Does Adam Sandler’s ‘Pixels’ Completely Kill the Chance of a ‘King of Kong’ Remake?

By  · Published on July 24th, 2014

Columbia Pictures/New Line

One of our favorite documentaries of all time here at FSR, The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters debuted back in January 2007 at the Slamdance Film Festival. Before it even released in theaters that August it had become an enormous cult sensation, particularly with people who aren’t normally into nonfiction films. Also before it even opened, director Seth Gordon was recruited by New Line (who also distributed the doc) to remake the feature, presumably to share the goofy story of rival arcade game champions with a much broader audience that wouldn’t ever, ever watch a doc, no matter how entertaining. It’s totally unnecessary, and those doc-despisers don’t deserve this story if that’s how they’re gonna be, but that’s Hollywood for you.

As with most plans to redo docs as dramatic or “narrative” films, though, this one has been taking its sweet time – and doesn’t seem like it’ll ever really happen. Gordon was given other offers from New Line in the meantime to direct other big Hollywood movies such as Four Christmases, and he’s since been attached to a bazillion other projects. Yet over the years, he’s consistently confirmed that a King of Kong remake is still going forward, with minor details revealed that it could actually be more like a sequel and that it will be shot mockumentary style. And according to IMDbPro, following a couple years of unknown status, the project is now listed back in the script stage as of April 21st.

But the more we see of Adam Sandler’s upcoming alien invasion comedy, Pixels, for which Gordon is an executive producer, the more we’re assured that it’s going to be the final nail on the coffin for New Line’s attempt at a second King of Kong movie. The first footage from Pixels, a remake of the hit 2010 short, will likely be revealed this week at Comic-Con, but a few images of Peter Dinklage’s cocky character have already been released ahead of the event’s official start, and boy if he doesn’t look absolutely modeled after King of Kong’s Billy Mitchell. See a full still via Entertainment Weekly and a very brief clip at the end of a tour of the SDCC Pixels-branded arcade via Slashfilm below.

Entertainment Weekly/Columbia Pictures

Not only does Dinklage sport a Mitchell-esque mullet and beard combo, but he’s also apparently a former Donkey Kong champ. There’s no word yet on whether he also makes a popular hot sauce, only that the character was Sandler’s character’s nemesis on the arcade floor and he’s an ex-con. Mitchell isn’t a felon, but that’s the only association needed to paint the guy as even more of a villain than he is in the doc. I’m curious to see if Dinklage’s normal street clothes, as opposed to his special save-the-world suit, will involve button down shirts, black pants and American-flag neckties.

None of that is enough to completely make more redundant the idea of a King of Kong narrative feature, especially because that would likely wind up a legal matter between Columbia/Happy Madison and New Line, but it’s pretty close. Pixels is about guys like Mitchell and Steve Wiebe, who certainly aren’t unique in their histories and status as arcade champs yet are clearly influential on the characters of the movie. It’s kind of a fantasy sequel where Mitchell, Wiebe (Sandler) and Brian Kuh (Josh Gad) are recruited to stop an invasion inspired by 8-bit video games. How’s an actual King of Kong sequel going to top that?

As if to throw off the obvious link to the doc, Pixels director Chris Columbus told EW that Dinklage’s mullet is as simple as a reference to the time when these guys were hot shit. “We thought, ‘Someone has to sport the mullet in the movie,’” he said of the character trait. “His character has been in prison. He’s the only one who’s still trapped in the ’80s a bit.” Meanwhile, he admitted that the movie does pay homage to a lot of other movies, namely Ghostbusters and ’80s titles produced at Amblin, where Columbus worked at the time.

That possibly true coincidence isn’t going to keep people from making the connection, as they have been since the Game of Thrones actor was cast as a “loudmouth” expert at Donkey Kong, Mitchell’s own game, and as they are now again with the peeks at how the character looks. Anyway, this isn’t the first time a movie Gordon was involved with had a character modeled after Mitchell. Colin Farrell didn’t resemble the gamer by chance in the Gordon-directed Horrible Bosses. He was shown The King of Kong as inspiration for his horrible boss character, who does look slightly similar save for the fact that he has a short combover hairdo instead of a mullet. Still, that movie wasn’t about video game champs. And at least it was made by New Line.

We should be happy that Pixels will probably kill the King of Kong remake, regardless of the fact that Gordon has said that it will never die. Who needs it? Sure, I’m always curious about what a redo of a doc will look like, especially since they’re so rare in actuality compared to how many are optioned. But The King of Kong has a narrative, so it’s not that difficult to picture it retold with actors in the roles. That’s part of why it shouldn’t exist. Well, there’s always the hope that the production of a remake will get more people to seek out the original. Hopefully Pixels, while making the King of Kong redo obsolete, has that same effect and steers people toward the doc itself, too.

Pixels opens May 15, 2015.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.