Sonic the Hedgehog has had a wild year. In April, Paramount released a trailer for their upcoming film starring the titular character. If you were on the internet that day, you undoubtedly heard about this. The reaction was strong. And not positive. The issue was the design of Sonic himself. He was… terrifying.
It was only a few short days later that Jeff Fowler, the film’s director, announced that the film would be delayed so it could be fixed. Just this week, about 6 months later, we were graced with a new trailer featuring the revamped Sonic:
I marveled at the power of the internet.
I don’t know anyone who would argue that the new Sonic is not an improvement (except for people who love the grotesque). I think the improvement is astounding. Most impressive to me is that it all happened because of fan feedback.
In the grand scheme of things, cinema is a very young art form. In comparison to writing, sculpture, pottery, or painting, we’ve only just begun to make movies. But in comparison with the life of this art form, the internet is a baby. It has been widely available for less than 30 years. Perhaps even more significantly, social media has exploded in the last several years. The advent of Facebook and its ilk have enabled unprecedented levels of human correspondence. This communication includes consumers, artists, and even companies. It has created an instant feedback loop. If a person or company makes an announcement, they can see reactions from across the entire globe within moments. This has never existed before.
Imagine if Michelangelo had webcams all around the Sistine Chapel and you could watch his work livestreamed 24/7 throughout the course of the project on YouTube. Imagine Emily Dickinson writing her poetry live on Twitch. Picture William Shakespeare writing a sonnet on twitter, tweeting one line at a time. This is the world we live in.
What does this mean? In a hundred years from now, how will historians look back at our art? Will it be viewed as a monument to human achievement, or will it be seen as a fool’s errand that compromised true creative integrity?
I don’t think anyone would say that the David could have been improved if Michelangelo had been able to stop and consult Twitter partway through the sculpting process. True artistic vision needs no feedback. It is inspiration. Michelangelo himself once said, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” In his view, he wasn’t creating. He was revealing a truth that was already present in the stone,
But, is Sonic the Hedgehog equivalent to a Renaissance masterpiece? No. I think the movie is still a piece of art and is every bit as valid as the Mona Lisa, but Sonic the Hedgehog is not comparable to the great works throughout history. I do not believe that Jeff Fowler is revealing a hidden truth to the world. He is creating something with the purpose of entertaining. This is an important distinction.
Art of this nature can be improved with feedback. Video games have been utilizing the power of internet feedback for years. In 2013, Steam launched a program called Early Access. With this system, game developers can sell unfinished copies of their game. Customers can buy this access and play the game throughout the development process. They can give feedback. When the game is complete, they will receive the finished product as part of their purchase. They can see how their feedback affected the final version of the game. This is incredibly useful to developers. On one hand, it provides an early source of income and an indication of sales to come. But more importantly, they see what players do and do not like about the game and they can change the game accordingly. Early Access is hardly a perfect system, but it has been very successful. Other platforms have mimicked it and offered similar services. It is now a regular part of the gaming industry.
Sonic the Hedgehog has now experienced this. It wasn’t in the same manner as Early Access, but the world made its opinion known all the same. It has clearly resulted in an improved product. I think this is amazing. I had absolutely zero intention of seeing this movie after the first trailer was released. I didn’t even have morbid curiosity. I would not have watched it. But now that it’s been fixed, that has changed. It looks entertaining to me. I’m not certain if I will see it in theaters, but I will definitely make a point to watch it eventually.
I’m glad that the internet gives artists the power to receive instant feedback. I’m also glad that not all artists have to use the internet in this manner. In the games industry, many games use Early Access, but not all do. Not even a majority. I think this will happen with film as well. The vast majority of movies will not have significant alterations made after trailers drop and twitter reacts, but some will and it isn’t a bad thing.
Oh, and if Jeff Fowler is reading this, here’s one more piece of feedback. Please put Big the Cat in the movie.