Pixels

 

            Yes, the plot if familiar.  The book “Ender's Game” (as well as the subsequent movie) began with a kid exhibiting great skill at a video game.  In that scenario, the surprised boy was asked by an Interplanetary Alliance to help defend them from their attackers, because the extraordinary hand-eye co-ordination he'd developed was exactly what they needed in their own fighter consoles.  Yes, the implication was that that video game was being monitored to see who was a superior player.

            Similar idea here, with a few embellisments.  Brenner (Adam Sandler) was a kid in 1982, when the original arcades came out, with Pac-Man and Galaga and Donkey Kong and those video game classics.  Brenner's good buddy at the time was Cooper (Kevin James), who was glad to accompany him to the national video gaming championships, which Brenner lost to a swaggering little self-promoter named Eddie (Peter Dinklage).

            Fast-forward to the present day, and Brenner hasn't managed to do much with himself.  He's still hanging around video games, except now he's just an installar for other people's video/sound systems.  He's on just such a call when he meets Violet (Michelle Monaghan), who's installing a new system for her young son as a divorce present?  She's still upset about the breakup, because her husband left her for a younger woman, and Brenner does his best to comfort her, but she's too snobby to be interested in him.  After all, she's a Colonel in the Air Force, on the National Security Council, which has just called an emergency meeting.

            It seems the aliens have invaded Guam.  In the form of icons from an old video game.  Apparently when NASA launched some video games into space as part of a test probe, the aliens thought war was being declared, and decided to attack us using our own game formats.  They didn't realize we weren't serious.  Apparently there's no silliness residing in these aliens, but rest assured there is plenty in this movie.

            Here's where the “Ender's Game” gambit dovetails:  suddenly the National Security Council realizes it needs old-style video gamers to counteract the unexpected alien invasion.  Of course that violates all kind of protocols, which are conveniently trumped by Cooper, who just happens to have become President of the United States.  His old buddy Brenner is glad to help, but soon realizes that he needs his old rival, Eddie, as well, and he has to be sprung from prison.  Instant Presidential pardon.

            Despite the “we-gotta-save-the-world” urgency, there's a sweetness here about Brenner, as he dotes on Violet (who now has a newfound respect for him).  He wants to stop the aliens without any collateral damage, which is difficult to do when they invade both London and Washington, D.C.  But the aliens also communicate (using 1980's pop icon figures, a very funny idea), that they will only withdraw their invasion forces if their video game figures are defeated. 

            Yes, it's a strange sight, seeing a giant Pac-Man devouring cars and buildings.  And people get pixillated, as a way of beaming them up to the alien ship.  And cooperation between countries is always a little dicey, even in the face of a common enemy.  Despite the goofy screenplay, there's something cute and winsome about this film, for kids of all ages, even this curmudgeony ol' Grandpa.

 

Questions For Discussion:

1)                  What video games did you play as a kid?

2)                  Do you think video games in general represent good entertainment for kids, or do they represent a complete waste of time?  How about for adults?

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen is the Supply Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Kaufman, Texas