After decades of disappointments, expectations for video game movies are mercifully low. Though dozens of video game movies have been made, the number of not just good, but decent video game movies can be counted on one hand. Games that seemingly would translate into excellent movies like Assassin’s Creed, Street Fighter, and Resident Evil were butchered into unrecognizable cash grabs that were seemingly terrified of their source material. To date, the single live-action video game movie that has a ‘Fresh’ score on Rotten Tomatoes is “Detective Pikachu.”
Will ‘Sonic’ be a blue, blurry disaster?
Even with expectations at an all-time low, general audiences could not possibly have been prepared for the live-action Sonic the Hedgehog trailer. If you’ve somehow missed it, here you go:
This trailer didn’t just set the internet on fire, it transformed it into a blazing hellscape. Sitting at 32 million views and nearly 700k dislikes, the trailer was brutally mocked by fans and nonfans alike. Sonic’s bizarre, not-quite-realistic-but-not-quite-cartoony redesign was by far the most common source of mockery. From his dirty-looking fur to his tiny spaced out eyes, to his unnerving uncanny valley proportions, Sonic’s “realistic” design became the subject of thousands of hilariously mean-spirited memes and tweets.
The online uproar was so intense that Paramount actually delayed the movie from its original release date of November all the way to February in order to redesign the iconic character. Funnily enough, this seems to be the first time ever that a major movie studio has actually listened to the internet mob (think of all the petitions that rabid fans create to recast superheroes).
— Jeff Fowler (@fowltown) May 24, 2019
While it’s good that the filmmakers are redoing Sonic’s horrid design, the same probably can’t be said about the rest of the movie. Instead of featuring the whimsical loop-de-loops and checkered plains of the video games, the movie takes place in a lifeless realistic setting. Even worse, the movie borrows the same soulless “What if a cartoon entered OUR WORLD?” plot of live-action cartoon movies like “Alvin & the Chipmunks” and “The Smurfs,” a subgenre that hasn’t even been popular or successful in nearly a decade. They even used the tired “cartoon character and human meet and scream AAAAAAAAAAAHHH at each other” gag.
At the very least, the casting of Ben Schwartz as Sonic is actually an inspired choice, as his cocky attitude fits Sonic like the gloves he isn’t wearing. Most notably, Jim Carrey (cast as Sonic’s nemesis Dr. Robotnik/Eggman) seems to have left his recent pretentious antics behind to give a refreshingly 90s performance in this movie.
It’s sad that Sonic’s first leap to the big screen is such a lifeless monstrosity, as the franchise has already been the butt of jokes and scathing memes for years. However, history has shown us that even beloved video game franchises are not immune to bizarre live-action movies, including the most cherished video game series of all time: Super Mario Bros.
A look back at 1993’s Super Mario Bros movie
We’ve seen this movie dozens of times we still can’t quite believe that it exists. Seriously, just watch the trailer and try to make sense of what’s happening.
Yes, you just saw Bob Hoskins team up with John Leguizamo to fight Dennis Hopper’s King Koopa. The craziest part is that when this movie came out in 1993, there were no audience expectations of what a video game movie should be. At the time, the thought of adapting something as low brow as a video game into a movie was considered preposterous. After the movie’s release, critics, filmmakers, and general audiences were left scratching their heads, having gained no new insight into the future of video game movies. For those who haven’t seen the movie, allow us to (attempt) to explain the film.
At the beginning of the movie, a short animation plays that explains how the meteorite that killed the dinosaurs actually created an alternate dimension called Dinohattan where people evolved from dinosaurs rather than apes. The plumbing brothers Mario Mario (Bob Hoskins) and Luigi Mario (John Leguizamo) travel to Dinohattan as they try to rescue Luigi’s love interest Daisy (Samantha Mathis). Daisy has been kidnapped by King Koopa (Dennis Hopper) because she has the last shard of the meteorite, which Koopa needs in order to merge the dimensions under his iron fist.
If that sounds confusing, that’s because it is. The plot only resembles the paper-thin story of the games if you squint really hard and look from every angle. But you need to keep in mind that there was no groundwork as to what a video game movie should be, much less for a live-action adaptation of a story that’s literally just “rescue the princess.”
The filmmakers deserve some credit for taking a mainstream family-friendly property like Mario and trying to make something unique, surreal, and dark. Unfortunately, the film can’t hit the mark as a dark comedy due to panicked executives lightening the tone of the film and making it more family-friendly. This clash is most apparent when you consider the contrast between the dystopian set design and the script.
At the time of the movie’s release, gritty urban reimaginings of beloved franchises were extremely popular, including 1989’s “Batman” and 1990’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”
Acclaimed production designer David Snyder (who helped invent cyberpunk by designing the sets of “Blade Runner”) designed Dinohattan to be a primal, aggressive, and oppressive satire of modern urban life. Snyder enjoyed the opportunity to design the hellish city at multiple levels, as he was limited to the street level while working on “Blade Runner.” He referred the bloodthirsty reptilian art style as “New Brutalism,” reasoning that since the residents of Dinohattan evolved from dinosaurs, they would be significantly more primordial and savage than human beings, with their architecture and city design reflecting their aggressiveness. Speaking on the setting of “Super Mario Bros,” Snyder said: “We’ve designed this film with the idea of looking at New York while on some mind-altering drugs.”
Before shooting began, worried studio executives demanded the film’s script be rewritten to be more childlike. Unfortunately, the dinopunk sets were already built, which, as impressive as the set design is, leads to a jarring clash of tone between script and visuals in the final film.
Even with its weird tonal inconsistencies, Super Mario Bros is not an awful film, despite what Bob Hoskins thinks. It’s a bizarre and ineffective adaptation of a beloved property sure, but if they renamed the characters and called the movie “Dino Punks” or something, then the film could have been hailed as a cult classic today. The cast all put on charming performances and have chemistry with one another, the effects were outstanding at the time (and still hold up today, especially the animatronic Yoshi), and the surreal world of Dinohattan is something to behold.
What will the audience think?
This brings us to the million dollar question: will “Sonic the Hedgehog” overtake “Super Mario Bros” as the most infamous video game movie ever made? We think it’s possible, though both films attract a ton of negative attention for completely opposite reasons. “Sonic the Hedgehog” appears to be a movie that is incredibly safe, soulless, and stale, yet it completely disregards the source material. There is not a hint of artistry or passion for the property evident in the trailer; the film might as well have been made in a factory.
“Super Mario Bros,” on the other hand, is ambitious almost to a fault. While the film angered fans by not resembling the game at all, the crew bravely set out to create the next “Ghostbusters;” a dark, surreal comedy-adventure that was quite unlike anything audiences had ever seen. The clear amount of ambition and talent that went into “Super Mario Bros” has caused audiences to slowly warm to it in recent years. We can’t expect the same will happen for Sonic.