Back in the early nineties, Nintendo ruled the world, having a massive impact on pop-culture. With their mascot Mario already a massive icon, with a strong run of games from the original Donkey Kong onwards, and already marketed almost everywhere. So a film seems kind of inevitable, with 1993’s Super Mario Bros. becoming the first video game adaptation. Unfortunately, with the release it rapidly became the butt of many jokes, and a critical and commercial disaster. Many of the original creators distanced themselves from it afterwards; Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Mario disowned it, and Bob Hoskins later described the experience as “a ****ing nightmare”. But is it really that bad? This new Blu-ray edition sets to find out.
Mario (Bob Hoskins) and Luigi (John Leguizamo) a bustling pair of plumbers in New York, become friends with young archaeologist Daisy (Samantha Mathis). She has a secret to her past, and is soon kidnapped by a pair of minions of King Koopa (Dennis Hopper). So the Marios follow her to a parallel Earth, where the dinosaurs evolved to a humanoid species. It’s up to them to stop Koopa from reuniting the two worlds and save Daisy; far easier said than done.
Now one thing a lot pick up on is that is very different to the light and bright aesthetics of the video games, and their story. That’s definitely true, with so many changes like the Goombas going from being little mushroom guys with big heads, to huge goons with tiny dinosaur heads. However, that’s not really a bad thing; only some of the Mario games have that much real story to them (and they are pretty anarchic affairs), so there was room to explore. It decides to take the very basic idea of a pair of plumbers saving an “other world”, and make something new from there. As such, it’s not really worth comparing to the games, but it is fun noticing all the references.
As such, this freedom leads to a lot of bold concepts. The dinosaur city is beautiful to look at, a mad, Blade Runner-esque dystopia, full of crazy details. There are some great action sequences and madcap escapes to work with. There are also some superb creature effects, with the Goombas, Yoshi the dinosaur and more. The story itself is a creative concept, leading to a lot of fun set pieces. All the actors are giving it their all… but the main problem is that there are a lot of tonal issues. There issues where the more risky, darker elements don’t fit in well with the more child friendly moments. There are also a lot of weird-little story points that don’t go anywhere, like an odd little running-gag of Koopa ordering a pizza. It doesn’t quite all gel together, so while it’s a lot of fun, it doesn’t come together nearly as well as it should.
To understand the reasons behind this, this Blu-ray is a real treat, as it includes the feature length documentary This Ain’t No Game. Talking with many of the actors, the writers, directors and producers, and seeing how the project evolved, and all the issues going on behind the scenes. In here, you can see how the film started with a British creative team (and if you watch the film, you can sort of see some of a very British sense of humour behind it), but as it went on, a lot of studio interference got involved. The directors, Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton, tell of things like a complete rewrite from the studio ten days before the start of filming, and worse. It’s a great look at the issues and harsh truths of working with a studio like this. It gets so many of the names in the film involved, even Lance Henricksen who only had a small cameo towards the end has interesting stuff to say.
Super Mario Bros. is a bit of a mess of a film, but it so didn’t deserve the treatment it received from the critics, audience, and most of all the studio. It’s still a lot of fun, a bit of a visual treat and it makes an interesting time capsule by the nineties. Don’t go into this expecting anything like the games, and you’ll have an OK time. This release is also a treat for understanding how projects like this get made, or at least end up the way they do, it gets the sort of treatment it deserves here.