Tuesday brought good news for video game fans looking to see Hollywood take more notice of the industry’s wealth of properties.
Paramount Studios announced its “Sonic the Hedgehog” sequel, set for release in April, is already promising enough that the studio is working on a third movie in the series. In addition to a new movie, a spinoff streaming series centered on Knuckles, Sonic’s on-again-off-again nemesis, is currently in development for Paramount Plus. Idris Elba, who will voice Knuckles in “Sonic the Hedgehog 2,” is signed on to reprise his role as the echidna, which is, apparently, a real animal.
“Sonic the Hedgehog” originally released in February 2020. Anyone remember what happened around that time? Oh yeah, we all went into quarantine lockdown, which proved to be the only thing that could stop the blue hedgehog in his tracks. Well, that and a horrendous original character design that debuted the previous year in marketing purposes before someone wisened up and commissioned a proper design of the longtime Sega mascot.
Despite Covid, “Sonic the Hedgehog” did surprisingly well in theaters, and would have gone on to be even more successful, had the entire world not come to a complete stop for several months. Paramount — in desperate need for any new IP it can get its hands on — saw the success potential in “Sonic” and pushed forward with a sequel. This one looks like it can be even better than the original — which was admittedly fairly middling — for no other reason than it looks like it’s embracing more of the ridiculousness from the games and is spending less effort grounding the story in the real world. Though, the last time Paramount took a “grounded” version of a famous property and commissioned a more outlandish sequel, we ended up with “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows,” and that didn’t end well.
Paramount wasn’t done yet Tuesday. It announced “Halo,” which premiers next month on Paramount Plus, will receive a second season. This impromptu renewal isn’t unheard of in the streaming space. If a show is shaping up to be promising, streamers will often commission a new season to save time and money. “Halo” is reportedly one of the most expensive streaming shows ever made, so it makes sense to do a second season quickly, so that the same materials and sets can be reused with little additional cost. The early renewal news also gives potential audience members a bit more incentive to join in watching, knowing that the season won’t end on a massive cliffhanger.
“Halo” looks surprisingly good. The show is taking some liberties with established “Halo” canon to tell an entirely new story — one separate from the games, but looks to take advantage of the strengths of its mediums. Some people aren’t happy about the new look for Master Chief’s A.I. partner, Cortana, who looks much more human — and wears clothes — compared to her digital counterpart. But if the worst thing someone can say about a new show is that it’s big controversial creative decision is making a female character look less like a sex robot, then that’s not a bad thing.
In what is perhaps the biggest surprise of the day, Netflix announced it had partnered with Take 2 to create a “Bioshock” film for the streaming service. The news came out of nowhere, with zero hint or buildup from any party. “Bioshock” has been a potential goldmine for Hollywood for more than a decade. Fresh off the success of his “Pirates of the Caribbean” trilogy, and before the disaster that was “The Lone Ranger,” director Gore Verbinski had signed on to a project at Universal Studios to develop a $200 million hard R-rated “Bioshock” film — one that would explore the downfall of Rapture and its descent into madness.
Verbinski’s work sounded amazing. He truly understood “Bioshock” and knew what needed to be done in order to make a movie that captured the feel of the games. But $200 million for an unproven IP that would require a lot of underwater filming based off a video game wasn’t exactly something Universal felt confident in rubber stamping. Even today, there still hasn’t been a truly successful major video game blockbuster on the scale of any big comic book film. “Sonic the Hedgehog,” “Detective Pikachu” and last year’s “Mortal Kombat” have been the most lucrative — with obvious caveats for each film. No one has come close to dropping $200 million on a video game film and come out ahead — at least not yet. Just ask Microsoft and its attempts to put together a “Halo” movie in 2007 with Peter Jackson.
The idea of a “Bioshock” film on Netflix might sound like a monkey paw wish, but the streaming service has really taken on some big projects with big names and even bigger budgets. It’s also produced films like “Don’t Look Up” and “Mank,” which have contended for Oscars, so the idea of direct-to-streaming is no longer the disappointing scarlet A that many once assumed.
These announcements are exciting, and it seems that video games are finally gaming some legitimacy. “Uncharted” releases this weekend with Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg. And while the reviews appear disappointing, there have been enough comments painting the adventure film as a decent “Indiana Jones” homage that maybe it will be something worth watching after all.
Josh Rouse lives in Lawton and writes a weekly gaming column for The Lawton Constitution.