Posts Tagged Video Games

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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ON BIOSHOCK, AYN RAND, AND THE POLITICS OF POLITICS

So, I’m going to try and add more content beyond my main feature, and add some more media-related stuff. For today, I’ll discuss the game Bioshock. Massive, massive spoilers contained within, so if you haven’t played it, do so, now.

Instead of hanging around, you SHOULD be getting a job.

Instead of hanging around, you SHOULD be getting a job.

Bioshock has received many positive reviews, as it should have. It’s a beautiful game with an interesting story and contains wondrous graphics, luscious sound, and tight controls. Furthermore, its willingness to engage in a political-social ideal is rather bold, especially in this day and age when that very same ideal is being somewhat discussed throughout the media.

That ideal would be Ayn Rand’s Objectivism.

I’m not an objectivist, mind you. Hell, I’m not even sure what the details are within the overall concept of objectivism. Wikepedia helps, but like most “–isms,” it’s hard to put into words; it’s something that’s more embraced in the broadest sense via like-minded individuals. From what I gathered, BASICALLY, objectivism believes that a person’s worth is SOLELY based on their contribution to society (specifically, the “free market workplace” since our society is capitalistic), and that any interference from government, religious, or other social structures is automatically “bad”.

Cribbing from that possibly-woefully diminished definition, one can certainly see how Bioshock is playing into that definition; however, I would argue that it really isn’t giving it due credit. Or, more accurately, isn’t giving the idea a playing field in which one can experience it fully without understanding it in mere black and white terms.

For example, let’s consider Communism for a moment. Once viewed as an abject evil in the 1950s, and despite the misguided attempts for certain people to combine Democratic beliefs with the malevolence of the connotation of Communist ideas (not the ideas themselves), nowadays, its seen as a viable possibility, even though its inherent problems are clearly and evidently obvious—see, China. We sure as hell wouldn’t be borrowing money from them 60 years ago.

My issue with Bioshock in this regard is that we’re presented with an after-the-fact, automatic failure of objectivism in action, and I feel as if this may not be a truly fair assessment of the concept. In America, our liberties are derived from the fact that anyone can believe in anything, even in the things that may be antithetical to that very liberty, so to see this game present objectivism as an out-of-control, free-for-all of market forces; well, I’m skeptical.

The story, if you think about it, really has nothing to do with objectivism at all. Mind control? Making tough choices over the fate of children? Corruption? You can take all those ideas and plug them into a democratic, capitalist (and most-likely sci-fi) story, and no one would know the difference. Heck, if the story of the game is a critique of the failures of objectivism, then every movie/game ever made about corrupt businessmen and lawyers are critiques of the capitalist/democratic system. And more likely then not, they have “good endings”, with the heroes exposing the evils of these socio-political monsters, and ensuring the system is fixable, if flawed. Bioshock? Not so much.

It fell apart, miserably, and you’re wandering the once beautiful deco-era landscape with gun in hand, trying to keep away the oppressed crazies. Really, it’s a means to an end, a deep but still easy excuse to make an FPS. I kind of wish the game took place during the midst of Fontaine’s rebellion, where you can see the process actually fall apart, where his and Ryan’s tenuous partnership collapsed, and the beginnings of Ryan’s paranoid genocides. I’m a sucker for a good political thriller, made-up or real, and I can easily see a game where you play a morally ambiguous character playing both sides as Rapture starts to crack. After all, in some form or another, objectivism WAS working—I mean, it can’t be easy to build an entire, self-functioning underwater utopia AND give normal citizens superpowers, even in 2K land. I’d even be THRILLED if in such a hypothetical game, you had the choice to save Rapture somehow… but of course, that may be too much (and, uh, anti-American? Better start tea-bagging!)

In the end, I didn’t get the idea that objectivism in itself is ultimately flawed; rather, I got the idea that really crafty con-men can exploit any system (even in our society, whether for the poor, like welfare and food stamps, or for the rich, like Enron and Bernie Madoff). I guess what I’m saying is I’d like to see more political systems in action and more of the effects of those systems in games than the aftereffects.

Now, would you kindly post your thoughts and comments down below?

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