To say it has been a tumultuous week in the Sonic the Hedgehog fandom is something of an understatement, with the first movie trailer seeing release and receiving a less than favourable reception (at time of writing, dislikes outweighed likes by 2-to-1 on YouTube).
The negative tidal-wave reaction is understandable. Many seasoned Sonic the Hedgehog fans have grown tired of having to endure yet another major overhaul of their favourite character, which once again deviates from the tried-and-tested, recognisable design that has arguably worked for three decades. The average punter can be forgiven for recoiling at some of Sonic’s hyper-realistic features such as humanoid teeth, which puts his movie incarnation, at times, firmly into the uncanny valley.
It is however not the appearance of Sonic that has shocked me the most this week, more so the plot-twist in the real-life drama surrounding the movie. Via a statement on Twitter, Sonic movie director Jeff Fowler promised that the universal lambasting has been taken note of, and that the studio, with less than six months until the release of the movie, will now revise elements of the character’s appearance.
The concern with this is several-fold. Firstly, many online have already highlighted the consequences of what these late changes will mean for the workforce engaged with this movie, and the most likely invoking of the dreaded “crunch”. While endemic to most industries in modern society as deadlines approach, the crunch often appears to take on an incredible intensity and duration in digital entertainment. It is unlikely that the movie release date will be pushed back as this has been set in stone for several months, and thus the only way to cater for increased workloads is to increase the time in the office for those involved (this is before any considerations of branding and merchandise – probably already well into production).
Secondly, the ratification and design approval process, in any industry, is a time consuming one; undoubtedly the current incarnation of movie Sonic went through many iterations before it finished on what was seen in the trailer, with several sign-offs and a majority – if not universal – agreement by senior figures that the design was right for the film. This process will now need to begin again, albeit perhaps not from scratch, but will cut into time remaining to make these revisions; even then, the end result might still not satisfy audiences.
Fans have already set about “correcting” movie Sonic, and there are thousands of repainted scenes with a revised Sonic already in circulation, depicting what these artists feel are a better representation of SEGA’s mascot. Many of these are undoubtedly impressive re-imaginings, with many now including a comment to the likes of “why on Earth hasn’t Paramount hired this person to work on the movie?” Indeed, airbrushing a single still image is an ocean away from creating an animated character that gels well in a live action motion picture, nor does a single painting qualify an artist as someone capable of operating, or even surviving in the modern world of creating consumer entertainment.
— ウノユウジ (@uno_yu_ji) May 3, 2019
Finally, and what I feel is an important question to raise – should anyone but the creative team working on the movie have any input on its aesthetic? One could go back to the point that no one should meddle with the archetypal design of Sonic in the first place – and again, this is a valid point. But cinema is an artistic process and completely open to interpretation; to constrain the process by having hundreds of thousands of individuals weighing in diminishes the original creative vision and sets a dangerous precedence.
I can’t help but draw parallels to Stephen King’s Misery in which Annie Wilkes, the self-proclaimed “number one fan” of writer Paul Sheldon, holds him hostage lest he write the manuscript that conforms to her own notions of how his next story of her beloved character should go. It is understandable that Sonic fans are frustrated with the design, but the ferocity of the response has been excessive.
At the end of the day, the success of the movie won’t be gauged on appearances or even what score it obtains via Rotten Tomatoes should the movie conform to the calibre of every other video game adaption that has preceded it; it will be by what it takes home at the box office. By that measure I would say that if the Sonic movie is to your disliking, then voting with your wallet is by far the most effective way of communicating your dissatisfaction.
Perhaps I’ve softened in my old age, but besides the occasional shot of some shiny incisors, I don’t hate the movie design of Sonic; perhaps deep down I know this will be another redesign with a short half-life, and that I needn’t be concerned he will endure much past 2019. Additionally, some of us have waited 28 years for this movie, and regardless of quality, we are happy it’s here all the same – if for nothing else, it’s an excuse to talk about Sonic the Hedgehog with work colleagues around the water cooler. We millennials grew up on a diet of films that bore the name of many famous franchises and only very tenuously held any resemblance to them, but they still entertained us – and perhaps this movie will too.
What I do know is that this movie isn’t worth is the health and creative freedom of those working long hours to bring us the first live action adaption of Sonic the Hedgehog; for now, those who aren’t happy with the movie should perhaps just grit their teeth.
Article image taken from Edward Pun’s rework.