Video Game Movies – Super Mario Bros. (1993)
It’s been 20 years since I last saw the Super Mario Bros movie so I thought it was time to ‘trust the fungus’ and see if it was all that bad. It was. But how could it be better?
Picture the scene. It was 1993 and a hell of a lot of memorable films came out, here’s a few – Jurassic Park, Groundhog Day, Schindler’s List, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Cool Runnings, Free Willy, Hocus Pocus, True Romance, hell even Mrs Doubtfire. For a 12 year that was a lot to compete for my attention. Don’t get me wrong, I was a huge Nintendo fan and Mario Allstars came out that year, but there was no big new Mario game since Super Mario World the year before. This could account for no real excitement about the film but I don’t remember much build up as I was blinded by the Jurassic Park awesomeness – but hey, marketing was still word of mouth back then. So for me, I didn’t see Super Mario Bros in the cinema, it was on home video later. So, did the film affect my love for the franchise? No.
The problem is how do we present the Mario universe on-screen? Well here’s how a sub company of Walt Disney did it in 1993. From the looks of it they read the back of the Super Mario World box, then wrote a screenplay and mixed it all in with a bit of Jurassic Park, a film sure to be a success at the same time.
The film starts with a back story narration from none other than Dan Castellaneta (the voice of Homer Simpson). 65 million years ago dinosaurs were sent to a parallel dimension ruled by vicious dictator King Koopa who is planning on merging and ruling the two worlds. Jump to the Mario Brothers, Mario & Luigi; a pair of working class plumbers struggling to compete with a construction company led by Italian mafia style Fratellis.. I mean ‘Scapelli’s’ (there are a few Goonies reflections in this film). The brothers team up with Daisy, a princess in the other dimension and attempt to stop King Koopa’s plans.
The actors do their part. Bob Hoskins as Mario ending every line desperately trying to remind you he’s Italian American “get back to wyerk”. He’s actually not badly cast in the role but it’s not a million miles away from his work in Roger Rabbit. John Leguizamo as ‘blinded by love’ Luigi gets no complaints either and the two of them together fit the ‘short one, tall one’ formula. Samantha Mathis’ Daisy plays against Nintendo’s Damsel in Distress which is actually quite welcome. On the flip side Dennis Hopper’s King Koopa chews up the scenery although it’s hard to imagine how anyone else would work with what he had – although thinking of it today, the same could be say for Donald Trump…
So watching it again with a friend who hadn’t seen the film, they were not impressed. Yeah, I can understand this could be an age thing – I don’t expect someone to see the Goonies for the first time and love it (crazy, I know), but his response was interesting – it just started and didn’t have a moment to stop and let you take in what was occurring so before you knew it was over.
The film we thought, was littered in references to the game. Some are a little forced, especially the mushrooms, I mean ‘fungus’. There’s a catch phrase ‘Trust the Fungus’, the brothers absurdly push as though it’s from the franchise. I think somebody wrote it in thinking it was clever and everybody thought it was cannon. Yoshi is there, also Toad, bob-ombs, there are protruding cubical shapes in Koopa’s building reminiscent of some of the fortress walls and one of Koopa’s kids has a rainbow coloured belt so.. er Rainbow Road? It’s at this point we’re just guessing because that’s more fun than sitting through the film. It doesn’t even look like the Mario Universe! In fact once in the other dimension the town looks like the Total Recall Mars set. It can be funny though as there’s one scene involving dancing Goombas in a lift that’s actually (still) hilarious.
The soundtrack actually starts with the game music which is refreshing. I’m always disappointed when a theme is updated with a modern take. Of the songs featured there’s a Roxy music cover by The Divinyls and a Roxette track which stuck with me. The Roxette track ‘Almost Unreal’ was a favourite years back. I was actually disappointed to learn that it was actually written for the Hocus Pocus soundtrack – which makes sense with the lyric ‘I love when you do that hocus pocus to me’. The overall score is functional and keeps the pace but that’s about all it does. It’s instantly forgettable after the film has finished.
So in conclusion what could be done better? We can argue that the script was the main problem or that cast wasn’t up for it but I see a larger issue. For me, I just don’t see it working live action. I think a fully blown animated feature would work and no, not like the early Super Mario Bros animated series. Just look at the Dreamworks film Wreck-It Ralph where numerous Nintendo properties were displayed amazingly on-screen. The Galaxy games aren’t far off looking like that anyway so it’d be more familiar to the modern audience. It doesn’t have to be serious, just concentrate on the family aspect – the brothers. Also, the plot doesn’t have to be about saving a princess as some of the Mario & Luigi titles have proven to be far more interesting without that familiar formula. All in all, I’d love to see the Mario franchise hit the big screen again and I think it’s the right time to do it.