with such a relatively nerdy concept. But based on the trailers and such for the film, it’s, well, it’s looking more Big Bang Theory than Chuck.
And not just because of Adam Sandler.
Although there’s an outlandish concept to accept, (not Kevin James as president; an alien invasion taking the form of classic arcade games) but it serves its purpose well enough. That is, it allows the story to collect a team of former arcade super stars. So far, not so bad. There’s a great opportunity here to celebrate retro-gaming and gamers in general: gamers get to save the world! Nerds get to be the winners.
Only thing is, it’s looking like nerds are the punchline again. There’s no attempt to show the them as anything other than people to be laughed at. They could keep them weird, they could make them normal, or even take a page out of Edgar Wright’s The World’s End and have most of them have moved on in their life and now have to access something they thought they grew out of (which, for the heroes of Pixels, would also allow them to recapture the joys of youth). Instead, no, the nerds are social rejects who are thrust into the spotlight for us to enjoy how hilariously out of touch they are. Also, they’re saving the world.
Which, again, wouldn’t be so bad if it felt more like a love letter than, well, whatever this is. Having a fictionalized version of Pac-Man’s creator show up (by name) is awesome, but it’s quickly negated by his appearance being reduced to something of a racist caricature. Because a screaming Japanese man makes for an easy joke. Again, this is based on the trailer, but I have a great deal of respect for Toru Iwatani and it’s disappointing to see someone playing him only to get the short end of a stick.
Which isn’t even touching the film’s gender issues. Michelle Monaghan plays the all too familiar hot-woman-who-tags-along-with-the-nerds, albeit a Lieutenant Colonel. But in doing so the film falls back into the trap of the myth that women can’t be nerds. The film creates a clear gender dichotomy that a woman’s not a gamer and is instead the ‘normal’ character who keeps the others on leash. It’s very rare to see any form of media actually get through this (Chuck had its moments), but nonetheless it’s a bummer. Would it have been too much to rework her character into someone who avidly actually enjoyed games?
Look, Pixels isn’t out yet and I don’t really plan on seeing it (which makes this one of the few things I complain about without watching). But nerd culture is something I’m big on, seeing as it’s something that occupies a large chunk of my life. I want a movie like Pixels, but I want a movie better than it. One where being a nerd is cool and can be anyone, whether they’re socially apt, a man or a woman, or heck, whatever their race is. ‘cause c’mon, nerds are cool now.