CHILDHOOD REVISITED – SUPER MARIO BROS.


You know a movie sucks when they didn't even bother to edit out any WTC scenes.

You know a movie sucks when they didn't even bother to edit out any WTC scenes.

Super Mario Bros. – (1993)

Director: Annabel Jankel, Rocky Morton [Roland Joffe and Dean Semier, uncredited]
Starring: Bob Hoskins, John Leguizamo, Dennis Hopper, Samantha Mathis
Screenplay by: Parker Bennett, Terry Runte, Ed Solomon

So, if you look over there in my list of links, you may notice that there’s a little fan project I’m working on. Super Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog. Together. Think this and this, but what people would actually like to see.

Of course, then, I have a lot to say about this so-called film. The stories that emerge from the making of this film are staggering. Hoskins and Leguizamo were drunk for most of the film. The directors and studios clashed over whether to make it more “adult” or keep it a children’s film, ultimately making a hodgepodge of a mess. Working with the directors was apparently excruciating, with random re-writes of the script every day; there were so many that the actors ended up ignoring them. So, it’s easy to see how horribly it did at the box office; fans hated it, regular audience members hated it, and Nintendo vowed never to enter the movie business ever again. (Oddly enough, Miyamoto claimed to have enjoyed it.)

Since I’ve been doing a ton of research on Super Mario for that project, I have a small jump on how and why the writers did what they did; the movie itself, I can’t excuse. I can say right now that it doesn’t hold up. The question is, how bad?

NOSTALGIC LENS: I know that as much as this hates on the film, it’s not that bad. But it’s pretty close. I know that I convinced myself that the movie was good – I remember distinctly dancing to the theme music as it plays during the intro – but it took some seven-to-ten years to finally acknowledge that, no, I did not like this movie at all. With no distinct visual reference to the game, how could I? At least the title designed in chrome lettering was cool.

DOES IT HOLD UP: You know what? If you were to remove every single thing that’s supposed to be Super Mario Brothers related and replace it with original characters/concepts, you’d have a cheesy, ridiculous, so-bad-it’s-awesome sci-fi flick that resembles The Fifth Element or Event Horizon.

I had a treat while watching this on Friday—my nieces watched it along with me! They, being owners of Wii’s and DS’s, proceeded to ask me a ton of questions about the Super Mario fandom, and, as a nerd, I proceeded to answer them. I told them the story of the Great Princess Toadstool/Daisy/Peach confusion of the mid-90s, the Toad/Yoshi debacle, the King Koopa/Bowser debates… and they surprisingly ate it up.

Yes, I have a lot of knowledge of the Super Mario canon. So, in the 90s, with a lack of special effects, at the very least I’ll commend the writers for trying their damnest to keep at least some the SMB world in tact (they even seemed to crib a teeny bit of information from the short-lived Valiant comic run, I believe). But of course, I won’t excuse the pathetic final product, the blame of which mainly fall on the directors. Here, it seems the studio meddling actually tried a good thing.

Mario and Luigi are our plumber heroes screwed out of work by their corporate, mob-tied rival, the Scapelli Company. However, Luigi meets Daisy, an archeologist digging for fossils, which lightens the mood. After dinner, they, like all couples do after dinner, explore the skanky cave at the fossil site, where a lot of stuff happens that’s irrelevant. But Daisy is kidnapped and the Mario Bros. chase her into the “alternate dimension” where evolved dinosaurs rule, all under the despot King Koopa.

The movie’s main problem? Over-exposition. It’s terrible. It’s probably the worse exposition I’ve ever seen on celluloid. Check out this scene where King Koopa explains the entire plot in one go, starting at 3:58:

What in god’s name did King Koopa put his hands in? McDonald’s French Fries grease?

SMB fans understandably hated it, which were mostly kids. Look at any Super Mario video game, and then look at this movie. The instant hate is palpable. What about everyone else (the parents), though? Well, with the goofy animated intro, the moronic Koopa cousins Spike and Iggy, and asinine set design (which, by the way, looks like a cross between rejected Blade Runner sets and the crappy locations out of The Wiz), I suspect they just rolled their eyes and hoped at the very least their children were liking it; however, they WERE NOT.

And yet…

With fifteen years of general recovery behind me, I’ll have to admit that I kind of dug this movie, sans my fanboyism. As much as Hoskins and Leguizamo hated their position, I have to admit they still tried their best, with Bob nailing a slightly grizzled yet knowledgeable plumber, and John, although goofy and annoying, still managing to not want me to kill myself. Samantha Mathais, however, is still the worthless blank slate she’s always been (I cannot believe that she was popular at some point). But Dennis Hopper is surprisingly gold. Given that his dialogue is generally shit, he delivers it as best he can, with his most primal lines being anything about killing people. Because, hell, the real Bowser would have no qualms about killing people, so, neither does Hopper.

(I should also note that the models of the various creatures are pretty nice. The Goombas aren’t excellent, although they move well, but Yoshi is particularly well done, animated with a nice, seamless blend of animatronic and CGI. Thank you, Jurassic Park; it seems we nowadays have forgotten what you taught us.)

But imagine my surprise when I found myself really enjoying the final conflict between King Koopa and Mario at the end.

There’s no reason for Mario to go up against Bowser after he knocks the jewel out his mouth. But he does. Why? Because he’s MARIO.

I joke, but in an odd way, it’s telling that, even in the midst of an obvious disaster waiting to happen, that at the very least the writers and the actors (minus Mathais) were still trying at some level to present something watchable. So seeing King Koopa and Mario duke it out (sort of) draws a decent level of something that kind of, in part, resembles a facsimile of an iota of an idea that you may or may not see in the video game.

IN A NUTSHELL: Don’t get me wrong, now. It’s still a crappy movie, but at the same time, there’s a lot here that can be enjoyed, I suppose. If you were to tell me you hated it, I’d completely understand. But if you’re the kind of person that enjoys the sleezy action from sci-fi, B-movies, then simply replace the names Mario, Luigi, Koopa, Toad, and Daisy with Paul, John, Ringo, George, and Yoko. Hell, they already introduced a number of random characters like Daniella, Lena, and Scapelli. (Couldn’t one of them at least be named Pauline?)

September 21th: Who Framed Roger Rabbit
September 28th: Robin Hood

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  1. #1 by Jon on September 14, 2009 - 2:03 pm

    Excellent review! I think many movies are ruined because of the too many cooks syndrome. I mean, look at what John August writes about the Charlie’s Angels sequel. If the director(s), actors, everyone don’t share the same vision, the movie can’t make sense. Simple as that.

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