Film adaptations of video games have been predominantly bad since their inception. However, there are a few films that break that trend in recent years with the film being actually watchable. The majority are still scraping the bottom of the barrel with the critics lining up to rip apart these films. These two trajectories of video game adaptations are best seen when examining the yet to be released Sonic the Hedgehog and Pokémon: Detective Pikachu.
The two films being compared to each other is unavoidable, as both are taking beloved franchise characters and visualizing what they would look like in the real world. However, the differences between the films are stark, with Pokémon: Detective Pikachu likely lining up to receive awards for the best visual effects and Sonic the Hedgehog on its way to receiving worst visual effects at the Razzies. In this edition of Fine Toon, I will examine why the two films with a similar concept took two varied paths on the road to creation.
Pokémon: Detective Pikachu looks like an authentic realization of the Pokémon world due to the painstaking effort put into the film. While the director Rob Letterman and the rest of the production team had creative freedom, the film was under watch by The Pokémon Company, specifically the president Tsunekazu Ishihara. Having direct oversight by the leader of the Pokémon franchise from the start of the company assures that the film lives up to what they are envisioning the film to look like. Having the story resemble a preexisting game helps by having a specific game to model the movie off of rather than trying to take random elements from the 20+ year running series and try to make them work. The game helped inspire the writing team to create moments through the film such as the Mr. Mime scene that was showcased in the first trailer.
As Detective Pikachu still has a few days before receiving an American release date the only true way to evaluate the film is through character and set designs. Character designs were accomplished using the latest technology that has been used to create the new trend of live-action CGI adaptations such as The Jungle Book and The Lion King. Additionally, some crew members from those films have even been assigned to Detective Pikachu as well which on second look the resemblance are easily seen. Letterman also revealed, in an interview with IGN, that he went through painstaking measures to examine how real-world anatomy and physics would impact the way each individual Pokémon would interact with the real world.
“To give you some insight, Pikachu for example, or the Bulbasaurs or Charizards, there’s so much real-world design going into those very simple characters. Pikachu we tried to stay true to the silhouette of a Pikachu. While at the same time putting in realistic fur. There’s realistic muscle systems and there’s skeletal systems, there’s eyeball systems. The fur simulates and interacts, and when it gets wet it gets wet. There’s all this technology that goes into bringing those Pokémon characters to life. Because we’re basing them on real-world physics.”
Sonic the Hedgehog, on the other hand, isn’t sitting so pretty, with its first trailer being lambasted by fans — mostly for how weird Sonic himself looks.
When a director of a film — in this case, Jeff Fowler — gives a response that they need to take the project back to the drawing board immediately after the trailer drops, it is hard to tell what went right. On the other hand, it is nice to see that the director is conscientious of the Sonic fan community and promised to do right by the fans delivering a movie people will actually like. This is refreshing for a franchise that honestly hasn’t been done right since the Genesis. Here is the tweet from the filmmaker.
“Thank you for the support. And the criticism. The message is loud and clear… you aren’t happy with the design & you want changes. It’s going to happen. Everyone at Paramount & Sega are fully committed to making this character the BEST he can be…”
Thank you for the support. And the criticism. The message is loud and clear… you aren't happy with the design & you want changes. It's going to happen. Everyone at Paramount & Sega are fully committed to making this character the BEST he can be… #sonicmovie #gottafixfast 🔧✌️
— Jeff Fowler (@fowltown) May 2, 2019
So, where did this go wrong?
First off, let’s talk about the history of the development of this film as knowing the groundwork put into the movie helps to understand the complete history of the project. Sonic the Hedgehog was originally set to be made by Sony, but the film was put into a soft development hell that caused some delay of the film. Once Sony had exhausted the film’s development, they sold it off to Paramount, who worked on it further. I’m calling this a soft development hell, as the team behind the film stayed the same, retaining continuity that the film had going with its time at Sony. With the staff continuing to work on the film through development, the promised fixes are in good hands as this film is likely a personal project rather than just a paycheck at this point.
Now for the pièce de résistance: Sonic’s character design is the most erroneous part of the film. I honestly don’t know how to comment that won’t feel like I’m beating a dead horse at this point. When there are fan designs that alter the appearance of Sonic to make it look 100x better, there is an obvious issue. Sticking with the source material is a major element of films I look for when existing intellectual properties are converted to the screen whether it is the comics or video games. Sonic the Hedgehog simply throws that out the window just telling by character design as Sonic looks like a human hedgehog hybrid rather than the sass smacking hero we all know and love.
While the design looks like a cosplay gone wrong, there are other issues that explain why Sonic looks as bad as he does. Cinematography might be to blame, as Detective Pikachu‘s director of photography John Mathieson has stated. Mathieson explains that the digital cameras used in Sonic the Hedgehog have trouble capturing certain colors such as red and blue as they get “too noisy.” Detective Pikachu uses traditional film which is much kinder to a wide array of colors which creates the vibrant setting of Ryme City. If Sonic used this method the film would much more visibly appealing.
In the end, the contrast between these video games turned cinematic marvels are strong. Detective Pikachu creates a realistic world with great character designs in part due to the use of film. However, Sonic the Hedgehog is a digital disaster that has faults rooted in character design in cinematography. With Director Jeff Fowler listening to the fan outrage over the first trailer and agreeing to redesigns there may yet be hope for the film.
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