'Pixels': 1980s Arcade Nostalgia Permeates Premiere of Adam Sandler's New Movie

Pixels Premiere - H 2015
Associated Press

“It was a social thing. You got a buck from your folks and you had to spend it wisely. That’s what it represented for me … grabbing a Coke and checking out boys,” said Michelle Monaghan.

The world premiere of Pixels was a family affair. Adam Sandler, who stars as an electronic installer and former Donkey Kong prodigy, brought his two daughters. “They’re here with the grandmas and the aunts and the uncles and the mama,” he told The Hollywood Reporter on the red carpet outside New York City’s E-Walk theater near Times Square, which was festooned with blow-up vintage arcade characters including an oversized Centipede.

In the film, when aliens attempt to destroy earth using ’80s videogame characters (intercepting a NASA probe containing arcade footage and misinterpreting it as an attack), Sandler must reignite his gaming skills to help Kevin James, a childhood pal who just happens to be the current President of the United States, save the day.

So do Sandler’s daughters, the progeny of an onscreen vintage video game master, play Pac-Man and Donkey Kong? “They do now! Yeah! Daddy is supposedly the best at these games … nah, but they like it. It’s fun for a kid.” When it comes competing with them, though, all bets are off: “I try to destroy them.”

Along with Sandler, castmembers James, Josh Gad, Peter Dinklage, Jane Krakowski, Ashley Benson, Brian Cox, Denis Akiyama (who plays Pac-Man creator Toru Iwatani in the film) and director Chris Columbus attended the premiere, held on a sweltering Saturday evening.

Many of the cast and crew had a personal connection to vintage arcade games.

Pac-Man was so much a part of my childhood. He was created a year before I was born, so we share that power,” Josh Gad told THR on the red carpet, fresh from an enthusiastic embrace with Columbus. (“Chris Columbus. A legend. In my heart,” he pronounced.)

In the movie, Gad — a childhood friend of Sandler and James — who in addition to his serious arcade chops has a more than serious crush on Lady Lisa, a blonde, sword-wielding videogame character who eventually comes to life (played by Pretty Little Liars' Benson, who worked with Columbus to develop convincing videogame-like movements). While Gad has never crushed on a videogame vixen, “I had a crush on an animated character: Jessica Rabbit.”

As children of the ‘80s, both screenwriter Tim Dowling and Michelle Monaghan, who plays Lieut. Col. Violet Van, part of the government unit created to fight the pixelated invasion, have formative memories at the arcade.

“I loved Pong, I loved Pac-Man, I loved Pole Position," Monaghan told THR. “I had older brothers. It was a part of our culture! It was a social thing, you got a buck from your folks and you had to spend it wisely. That’s what it represented for me …grabbing a coke and checking out boys.”

Dowling grew up playing arcade games and never stopped. “My house, my friends describe it as, when you were 13 and you said when you’re older and have money this is what you are going to buy. … I bought all that stuff,” he told THR. “I have arcade games, I have a Coke machine, I have a juke box, I have a Han Solo in carbonite.”

Columbus may have been a little older when arcade-fever reached its zenith, but he played nonetheless. Just instead of an arcade, he played in New York City bars. And instead of a Coke, he drank beer. “The drinking age was 18 back then. I moved to Manhattan, I’d go to the bars and play Donkey Kong with my friends.”

There was one man on hand to cut through the 1980s love-fest. “I don’t know why anyone is nostalgic for the ‘80s. I think it was a particularly horrible time,” Brian Cox, who plays an old-school artillery happy admiral skeptical of Sandler and Co.’s ability to save the world, told THR. “I can see being nostalgic for the 60’s or the early 70’s, but the ‘80s?” Still, he understands why for a certain demographic, it’s nostalgia catnip. “My wife loves the ‘80s because she is the child of the ‘80s.”

Pixels hits theaters Friday.