Chris Columbus on revisiting past glories in his career and onscreen in ‘Pixels’

Here's why I hated writing that “Pixels” review: I really like Chris Columbus.

I remember reading about “Gremlins” before it came out, and part of what was so appealing about it was the story of the 19-year-old writer from NYU who sold his script to Steven Spielberg. I mean, come on… that was the dream narrative for an '80s kid who was crazy about movies.

I can't actually tell you where or when I met him for the first time, but every single conversation I've had with him, I have enjoyed enormously. That includes the conversation I had with him last week about “Pixels.” This is longer than the typical video interview we run here, and it was conducted one afternoon on the Sony lot in the middle of a big day of press for Columbus. Despite that, from the moment he rolled in, he seemed like he was relaxed and ready to talk about anything.

“How is that possible?” I'm sure some of you will ask. “You gave the movie a terrible review!” True, but an interview isn't the place where that matters. I've always believed that an interview is the filmmaker's chance to tell me what they think they made or tell me what they liked about their film. The review is my chance to tell them if I agree. It doesn't have to be any more antagonistic than that.

Take the conversation we have about Josh Gad, for example. Overall, I am fascinated by Gad as a performer. There's a particular role that Hollywood seems to need to fill, and there's a general pool of guys they're pulling from when they go to cast it, including Zach Galafianakis, Dan Vogel, TJ Miller, and Gad. It's possible to escape that pool, of course. Seth Rogen write and directed his way out of what could easily have been a career of playing that same role, and Jack Black pushed the outer edge of the weird envelope to a place where he's become singular. Gad has that potential as well, and part of the reason is because of his skills as a musical performer. Holy cow, can that dude sing. When Columbus and I start talking about Gad, that is indeed sincere pleasure you're seeing.

The same is true when we're talking about “The Witch,” one of the best films I saw at this year's Sundance Film Festival. That's an amazing movie, and Columbus seems equally proud of his role on that film as he does of his work on “Pixels.” That's a guy who is perfectly comfortable with who he is as a filmmaker, and that's part of what I like about Columbus. It's what I like about filmmakers in general, and it's something that only comes with time and experience, that kind of comfort with their identity.

Part of that identity is his work in the Amblin' era, and we talked a bit about the inevitable revisits of both “Gremlins” and “Goonies” that Warner Bros. continues to work towards with various writers and filmmakers. I've heard stories about the various approaches that have been tried on each film, and I was curious if Columbus has ever been tempted to direct a modern “Gremlins” film that might be more like his original ideas about just how nasty those things could be. I still remember that great image described from his spec script of a McDonald's in which all the customers are dead and chewed up, and not a single bite of the fast food has been disturbed. That's grim and reeeeeeeeally funny. And I guarantee that guy's still in there, no matter how family friendly Columbus can be.

And that “Home Alone” sequel I bring up at the end of the interview? I would watch the hell out of that if he made it. Ball's in your court, Chris.

“Pixels” is in theaters today.