The funny thing about video game movies is that the unlicensed ones seem to understand their source material better than the official tie-ins do. Look at 1982’s Tron, or 2012’s Wreck-it Ralph (with all due props to Disney, which produced both): the appeal of these two pictures hinges on an invitation to step through the screen and inhabit the weird and wonderful world of video games. The visuals are surreal and spectacular, while the friction between a conventional movie narrative and the bizarre, harsh and arbitrary rule-making of video games furnishes ample gags and tension. (Turns out dissonance can be fun when experienced from the other side of the great ludo-narrative divide.)
It’s a good formula, especially if you’re trying to make a movie about a retro game that has no story. But the producers of the new Sonic the Hedgehog movie have got it all back to front. Instead of inviting us into Sonic’s world, they’ve brought Sonic into ours – with charmless results.
You get a brief glimpse of what might have been right at the start of the film – after the stars of the Paramount logo have been replaced by tinkling Sonic rings, and before the first of several lines of leaden product-placement dialogue promoting a large restaurant chain. During a hasty set-up, we travel briefly back to Sonic’s home world, or dimension or whatever. (The film, reasonably enough, isn’t too fussed about the science, and eventually settles on calling Sonic an “alien hedgehog thing”.) There is Green Hill Zone in all its checkerboard, loop-de-loop, Sega-blue glory, and there is an infant Sonic zooming through it, revelling in his speed. We get a minute of this before Sonic is told that his brash display of power has attracted the interest of villainous parties and condemned him to a life on the run. A wise owl hands him a bag of golden rings which serve as interdimensional portals, and uses one to conjure a gateway to the sleepy backwoods town of Green Hills, Montana, Earth: this will be Sonic’s new home.
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