Hollywood movie adaptations of video games have a poor reputation. The expectation is that the movie won’t capture the essence of the game. The reputation stems from three movies, the first three Hollywood video game adaptations. Street Fighter: The Movie, the third made, is reaching cult classic status, thanks to the strength of Raul Julia’s last movie performance. The second, Double Dragon, was panned by audiences and critics and received a 0% at Rotten Tomatoes. The first video game movie adaptation, though, set the tone.
As a video game, Super Mario Bros. introduced North America to one of the biggest video game franchise produced. Mario first appeared in 1981’s Donkey Kong video arcade game where the goal was to rescue Pauline from the clutches of the titular ape. Luigi joined his brother in 1983’s arcade game Mario Bros. where the pair fought against monsters coming up from New York’s sewers. Their big break through came on the Nintendo Entertainment System in Super Mario Bros. in 1985. The goal in Super Mario was to search through the Mushroom Kingdom and numerous castles to rescue Princess Toadstool from the evil Bowser. Along the way, Mario and Luigi would have to dodge obstacles and enemies, defeating the latter by jumping on them.
The franchise bloomed, adding game sequels, cartoons, spin-offs, and the Hollywood film. Mario has been on every Nintendo console, from the NES through to the Wii and on every handheld system since the Game Boy. The cast of characters has grown as well, with Princesses Daisy and Peach appearing, plus helpers such as Toad and Yoshi, and the Koopa family as villains. Mario, already the world’s most famous plumber, picked up tennis and go-carting, and even got a second career as a doctor. Mario, as a franchise, has done well for Nintendo.
Twenty-one years and nine days ago, the film adaptation of the video game was released. Super Mario Bros. starred a solid cast, with Bob Hoskins as Mario, John Leguizamo as Luigi, Samantha Mathis as Daisy, Dennis Hopper as Koopa, Fisher Stevens as Iggy Koopa, and Mojo Nixon as Toad. The plot of the movie had Mario and Luigi Mario, the proprietors and sole employees of Mario Bros. plumbing, cross paths with a young paleontology student named Daisy. Daisy, an orphan raised from an egg by the nuns who found her, gets stalked by Spike and Iggy, who are responsible for a number of women disappearing from Brooklyn. As the pair of kidnappers move in to grab her, she gets a ride from Mario and Luigi, the latter inviting her out to dinner. Iggy and Spike, not really smart enough to know the meaning of the word “quit”, keep following, but wind up grabbing Daniella, Mario’s date, instead after being taken home by the plumber.
Daisy had been working at a dig site in Brooklyn where unusual dinosaur bones had been found. Anthony Scapelli, who owns the Scapelli Construction Company and Scapelli Plumbing, owns the land where the dig is occurring and wants to end the delays. Since Daisy has a court order allowing her to complete her dig, Scapelli uses other means, including sending his own plumbers into the dig site to sabotage it by opening pipes. Fortunately, when Daisy discovers the sabotage, Luigi is with her. Luigi gets Mario and together they shut off the water pouring in. However, they are so focused on their work that Iggy and Spike are able to sneak up, knock the plumbers out, and kidnap Daisy. Mario and Luigi aren’t out of action for long; they’re able to give chase until they run into a chasm and lose track of Daisy. The kidnapped girl, though, appears in a rock, leaning far enough out that Luigi can take the piece of meteorite Daisy wears as a necklace.
Luigi, with a leap of faith, leaps across the chasm and through the rock. Mario hesitates but does follow his brother through what turns out to be a dimensional bridge. Mario lands in a strange world with unusual people driving electric cars. The Mario Bros. get bumped around, mugged, and arrested before they can get their bearings. One of the people they’re arrested with is Toad, a anti-Koopa protest singer. Toad babbles about the fungus covering the city, claiming it’s really the former king and it’s fighting to regain the throne. This earns Toad the sentence of de-evolution, turning him into a Goomba. The Marios do escape and are able to fight back against Koopa, recover the meteorite piece, rescue Daisy and Daniella, and prevent Koopa from merging his dimension with the Earth’s.
The biggest problem with Super Mario Bros. is that it only has a passing resemblence to the video game. Koopa’s world is unlike the worlds in the video game; instead, it’s a dingy, brown place that makes Brooklyn look bright and cheery. When an 8-bit world has more colour than half a movie, something’s gone wrong. The cast does what they can with the script. Dennis Hopper chews the scenery everytime he’s on screen while Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo are fun to watch even if they were drunk on set. Can’t blame them, really. Hopper was meant to be there five weeks, but wound up shooting over seventeen instead. Hoskins and Leguizamo both have excised the movie from their resumes; Hoskins biggest regret was doing Super Mario Bros.
The problems just start with the script, though. The Mario elements are shoe-horned in. Koopa looks like Dennis Hopper with mutant cornrows in his hair instead of the dragon-like Bowser. The Marios don’t get their signature coveralls until the climax. Until then, Mario doesn’t wear red and Luigi doesn’t wear green; the colours the characters use in the game. The Goombas, evil mushrooms with fangs in the video game, became large humanoid dinosaurs with tiny heads, which would better fit a Koopa Troopa, though not really. A viewer would get the feeling that key people in the crew had never played or see played the video game at any point in the twelve years between the release of the game and the release of the movie.
The movie might have been better if it hadn’t been tied to the video game. The basic plot – stop a villainous overlord and his henchmen from merging his dimension with ours – is more than enough for a Hollywood movie. Given that Iggy and Spike don’t have a brain cell between them, the movie could be played as a comedy and aimed at children. Koopa’s dimension was created by the meteor strike that wiped out the dinosaurs; some of the beasts survived by being pulled to the parallel dimension. The electric cars reflect that there would be no oil from extinct dinosaurs. Even that concept, though, isn’t fully explored. Koopa’s scheme was to save his world; Mario and Luigi, by defeating him, doomed a dimension. Congrats! The Earth is saved, but Daisy’s world must keep suffering.
This isn’t to say that the movie didn’t try to include elements from the video game. The movie starts on a promising note by using the video game’s own soundtrack to open. Yoshi makes an appearance as a pet, and the fungus covering the city does sprout mushrooms to help Mario and Luigi, including providing them with a Bob-omb. Super Mario Bros. was meant to be a prequel, an origins movie. The movie is closer to the earlier arcade game Mario Bros. than it is to Super Mario Bros. For all it’s faults, the movie did win two Saturn awards, one for Best Costume and one for Best Make-Up. But, it’s not a Super Mario movie. The details serve to remind the audience on what could have been. There’s a feeling of a reuse of script or scripts with Mario shoved in.
The main problem is the one seen with Battleship, there are a lot of good ideas being squished into an adaptation that just doesn’t need them and getting wasted. Super Mario Bros. is a mess that can’t use its strong cast to save itself.
Next week, a fan’s take on Mario.
And speaking of the fan take, there is a webcomic based on the work done for the non-existing sequel. The artist has had discussions with the script writers about the aborted sequel and has continued the story.