Super Mario Bros. makes its debut on UK Blu-Ray, bringing back memories of the much-loved Nintendo video game. But has time been kind to this adventure story? Ryan Pollard finds out…
If you look at the back-catalogue of cinematic stinkers that have taken their lead from video games you’ll see there has never been a half-decent movie based on a computer game. You want proof? Look at the evidence: Street Fighter, tacky and terrible even by Jean-Claude Van Damme’s low-kicking standards; Tomb Raider, a film that was solely aimed at adolescent boys with an interest in Angelina’s Jolie’s pneumatic breasts; and Doom, which completely abandoned any sense of knowledge (if it indeed had any) of being an actual movie and simply fell back on incredibly boring old computer-friendly ‘First Person Shooter’ montages.
Such a coincidence then that the film adaptation of Super Mario Bros should also fit into that category. A few years earlier, Steve Baron’s lumpen Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie came out and that film gave way to an entire wave of cross media franchises at the time, and suddenly, cartoons, comics and games that had much better uses of wacky cartoony characters, started getting their own movies. It was only a matter of time before Mario got his swing at the movie bat, and considering how big Nintendo and console gaming was at the time, it was a no-brainer. But that said it also shows how little the movie world knew about the gaming world because the only thing the movie version of Super Mario Bros. has in common with its video-game predecessor is its name.
The Super Mario Bros. movie is not really a Super Mario Bros. movie, but instead, a wacky action-comedy that gets Bob Hoskins to run around in ugly dungarees to no discernible end, and is full of ridiculous OTT dialogue, dark tunnels, almost steampunk-type technology and corrupt leaders in charge of shady corporations. In some ways, the film is in the same mould as the Judge Dredd film with Sly Stallone, Barb Wire with Pam Anderson, and the other Stallone future cop movie Demolition Man. These are all basically the same film: dull, baggy, bloated, boring, badly put together and clichéd-riddled. Some would compare it with Joel Schumacher’s Batman films (mainly Batman & Robin), but unlike Super Mario Bros., I actually thought Schumacher’s pantomime was quite funny.
Even now, the film still really sucks and has next to no redeemable features to it whatsoever. Even though it was intended to be a kid’s film targeted for its core audience, it’s shockingly dark and grotty. Rather than bringing to life the colourful characters and worlds from the game, this grimy, dystopian vision of Mario World (which looks like something that was made on a shoestring budget) is more like a child’s nightmare of where Mario might end up if he went down the wrong pipe and suddenly end up in the world of Gears of War. While it’s argued that the Mario games have no plot, the plot used here is no excuse for that. Once again, this is the classic case of the movie industry taking a franchise that has been loved and treasured by everybody, and making it as dark and broody as humanly possible, while at the same time, forget whom the hell the audience might actually be. It’s unbelievable considering the boobs, gimp masks and aggressive nature of the film’s villains, even though the wasted Hoskins and Leguizamo keep the core characters pretty light and enjoyable throughout. But I’m pretty sure both the late Bob Hoskins and Dennis Hopper wouldn’t want to be remembered for this surely.
In the end, Super Mario Bros. is the classic example of another classic video-game turned into an incredibly bad movie, with a completely wasted cast, terrible practical and digital SFX, no trace of a plot whatsoever, and no thought of its core audience. Samuel Hadida, producer of the equally innocuous Silent Hill, once said that “the video game is extraordinarily popular because each gamer experiences something unique when they play it.” Not so the poor soul who, without the luxury of a joystick in his hands, has no chance to make the incoherent on-screen antics any better… or any worse for that matter. One of the worst films ever made.