By Lindsey Bahr
July 18, 2014 at 02:10 PM EDT
George Krychyk

In the high-concept sci-fi action comedy Pixels, aliens misinterpret satellite feeds of classic arcade video games such as Space Invaders and Centipede as a declaration of war and launch an attack on earth using the same eight-bit characters and strategies.

In the Chris Columbus-directed film, the U.S. president (Kevin James) recruits his childhood friends to help save the country. Back in 1982, his three buddies were arcade prodigies, but cut to the present day: “They’re really three losers,” laughs Columbus. They’ve ended up a TV mechanic (Adam Sandler), a felon (Peter Dinklage), and a conspiracy theorist (Frozen‘s Josh Gad). But, they’re still the best guys for the job, and after teaming up with a more up-to-date weapons expert (True Detective‘s Michelle Monaghan), they have no choice but to be ready for battle.

Shown above in their suits for the first time, the so-called Arcaders are on their way to take down Pac-Man. “They’re actually becoming sort of cultural heroes at this point. It’s a very important shot in the film,” says Columbus.

“I feel very fortunate to be able to do a movie that feels extraordinarily original and unique,” says Columbus, who’s still in production. “It’s a little bit of an homage to Ghostbusters and all those great Amblin movies of the eighties—not only the movies that I was involved in like The Goonies and Gremlins—but the movies I loved when I was working there like Back to the Future.”

They even managed to add in some throwback hair with Dinklage’s aggressive mullet. “We thought, ‘Someone has to sport the mullet in the movie,'” says Columbus. So they settled on Dinklage. “His character has been in prison. He’s the only one who’s still trapped in the eighties a bit,” he says.

But hair and tone aside, the classic video games will be the main draw for kids of a certain age. Exactly which games and characters Columbus and crew will be paying homage to is a bit of a mystery, though. Sure, it’s safe to assume Pac-Man, Centipede, and Space Invaders, but the Home Alone director wouldn’t reveal anything else. “I don’t want to ruin the surprise,” he said, adding: “We managed to tip our hat to all of the classics.”

And yet, even though nostalgia reigns supreme, Pixels (out May 15, 2015) won’t look like Tron. Columbus is taking things to the next level visually: “From a visual effects standpoint, audiences are going to be seeing things that they’ve never seen before. To be quite honest, a lot of visual effects movies cover the same territory whether it’s destroying a city or superhero visual effects, they tend to have a certain amount of intense HD reality,” he says. “[Here] we’re taking classic eight-bit characters and turning them into fully realized, three-dimensional, pixelated characters that are quite threatening.” Didn’t you always wonder what Ms. Pac-Man was packing under that little red bow?

2015 movie
  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • 106 minutes
Complete Coverage

Episode Recaps