At the end of 2010, the Sonic fandom was caught up in the hype of the Sonic fan film. Not just Eddie Lebron’s recent release, but the concept in general. In very quick succession, three different Sonic films with very different goals in mind were announced, and those who had always wished for a version of the blue blur to hit the big screen became very excited. Sure, it might not have been Hollywood releasing it, but these films were being made by fans. They had no restrictions, no fear to please stockholders. They could avoid making the next Street Fighter: The Movie.
On New Years Day 2011, the first of those three hyped films came out, Jim Sass’ fully live-action Return To Little Planet 2. The next month, Richard Kuta’s animated fan film put out what content had been completed, not that long after announcing the cancellation of the project. For those who might not remember, I did write reviews for both those films, not to mention a dissection of Kuta’s script on Retro’s message board. While those two crashed and burned in spectacular fashion, there was a lot of hope for Eddie Lebron’s take on the franchise. After the release of his first fan film Mega Man, people knew that he was, at the very least, a capable filmmaker. While that movie was certainly not perfect, it raised awareness to the existence of Mr. Lebron, so that when his half live-action, half CG production Sonic was first teased, a group of people flocked to help him out. A fully realized cast and crew, working for little or no pay, motivated by their love of Sonic the Hedgehog. It wasn’t meant to be a fly-by-night project, an ambitious task set out even if it was announced to be only a short feature and not the 90 minutes Mega Man was.
After a false start, the completed short was released to the masses on January 10th, 2013, nearly two years after Return To Little Planet 2 graced our computer screens. Now that the fan film trilogy of 2010 has been completed, how does Eddie Lebron’s film stand up?
Not that well, I’m afraid.
The short feature opens up with the Blue Core Studios logo, echoing Eddie’s first major project. Transitioning to a spinning ring, our ears are filled with the booming soundtrack of The Dark Knight. Oh, wait, that’s not Hans Zimmerman. It’s just Daniel James, aka Hybrid Two, churning out music that might be alright in any other instance, but completely out of place in a Sonic film. The ring continues to spin, and already I can tell that something about this is…off. Rings have existed since 1991, when they were just humble 16-bit sprites with less frames than humans have fingers. Yet here we are, 2013 with all sorts of crazy technology, and the simplest thing one can render – a golden ring – doesn’t look as nice as it should.
Stopping its rotation (and looking completely awkward in the process), seven colorful gems spew out of its center: the Chaos Emeralds, the driving force behind nearly every main action in the series. While the opening titles hint that these gems are meant to be important, they disappear to allow the logo to show up: Sonic. An effort to be minimalistic, but just coming off as a bit pretentious. There’s no shame in adding “the Hedgehog” at the end. If there ever was a proper theatrical release of a Sonic movie, there’s no way they wouldn’t add in those two words.
The movie itself kicks into gear, a helpful title telling us that we’re looking at South Island on the planet Mobius. Flying overhead is the familiar image of the Egg Carrier from Sonic Adventure, even though this film is meant to be a prequel to the first game. Silently, a group of E-100 units fall from the airship, landing in the very Upstate-New-York-Looking forest of the isle. Immediately, the nerd in me screams out, as the E-100’s all look like E-102, while E-100 was actually ZERO, the robot that chased Amy in Sonic Adventure. Not to mention that the E-100 series were all unique robots. The E-1000‘s, on the other hand, were all assembly line, generic bots that didn’t have any unique personality. Is it nitpicking wondering why the robots don’t have an extra zero at the end, then? Perhaps. Especially in a film that has so many more glaring problems.
With the badniks on the ground, the Egg Carrier fires a missile at South Island, blowing up…something. We don’t see what as its blocked by hills, but we do get a shot revealing six more of the same airship flying in formation. Without warning, we jump to see those same six airships flying over Station Square. Well, that’s what we’re to assume, but with establishing shots of the Chrysler Building, we’re very clearly in New York City. The population below just stands and ogles the ships, doing nothing. No fear, no anger, no anything. Just standing, waiting for someone to yell “cut.”
In response, the President goes on television, talking about how this new force threatens the unity of Mobius. Jumping around to other news reports further expands on who Kintobor is and what South Island entails, it being home to intelligent animal life. With Kintobor declaring himself Robotnik while sitting in the shadows of his terrorist-like message, the President authorizes the use of G.U.N. forces to combat the threat. Yes, he says the letters one by one instead of just reading the word. Yes, it sounds wonky when he does that.
Jumping ahead three months, a voiceover done by Jaleel White accompanies shots of Upstate New York and a distant image of CG Sonic the Hedgehog. Jaleel gives a monologue to set up the piece, saying that he’ll explain what happened and how he’s going to fix it, a dialogue that would have been best read five minutes earlier. Maybe it would have worked if this was a 90 minute film, but being only eighteen minutes, this delayed introduction is ill-placed. The end gives us our first glimpse of Sonic, though only from behind. The hedgehog is staring up at the Egg Carriers, apparently having not moved at all in the last three months.
To show Robotnik is doing more with his time than just sitting in a flying machine, we see a lone G.U.N agent, having been cornered by the fake E-102 Gamma. The robot asks the balding man for information regarding “the blue blur,” the soldier refusing to speak. The robot goes further, saying that the soldier has two choices to his fate: roboticization, or death. Wait, what? Why would death be a choice? Roboticization is a living death, isn’t it? Wouldn’t it be a waste to just shoot him if you already have him captured? Why is the soldier staying quiet in the first place? Wouldn’t it be easy for him to just say “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” That might even be the truth!
Fake Gamma takes his silence as choosing death. Before his head can be blasted off, the bots get destroyed by a blue blur. Oh, I get it. It’s Sonic, saying “Way Past Cool” with the creepiest mouth around, running away and leaving the strange man to contemplate his life. On the corner of 42nd Street in New York Square, the news is broadcast on the side of a building, which must be quite annoying for anyone who works on the other side of that screen. The newscaster tells of what we just saw, but is interrupted by an unauthorized feed of Dr. Robotnik’s doing. Two talking heads tell that a monetary reward is being offered for information on the blur, and also squash rumors that the figure could be one of the animals from South Island. Robotnik, still in the same dark room, explains that they’re all extinct, and he knows this because he made sure of it. That’s not morbid at all. The unidentified female voice for the Robotnik empire smirks as she finishes her spiel, leaving me to wonder just how far Robotnik has even gotten in his world conquest. The establishing shots of New York have those airships still flying above, untouched by anyone. There’s no fighting in the skies. Even the city seems dead. It takes a lot of effort to make New York look desolate, but Eddie has pulled it off. Is New York under Robotnik’s control, or not? There are two feeds contradicting that and…maybe I’m overthinking this.
Back in the main Carrier, Robotnik interrogates a captured G.U.N. agent, trying to torture information out of him. The agent stands firm, saying he doesn’t know anything about the blue blur that everyone in this film keeps on talking about. The evil despot then goes on about how humanity was once a god-given right, but now it’s a privilege that he bestows upon people. If they follow the rules, they live in peace, but if not they get it taken from them, telling his robots to put him under roboticization. Oh, I’m sorry, I meant robotnikization. Maybe this explains how there are so many different versions of Dr. Eggman floating about!
Meanwhile, a small G.U.N. troupe sneaks around a generic forest, preparing to shoot a very generic bazooka at the badly rendered Egg Carrier in the sky. The ethnically diverse group looks like the worst members of the army ever. What happened to all those giant mechs and elaborate weapons at G.U.N.’s disposal back in Sonic Adventure 2? Why isn’t anyone trying to engage the enemy in air-to-air combat, which would be easier? Or even a distraction so they can try to blow up the ship from the ground? Obviously tacticians aren’t the army’s strong suit in the futuristic world of modern New York Station. Before they can fire, the Asian girl shouts that a swarm of Buzz Bombers are about to strike, though the next thing we see are the fake E-102’s. Great editing there, Eddie. We do eventually see the classic enemies in their newly rendered state, the unit shooting at them with the fakest guns imaginable. Why do only two of them have guns? You’d think the ones carrying the torpedo would at least have a side arm on them, but instead they get to cower in the middle while the white girl slaps her fake gun for no reason. If you want to reload, Lauren, you’re supposed to shoot outside of the screen, not slap it! Have you never played Virtua Cop?
When all looks lost, who should save them but Sonic the Hedgehog. Talking in his suavest Stephan voice, Sonic and Lauren have an incredibly awkward exchange, Sonic asking if she likes what she sees, then retracting by saying that while she is pretty…and trails off. Yes, it’s probably a not-so-subtle jab at Sonic 2006 and the relationship between Sonic and Elise. Trying to sleep with an anthropomorphic hedgehog is the furthest thing from Lauren’s mind, the group just in shock that there really is an anthropomorphic hedgehog in front of them. He finally tells them his name: Sonic. About time, too. The whole “blue blur” nonsense doesn’t work if the mystery of who this mysterious hero is is answered in the title of the film.
Sonic runs off, a perfect opportunity for him to say “gotta juice” lost to the ages. Our hero runs to fight off the E-102’s and the Buzzbombers, Robotnik finally realizing who the blur is. Moto Bugs are then sent off, a fight scene reminiscent of the ending animation to Sonic the Hedgehog CD. Would be nice if I were watching that instead. His robot forces decimated, Robotnik drops a missile from one of the Egg Carriers, Sonic hopping onto it and flying it up in the air. Is it a hedgehog-seeking missile? Not sure, but it does remind me of the ones used in both the pilot and first proper episode of the Saturday morning series. Not nearly as fun, though.
Forcing the missile to strike the ship, the one Egg Carrier explodes, Sonic running off unharmed. The collected G.U.N. soldiers start talking about Sonic and how they need his help, with only one dissident voice in the group. Shades of racism fill the conversation, Lauren stopping it before it can be stretched out any longer. Back at Robotnik’s base, the villain demands that all priorities shift to the capture of Sonic, though no one ever does say “priority one: hedgehog.” As DJ Hazard continues to go nuts, he is calmed down when one of the fake E-102’s appears with a Chaos Emerald in its hand. Giving it to Robotnik, the mood changes to that of euphoria, saying that only four more are needed. Another subtle nod to an overused quote from a terrible game? Probably.
Going back to Sonic, the oddly-rendered hero stands with a realistic background behind him. In his path? A fully CG rendered Green Hill Zone. Sonic looks at it like he’s never seen the place before, the Marble Zone also hiding out in the background. This must mean that these surreal locales are not on South Island, but instead near some generic forest not that far from New York City. Great attention to detail there, Eddie. With the extremely generic orchestral sound only now giving the faintest of cues to any actual Sonic music, we see the hedgehog run through the static locale, fighting Moto Bugs and running through loops slower than anything. In the distance, Knuckles the Echidna watches, speaking in a very vague and prophetic turn, completely going against every single interpretation of Knuckles ever seen. We don’t even get to see his face, and already he is nothing like the Guardian of Angel Island we know and love. I probably don’t even need to mention the final moments where Knuckles clenches his fist, but how can you avoid mentioning those fingers appearing? You can’t. You just can’t.
And with that, the 18-minute film comes to a close. Well, I mean, it does end even if it doesn’t have an ending. Guess Sonic 1 is supposed to start and all the Egg Carries disappear so Robotnik can instead ride in his Eggmobile and attack Sonic with a checkered ball.
With the plot out of the way, there are a few points which just need to be expanded upon. The first, which I will probably get the most flak for, is the characterization of Dr. Robotnik. While there have been plenty of reviews that have torn Eddie Lebron’s Sonic apart, most of those say that Dr. Robotnik’s portrayal was the highlight of the film. I can not deny that DJ Hazard, the man who plays the character, is certainly the most talented actor out of the bunch. He throws himself into the role, coming off as a dark, sadistic character whose motivations are purely selfish. However, he is the antithesis of what Dr. Eggman is supposed to be, a continued fetishization of the way the character was seen in the Saturday morning cartoon.
It is common knowledge at this point for Sonic fans to know that the name Dr. Robotnik was a western creation, the character’s designer Naoto Ohshima having named him Dr. Eggman. While he always had that name in Japan, the marketing department at Sega of America feared that Sonic would not be a success at all. Before 1991, who in America knew what a hedgehog was? Though the game had always been designed with a western audience in mind, details were changed by the west (led by Madeline Schroeder) to transform the game and its universe into something more similar to the mindset of the generic 1980’s animated cartoon. The simple world of South Island, the subtle origins of Sonic and Eggman, were changed to make a psudo-fairytale about how Dr. Kintobor, a kindly scientist working underground, met Sonic, made his shoes, changed him blue, then by accident became the evil Dr. Robotnik. The name was thought up by Dean Sitton, who worked for Sega of America’s phone tip hotline. He was also involved in the creation of the Kintobor storyline. This was a man who had no part in the creation of the game, but was pulled aside by management, shown some artwork, and told to make up names for the characters.
While there was an emphasis placed on Robotnik being super evil, the way he acted in the games underplayed that. Each goofy smile Eggman had on his face when the player got hit, each frightened look as the villain ran for cover, did not scream “this man is pure evil.” He was an egg-shaped, eccentric man with an obsession for robots and electronics, but he was not polluting the island for the sake of polluting the island. The western art for Robotnik showed him looking evil with his soulless, black eyes, but even the fiction on both sides of the Atlantic portrayed him as still being a bit silly.
The Saturday morning cartoon ruined all that. Suddenly, the name Robotnik represented a villain with a cold heart, looking to enslave anything living. The removal of free will to promote his own self-image. Destroying the landscape, removing fun, a dark and dreary existence with no clear reason besides the fact he was evil. The desperate struggle between the Freedom Fighters and the despot was a far removal from the way the games were. Yet kids of the time flocked to this portrayal of Robotnik. Was it because it was superior? I don’t think so. It was more a case of the show not trying to talk down to its audience. By making itself look far more deep and sophisticated than it really was, kids could point to the show and go “see, it isn’t for babies. This isn’t Mario.” Yet with all the success the cartoon and the Archie comic had, it paled in comparison to the game sales. That version of Dr. Eggman was still on top, with his strange outfit and tiny cape.
Though he was tasked with redesigning the character for Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, Milton Knight still had a keen understanding of the character of Eggman. He was an image of self-love. Of an overinflated ego that couldn’t comprehend how anyone could not love him just as much as he loved himself. His desire to take over the world was not to transform everything into robots, or turn a pristine landscape into a desolate wasteland. He wanted to shove his image into everything, create a world that loved and praised him. A world that would celebrate his genius. If he needed to throw some Flickies into robots to make that happen? If he had to make a crude base with no concern of trying to be environmentally friendly to gather the Chaos Emeralds? Then so be it. If Eggmanland could be constructed at the end, it was all worth it.
That character can still be chilling when need be. Eggman can be both goofy and evil. One moment, you can be freaking out as he stares you down, the next you can be laughing as he scrambles away in his broken Eggmobile. The original interpretation of Dr. Eggman allowed for so much to be done. That potential was stripped away with the Saturday morning Dr. Robotnik, who only had the slightest shades of eccentrics left in him. Seeing his bedroom was the only reminder that this character, while evil, is also meant to be a type of clown.
Eddie Lebron’s Robotnik? Takes the Robotnik concept and brings it even further down the dark path. In certain respects, it reminds me of Richard Kuta’s desired take on the character in his unproduced screenplay. Eddie’s Robotnik is extremely depressing. Him going on about how humanity was once a god-given right but now a privilege that he bestows upon people? That is not him expressing self-love. That is not him wanting people to praise him. That is him trying to crush the very idea of a human spirit. He wants to rule with an iron fist, but in the most melodramatic fashion possible. All the while wearing an outfit that the costume designer tried to make regal, but instead looks silly. As the short is meant to be a precursor to the first game, Robotnik’s costume tries to look like that red shirt and black pants ensemble. But as human beings aren’t naturally egg-shaped, it looks wrong. Not to mention the fact that there is still a complete misunderstanding of Eggman’s cape. The yellow stripes stretching down Robotnik’s shirt are not supposed to be there for design. They are the collar to the cape he wears. A cape that shouldn’t be long, flowing and regal. A cape that should barely be going to his waist. The joke is that Eggman is huge, and the cape is far too small for him. Eggman wants to look like an emperor, but he is unable to. It makes the design charming. Trying to transform it into what is seen in Sonic doesn’t work. DJ Hazard looks silly, but for the wrong reasons. Especially as he says lines that promote death and destruction.
During the news coverage that exists to spew exposition on the viewer, its briefly mentioned that Dr. Kintobor was wanted for crimes against humanity before he disappeared. When he reemerges, he changes his name from Kintobor to Robotnik, which just happens to be his name backwards. That sort of thing was a stretch in the western fairytale version of Robotnik’s origins, especially when you think about how convenient it must have been that Robotnik would actually want to be into robots. But for something that is trying to take itself so seriously? That it was just Dr. Kintobor always being evil, changing his name on a whim? That doesn’t work. Why would he even want to destroy his name? If he wants to take over the world, why can’t he do it under his own name? That also bothered me about Kuta’s film, and even the Archie comic. If you want to be feared, respected and remembered, why change your name the moment before you take over the world? It’s not like he was trying to protect any of his loved ones. In the sentence preceding him saying he is now Robotnik, he tells the world that Kintobor is no more. He hides in the shadows even though every news outlet has stock photos of him. What is he trying to accomplish?
The process of roboticization is also mentioned, though it only gets brief focus and is never shown what it entails. It’s just assumed that the viewer will know what Robotnik means, recalling a television show that was canceled back in 1995. In the cartoon, the citizens of Mobotropolis were transformed, their skin turned to metal, brainwashed into obeying their master, Robotnik. A quick and dirty way to get the population to praise him, and do his bidding without fear of reprisal. In this short, roboticization is shown as an instrument of war. The only people being subjugated to the procedure are G.U.N. soldiers who went up against Robotnik. The very core of the games – that Sonic pops open badniks and frees his friends – is obliterated with this practice. It was frustrating watching the cartoon and knowing that Sonic’s main method of attack meant nothing for the robots of his former friends and family. But here, with roboticization only being done upon humankind, it even gets further away from the source. The reason there are no animals in those badniks? Robotnik went ahead and killed them all. Which brings me to my next main contention with the film.
Hey, remember when Sonic the Hedgehog was about genocide and racism? Nope, neither do I. Even the darker interpretation of the the mythos in the Saturday morning series stayed away from outright murder. Robotnik could have easily shot everyone in Mobotropolis in the cartoon, but instead he turned them into robots. For some reason, in this short film, Robotnik’s first act of world conquest is to blow up an island that not everyone is aware of, filled with talking animals. For no reason. In the games, South Island is meant to be this mysterious place that is hard to find. Yes, there are talking animals, but they’re not unique to just the one island. But the dialogue in the film makes it unclear just how much everyone knows about South Island. Robotnik’s attack is enough for the President of…Mobius? Station Square?…to start a war. A war which looks like nothing. The G.U.N. soldier later on in the film is obviously uncertain of Sonic’s loyalties. None of the troupe had ever seen a being like Sonic, and the one uses “South Islander” in a derogatory fashion. I can thank my lucky stars that Eddie didn’t try to come up with some clever word that would sound insulting. But it does raise the question, what does the world think of, or even know, of the natives of South Island?
Robotnik makes it very clear that he has an irrational hatred of the South Islanders. In his perfect society, they can’t exist. But this sort of feeling must be in more people than just him. That G.U.N. soldier could just as easily be for Robotnik’s beliefs, at least when it comes to them. So are the talking animals of Lebron’s film supposed to be mysterious beings that only people are half aware of, or is it supposed to be more in line with the way African Americans were treated in the southern United States before the passing of the civil rights bill? Or is it even more extreme, Robotnik taking on the form of Hitler, and the purging of South Island being akin to the holocaust? Why are these themes even a part of a movie about Sonic the Hedgehog?! And why is Sonic not upset in the least that his entire kind has been dead for the last three months, him apparently the only one left?!?!
Also, why is it so weird to imagine a world where humans and anthropomorphic characters exist together? No one ever watched a Bugs Bunny cartoon and went “oh Elmer Fudd must be the only human being alive.” There are plenty of fictional worlds where all sorts of crazy species live together and its no big deal. Why is it so hard to imagine Sonic living in a world where there are a bunch of anthropomorphic beings doing their own thing, while at the same time there are a bunch of humans as well? Eddie Lebron did make it clear that Robotnik isn’t the only human around, but he still went out of his way to make a clear distinction between humans and animals.
While you can argue about Eddie’s intentions for what I said in the last couple paragraphs, there were other aspects of the film that he made quite clear what he was trying to do. During production of the movie, one of Eddie’s stated goals was that he wanted to create a Hollywood interpretation of Sonic the Hedgehog. He even went as far as to call it a spec film in the YouTube description, meaning that not only was this just the first 20 minutes of a potential feature-length film, but that he had intentions to pitch this to SEGA. All I have to ask is, why? One of the reasons of making a fanfilm is the freedom that comes with it. You aren’t trying to make something that will appeal to a mass market. You aren’t trying to please CEOs and financiers and shareholders. You are creating a labor of love, working on a property you have no rights to, something you can’t possibly profit from. All those hundreds of hours devoted to making something of this scope is to honor something you treasure in your heart. These characters impacted your life, be it a pivotal moment of childhood or even the game that brought you to a message board full of crazy people that became your close friends. While recognition is always nice, it isn’t intended to make the world love you.
So why Hollywoodize something that has never gotten a truly faithful adaptation of the source material? The Sonic OVA is the closest animation to classic Sonic that exists. Sonic X is the only show that really tried to deal with the game universe, and that’s essentially The Chris Thorndyke Show. How bad is it that a series which is about a kid’s strange obsession with a talking blue hedgehog since his rich and successful parents don’t love him enough is the closest we’ve ever gotten to a proper adaptation of Sonic on the airwaves? Yes, Adventures of pays homage to the games as well, but that’s more Loony Toons than Sonic.
Why make a movie about “Sonic in the real world?” Sonic Team has been postulating that for ages, and it just doesn’t work. Sonic Adventure was the first to really deal with the idea, and that was only partly. There was still enough surreality in the game that the real world aspects didn’t overwhelm. Sonic Adventure 2 was “Sonic’s Adventure in San Francisco.” Sonic 2006? Does that even need explaining? Sonic Unleashed even did it, albeit a cartoonized version of real world locations. That worked aesthetically, but only because they did what was in Sonic Adventure: taking the real world and modifying it to look more like the surreal landscape of the classic games. When Sonic gets too realistic, people complain. An entire game should not be devoted to realistic Sonic. Neither should a film. It’s the same reason those terrible live-action films with classic cartoon characters don’t work. If you want to watch Rocky & Bullwinkle, you’re not going to watch the Hollywood movie. People complain because it doesn’t feel right, especially when the creators are taking it seriously. And with the mountain of terrible video-game-to-film-adaptations out there, why go out of your way to make another, when you have the utmost creative freedom available to you?
To be fair, I understand the reasoning behind some of the aesthetic choices: money. Being a fan film, you don’t get the backing of Hollywood. You don’t get millions of dollars to bring your vision to life. Money is also a factor in one of the bigger sources of contention people have been complaining about on the Internet regarding this film: the CGI. But it can’t excuse all of them. Mountains of pages have already been written about the Sonic the Hedgehog model itself. In an effort to fall in line with the realism goal of the film, Sonic has been rendered in a form that not even Sonic 2006 dared to tread, with hundreds of quills adorning his head. With more money, maybe he would have moved smoother. Maybe Sonic’s mouth wouldn’t have been freakish. But Eddie was dead-set on this “realistic” Sonic. And why? The smooth, stylized look of Sonic in the games, comics, and TV shows has worked just fine. The reason no one has ever seriously tried to add that sort of detail to Sonic is because it is too busy. Sonic is about simplicity. Dr. Eggman was originally designed so children could draw him super easily. These were never meant to be intricate, complicated character looks.
Models like the Egg Carrier? Why is it that the in-game models for the same ship that were on the Dreamcast back in 1998 look better than what this film delivered? Not to mention the dead looking E-102’s. Yes, robot’s can be animated easier in CG, but when the models remind you of an FMV into to an early Playstation 1 game? That’s not good. This even applies to the Green Hill Zone, which comes out of nowhere. Spending so much time making this world look realistic, suddenly out of the blue you have this surreal landscape. A landscape that also looks completely dead. Trees unmoving, the water nearby still, and even the clouds barely moving in the sky. That definitely reminds me of early FMV that a game producer tacked on at the very end. In the case of this film, its meant to be the money shot. If anything, that should have been given way more love and care.
When the CG models are interacting with the real world? It’s not that bad during the scenes with the Egg Carrier. But seeing Sonic run in the forests of Upstate New York? There is a very overreaching feeling of stillness. The models do not interact with their backgrounds at all. Sonic is chasing Motobugs, yet the grass doesn’t move a centimeter. I know, I know, it’s all about the money. Would it have been too hard to film something small rolling through the grass, and put the models over it in post production? I don’t claim to be a filmmaker, but there must be tricks to make things work like that even with a small budget. Otherwise, you get an extremely unbalanced film in look. Might be more forgivable if the story was stronger. Scriptwriting, especially in Spec form, might not be Eddie’s strong suit. It definitely isn’t when Sonic is involved.
The Knuckles model that everyone can’t get over? The fingers? That wasn’t about money, that was trying to make things realistic. Because boxing gloves don’t exist in the real world, apparently…though I would like to know if they actually designed a face for him, or if the other side is just blank. Say nothing of the Sonic model, that would be creepy to see. Also, I should mention that, while they’re not CG, the green screen backgrounds to the newscaster sections of the film are painfully bad. Not because it looks super fake, but because what they’re sitting in front of are newsrooms adorned with televisions that should be filled with life, but are instead a static shot.
Another polarizing aspect of the movie? The cameos. Sprinkled throughout the film are various YouTube personalities, having walk-on or bit parts in the film. James Rolfe, best known for The Angry Video Game Nerd? One of the reporters in the film, going on about South Island. Doug Walker, best known for The Nostalgia Critic? He plays the role of the silent G.U.N. soldier that first encounters Sonic. Brent Black, also known as Brentalfloss, video game lyricist extraordinaire? A walk-on role where he stares up at the Egg Carrier early in the film. Craig Skistimas, also known as Stuttering Craig, personality at ScrewAttack? The male talking head in the pirated Robotnik stream. And Arin Hanson, Egoraptor himself? A soulless voice of one of the many E-100’s that are in the film. There are probably even smaller people from Channel Awesome or whatnot that I’m just not recognizing, but these people are just flooded in the movie. I get that it can be neat to see them come out of nowhere, but to have so many concentrated so quickly in a film that’s already short? It gets distracting. Especially when you question why they’re even part of it.
As James reads his lines, you can tell he’s having the hardest time keeping a straight face. It would be funny to see how many takes that took before he could get it all out. Arin’s appearance is more confusing, for he’s made it clear that he isn’t a fan of Sonic the Hedgehog. Even the classic games weren’t his cup of tea growing up. These cameos seem less like nods to the fans, and more like Eddie is trying to position himself right at the center of the Internet Videogame Universe. All these Internet personalities have their own followings, and if Eddie can say “hey look, they all work with me?” That makes him the ringleader. It gives him credence, it gives him power. Even if he didn’t consciously do it, a part of his subconscious must have been aware of what was going on.
This doesn’t even get into one fact I really haven’t focused on: the use of Jaleel White as the voice of Sonic. Jaleel, best known for his role as Urkel in the sitcom Family Matters, was a staple of the 90’s. It only makes sense that, during his rise to fame, ABC wanted him to be the voice for Sonic the Hedgehog. He provided the vocals to the character not just in the Saturday morning series, but also Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic Underground. He has certainly been the most prolific when it comes to voicing the character, and for some there has never been a better voice. But 20 years on, you can tell that the voice isn’t exactly the same. Now, it might be because Eddie wanted him to sound different. He had mentioned that during the recording session, Jaleel recorded everything twice – once in the classic voice, another where the character was trying to sound older. Which was used in the film? Beats me.
There is something that tickles the nostalgic bone hearing him voice Sonic after all these years. But sometimes, you just can’t go back. The script also had so many wasted opportunities, Jaleel only reciting one of Sonic’s silly catchphrases. There were so many others that could have been said, but weren’t. Phrases that would have even made sense in the film. And would it have been so hard to try and find a way for Jaleel to say any of the number of lines that have become synonymous with Sonic since he stopped voicing the character? Even some of the more infamous lines from Sonic Adventure would have been funny to hear.
I know this review has been pretty negative, and maybe I’m giving Eddie a hard time. I can admit that his cinematography is good. There are some shots that look really nice, minus the bad animation. Eddie Lebron is definitely a competent director. While some of the acting is downright awful, that isn’t necessarily Eddie’s fault. Filming an indie project with no budget, you can’t get the best talent in the world. The tortured G.U.N. soldier won’t be winning any awards anytime soon, but DJ Hazard is good at what he does in the film. My complaints about Robotnik, after all, go much deeper than Hazard interpreting the written word given to him. And you have to give props to the man for actually finishing this in the first place. How many fanfilms have tried to get off the ground and gone nowhere?
One of the big problems is that it just is hard to make a Sonic the Hedgehog film in general. You would think it wouldn’t be, especially now. You have a robust cast, you have awareness of the plot in the games, even the early ones. But to try and find that balance of action and adventure with dialogue and storyline all the while staying true to the spirit of Sonic the Hedgehog seems nearly impossible. Maybe because the whole thing is meant to be simple, the temptation to add in so much unnecessary information irresistible. The urge to throw in too many nods and in-jokes for other Sonic media is also there. There is enough now to go off the games and make a few movies without having to dip into the Kintobor storyline, or make the world resemble the Saturday morning interpretation.
Is Eddie’s the strongest entry from what everyone got excited about back in 2010? Yes, it is. Like I said, Eddie is competent. He definitely has talent, and I would love to see him make something from scratch. But as a whole, the Sonic fan film he made just doesn’t work. It doesn’t work as a standalone, it doesn’t work as a spec. Maybe he should have gotten someone else to write it. Maybe he shouldn’t have been so obsessed with the idea of wanting it to be the first in a series of films that would be backed by SEGA/Hollywood. Even a live-action/animated hybrid involving Sonic could work, but it would have to be done very carefully, and the story involved would probably not be the one everyone would want to see when they think “Sonic film.”
One of two things will happen now: either no one will feel the need to make any new Sonic fan films for a while, or people will be fueled by the desire to try and best Eddie. If it’s the latter, I’ll be excited, at the very least to see just what people would make. Would most of it be bad? Probably. But that’s half the fun of it.
At the very least, Mr. Lebron, we all know that your short feature was probably way better than the animated feature Ken Penders wanted to make about Sonic the Hedgehog.
Oh, also, here’s a commentary video for the movie that just happens to have Eddie Lebron as well. Yeah, it’s not all that great since it’s filled with people doing shtick and also someone shows up in the middle unexpectedly (oh man professionalism), but it does have Eddie Lebron.