Thoughts About Thought About Pixels

Last week the Adam Sandler movie Pixels came out, to dismal reviews. The movie seems to be the usual Sandler fare: lazy, juvenile, wasteful, and unnecessary. Nothing unexpected or out of the ordinary. Sandler has become a favorite punching target for folks, and I can’t say it’s without reason, though I think he sleeps fine on a huge bed of cash. I’ve no love for Sandler. I’ve seen only one or two movies with him in them (one being Punch-Drunk Love) and don’t see much of anything there for me.

This time, however, one thing was a little different. Since the subject of Pixels was video games — particularly old-school video games — and therefore a nerdy subject, geeks decided to join in on the bashing. This is interesting to me because 364 other days of the year geeks will loudly and proudly declare that they don’t read reviews and don’t care about them because reviewers don’t know what they like and not every movie has to be Citizen Kane and what not. But this time it was very important to point out and laugh at the poor reviews Pixels was given and get mad when it left 0% on Rotten Tomatoes. Again, usually they’re getting angry that someone failed to give some Marvel movie an A-plus-plus-plus-with-a-star-and-grape-job-sticker.

It was an odd moment to watch. Pixels looks like garbage, sure, and it most likely is. I’ve no doubt it deserves the thumping its getting by reviewers. But I can’t figure out in what way it’s quantifiably worse than any other garbage that usually gets a pass. Especially the stuff that usually gets a pass from the nerds who formed this unusual “enemy-of-my-enemy” alliance with movie reviewers, of all people.

In any given month we get several geek-aimed movies that show similar lazy pandering, vapid characterization, undercooked special effects, and so forth, and usually instead of gleefully showing them the exit we instead have to hear the usual litany of, “just turn off your brain” or “it doesn’t pretend to be more than what it is” or “so bad it’s good” or “I just go in not expecting much”. It’s worth pointing out that Pixels debuted almost simultaneously with Sharknado 3, which didn’t get the same treatment. I can’t figure out why 15 mediocre CGI-fests can get a “meh, I was entertained” but the 16th is just beyond the pale.

I commented elsewhere that I suspected that, if everything else remained exactly the same except Adam Sandler were instead replaced by Chris Pratt, we’d be hearing a different story. My supporting evidence for me is that two of the criticisms I saw thrown at Pixels was shamelessly trading on nostalgia and having only a handful of female characters, one of which is solely a prize for the hero. Well, I’ve seen The Lego Movie, which had both of those things in spades. Was it a better movie and offered more than I imagine Pixels does? I’d bet it does. But these things which are apparently dealbreakers for Pixels were largely overlooked. I would compare it with the phenomenon of how very concerned about poor relationships and role models fans of comics, anime, videogames, and such suddenly get when the subject at hand is Twilight and not, say, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

So I guess it’s the fact that Adam Sandler is a designated punching bag, as is Twilight or 50 Shades of Gray, which makes people who’ve gone to bat for much much worse schlock suddenly turn their nose up and jump on the anti-Pixels brigade. Nerds are famously very much against bullying until it’s them doing it to a convenient lesser target, and I can’t help but be reminded of the celebrated Geek Hierarchy chart which allowed geekdom to say, “Whatever I am, at least I’m not a *groan* furry.” As long as there’s something we can all agree is worse than whatever it is we’re into, we’re above reproach. I might watch any number of hacky-assed brainless movies, but if one of them wasn’t Pixels, I have a clear conscience. See, I do have limits!

Again, I’m not defending Pixels. It looks like a pile of worthless junk. What I’m saying is, it’s not the only pile of worthless junk I’ve seen on offering, just the only one that, for some reason, it’s very important everyone denounce as worthless junk. In the meantime, there will still be a supply of movies no better or worse than it which we’ll be told we can’t say anything bad about or else we’re “haters” or “bitter” or “hate fun”.

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