Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Live-Action ‘90s Sonic Movie REVEALED!

A world exclusive look at the “Sonic the Hedgehog” flick that ALMOST got made back in the late 1990s!


We here at the Internet is in America never really set out to break any earth-shattering news. Alas, it looks like we’re the ones that are going to drop a colossal bombshell today, as we’ve gotten our grubby little paws on the top-secret script for a “Sonic the Hedgehog” movie that’s been under lock and key for almost two decades.

Yes, you heard that right. Way, way back in 1997, there were actually tentative plans for a LIVE-ACTION “Sonic the Hedgehog” movie. Of course, the Internet was still a fledgling thing back then, but I am shocked that even then, rumors about the movie never got out there. The even stranger thing? It was actually going to be a live-action “Sonic” movie produced by Sony!

Under strict confidentiality, we received not only a full working script for the film from an anonymous source, but even got a few promotional materials to go along with it. We’re talking top-line, executive level marketing blueprints, the kind of stuff we’d probably go to jail for publishing. Rest assured, however, that in the gargantuan 401 page document, there was PLENTY to discuss.

According to the documents, the film was going to begin production in 1997, with a targeted summer 1998 theatrical release. The suits at Sony Pictures were prepared to put a LOT of money into the flick, with estimates for the budget hovering between $70 to $90 million. Now, as to how Sony wound up with the film rights, you may be wondering? Well, according to the materials we received, Sega actually struck a licensing deal with Sony Pictures back in 1989, right after “The Wizard” was released. Evidently, the suits at Sega of America were hoping for some kind of similar, product placement strewn flick to herald the arrival of the Genesis in North America, but nothing looked to have come out of it. However, the deal did give Sony a 10 year exclusive deal with Sega, meaning that if any film based on a Sega property were to come to fruition, the suits at Sony would be the ones handling it. It sounds strange, to be sure, but remember: back in 1989, the term “Playstation” wasn’t even a zygote of a germ of an idea, and as the clear cut “number two” of the gaming world, a partnership with Sega seemed pretty darn reasonable, from a marketing standpoint.

Prototype fast food tie-in premiums sketches were also included. in the
leaked materials.
It’s pretty easy to put two and two together. Although Sega and Sony were indeed competing brands in
1997, Sony Pictures, by default, were to hold onto the Sega film rights for another two years. With the license about to expire, the suits at Sony decided to go ahead and film a movie before the rights reverted back to Sega, who could probably have sold off their licensing rights at a much higher price than that paid by Sony back in ‘89.

After spending the better part of the year poring over the materials e-mailed to us, I’ve determined that the documents have to be authentic. There’s just so much nuance and depth, with the highly detailed materials spelling out things to a tee. Oh yes, there was a script and marketing strategies included, but there was so much more, including a good 40 pages of executive notes on who the studio wanted to direct the film and who would star in it.

As for the script itself, it is … well, not really what you would expect out of a “Sonic the Hedgehog” movie. As many liberties as the filmmakers behind the “Super Mario Brothers” flick took, the “Sonic” screenwriter seemingly went as far as he possibly could to deviate from the established series mythos. I mean, the characters are there, but as to how they are portrayed in the film … well, you’ll see.

The script was written by someone named “J.R. Duff,” which has to be a pseudonym. According to the IMDB, no such person has any major screenwriting credits, and since Sony was willing to bankroll so much money into the production (with advertising costs factored in, well over $100 million in pre-Lewinksy dollars!) it seems almost implausible that the suits would place the fate of the picture in the hands of a first-timer. Alas, considering the strange similarities the script shares with some MIGHTY popular films a few years down the line, I have my guesses as to who the mysterious penman actually was.

As far as the production team, however, Sony were really dead-set on a specific crew. The only directorial name attached to the feature in the associated memos was Stephen Hopkins, the same guy that directed “Blown Away” and “Predator 2.” He had just wrapped up “The Ghost and the Darkness,” and at the time at least, seemed poised to be one of the next big Hollywood filmmakers.

As for the cast, it was pretty damn stacked. Playing Sonic was none other than Keanu Reeves, who was still a hot item following the surprise success of “Speed” a few years earlier. Portraying Dr. Robotnik was Danny Devito, which in hindsight, is pretty much the ideal casting choice, something as obvious as asking Patrick Stewart to play Professor X. And rounding out the supporting cast, we had Steve Buscemi as Tails and emerging Hollywood leading man Vin Diesel, taking on the role of Knuckles. Unfortunately, those are the only characters in the film that actually exist in the canonical “Sonic” world we all know and love, although there are a few additional characters in the script who seem to be oblique nods to other supporting Sonic characters.

Now, as for the script itself, it’s absolutely bizarre, owing more to “Stargate” than “Sonic and Knuckles.” It also has a general plotline that seems almost impossibly similar to “Avatar,” with more than a few “The Matrix”-like themes chunked in there.

In the screenplay, Sonic isn’t actually a hedgehog. In fact, he’s a flesh and blood human character, named Steve “Sonic” Harris, who is some sort of experimental fighter jet pilot. The initial setting of the movie, if you can believe it, is Area 51, where the U.S. government is hard at work on some sort of extra-dimensional portal (the script explicitly refers to it as a “teleportation platform” but that’s not exactly what it technically does, you see.)

In the script, the product placement for Franco American was especially
pronounced.
Harris is the top pilot in the air force’s top squadron. He’s flanked on ground control by Tom “Tails” Proctor, a former top-tier fighter pilot that lost the use of his legs in an experimental aircraft crash. Overseeing the program is Dr. Ivan Robotnik, a Russian immigrant who is on the verge of a huge extra-dimensional travel breakthrough.

And here’s where things get a little complicated. The script never explicitly tells us where this extra-dimensional plane is, so it could be some kind of alternate reality world or a faraway alien planet or even some kind of computer-generated nether-realm. Wherever it is, it’s a very jungle-like place, where humans apparently evolved from shrews instead of apes. The world, which is never explicitly named, is also home to an abundant resource called RING, which stands for “radioactive isotope neutralizing grain.” For the shrew-people inhabitants, it’s the most common source of nutrition, but in OUR world, it also has incredible nuclear energy capabilities. At about the 30 minute mark, the portal to this other world is opened, and Steve/Sonic enters it.

From here, the movie kind of turns into “Planet of the Apes,” with Steve (who is wearing an absolutely bizarre metal suit, complete with razor sharp spikes on his back) is captured by shrew-people. In an underground cavern, he meets their leader, a red echidna named “Knuckles” who, for some reason knows English. Instead of killing him, he helps him find a portal back to our world, although he advises him to never, ever return.

After that, there’s a lengthy bit about Robotnik “shutting down” the portal experiment for safety reasons. However, Sonic decides to snoop in on one of Robotnik’s late night sessions, and he uncovers a horrible secret: the army is actually sending armored platoons into the shrew-world to collect RING, completely razing their world in the process!  If that wasn’t enough, Robotnik is actually a Soviet turncoat, who plans on giving RING to the former USSR military so they can use it as a weapon against the Western World!

After some convincing, Sonic manages to convince Tails and two other site officials -- a love interest named Melissa and a 300 pound soldier named simply Biggsy -- to don the experimental armor and hop into the other world so he can prove once and for all that Robotnik is a no good sonofabitch. It takes some goading, but eventually they all make it into the shrew planet and, sure enough, the thing is in rubble. Robotnik -- who we learn left hundreds of similar portals throughout Russia -- has pretty much taken over the entire planet, appointing himself ruler of the land. The shrew people are enslaved and forced to mine for RING, and he oversees the realm aboard a gigantic flying device. The good guys are spotted by Robotnik’s troops, and they end up having a massive lazer gun(!) battle; eventually, the four heroes get sucked into an underground cavern, where they are rescued by Knuckles.

The amount of transphobic content in the screenplay,  however, is quite
surprising. 
While the robo army makes their way underground, Knuckles explains to Sonic what the fabled “Chaos Emeralds” are. Apparently, they are some sort of crystals containing the spirits of all of the great shrew planet warriors of yore. Harkening back to the Arthurian legend, he tells Sonic then when the planet needs them the most, they will select an “alien warrior” to save the entire race. This leads to another underground clash, with Knuckles getting killed. In his dying breath, he gives Sonic a red emerald, which he said will help guide him to the “Chamber of the Immortals.”

Thankfully, said chamber is really close by, and Sonic comes face to face with five warrior ghosts, who say he his been selected by the shrew gods to save them from Robotnik. The five gems start circling around him, and he turns a radioactive orange color -- “A Super-Sonic state,” the script describes it.

This leads to the grand finale, in which Super-Sonic and Dr. Robotnik (who is commanding an 80 foot tall mech) duke it out. Using his super speed abilities, Sonic ultimately shreds Robotnik in two, finding a hand-dandy time-reversal nearby that completely disrupts the space and time fabric and leaves shrew world just the way it was before Robotnik started meddling with it.

Back on the base, nobody except Steve/Sonic has any recollection of the transdimensional portal or the war, and apparently, the finale zonked Dr. Robotnik completely out of existence. Now, there’s a new lead researcher onsite, a mustachioed German physicist named -- and I shit you not -- DR. MAGNUM WILY. Of course, he’s a no-good sonofabitch that’s working on the same device Robotnik was, only this time, we learn he’s secretly planning on using the portal to start the Fourth Reich!

The film ends on an upbeat note, with Steve and Melissa snogging and Biggsy and Tails making fun of them. And then, in the film’s final scene, Steve asks his pals how they want to spend the rest of the evening, to which Tails responds “I don’t know. Want to go play some Sega?”

You don't really need me to tell you that the script, for lack of a better term, was really, REALLY out there. It may have taken some EXTREME liberties with the license, but at the end of the day, in the hands of a capable production crew, it probably wouldn't have been half bad. After reading through the script a second time, the almost hard sci-fi bent actually seemed to grow on me -- if nothing else, it certainly would have been worlds better than utter garbage like "Street Fighter" and the second "Mortal Kombat" movie.

It's mere conjecture on my part, but I am almost certain the screenwriter was Akiva Goldsman. The dialogue and description of the costumes seems almost uncannily similar to the 1998 "Lost in Space" movie, which I am pretty sure is what the script was eventually recycled into. That, and the rodent-people behave in a fashion similar to the zombies in "I Am Legend," and the vehicles, in hindsight, sound an awful lot like the rides in "I, Robot." And yes, a few bits of "Batman and Robin"-level, groan-worthy camp dialogue makes it in there, as well.

As for the ultimate fate of the picture, I'm not entirely sure what happened. There was a TON of promotional plans included (the packet e-mailed to me largely consisted of advertising plans and prototypes for tie-in products, like fast food premiums) so something really major had to have happened with the Sony brass for the project to be abandoned. I can't confirm anything, but it may have had something to do with the console wars heating up -- after all, why pimp your number two largest competitor, even if you take in most of the money from the flick? Ironically enough, with Sega exiting the hardware arena, talks of another Sonic live-action film have been bandied about, with Sony yet again set to produce it.

Much like the ill-fated Burton "Superman" flick and the version of "Elm Street 3" where Freddy turns into grandma monsters and says semi-racist things while eating black children, I reckon this here '90s "Sonic" is something we'll just have to imagine in the multiplex of our heads. More than anything, I am just shocked that project was kept under wraps for as long as it was -- apparently, Sony's electronic security was WAY better during the Clinton years than it is today.

It may not have been the "Sonic" movie we all dreamed of, but for what it was (and wasn't) I don't think it would have panned out that horribly, either. I mean, it was a movie starring Danny Devito as an evil Ruskie fighting mutant echidnas and Neo in a cyborg battle suit -- at the very least, it would have been as good as "Wild, Wild West," wouldn't it?

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