The live-action zombie apocalypse of Dead Rising: Watchtower is almost here, and you can watch it even earlier if you have an Xbox. Microsoft's Larry "Major Nelson" Hryb has confirmed that the digital-only film will be exclusive to the Xbox 360 and Xbox One Crackle app from March 20 to 26.
Following their gaming cousins, now movies are getting timed exclusives on consoles, too. I'm miffed-to-nonplussed about the business practice for stuff like Rise of the Tomb Raider, but it's just one more way that Watchtower is a true video game movie, made in the spirit of the game it's based on.
Watchtower’s main character, glory-chasing reporter Chase Carter, wears a Servbot shirt and wields a sledge saw. The movie’s zombie outbreak is seemingly caused by a bad batch of Zombrex. And speaking of Zombrex, Watchtower has a cameo from Rob Riggle (the beefy Daily Show correspondent) as Frank West. None of that guarantees a good movie in the critical sense, of course, but Watchtower clearly has ample love for its source material and, as a result, will probably be worth watching for Dead Rising fans.
Contrast that with the much-larger budget Pixels, a movie about Adam Sandler and Kevin James fighting arcade game characters in New York City. SFX published its first trailer this week, showing scenes of destruction wrought by familiar characters like Donkey Kong and Pac-Man, and the jumpsuit-wearing task force of aging gamers assembled to stop them.
Pixel's gaming icons are gorgeous, all wondrous stacks of flowing, glowing voxels... but they were just as gorgeous in the short film the movie's loosely based on. And when I was watching that short film in 2010, at no point did I wish it would last about 88 more minutes, use a tired Ghostbusters plot device, and have a leading role for Paul Blart, mall cop.
The feature-length Pixels seems so mercenary, created to capitalize on nostalgia for old arcade games. I don't doubt that Sandler was a big arcade junkie back in the day, but a true love of gaming doesn’t come through in the trailer. All I can feel is that a movie executive saw Wreck-It Ralph did well and wanted some of that gamer ticket money.
Dead Rising: Watchtower isn't trying to sell tickets - you can't even watch it in theaters. It's debuting exclusively on Crackle, an ad-supported streaming service. The movie's biggest star talent is the guy with the eyebrows from The Daily Show. Watchtower looks like it's going to be cheesy as hell, but that's ok, because Dead Rising is cheesy, too. Frank West's covered wars, you know.
To be fair, Pixels does have less cinematic inspiration to draw from. Capcom decided the original Dead Rising needed a disclaimer saying it was in no way associated with George A. Romero or Dawn of the Dead on its box cover, and Pac-Man… Pac-Man eats dots. Sandler and company had to fill in the gaps somehow to make a feature-length production, and an action comedy plotline will probably work as well as anything else.
But if that kind of compromise is what it takes for more video game movies to make it to the silver screen, it's a bad deal. I'd rather have tiny budgets, digital-only releases, comically brief console exclusivity windows, and motion pictures that clearly love their source material as much as I do. Dead Rising: Watchtower, I have a bag of microwave popcorn with your name on it.