“The only thing necessary for the triumph of Adam Sandler is for good men to do nothing,” Burke once said. Leaked emails from Sony show just how many men and women did nothing while Pixels, one of the worst movies of the year, was in production. They have blood on their hands.
How does something bad happen? Sometimes it’s by order of a dictator or just an unlucky accident. But other times, ostensibly bright and professionally capable people with a great deal of power fool themselves into believing something bad is actually good, because the terrible truth is too terrible to believe. Adam Sandler’s latest film, Pixels, a movie about video games that come to life and try to destroy Earth before being defeated (I assume, haven’t seen the flick) by Sandler, Josh Gad, and Peter Dinklage, is one such terrible truth. The film has been near-universally panned by critics since it opened last month, earning a lowly 18 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes and nothing but bile for its writer and star, Adam Sandler, whose “total lack of involvement brings his fellow cast members down” according to New York magazine.
Sony Pixels dropped hard in its second weekend, tumbling 57% for a $10.4 million second frame and a new $45.61m domestic total for the $90m video game-centric sci-fi action comedy. That’s one of Adam Sandler’s bigger second weekend drops, on par with You Don’t Mess With the Zohan (-57%) and just above Funny People (-64%). And yeah, I took my newborn to see it on Monday as one of those “take your baby to the movies” showings. It was sadly every bit as bad as you’ve heard, and that’s coming from someone who still defends Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and loves Role Models.
How did people whose job is to make good movies—and make money—do the opposite?
Children born during the last year Adam Sandler was funny are now considering what college to attend, and yet the comic and his vanity production company enjoy tremendous sway within Sony Pictures, the studio that continues to provide a breeding ground for his comedies, like an old wheelbarrow filled with water and malarial fly larvae. Sony’s unwillingness to exercise critical thinking with regards to Happy Madison Productions has become such an ongoing embarrassment that many employees cite Sandler as one of their top grievances.
But looking through hacked emails between top Sony Pictures executives published earlier this year by Wikileaks reveals that none of them saw what was coming—in fact, many thought they were working on a classic.
On Pixels set. Going great. Martha Stewart was amazing. Gonna be funny.
Pascal herself agreed that Pixels, a movie in which Q*Bert fucks Josh Gad, looked good:
From: Pascal, Amy
To: Belgrad, Doug; Dickerman, Sam; Minghella, Hannah
Sent: Sat Jan 04 08:53:03 2014
I thought pixels was really good
In June 2014, Sony exec Adam North provided Pascal with an update on the film’s progress:
It’s subtle, but it feels like a different Sandler (in a good way), and Josh Gad is still so funny.
This was the first and last time Sandler’s work would be described as “subtle.”
In February of 2014, Doug Belgrad emailed Pascal to say that Sandler et al. were working on a more conservative version of the script, later described by another exec as “cleaner”:
Re: Pixels budget meeting
Adams cranking on a script with cuts... No area 52, pacman in NYC, centipede reduced, DC action reduced. We’ll budget that and then work out a proposal to him and chris to modify deals. That’s when you need to lobby him...later this week.
Btw, Gad loved the script. Have to work out his schedule. KJ loved it too.
Sony Pictures Japan exec Noriaki Sano signed off:
Read the script with pleasure especially knowing the games of those days.
In January of that year, Columbia Pictures co-president Hannah Minghella praised Pixels’ humanity:
Lots of really good work on the script. More than ever Brenner feels like our protagonist and all the relationships are working to explore his own feelings of inadequacy as opposed to competing for attention. We see this in both his friendship with Cooper, his romance with Violet and his rivalry with Eddie.
Steven O’Dell, President of Sony Pictures Releasing International, was optimistic about the movie’s reception overseas:
Had a meeting with Chris Columbus and Sandler. They showed the 3 key action sequences of Pixels in previs. It looks fantastic…I’m 100% in on this one.
Stephen Basil-Jones, a Sony VP covering the studio’s Oceanic territory, concurred:
I’m with you……………..loved the script.
But no one outside of Sony’s despairing echo chamber liked the script. The reviews are uniformly scathing:
“Pixels is a movie without wit, without jokes, with nothing to say but plenty to regurgitate.” - The Globe and Mail
“Pixels” is a special-effects eyeful burdened by the fact that it is also yet another film in which Adam Sandler plays a man-child who somehow turns the head of an attractive woman.” - The New York Times
“Not funny. Just relentless and exhausting.” - Rolling Stone
“Moronic jokes.” - New York Daily News
“[A] barrage of witless one-liners, strained reaction shots and aggressively inane celebrity cameos.” - Variety
You could look at the disconnect between these internal emails and external reception and come to the shopworn-but-incontrovertible conclusion that, in Hollywood, No One Knows Anything. You can also feel a pang of sympathy for these poor, overpaid saps who watched each other pour tens of millions of dollars down the drain while keeping their game faces on and texting “Yes!” to the right people.
Because, at bottom, it’s really Adam Sandler’s fault. He’s got the entire film and TV monolith in a sort of Stockholm Syndrome thrall. A September 2014 email between Minghella and Pascal regarding a contemporaneous Sandler project (an adaptation of Candy Land, sure to be a classic) is revealing:
Developing with Sandler is complicated as you both know even better than I do. I rolled up my sleeves and did my best to bring a singular emotional idea and narrative structure to the version he was developing because the bar for these movies is really high and you can’t just string a bunch of jokes together.
As are Pascal’s replies, in typical Pascalian fashion:
Adam is an asshile and this is more his fault than anyone’s but what we did was not communicate with eachother and make assumptions maybe I didn’t pay attention when you were telling me what I was walking into but it also comes from a non alien meant between us all and too many people doing everything and no one taking responsibility and I mean myself as it is my responsibility to let you guys know what I want to breath life into
Sandler...made up in his head that everyone forced him to write the script while he was shooting pixels at great personal sacrifice to him and his family. also convinced himself that all of you loved the movie and wanted to make it and were waiting on the final word from me since everyone else at the studio was over the moon which is why everyone was assembled as a tribunal
So, it’s what we’ve always known: Adam Sandler is about as professional and capable of navigating the adult world as the manchildren he plays on screen. How else could he get away with demanding that his wife be cast in Pixels, for no reason?
On Jun 4, 2014, at 12:48 PM, “Belgrad, Doug” <Doug_Belgrad@spe.sony.com> wrote:
Adam called me a little sheepishly to ask if we would be ok casting Jackie as the First Lady.
I think we got so much goodwill by casting Gad, Dinklage, Monaghan and not having silly cameos or the like that it won’t be a problem to have Jackie in the movie for a few scenes.
But I want to make sure I’m not compromising after we’ve all worked so hard to make the right version of the movie.
Anybody have concerns?
Pascal’s reply: “He promised it would be good and funny.” Well, if he promised.
Illustration by Jim Cooke