Monday 13 September 2010

Obscurity Files #23 - Super Mario Bros

Obscurity Files aims to put the spotlight onto a series of films that time and audiences have otherwise forgotten. It's Mario's 25th birthday this week, so let's have a look back at the first time anyone tried to make a video-game movie. Today it's Super Mario Bros.
More after the jump...

After being abandoned as a baby, Daisy finds herself kidnapped and pulled down into an alternate universe ruled by the evil Koopa (Dennis Hopper). Luckily, a pair of brooklyn plumbers called the Mario Bros (Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo) are out to save her and stop their two universes from being merged together. Can Mario get his hands on the meteorite that Koopa wants, and can Luigi win the heart of Princess Daisy?
Back in 1993 some bright spark decided it'd be a good idea to adapt a computer game title into a movie. There weren't too many huge game icons at the time, so the obvious choice was to transfer Super Mario Bros to the big screen. He'd scored the biggest selling game of all time with his first game and was about to release his second NES outing. At this point in Nintendo's history Super Mario was only 8 years old (and a lot of the defining gameplay characteristics hadn't become fully formed yet), but there was a rich enough basis for a fun adventure romp for all the family. Unfortunately, as no-one had adapted a video-game before the script got passed around too many writers, leading to some horrendous liberties being taken within the world of the Mushroom Kingdom.

Toad is no longer a mushroom but instead is an irritating street musician (and then de-evolved into a strange lizard Goomba), Big Bertha somehow ended up as a red leather clad black lady instead of a giant fish, and the only mushrooms are some rank fungus growing out of the walls. The whole film's quite dark and looks like the set of Total Recall or a poor man's Blade Runner. As for the costumes, Mario and Luigi don't get their familiar red and green colour schemes (albeit in dodgy overalls, not dungarees) until near the end.

As for the crucial casting of Mario and Luigi...well, it's a mixed bag. When you're on the look out for a short, squat guy who can rock a good moustache, it's no surprise that Bob Hoskins got a call. He's a little bald for the role, but I won't mention it if you don't. Sadly though, John Leguizamo as Luigi is way off track. He's been 'youthed up', lacking any facial hair and given a baseball cap to wear backwards. I suppose that trying to tell parents that two fully grown men with thick moustaches could entertain their kids might have seemed a bit of a hard sell (tell that to the Chuckle Brothers), but that guy on screen? He's not Luigi.

Dennis Hopper hams it up good as the humanoid Koopa. There's something about Dennis Hopper that makes him perfect to play a former lizard (check out the way he holds his hands to his chest like a T-Rex). He revels in his own villainy, and makes for a menacing presence on screen. In fact, he's probably the best thing about the film.

As I mentioned before, this was the first film to be based on a computer game franchise, and there's hardly been a glowing history of successful transfers since. There's a long list of failed adaptations including Silent Hill, Prince Of Persia, Street Fighter, etc. The list of flops is pretty endless. Tomb Raider managed to earn itself a sequel, but that was probably down its star power of Angelina Jolie, rather than quality of writing. The Resident Evil series of films has proved surprisingly popular, but they're all terrible from what I've seen.

Unless I've missed one, I can't think of another Nintendo game that they've allowed the indignity of a movie spin-off. Yes, there's Pokemon, but that's always been a complete behemoth of marketing opportunities and cross pollination. Maybe Nintendo just felt a bit burnt by this process; it probably didn't harm Mario game sales by much, but it probably didn't boost them either. Given the poor critical response this film received (not to mention the strangely loose interpretation of its source material), I can understand why Nintendo hasn't ventured down that road again.

Super Mario Bros is a strange beast that never quite got what it was meant to be. I am an unashamed Nintendo fan (I can complete Super Mario Bros on the NES in 8 minutes. Beat that.) and would have loved for this film to be amazing, but instead, it's at best a cult curio for mid 20's slackers. Saying that, I do find myself wanting to defend some of the filmmakers choices. Video games were a relatively new medium at the time, and no-one had attempted this kind of transfer before. What I'm saying is, I'm willing to forgive some of their crimes against Mario and put it down to bad storytelling. At least we never had to suffer the sequel that this film's ending so presumptuously points towards.

It may trample all over the classic Mario story, but if you treat it as a non-canon experiment (also the best way to enjoy 1998's Godzilla) you can enjoy its wacky zaniness. I suppose the moral of the story is, if you're going to make a film based on a video game, make sure you get the characters right. If you can't do that, don't even bother.

Save from obscurity? YES


  1. when I was a kid I really liked the movie, but as an understanding adult and a gaming fan, I realise just how much they kind of sodded it up. Agree with you about Hopper being the best thing about the movie. A very fair write up :)

    Not a bad write up, but lacking in a little research.
    "Poor man's Blade Runner" might be down to using the exact same set designer (David L.Snyder). In fact, from a technical standpoint, much of this film was quite brilliant if you forget the game connections. There was only two real let downs, and unfortunately they're big ones - Direction and Writing. Everything else about the movie was fantastic, but it's hard to shine in a film led by incompetence.

    As a film based on a video game, remembering that link now, it is a massive liberty that shouldn't have gotten as far as it did. The writing process was like a comedy of errors. Shigeru Miyamoto said he wanted it to be unique to the series, so they were only following his wishes (And would you tell Miyamoto he's wrong?). They made something dark, gritty and thought-provoking and then were told by the studio to dumb it down for kids, so they ripped the quality out of the script and added in stupidity for "kid humour" and then the directors threw the script out anyway and made a total hash of filming anything consistent.

    This is exactly the same as Star Trek 2009 basically. Both good kids action flicks on their own, but when you relate them to their source material both are horrendously bad and some of the worst offenders in their genre. No amount of CGI gloss and star power can save you from horrendous writing and directing, and these two films are the proof.

  3. Mario games been loved and enjoyed by gamers since it came into existence. Is friendly theme and fulfilled adventures keeps the gamer engrossed in light spirit.gamecube roms