Sonic 2019: The Decade of Fast Reworking on the Fly
So Sonic the Hedgehog’s trailer dropped, and the entire world froze. This wasn’t to applaud, but to guffaw. The beloved character has such buggy eyes? Human teeth? The body of a gymnast? Nostalgia can be a killer of innovation, if you cling too greatly to what you know (rather than what you are willing to accept). However, better character design cannot be faulted. In some shots, Sonic looks fairly decent (like the banner image I chose to place at the top of the article). In case you have been blissfully ignoring this promotional bonfire, allow me to reiterate what most of the trailer looks like.
Okay, so this indigo pin cushion isn’t looking too hot. You can also make the claim that this level of scrutiny may have nothing to do with toxic fandom. The pine ball just doesn’t look great. This design just made the trailer (full of awkward Jim Carrey interruption jokes, ‘90s rap appearances, and James Marsden not being given a fair shake for the billionth time) seem a little bit more doomed. Maybe the trailer has been spiced up to give an impression of the final product. When your lead character looks like botched taxidermy before the critter died, that’s not a final product people are going to flock towards.
But, this is 2019: we’re in the decade of the quick fix. Kanye West can work on The Life of Pablo for months after it was released. Video games are sold unfinished, with the remainder of the product being readily available through download in the future. When it comes to cinema, this kind of response is usually ignored. Let’s be honest. Is it really up to a studio to listen to fans? Sure, it may seem like the moral action to take, but this is ultimately the vision of a filmmaker (or crew). It doesn’t have to quite appeal to you; this is the route a professional has decided to take. On the other hand, the filmmaking industry is a business for a number of filmmakers (as opposed to strictly an art form), and it’s probably no secret that Sonic the Hedgehog was made to be a commercial product more than it is trying to be Citizen Kane. Should an audience affect how a film is released? I guess it’s a contextually-heavy answer. When Darren Aronofsky wanted to cause a stir with mother!? No. When the folks being the Fast & the Furious franchise want to sell the idea of a video game character being brought to the masses? Probably: reviews may not be the selling point once we get to this film’s release.
That’s why it’s actually astonishing that director Jeff Fowler (this is his feature debut) has spearheaded the criticism with Sonic’s design, and has taken charge (along with the rest of the crew) in fixing Sonic the Hedgehog in around half a year before release. This is along with the entire rest of the film that is likely still having to be finished (edits, other post-production effects; remember a trailer doesn’t mean a film is done, but that enough of a film is done to show to the masses).
This action reminds me greatly of the hands-on approach a company like Activision had when it came to remastering the Playstation One Crash Bandicoot trilogy for current consoles; they paid attention to the orange marsupial’s reddit threads, and other forms of social media, and made adjustments based on reactions. Remember that Aronofsky example I made earlier? Well, there is also more to that comparison than artistry. mother! was an original film by Aronofsky. Sonic the Hedgehog is an adaptation of a decades old creature that many fans made a personal story with when they played his game (you can read what I think about video game films and inevitable disappointment here).
Where can Fowler and company turn to better concept ideas? Don’t worry. The internet has already started that process. There have been so many edits made by disgruntled fans already, and the trailer isn’t even a week old. One notable example is by digital artist Edward Pun, whose interpretations have been all the rage on social media. With a heavier focus on how Sonic looked in the games, it just makes more sense. Does it translate well to a real setting? Not quite, but this is a lightning fast woodland critter that eats chili dogs and is chasing after an Eggman. I don’t think hyper realism matters at this point. This means accurate muscles, biologically sensible eyes, and teeth. Those teeth. Sonic looks much better as a cartoon character, because he was made to be one from the very beginning.
Whether Fowler and crew will pay specific attention to the redesigns the online community has conjured up is to be seen in the future. If not, they can at least understand the proper direction they should be taking. I feel a bit filthy insisting that a filmmaker changes their vision based on other people (cinema is an art form as much as it is a story telling device), but in this particular instance, it makes a bit of sense. This is why you shouldn’t be making films to only make money. You have to fine tune your “product” for the masses in order for it to sell, rather than making a film that takes your audience to a place they’ve never been before. Regardless of the film’s intentions, let’s see if this last minute retooling will help Sonic the Hedgehog in any way.
Andreas Babiolakis has a Masters degree in Film and Photography Preservation and Collections management from Ryerson University, as well as a Bachelors degree in Cinema Studies from York University. His favourite times of year are the Criterion Collection flash sales and the annual Toronto International Film Festival.