What can be said about Pokémon that hasn’t been said already? Appearing in the mid to late ’90s, this creative adventure RPG was thought by many to be but a passing fad. Instead, it took the world by storm. Now going strong for over 20 years, Pokémon is one of the most successful licenses held by the game company Nintendo, second only to Mario himself. Behind its colorful visage of creativity however, Pokémon holds a dark secret.
One of the movies may have stolen music from a 1981 slasher film.
Don’t believe me? Well then, looks like I’ll need to provide some evidence.
Let’s start by talking about the slasher genre. Seeds of the genre had been planted before with films like Psycho and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but it wasn’t until both Halloween and Friday the 13th proved successful that studios large and small started to take notice.
The Burning is one of many slasher films released in the wake of Friday the 13th. It tells of Cropsy, a camp caretaker who is horribly disfigured in a prank gone wrong. After being released from the hospital, he goes to his old summer camp and embarks on a killing spree, pruning through numerous camp counselors with a pair of garden sheers.
The film has several claims to fame. It was the first movie produced by the now infamous Harvey Weinstein, and the very first feature by Miramax. It featured stunning and grisly makeup by horror guru Tom Savini, who helmed such films as Friday the 13th and Dawn of the Dead. It also featured a talented young cast, not the least of whom was none other than Seinfeld‘s Jason Alexander, sporting a full head of red hair. Others in the cast included Fisher Stevens (Short Circuit), Brian Backer (Fast Times at Ridgemont High) and Holly Hunter (The Piano).
One of The Burning‘s biggest selling points however was its score. Composed by rock legend Rick Wakeman, The Burning has a unique, electronic synth sound that is both catchy and unsettling. The film’s main theme is also highly memorable.
So what does this have to do with Pokémon? Well, let’s jump ahead to the year 2000. The first movie based on the games proved to be quite a draw for audiences, so naturally the studios wanted a sequel. With the releases of the second generation of games in the series, Gold and Silver, provided the premise.
Set in the newly developed Johto region, Pokémon Gold and Silver expanded on the universe of Pokémon and improved on it in many ways, sporting new creatures and legends, as well as a more in-depth story. They sold more copies than the first generation, and garnered massive acclaim from fans and critics alike.
The new and expanded universe provided great potential to keep the next film in the series fresh and original. Though it was rushed out to theaters, Pokémon the Movie 2000 was anything but a rehash of the first.
The movie proved to be about as big a hit as the first, breaking $100 million at the American box office. Like the first film, it featured an impressive score, the American version of which was composed by Ralph Schuckett, who has a long career in scoring numerous anime series, including the Pokémon TV series and Yu-Gi-Oh. The most memorable piece of music for the film’s featured Pokemon, Lugia.
Lugia was a graceful and dignified creature with a kind heart and noble spirit, a perfect companion and protector for the film’s young heroes. His theme music, had to match his character — and match the character it did. However, it also matched a little something else. Remember that theme to The Burning? Well, tell me if this doesn’t sound a little familiar.
Lugia’s song is a practical note for note recreation of Wakeman’s main theme for The Burning.
Now, perhaps this isn’t too unusual. Pokémon, being the cultural juggernaut it is, does contain several illusions and references to other great pieces of film and literature. The first game opens with a reference to the movie Stand By Me for instance, and even the Pokemon show made direct reference to another slasher bloodbath, I Know What You Did Last Summer.
Still, this revelation is simultaneously unsettling and hilarious. I’m not exactly a connoisseur of Pokémon, but I still have a figure of Mewtwo right next to my figure of Snake Plissken from Escape From New York.
I also love a good slasher film. The genre was of great interest to me when I hit high school, with films like My Blood Valentine, The Prowler, Terror Train and The House on Sorority Row providing hours of entertainment. In many ways, Pokémon represented my childhood, and the slasher genre represented my adolescent years. One could argue that somehow makes it strangely appropriate that these two are somehow linked. Still, The Burning? Really? The movie that gave us Fisher Stevens and his severed fingers? This is where you go for inspiration?
Now, let’s be reasonable here. The Burning does contain a pretty pleasant main theme that sets it apart from the score for Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, and others of that ilk. It’s also not unusual for composers — like many other artists — to draw from those that inspired them to pursue their passions. John Williams, after all, sampled a little bit of Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 for the Jaws theme.
Maybe Schuckett was a fan of Wakeman. Maybe he checked out some of the composer’s more obscure tracks in effort to pay tribute. Maybe he was unaware that he’d just so happen to ruin the childhood of the one Pokemon fan who was well versed in the slasher genre.
In the end, this is a fun bit of trivia for those in any gamer group. Funnily enough, I got into slasher films to escape from the things I loved in my youth. I believed Pokémon didn’t make me cool, so I dug into all those tales of gory glory to be like everyone else. How poetic that journey lead me right back to the Johto region where Lugia was awaiting my return for 10 years.
The Burning rekindled my love of Pokémon, though now I play with a little more caution than I used to. Now the Johto region doesn’t seem so safe anymore. Beware, fellow Pokémon Trainers. Cropsy is watching.