By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
NEW YORK—Dave & Busters may be an unlikely venue to hold an effects-laden studio movie press conference, but “Pixels,” isn’t your typical summer blockbuster.
The fantasy action comedy, directed by “Harry Potter” helmer Chris Columbus, is all about vintage video games come to life, courtesy of alien invaders that misinterpret 30-year-old video feeds as a declaration of war.
The president of the United States (played by Kevin James) has no choice but to call on his pals—all video game experts in their day—from the old neighborhood to save the world.
Among the unlikely heroes is Sam Brenner, played by Adam Sandler, who used to be the video game world champion before he grew up and became an unremarkable adult. It’s up to him as well as Ludlow Lamonsoff (Josh Gad) and Eddie “The Fire Blaster” Plant (“Game of Thrones” star Peter Dinklage), along with the president himself, to step up and become the heroes they were meant to be. Michelle Monaghan plays Lt. Col. Violet Van Patten, a military specialist who supplies this elite group of middle-aged arcaders with unique weapons to fight the attacking aliens.
Brooklyn-born Sandler (“Happy Madison,” “Grown Ups”) reveals to the pint-size interviewers in the room and their moms that he actually was a dedicated arcade gamer back in the day.
“We could take the bus downtown to (an arcade called) The Electric Dream Factory, like in the movie,” he recalls. “You got on the bus with a couple of your friends and you hung out. Your parents gave you, like, a dollar, and you could choose to play one game and then get a 75-cent hamburger afterwards, or play all four quarters on games and have nothing to eat.”
A father of two school-age daughters, Sandler adds that he had a blast with his co-stars, including James with whom he’s worked with on several occasions, and also getting to know co-stars Dinklage, Monaghan and Gad.
Q: Did you play classic arcade games in preparation for the film?
Sandler: We all played. We grew up playing these games. We loved it. It was our whole life growing up. When we were about 10, 11 and 12, that was a big deal when the arcades opened up. You got to leave the house and go down there and talk to girls and eat some food. There were some tough kids walking around that you were scared of. It was like “He put his quarter down. Let me step away from that guy.”
Q: In the scene where you doing “Call of Duty,” is there a purposeful message in that?
Sandler: It’s not too preachy, but some of the games are amazing. What’s happening today in the videogame world and how crisp it all is and realistic. Yeah, there’s violent stuff in there. In the ‘80s, the games were a little goofier. You were shooting stuff and blowing up planets and getting chased by things that are trying to kill you, but it seems like the ‘80s versions of these games were more innocent. The colors and stuff were a little more friendly. It’s not a powerful message, but it’s saying there is a difference between the games back then and the games today. The ones today can get aggressive.
Q: Did you ad-lib some of your lines?
Sandler: We’ve always believed in ad-libbing but not as much as (co-star) Josh Gad. He was hilarious. Some of it didn’t make it in (the final cut).
Q: What are your favorite parts of the movie?
Sandler: The (tribute to Pac-Man creator) Toru Iwatani (depicted in the film by Denis Akiyama) was great because we wrote the script a bunch of different ways. A bunch of guys worked on this script. Columbus had the script and he sent it over and said, “Check this out.” It was the Iwatani stuff and I just laughed. It was all Columbus.
Q: How was it doing the “Donkey Kong” scene?
Sandler: That was the best. We were pretty high up there. We were on this giant stage. It was like 70 feet up or something.
Q: How was it working on the set with your co-stars?
Sandler: Every combination was great. Everybody was having a good time. Everybody paired off or we were all together. Kevin and Dinklage hung out together. We all had a lot of fun.
Q: Kevin James said Chris Columbus had an amazing amount of energy.
Sandler: Yeah, every day at lunch, Chris would run six miles—while drinking wine! I followed him one day. He was drinking wine and running. It’s like when your agent shows up in a Rolls-Royce, you go, “Shouldn’t I have that?”