Vertical Slice: Just Like The Movies

Vertical Slice: Just Like The Movies

by June 18, 2014

I learnt of the Sonic movie the same way I learnt of all the other big E3 announcements, by skim reading the headlines of a handful of gaming news sites. With only a headline’s worth of information to go by, I simply assumed that Sega had announced a feature length Sonic Boom episode to help launch the series, and that the film would be aired on Cartoon Network or released straight-to-DVD.

In retrospect, a Sonic Boom film really did seem like the most logical interpretation of “Sonic Movie in Production”. Sega of America are already putting a lot of resources into the media-spanning Sonic Boom brand well before launch later this year. And Sonic Boom certainly seems more capable of supporting an entire film than any incarnation of Sonic before it. So that’s the conclusion I reached and, as a result, I felt completely indifferent about the whole thing.

But we’re not getting a Sonic Boom film, are we.

Sonic TSSZ live action Vertical Slice

After reading TSSZ’s report on the announcement, my shrugs of indifference morphed into facepalms of cynicism. Sony Pictures Entertainment? Annual films? A CGI-live action hybrid..? And you’re sure this isn’t some sort of cruel joke, Tristan?

N.B. Tristan’s sitting across from me in the TSSZ orbital news station – he’s dead serious.

My thoughts went the same way as many TSSZ readers; to uninspired, cash-grabbing, modern reboots of Garfield, Alvin and the Chipmunks, and The Smurfs. How could it not? The bastardisation of the West’s contemporary children’s classics has been a major component of the child-focused arm of the film industry for several years now, and most of its output has been awful.

But my major concern is that a non-Sonic Boom Western movie will mean that, along with Sonic Team’s future vision of Sonic, there will be three separate versions of the Sonic brand to manage.

Sonic Boom and its associated merchandise is aimed at children, and the brand will hopefully have established itself by the time Sonic makes his silver screen appearance. But surely the introduction of a “movie Sonic” – which will undoubtedly come with a hefty marketing campaign and its own merchandise – would only muddy the strength of the Sonic Boom brand while also confusing and alienating child movie goers in the process. Too many Sonics spoil the broth!

Vertical Slice sonic film boom

The alternative is a Sonic film that is thematically similar to both Sonic Boom and versions of the blue blur before it, but is instead intended to capture the attention of older, nostalgic fans. But an upcoming fourth Transformers film, joined by a divisive new take on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, shows that the “gritty-reboot” treatment of beloved childhood icon is still the industry standard. And nobody in their right mind would want a gritty reboot of Sonic.

Now, this isn’t to say that a good Sonic the Hedgehog film is impossible. But unless, through some cosmic miracle, Sony’s takes a thoughtful and creative approach to Sonic’s silver screen debut, then a cringe-worthy CGI/ live action hybrid seems inevitable.

The issue Sega’s brand management became even more perplexing after this TSSZ news article was published mere days after the film announcement. Speaking to License! Global magazine, Sega of America’s heads of licensing and marketing, Rene Flores and Marcella Churchill respectively, explained Sega’s “two-tiered” approach to branding. They both made it clear that Sonic Boom is aimed at younger audiences, whereas classic/retro Sonic merchandise will remain targeted towards older fans. So into which camp will a Western Sonic film sit? Although I’m sure Sega’s reps are being their usual tight-lipped selves, it still gives the impression that Sega’s left hand doesn’t know what its right hand is doing.

This is confounded further by the news that Marza Animation Planet’s Takeshi Ito and Mie Onishi will be involved as producers. For those who don’t know, Marza is a Japanese subsidiary of Sega-Sammy responsible for the CGI sequences for the last decade of Sonic games, as well as other Sega titles and non-Sega related projects.

Don’t get me wrong, my quarrel isn’t with Marza and the quality of its work – which I believe to be superb – it’s to do with the fact that the company is inextricably tied to the Sega of Japan mothership. Since Sony Pictures Entertainment is an American subsidiary of Sony proper, does this mean the Sonic film will be some sort of East-meets-West collaboration, and if so, what will the resultant vision of Sonic be?

It’s all so confusing.

Sonic TSSZ Ninja Turtles

As I wrote this article I realised something – the more I think about the Sonic film announcement the less opinionated I become, and the more quizzical I am. The scant information Sega has chosen to share about the film is far more puzzling than it is tantalising, and the fundamental questions it raises overshadows the usual points of concern for the average Sonic fan. For example, the likely Sonic design tweaks, unwanted child actors, and potentially live action Eggman that’ll come with a CGI/ live action Sonic film are all secondary concerns to anyone who has ever even glimpsed the trailer to Sony’s abysmal The Smurfs 2.

So it would seem that all we can do is wait…

But in the mean time you can have a a gander at my Vertical Slice article “Anything But Shadow”. With over 300 reader comments its popularity is indisputable, and goes to show how much Sonic fans truly love me and my writing.

And I love you too xxx

Michael Westgarth is a freelance writer and podcaster. Read more of Michael’s column, Vertical Slice, via his TSSZ author page, and head to his blog MegaWestgarth for more super happy friendship fun times.