Movie Mash Monday: Retro Respective – Super Mario Bros

There’s a lot of great films you need to see this week, Brad Pitt’s Fury being one of them and the creepy yet fascinating Nightcrawler. But this week we’re not going to look at those, instead a glance back to something I re-watched over the weekend to give it a new light and hoping to defend it’s muddied name. The 80’s and 90’s had a lot of weird stuff going on film wise, then in 1993 came the very, very loosely adapted live action Mario Bros film. Suffering from some odd plot choices, a lack of a mustache on Luigi and dinosaurs on the rampage, it was panned by critics and fans alike. But was it really all that bad? We head down a big green pipe of retrospective justification to find out…

Millions of years ago, a meteorite struck the earth and supposedly wiped out all the dinosaurs. But what if they weren’t and where instead blasted into an alternate dimension where they evolved to become just like us… Two Brooklyn brethren Plumbers find themselves in this very predicament when they try to aide a damsel in distress.

From the outset the plot sounds crazy, but then again, how else are you supposed to make 90 minutes of a game in which you jump on turtles, smash bricks with your head and knock a huge lizard off a bridge at the end into a coherent story? Compare the film’s plot to that of the game’s and you can see where the dots were connected to try and marry the two together. Koopa (big lizard), a corrupt leader overthrows a kingdom populated by lizards (turtles) and oppressed masses (Toads). Enter the captured royalty and the unwitting brothers out to save the day who transport themselves to a world unknown to rescue the princess. In the original Super Mario Bros manual (and later in the SMB3 cartoon series) we are told the Mario’s were transported to the Mushroom Kingdom via a pipe, in the film they find a dimension rift in a sewer.

Ok, there’s a few tweaks there but it’s a smart approach to get our characters from point A to point B. The film is pitted with references from Bob-Ombs, the SNES SuperScope, Goombas and even the quite ridiculous flamethrowers reflect Mario’s in-game ability to chuck fireballs at enemies. Often the references are negligible or often distorted from the origins beyond recognition but there’s plenty on offer for someone with a keen eye and willingness to forgive some of the more blasphemous gaffs (personally, it’s the costumes that get me). What’s impressive is the commitment to choosing the setup and presentation of this ‘Mario’ and staying with it, almost as if this is some weird fan-fiction come to life.

Bob Hoskins (RIP) and John Leguizamo throw themselves fully into the role of Mario Mario and Luigi Mario whilst Dennis Hopper (also sadly missed) laps up the role of evil dictator Koopa, delivering his usual top notch bad guy form. The rest of the cast is filled with nods to the game’s selection of weird and wonderful inhabitants such as 7ft tall Goombas (described in the game manual as ‘traitors of the Mushroom Kingdom’, here as de-evolved prisoners), a Jurrasic Park-esq Yoshi and oddly, a busker called Toad.

The key thing to remember is that video games don’t make for a good narrative structure, which is crucial to a films core and to date no adaptation from game to film has successfully made the jump therefore the addition of smaller roles can seem jarring when trying to forcibly introduce them into the film. More recently some films have had some critical acclaim in their adaptations such as Silent Hill and Postal but many are best left in the past (Street Fighter or Alone in the Dark anyone?).

Without the Mario aspect, this movie could have had potential to work on its own and replacing all Nintendo references would have left us with a crazy, yet fun original adventure, which is why I don’t think it deserves as much flack as it does. It’s fun, goofy and almost brash in it’s attempt to create a new vision of Mario, love it or hate it. Many critics (many I assume were fans of the game, who isn’t?) are quick to critique the odd references to the game throughout, but there are plenty of notable nods, hints and references to the game throughout. I believe the real problem comes down to the writers wanting to make this a little too ‘real’ and dark, instead of completely going for the more cartoonish, colourful approach. Not to say that the film is all gloom, as the dialogue is peppered with wit, one-liners and slapstick. If you’re willing to overlook the odd depiction of your favourite plumbers, you’ll find this to be an enjoyable and imaginative romp, packed full of action and comedy for an afternoon treat.

Words by Andrew ‘Mash’ Marshall

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