Hello and welcome to the one and only battle of the Semi-Finals. So let’s make it a good one and get some votes in here! I won’t keep you. Just gonna say we have Fox Mulder taking on Zelda’s Kid Sister on what is considered one of the worst video game adaptations of all time–Super Mario Bros. Read, vote, comment, enjoy! You have until Wednesday. And that’s when the Final Battle begins. There will be no “Fallen” post between the two round since it’s only one person. That identity will be announced in the final post announcing the winner and whatnot. Otherwise, here you go. Below is the updated bracket. Click to make it bigger.
It’s difficult to explain just how big the Nintendo Entertainment System was in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. This eight-bit system spawned a renaissance in home video games, and the industry never looked back. One of the pivotal reasons for this success was Super Mario Bros., which was part of the base set. The deceptively simple game was basic enough to draw in casual gamers but still entertaining for hardcore players. The character of Mario originated in 1981 as the star of Donkey Kong, but his popularity reached new heights with this game and the series. Along with his brother Luigi, the Italian plumber became a symbol of Nintendo and the entire business. In 1989, the success even spawned the syndicated cartoon The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! It was only a matter of time before Hollywood took notice and tried to grab a piece of the action.
The challenge in adapting a video game is staying true to the source material while finding a way to translate it to the big screen. Super Mario Bros. seemed tailor made to deliver an entertaining adventure film for the whole family. Although it’s rated PG, the 1993 adaptation is hardly a light kids movie. It’s a strange hybrid between an outlandish fantasy and a nastier black comedy. When characters utter phrases like “remember, trust the fungus”, that’s hardly a recipe for mainstream success. Considering the offbeat approach that directors Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton (D.O.A.) used for this material, the $42 million budget is shocking. For the sake of comparison, that number is almost identical to the cost for The Fugitive. Andrew Davis got a bit more for his money with that Harrison Ford film. Even the game’s most devoted fans will likely have serious issues with this ridiculous movie.
Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo star as brothers Mario and Luigi, who are struggling to keep their plumbing business afloat. They drive a worn-down van and bicker constantly about their misfortunes. When Luigi meets an attractive NYU student named Daisy (Samantha Mathis), he inadvertently gets them involved in a high-stakes adventure. She’s actually a Princess from an alternate dimension ruled by the vicious King Koopa (Dennis Hopper). Who knew? The dinosaurs left our world after a meteor crashed into Earth 65 million years ago. They evolved into lizard-human hybrids that live in a strange version of New York City. Koopa wields his power with a “devo” machine that turns intelligent beings into giant mindless lizards. Daisy is the key factor in his plans to merge the universes and gain control. The Mario brothers are her only hope and the last obstacle to Koopa’s impending dominance.
Narrator Dan Castellaneta explains the silly premise and sets the stage for what could be a promising adventure. The budget is definitely on the screen in the over-the-top costumes and lavish sets. Rarely has so much money been spent on such an ugly movie. It’s clear from the first half hour that this is a train wreck, and it only gets worse during the second hour. It’s hard to believe that a studio allowed its release, especially on such a wide scale. While Mario and Luigi do save a princess from a lizard king, the similarities between the game and this adaptation are pretty thin. There’s a cult favorite hidden in this mess somewhere, but it’s knocked down by terrible dialogue and over-the-top performances. Everything is so manic that there’s little chance to breathe within the chaos. The frenetic pace becomes mind-numbing and pounds you into submission by the end of the first hour.
It’s sad to watch talented actors struggle with such awkward material, especially Hoskins. He’s called it the worst job he’s ever had, which says a lot from a guy who was in Son of the Mask. It’s clear that the actors don’t believe in the script and are compensating but going really big. This is no challenge for Dennis Hopper, who can play this character in his sleep. Like his later role in Waterworld, King Koopa allows him to chew all the scenery and leave nothing in his wake. Hopper’s ridiculous haircut make it impossible to take him seriously, especially when he’s addressing tall lizard men. Looking at the younger cast, Leguizamo and Mathis were both rising stars at the time and gave excellent performances in other films. They play it straight and try their best, but that approach just makes their acting look worse. There’s no way to win in this situation. Supporting players like Richard Edson (Spike) and Fisher Stevens (Iggy) seem to understand how goofy this movie is and respond with oddball performances.
Although it falls flat as a complete film, there are plenty of ridiculous scenes in Super Mario Bros. that are worth mentioning. The story’s MacGuffin is a necklace containing a meteorite fragment that can merge the worlds. The plumbers enter the alternate universe with this device but quickly lose it to Bertha (Francesca P. Roberts), a woman in a flashy red outfit with the ability to jump long distances. When Mario tries to retrieve it, he engages in a sensual dance with her that feels cut from a different movie. An even more outlandish dance involves Luigi’s attempts to escape from an elevator full of giant lizard men. Apparently, these guys really enjoy swaying to elevator music, so he uses that distraction to make the escape. This type of absurd moment is common throughout the movie. One of the main action scenes involves a very small bomb that’s impossible to take seriously. While I realize this connects to the video games, it doesn’t work in this world. This exemplifies the problems with this adaptation. Even when it tries to use elements from the games, that tone doesn’t fit with this mishmash of styles.
By Zelda’s Kid Sister
Sometimes, a movie combines great actors with brilliant dialogue and compelling storylines. Sometimes, great actors can elevate a lesser script and make a movie better than it ought to have been. And sometimes, well, there’s just not a damn thing they can do, except get drunk and try to muddle through.* Sadly, in the case of Super Mario Bros., it is the latter case with which we concern ourselves today.
Based on the classic Nintendo video game, Super Mario Bros. follows heroic plumbers Mario (Bob Hoskins) and Luigi (John Leguizamo) as they travel to an alternate dimension in order to rescue Luigi’s new ladylove, Daisy (Samantha Mathis). Unbeknownst to them, Daisy is actually a princess in this other world, which runs largely parallel to our own. You see, when a meteor crashed into the earth 65 million years ago, things got split into two. In our dimension, humanity evolved from mammals, and in the other, a kind of humanity evolved from reptiles (namely, the dinosaurs). Daisy’s parents hid her in our dimension to save her from the clutches of the evil Koopa (Dennis Hopper), who has taken things over. Now Koopa wants to capture the princess and use a broken-off piece of the meteor, which is in her possession, to reunite the two dimensions, “de-volve” all humanity back into apes, and rule the world. Naturally, it is up to Mario and Luigi to save the day.
This is not a good movie. It’s got some really good talent (mainly Hoskins and Hopper) and the story is straightforward enough, but the execution leaves a great deal to be desired. To start with, we’ve all played Super Mario Bros. at some point, right? It’s all cute and primary-colored, and there are little mushrooms and even the bad guys are sort of round and funny-looking, right? It’s for kids. The film version? Not so much for kids. The action and language are PG enough, but the look and feel of the movie is something else entirely. It’s really dark and dystopian and weird. Most of the action takes place in the city run by Koopa as sort of a police state. It looks like the seedy underbelly of some major metropolis with a serious fungus infestation. Think Blade Runner, or something. Everyone is wearing their crazy, 90s version of futuristic fashions, and there are little dinosaurs running around instead of rats.
Now, the decision to make the movie a bit darker could have been a pretty good one, but for the fact that in 1993, video games were still mostly (please note I said MOSTLY) the entertainment of a younger crowd. As a result, what this movie has is something of an identity crisis: it’s a kid’s movie that thinks it’s a grown-up. The dialogue and the action are pretty elementary, and while there are some scary/creepy/icky moments, they’re pretty low-key for the most part. Dennis Hopper doesn’t get to unleash the crazy nearly as much as one would hope for, and Mario and Luigi are plumbers from the Bronx who tell each other things like “Nothing is impossible,” and “I’ve got a feeling about this.” All in all, the look of the movie is its greatest asset, but it doesn’t suit the image of the source material properly.
The cast is somewhat divided as well, in that Hoskins and Hopper (along with Fiona Shaw as Koopa’s evil gal pal, Lena) do a surprisingly good job with their characters, whereas Leguizamo and Mathis have little to no personality at all and mainly seem to be along for the ride. Fisher Stevens and Richard Edson, as bumbling minions, are supposed to provide some comic relief, but only end up adding to the weirdness of the whole thing. When Koopa gets tired of their incompetence, he has them “evolved” in order to make them smarter. Basically, they’re still bumbling, but their dialogue makes a shift from inane to Shakespearean. Adult audiences may find it funny, but the whole affair would likely go over a younger person’s head, in effect adding to the disconnect.
Finally, the secondary aspects of the storyline are nearly incomprehensible. The fungus that’s taking over the city is somehow a manifestation of the previous ruler, Daisy’s father, and it occasionally holds out a helping tendril, but it’s mainly only mentioned in passing, and a scene between Hopper and a fungus-ridden throne room, clearly designed as exposition, explains nothing at all. The mushrooms that pop up from time to time may have helped to clarify things somewhat had they been utilized more, but again, they’re only mentioned briefly, as though the creators realized they ought to make a few more references to the video game. Another small reference is the appearance of Yoshi, a baby T-Rex, who’s actually quite impressive, effects-wise. Overall the effects here are used sparingly, and thus effectively, but while they add to the interesting environment of the picture, they can’t save it from being a confusing mess.
The key here is that this movie doesn’t know who it wants to be. I actually think that if the producers had gone with a more kid-friendly vibe they might’ve ended up with a better picture. In their attempt to make it more in line with the fantasy ethos of the day (the early 1990s saw the rise of Tim Burton and 1994 would give us The Crow, for example), they lost something inherent in their source material. Mainly, I think that Super Mario Bros. was designed to tap into something gaining in popularity, but it was poorly conceived and executed. It’s a shame, really, given the talent they attracted and the potential for something visually unique and enjoyable based on the Mario world. Maybe Super Mario Bros. was ahead of its time. Maybe with today’s technology Hollywood could produce a better adventure for our plumber friends. It’s just too bad that Bob Hoskins will no longer be available.
*According to John Leguizamo, this is actually how he and Mr. Hoskins got through the experience.