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What the Sonic movie can take from video game film history

Josh Wise Updated on by

Video games are a feral bunch. Their most respectable trips to the silver screen resemble a round of grooming: shorn of interaction and shampooed of archness, attitude defanged and matted plots combed through. All before being presented to the popcorn-munching masses. In recent memory, Tomb Raider and World of Warcraft – two proud specimens of the safe and the sober – have both been trotted out as if before the judges at Crufts, keen to demonstrate their ability to roll over.

But there is one for whom rolling over is, in itself, an act of aggression. Sonic the Hedgehog is heading to cinemas next year, and with the scant details that have trickled down from Hollywood’s Green Hills, it seems as if his finger has retained its defiant wag. Such is the strangeness of what we know. Sonic’s voice will be provided by Ben Schwartz, that lion-maned loon, and that this is the most logical choice on the list should set the mood nicely. We know that the film will combine live action and CGI (rarely a recipe for success). And we know that Jim Carrey will star as the villain of the piece, Dr Robotnik. It sounds like chaos, but who knows? It could be an emerald in the rough.

If the Sonic movie is to succeed, it would do well to learn its lessons from these down-and-outers.

Super Mario Bros – Don’t be afraid to go darker

The Husband and wife directing duo behind Super Mario Bros, Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton, didn't get the memo; back in 1993, there was no memo to get. The rights to Super Mario Bros were purloined for a poxy $2 million, Nintendo uninterested in creative control, and it was theirs to run wild with. And they did – careening outside the bounds of common sense into a strange land called Dinohattan.

Dinohattan had a king – King Koopa, no less – but more importantly it had a god: Tim Burton. Cited as a direct influence on the duo’s approach to design, Burton's inspiration can be felt in the Gothic gloom of the place. Bedecked with brown and rife with street crime, Dinohattan was an urban hellscape; on top of its darkness was a literal layer of disgust, fungal slime plopping from above and pooling in crusty puddles. Elsewhere, there was an S&M club, but the less said about that the better. I should know – myself and Colm recently reviewed the movie for VGBGs. Though Super Mario Bros got it very much wrong, it's willingness to take the licence and run with it at supersonic speed is one that the blue hedgehog should naturally take to.


Street Fighter – Pull a Raul Julia

Sadly, they can’t get the man himself as Raul Julia passed away soon after delivering a Psycho-Powered performance as M. Bison, in Street Fighter. He leant the levitating villain the heave and hiss of a thespian, while boldly unafraid to hurl himself into a vortex of camp, clad as he was in russet leather replete with billowing cape. 

But what Sonic the Hedgehog has is Jim Carrey. More than just Jim Carrey, it has 2018 Jim Carrey, which, as far as I can tell, means a man in touch with his own share of Psycho-Power. After a streak of bizarre public appearances and wooly-brained interviews, Carrey has emerged an actor of edgy energy. His hollow-cheeked face and raw-eyed stare (as if powered by irradiated optic nerves) aren't the obvious calling cards of a classic Robotnik performance, but they might be the signs of a cult one.

Mortal Kombat & Doom – Choreograph your homage

It's to Mortal Kombat's credit that its best parts were when its characters dispensed with dialogue and spoke fluently with their fists. As well it should be; we didn't play the games for their commentary on Shao Kahn's Outworld politics – though it might be timely now if they were to remake it. It's often thought of as one of the better film adaptations, and this is down to its keen attention to well-staged brutality. The fights were a heady decoction of wire-work and CGI – the latter wielded like a weapon to stab at our nostalgic thirst for fireballs, spears protruding from palms, and liquified blasts of ice.

Likewise, Doom, while not remembered as one of the stronger video game adaptations, is remembered for that one bit. You know the one. Director Andrzej Bartkowiak gathered up a handful of unappealing gravel – plot, characters, dialogue – and jammed it into a kaleidoscope. It was with the first-person scene that he cast off all other responsibilities and began to churn it like a madcap carnival entertainer. The gimmickry of the sequence is sidelined by the voltage of its lurching charm. As such, Sonic should be unafraid to take us on loop-the-loops, to swish first-person through lines of rings, and to conjure that ear-to-ear sense of speed we hunger for. In other words, losing the controllers doesn't mean losing the playful.

Max Payne – Absolutely nothing

The Sonic the Hedgehog film should by no means take anything from Max Payne. In the immortal words of the blue blur himself, ‘Hey guy, I'll play with you some other time!’ (Having said that, Mark Wahlberg would surely immortalise himself voicing Tails.)

Sonic The Hedgehog (classic)

on Gameboy Advance, iOS, PlayStation 3

The classic Sonic The Hedgehog gets ported to the GBA.

Release Date:

30 March 2011