VOD film review: Super Mario Bros
Neil Brazier | On 12, Nov 2014
Director: Rocky Morton, Anabel Jankel
Cast: Bob Hoskins, John Leguizamo, Dennis Hopper
Watch Super Mario Bros online: Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play
Nintendo’s only ever venture into the movie market will tell you a lot about how Super Mario Bros. was received. Bob-omb’ing at the box office, Mario (Hoskins) and his brother Luigi (Leguizamo) were in desperate need of an extra life to rescue them from the quagmire of this film. Over two decades and countless other video game adaptations later, none of which have really blossomed, still studios attempt to find the one that will strike the coin box, forgetting the warnings that Super Mario Bros. echoed through the sewers.
One of the film’s biggest problems is lack of story and not having a clearly defined strategy in place for its adaptation. While the plot follows two plumbers as they try to rescue a princess from the clutches of evil, the charm of the side-scrolling platform game is lost, replaced by a parallel universe in which man evolved from dinosaurs and not apes. The leader of this society is King Koopa (Hopper), who wants to merge the two dimensions and ultimately rule them both.
Super Mario Bros is re-released on VOD this week – and on DVD, which includes “This Ain’t No Game”, an interesting, in-depth documentary on the making of the film. What went wrong?
According to the writers themselves, the problem with the plot was a case of too many cooks. Co-writer Parker Bennett said of the game that “there’s no story”, so how were they to translate that to the screen? Co-director Rocky Morton had originally written a much darker narrative, in the vein of Tim Burton’s Batman, which would have been a prequel of sorts – something that may have spawned the game. But what seemed to set them back the most was that 10 days before principal photography was due to take place, a whole new script was turned in, written by Ed Soloman of Bill & Ted notoriety.
Despite initial excitement about doing something that had never been done before – the world’s first movie based on a videogame – once Soloman’s script came in, Morton burned his storyboards. They began shooting off the cuff, so the sets that had been built now had no relation to the script, and the countless re-writes made Dennis Hopper so angry he exploded at the crew having been asked to learn different lines over and over. The other co-director, Anabel Jankel, said by the end, it was like “throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks”.
With such disarray, it’s a miracle that the film even made it to the screen. Its survival is, in part, thanks to the work of the visual, special and practical effects team, one of the only things about the entire film that isn’t awful. The morphing and disintegration effects are better than anything you’d see in a modern B-movie and even the animatronics and prosthetics hold up well for a film over 20 years old. But alas, even the effects get it wrong, when Koopa de-evolves a human to a chimpanzee rather than an ape – not to mention the ridiculous-looking Goomba troops, who are reptilian rather than mushrooms.
The setting of Dinohattan is the filmmakers’ desperate attempt to have any connection to the video game by squashing in as many references as possible. From the Thwomp Club to Bullet Bill, the streets are littered with neon signs of character names and logos, none more tenuous than the game’s jumping fish, Big Bertha, reimagined as a fuller figured lady. These links provide some distraction to the ongoing narrative, but not enough to offer any salvation.
Hoskins, Hopper and Leguizamo make an attempt, but the material they’re given to work with is deadlier than a purple mushroom. While Hoskins looks the part, once he has donned his traditional videogame attire, his casting is a curious choice. Morton apparently wanted Danny DeVito for the role but budget considerations forced him to look elsewhere. Hoskins himself wasn’t familiar with the source material until his young son introduced it to him after filming had begun.
Can we really be too hard on Super Mario Bros when so many other videogame adaptations have tried and failed too? Resident Evil stands out as one of the only successes (before it went off making sequel after sequel) amid a myriad of failures, such as Double Dragon, Tomb Raider, Alone in the Dark and every Kylie fan’s favourite flop, Street Fighter.
The answer? Yes. Disillusioned re-writes with misinterpretations of iconic figures from such an iconic videogame impair what should have been fun, colourful and simple.
Sorry Mario, but your princess is in another castle.