Screen Themes — Pixels vs Gremlins

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It’s school holiday time and entertainment editor John Turnbull brings in a couple of helpers to check out some family-friendly movies, the video game inspired Pixels and the creature-feature classic Gremlins.

Pixels (2015) directed by Chris Columbus

I'LL GET THIS out of the way to start I generally do not care for Adam Sandler movies. I thought the Wedding Singer and Big Daddy were cute and Punch Drunk Love was interesting, but pretty much everything he has done in the last 15 years sucks. In my opinion. Pixels has also received woeful early reviews, with a current rating of 17 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes.

With that in mind, I went into Pixels with managed expectations. It has been marketed as a “family movie”, with every star managing to use the phrase multiple times on the recent press junket, and the approach seems to have worked. Despite never having played games like Pac Man, Space Invaders or Donkey Kong, both Danger and Angel were hyper-excited to see Pixels.

The plot (such as it is) involves an alien invasion, spurred by a Voyager-style probe that contained footage of the aforementioned Video Game Championships, which these supposedly highly advanced aliens took as a declaration of war.

Sandler plays former video game champion Brenner, who despite being of supposedly genius-level intelligence has turned into a total loser because he once lost at Donkey Kong when he was 10. His fat best friend grew up to be Kevin James, who plays a buffoonish President of the United States, while his nemesis became Peter Dinklage, having fun in a mullet and porno moustache.

Broadway star Josh Gad (The Book of Mormon) plays “Wonderkid” Ludlow Lamensoff, and Gad must have a musical number in his contract no matter how out of context it is. There is a totally unnecessary yet predictable romance with high-level-military-official-who-never-wears-a-uniform Michelle Monaghan, while grizzled veteran Brian Cox seems to be on auto-pilot as military chief Admiral Porter. This is not a movie to watch for the acting.

Pixels is an odd movie in many ways, with a lot of jokes (such as they are) aimed well over the heads of kids, like using 80’s icons Hall & Oates to deliver messages from the alien invaders. As you might expect there is a lot of video game style violence, and while there isn’t any blood, more sensitive youngsters may get freaked out now and again. Fortunately, that’s not what I’ve got…

Danger (9):

“I liked it when they got the trophies from the big boss thing. One was like a pixel dog, and the other was Q-bert. My second favourite thing was when the centipede was coming down and killing all of the soldiers and the nerds were the only ones who could see the pattern. The Pac-Man car chase was great, and it was hilarious when Pac-Man bit his creator’s arm off.”

Angel (6):

“My favourite part was when the boy with curly hair kissed the pretty video game girl, and then Q-bert changed into the video game girl, and then they had little baby Q-berts. That was weird. I also liked the bit when the little tiny man fell into the water.”

So there you have it.

Ratings:   Danger: 9/10 +++ Angel: 10/10 +++ John: 3/10

Gremlins (1984) directed by Joe Dante

Written by Pixels director Chris Columbus as he was getting his start in Hollywood, Gremlins is one of those 80’s films that you remember fondly, but may not hold up well to contemporary viewing. Columbus went on to direct Home Alone and a couple of Harry Potter Movies before making Pixels, so it’s fair to say that he’s been a success.

Essentially a Christmas movie, Gremlins features a couple of 80’s stars that promised a lot but disappeared for one reason or another. Zach Galligan plays dickish protagonist Billy Peltzer, who is evidently so spoilt that his father has to search obscure and stereotypical underground shops to find him an unusual present.

The present he finds is a mogwai, a cute furry thing that can’t be exposed to bright light, water or be fed after midnight. I say Billy is dickish because within ten minutes of getting Gizmo he spills water on him, resulting in a horrible seizure that Billy observes without a hint of compassion. When another mogwai pops out of Gizmo’s skin, Billy immediately takes it to a his borderline psychopath med-student friend to experiment on, and things go south from there.

Phoebe Cates plays Billy’s longtime friend Kate, who hates Christmas because all fathers in this movie are morons. Her role in this movie is to act bitchy, scream a bit and then fall in love with Billy, all of which she does without much passion. After being typecast as the “sexy girl” following 1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Cates struggled with stardom and only worked sporadically before retiring from acting in 1994. 

Wildly racist, slow to get going and remarkably mean spirited at times, Gremlins only really kicks into gear when the titular monsters go on a rampage. The scenes where the Gremlins are taking over the town are inspired, and the use of puppets rather than CGI increases their charm immensely.

Interestingly, it is implied (if not outright shown) that the Gremlins kill a number of innocent people on this rampage, which was obviously slightly more acceptable in a family movie in 1984 than it is today. But what did the kids think?


“I liked the bit where Gizmo multiplied, and there were a whole bunch of mogwai. I also liked it when the gremlins went crazy in the movie theatre.”


“I liked it when the man bought Gizmo from the shop, because he is really cute. I also like the part when Gizmo drove the little pink car.”

Ratings:   Danger: 10/10 +++ Angel: 10/10 +++ John: 7/10 

Like what you read? John’s books are now available on Amazon and Kindle. For about the price of a cup of coffee you can take a journey deep into the disturbed psyche behind columns including Screen Themes, Think For Yourself, New Music Through Old Ears and JT on NXT. There’s supernatural thriller Damnation’s Flame, action/romance Reaper, black comedy City Boy and travel guidebook Bar Trek: Europe. Check them out!

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