Friday, May 31, 2013

Silver Screen Stories: Super Mario Bros.

So this week, exactly 20 years ago, a landmark moment occurred in the history of cinema. For the first time ever, a movie was released by Hollywood, based on a video game. There had been a handful of films in the past that heavily FEATURED the concept of video games, such as Tron, The Wizard, etc., but there had never before been a film that was an adaptation of a video game. There had been plenty of games turned into cartoons in the 80s and early 90s: Pac-Man, Dungeons and Dragons, Donkey Kong, Q-Bert, Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Sonic the Hedgehog, etc. But Super Mario Bros. was such a popular franchise (still to this day the single highest selling game franchise in video game history, and that's not even counting all the spinoff titles), that it had the distinct honor of being the impetus for uncharted territory on the "Big Screen". And thus "Super Mario Bros.: The Movie" was born.

"This ain't no game.....but why are we holding Super Scopes?"

Now, this isn't going to be your typical look back at this movie. It is infamous in film history, for both being so damn weird, but also for being a greatly hyped blockbuster film that nosedived and bombed at the box office. Most people tend to look back on this film with scorn and sarcasm, treating it like a punchline. Because to some people, I guess it is. But me, I'm going a different rout. Any of my readers who've stuck around and followed my work for awhile now, probably know that I generally tend to write about things I like, with few exceptions (such as the Shitty Sequels series I have going). I just figure that, honestly, it's both more fun and more interesting for me to write about things that I actually like and am passionate for. But's kind of just played out, people criticizing and hating on things for entertainment value. It's become an internet meme all it's own over the last several years, and while there are some who do it well, the right way, and I find some of that entertaining, I just don't see the need to join the crowd. So for the most part, I'll be sticking with a more positive approach, and this won't be much different.

The first time I saw this movie, was renting it on VHS (remember those?) when it finally came out. I'm sure I might have mentioned this in a previous entry at some point, but being raised by a grandmother whose philosophy was that it was a "Waste of time and money to go see movies in the theater", it basically goes without saying that I missed out on a lot of cool theater experiences that other kids my age enjoyed. I basically missed an entire era of film, between E.T. and Power Rangers: The Movie (which I do believe was the first film I got to see new in the theater, ever). I know that's pretty sad, but sadly I had no control over that, and had to wait till things came on tape so we could rent them, if we rented them at all. AS such, it's not too much of a stretch to say that seeing as Super Mario Bros. was my major obsession in the early '90s, I had a lot of anticipation built up over finally seeing this movie. Even though I had seen pictures in magazines, and likely seen ads on tv for it, and knew it wasn't quite like the games, I was still excited. And honestly, I don't necissarily remember feeling let down or disappointed. I just remember thinking how weird the movie was. And still is.

Two of the best characters in the film, "Iggy and Spike".

I will say, for it's time, I was certainly not as into it after having seen it as I would be a year and a half or so later when "Mortal Kombat: The Movie" came out. I got to see that in theaters, one of the first new films I actually did get to see, after Power Rangers. The MK film still holds up to this day, in my mind, as the best video game adaption movie ever made, and it certainly wins points over Mario or practically anything else in the "staying true to the look and feel (and story) of the game" department. Much more so than it's contemporary films, like Street Fighter, Double Dragon, and Mario. BUT, I think that's the place where people need to draw the line, and realize that "Super Mario Bros.: The Movie" simply is not a good, direct game adaptation. And really, how could it have been, in live action, when such a thing had never been attempted before, know.....Hollywood?

Standing on it's OWN, as it's own entity, and setting aside it's lack of accuracy to the source material, the honest truth is that the SMB movie is a pretty damn good film. Not GREAT, not amazing, not "classic" in most uses of the word. But it IS good. It's weird, it's funny, the main characters (Mario and Luigi) have good chemistry, there's a lot going on, it never lapses or has terribly dull moments, and it's quirky enough that it's actually kind of endearing. That is how I choose to look back on it now, and I think more people need to try and see it for what it is, and less for what it's not, as well.

"Where's my pizza!?"

The plotline, at it's core, is still pretty much Super Mario Bros. There's a girl named Daisy (instead of Peach, which she wasn't called in the U.S. yet), who happens to secretly be a princess of a magical, alternate world. There's a bad guy, called Koopa, who sends his minions to kidnap her. There's two Brooklyn plumbers, named the Mario Bros., who find out about all this, and go after her. Badda-bing, badda-boom. That's about where the hardline similarities stop, sure, but still. Daisy (Princess Toadstool), was raised as an orphan in our "real" world, seemingly safe from King Koopa, who wants a mystical piece of meteorite that he needs to merge the two worlds of "Mushroom Land" and Earth, together. Because as the movie tries to explain it, the same meteor that theoretically wiped out the dinosaurs, also created an alternate pocket dimension where some dinos survived, evolved into basically humans (don't ask),and there you go. Yup. The Marios meet Daisy when she's in trouble, Luigi falls for her (Mario is older and has his own squeeze in the film), and they go on a date. After the date, she shows him around her paleontological dig site, which just so happens to also be the spot where the two dimensions blur a bit, and BAM, she's kidnapped by the two guys pictured with her a couple two pictures up (named Iggy and Spike, two actual characters from SMB3, but not). The Marios follow, get trapped in this weird Dinosaur/Mushroom Kingdom, and set out to try and save the day.

And that's basically it. Except a whole lot of weird in between. But it's not a BAD, or even off-putting kind of weird. It's the kind of weird that made something like "Pee Wee's Playhouse" fun to watch. Two things that explain partly how this film turned out as odd as it did, is the fact that the production designer was the same guy who worked on  the movie "Blade Runner" (city even looks similar), and the co-directors were also the co-creators of weird-as-hell '80s show "Max Headroom". So those two facts alone really explains a lot. The film had it's share of big stars, especially Dennis Hopper as Koopa, and Bob Hoskins as Mario. Those two specifically, have been quoted in the past as saying that it was the worst film either of them ever did, in part because the actual production was a constant mess, and because of the way it wound up bombing and being critically panned upon release. But others, such as John Leguizamo who plays Luigi, look back on it a bit more fondly, and appreciate that the movie has it's "cult" fans such as myself. And for their part, Mr. Hopper and Mr. Hoskins (especially Hoskins) do a really good job in their roles, proving that great actors can make the most out of anything. Up until Super Mario 64 came out in 1996, where he was voiced in a game for the first (real) time, by Charles Martinet with the "It'sa Me!" business, Mario had been portrayed in all sorts of media, from cartoons, to comics, to Choose Your Own Adventure books, to this movie, as more of a Brooklyn tough guy type. And that might have even the tiniest bit more of why I think this film is alright in the end, because I grew up with "that Mario", and am still rather fond of him.


If I had to name off the things that make this movie likeable to me, I guess I'd start with the fact that, as mentioned before, it has a good sense of humor. The Mario Bros. have a great chemistry together, Koopa gets in a slew of cheesy bad guy lines, and the film just has a lot of more subtly funny moments throughout. Another thing I'd say I like, is the fact that while the film doesn't ever at any point try to take itself terribly seriously, it also doesn't seem as if it's making FUN of the source material either. It basically just tried to be it's own thing. And even so, it still manages to squeeze in a lot of names/images/elements from the games, from Goombas (kinda), to Yoshi, to Bob-Ombs, to guns that shoot fireballs instead of bullets, Big Bertha (in the form of a tough black chick instead of a giant fish), Shy Guy/Sniffits, "Toad", etc. etc. But ultimately, it's kind of hard to say why I like the movie. It's not something I could explain to someone else who didn't "get it", as easily as I could tell you why I love Harryhausen's movies, or old Godzilla films, or Mel Brooks' classic "Young Frankenstein". I could tell you exactly why I love those. With this? I just kinda like it.

I think if this movie had come out exactly as is, but removed any name-drop references to the Super Mario Bros. franchise, if it was just called "Plumbers Save the World" or something, I think that A) it would be far more obscure than it is), but B) it would also be looked upon far more kindly by wanna-be critics and film fans. Because really, it has all of the elements of a "cult classic" that make people love other films such as "Buckaroo Banzai" or "Big Trouble in Little China". It's weird, it's funny, it's fun to watch. But it carries a negative stigma because it was held up to a standard which it never could have reached. If they had really wanted to do a "real" Mario movie, it should have just been a cartoon film, similar to the cartoon shows that came before it. That's the only way a REAL Mario movie could be pulled off, because in live action, there's just no way. But having said all of that? I'm still pretty glad they tried and failed anyway, because even in failure, they came up with something that I think is pretty entertaining, and deserves to be remembered for that.


  1. I remember seeing this movie in the dollar theaters. I remembered really... not enjoying it like I wanted to, but enjoying it for what it was. It really is a cult classic, and I know several people (including you now!) who still appreciate it.

    One of my favorite moments is when Dennis Hopper looks at both the Mario Bros. deadpan, and says, "You look like hell." Cracks me up every time. Great post!

    1. Thanks for commenting Dylan! And yes, Mr. Hopper did indeed have some memorable lines.


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