Dir. Annabel Jankel & Rocky Morton
1993 – 114 minutes – PG
Last Sunday I reviewed “Sonic the Hedgehog” (2020) and since then I have written 6 blogs about games that became films. So, I figured why not go back in time and look at the film that started it all off for Hollywood – which, as you’ll guess by the title of this post, or, if you read my blog from Monday the 6th of January (click here to view “Episode 1 – 1990’s”), you’ll know, is 1993’s “Super Mario Bros”.
Directed by Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton, this 1993 film was pulled together by the writing trio of Parker Bennett, Terry Runte, and Ed Solomon. When the question of “Can you make a movie out of a video game?” was asked, these guys came calling and answer… well, they tried to answer it anyway… well, they tried and failed and nearly killed a video game dynasty, but who is pointing fingers here?? Let us take a moment to look back at a film which nearly cost people their careers, a film which, for anybody that lived through it, stinks of the early 1990’s.
What is it about?
Mario Mario (Bob Hoskins), and Luigi Mario (John Leguizamo) are American-Italian Brooklyn-based plumbers who are struggling due to the competition from the Mafia-operated Scapelli Construction Company. Luigi falls for and goes on a date with a young paleontologist called Daisy (Samantha Mathis) who gets kidnapped. Determined to rescue her Luigi and Mario take up the pursuit which sends them through an inter-dimensional portal to a weird and distant dimension where dinosaurs and lizards evolved as the dominant species on the planet. It is in Dinohatten that Mario & Luigi learn the truth about Daisy who is a long-lost Princess. Her father has been overthrown and devolved into fungus by the evil tyrannical dictator King Koopa (Dennis Hopper). The dino-evolved world is running out of water and Koopa has a diabolical plan to merge realities with the ape-evolved world so he can be ruler supreme. It is up to the super Mario brothers to save the day and defeat King Koopa.
Cast as the titular plumbers are Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo (yes, they are supposed to be related in this – just go with it and don’t ask questions!). Obviously, a lot of time has passed since this film, and in that time, I have been able to read lots of things about it. Both leading actors in this made no secret about how much they hated it at the time. Neither of them were first choice in the roles, neither of them really understood what they were getting into or what the film was about, and both confessed to drinking regularly throughout the production just to get through it. In a role as their nemesis, Dennis Hopper does not speak that highly of the film either, stating in some publications that it was the worst film he had ever worked on. While these were the big three names associated to the film at the time, they did not embarrass themselves much due to the script, they do a decent job and carry themselves off well. As Daisy, Samantha Mathis is fresh faced and captures attention in all her scenes. She does really well as a damsel in distress. If you like useless knowledge for quizzes, then Lance Henriksen is The King in this film, and Frank Welker and Dan Castellaneta lend their voices – that’s Fred Jones (see “Scooby Doo“)/ Megatron (see “Transformers“) and Homer Simpson (see “The Simpsons“) to us mortals!!
This film bombed big time. It did not even recoup it is $45 million budget, only taking $20.9 million. If you look at other films of that year, there is a clear difference in class – “Jurassic Park”, “Mrs Doubtfire”, “The Fugitive”, “Schindler’s List”, “Sleepless in Seattle”, “Philadelphia” … even “Leprechaun” (1993) and “Army of Darkness” seem worlds apart from this film. The film was considered to be a little too far away from its source material, it tried too hard to make an authentic story which humanised a video game character. It might have been received better if it had of gone down the route of a fantasy and fiction instead of trying to tie in into real life, but alas, it did not. This film bombed that bad that Nintendo put on hold any plans it had for a future video game to movie feature, of which “Metroid” was in the pipeline, and decided it would not risk it. Nintendo and its Mario franchise were a massive success – this film went close to embarrassing the company and nearly killed the video character. It was not until “Detective Pikachu” was released in 2019 that Nintendo really decided to dip their toes back in the water. Despite the negativity, Nintendo, and Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto were consummate professionals about the whole thing. They never once publicly complained, and even went as far as saying “it was a very fun project that they [the entire production cast] put a lot of effort into”.
Despite the negativity this film received and still gets linked to, I did not hate it at the time and I still do not. Sure, it was never going to be an Oscar winning film or be recognised as a the ultimate in film making. What it was though it a start – a start for video games to be made into films. In my teenage years (I was 13 years old when this came out) I saw this as something fun and something worth looking forward to. I was eager to see my video game heroes be committed to the big screen. The adult me has a different point of view on the whole outlook mind, the adult me (I am 40 years old now but do not tell everybody!) looks back with rose-tinted nostalgic glasses on and cringes at the thought of video game wins being ruined on the big screen. Having lived through the golden age of video games I feel that some things are best left alone rather than ruined.
Yes, this film is based on video game characters, but if you did not know that you would not be any poorer for your experience of watching it. This is a cheesy movie which still offers some fun. It stinks of a long-gone era – the 1990’s – but it’s an era still that wasn’t all that bad. There are some good performances in the film and visually it is decent too. Perhaps the film fell down because of the constant re-writes that the studio made in trying to make the concept fit a particular pigeonhole. Maybe also because somebody designed the sets to be gritty and dark rather than run the risk of a pastel covered landscape which would look completely different from every other movie ever. One thing is for certain, this film is not as bad as people assume it to be, or remember it being. It is definitely worth a re-watch if you watched it back in the 90’s or give it a try if you have never seen it before.
Go into this film not expecting something on the scale of other successful game-to-films like “Resident Evil” (2002) or “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” (2001), not to see something as authentic as “Detective Pikachu” (2019) or “Warcraft” (2016) – but instead, go into this to see the revolutionary, albeit slightly flawed, video game to film that start the whole thing off in Hollywood. Go into this to see an average movie which is still better than other attempts at bringing video games to film, even if it is only just marginally based on the source material. With a runtime of 114 minutes and rated PG, it might not be the sexiest looking film, or the slickest edited and paciest film – but it is not as bad as some trolls online would like you think.