There has never been a truly successful movie adaptation of a video game. And yet, Hollywood studio executives have attempted to break the cycle for at least three decades. Perhaps they believe that video games and cinema are similar enough entertainment mediums to guarantee that the transition to film will not be too jarring.

It could also be that video game companies, in their endeavour to garner more players, believe even a poorly received film adaptation would be worth the hassle and the expenses for the sake of a bit of marketing. It might also be that studio executives find the chance to cash in on a recognisable fictional character too sumptuous an opportunity to pass up. It is hard to say.

It is also hard to say whether Sonic the Hedgehog was not that bad a movie because it was actually tolerably plotted and directed or that our expectations for video game movies have fallen so low. It is also very hard to say how much Jim Carrey’s energetic performance elevates an otherwise unoriginal and predictable movie. Most likely, it is the combination of all of these that makes the film bearable.

The video game is about a hedgehog (why a hedgehog, in particular, is not clear) that can run at supersonic speed, mostly from the evil machinations of Doctor Eggman, who also goes by the name Robotnik, a mad scientist that wants to conquer the world.

The film follows a similar plot but tries to add background as well as introduce a human character so that the rest of us would not feel like we are watching a cartoon movie.

The movie opens with Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) struggling to live on his home planet side by side anthropomorphic echidnas that want to steal his powers. He manages to escape using a ring that opens a portal to Earth and lives in hiding for about a decade in a small town in - where else? - the United States.

In what is a typical example of bad writing, Sonic, after 10 years of carefully hiding from the rest of the world, feels very lonely and runs around a baseball field so fast that the United States Department of Defense picks up on the massive amount of energy he emits. To figure out what caused the sudden power surge in the area, the government enlists the help of Doctor Robotnik (Carrey).

On the run from the mad doctor, Sonic runs into and befriends Tom (James Marsden), the local sheriff. In his battles with Robotnik, Sonic loses the rings. The sheriff and the supersonic hedgehog try to recover the rings before the mad scientist catches up to them. Along the way, Sonic realises what it means to have friends.

The film is a directorial debut for Jeff Fowler, a visual artist whose skills surely came in handy as the studio scrambled to address the outrage from fans who hated the initial designs of Sonic for its dissimilarity to the games. Considering the amount of work that had to be done all over again to accommodate fans’ demands and the weight of having to direct a movie intended to accommodate so many corporate interests, Fowler has not done a bad job.

Inevitably, the film does feel like a cash grab but it is funny and entertaining while it grabs cash. The likes of Angry Birds and Warcraft, recent video game addaptations, have done much worse.

The best thing about Sonic is nonetheless Carrey. A comedian at heart, he manages to play the most cartoonish villainous characters that could possibly exist. It is unfortunate that his career lost steam in the mid-2000s, but he remains one of the best and most unique comedic performers the world has ever known. It is to him that this movie owes its likeability.

PUBLISHED ON Feb 22,2020 [ VOL 20 , NO 1034]

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