Video Game Adaptations: Super Mario Brothers

This will be my final Video Game adaptation review for a while as I simply cannot take the plethora of dross that the genre contains any longer. I gleefully admit to intentionally seeking out and watching more rubbish than is healthy, but I do it in the hope of unearthing a nugget of joy, something that will make me laugh, the odd legitimately unfairly overlooked film, or, at the very least, something I can be entertainingly rude about. The problem with Video Game adaptations is that they aren’t, for the most part, entertaining. What they are is boring and annoying and I’ve squandered far too much of my valuable time on them. I was hoping in this open-ended series to be able to say “See, they aren’t all rubbish, there is some gold out there”, but instead I’ve been molested by film after film so wretched that I’ve had to either find excuses not to give them the Orangutan of Doom or, in a few cases, I’ve even made up new ratings to get round this. To sum up, I really cannot take it any more, and I’m signing off for the forseeable with the first ever Video Game Adaptation, the utterly disastrous Super Mario Brothers.

Contains heavy borrowing from Jamie Russel in The Guardian’s excellent article and spoilers below.

This is what everyone involved with this film deserves.

Memorably describing Super Mario Brothers as “The Heaven’s Gate of video game movies” (a sentiment that I struggle to disagree with), Russel’s excellent little article goes in to what went wrong behind the scenes and what an enormous disaster the film was. Nintendo, cleverly, recognised that they “had a tiger by the tail” with these adaptations, and so treated Roland Joffé’s attempts to seduce them with tea to get the rights as a curiousity- they wanted to see if Joffé and his directors could run with it. Unsurprisingly, given the subject matter of the games, they couldn’t. The problem here is that the game Super Mario Brothers is a) for young kids, and b) about a plumber with the ability to jump really high stuck in a lurid technicolour world of moving fungi, dinosaurs, transporting pipes and giant piranha plants. The half arsed story relates to the brothers attempt to rescue Princess Daisy from evil Dinosaur thing Bowser, but is actually just an excuse to have him hop from platform to platform to reach the end point on each level.

Hopper took it well when his agent informed him that he couldn't walk off and was obliged to finish.

Adapting this was always going to be problematic. Unfortunately for the history of cinema, Joffé and his directors Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton had their own ideas how they were going to adapt it. Quite why you would reach the breathtakingly insane conclusion that they came to is something that they should really be asked, but they promised Nintendo that they wouldn’t set out to make a “sweet lovey-dovey story” (Joffé’s words). They didn’t. What they did make was one of the most ill-conceived and hopelessly misguided high-concept films that I’ve ever seen. Their approach was so, so wrong for the source material that it almost staggers belief and as the project began to unravel on set they were forced into rewrites practically between takes, and it really does show in the finished film. Super Mario Brothers is an absolute unmitigated disaster from start to finish; an astonishing mess of truly gargantuan proportions, and one that is quite rightly reviled by anyone that has seen it.

This, believe it or not, isn't the most deluded idea in the film.

Mario Mario (groan), Bob Hoskins, and his brother Luigi, John Leguizamo are hapless Brooklyn plumbers. Undercut at every corner by the local construction mafia, they’re struggling to make ends meet. In the meantime, Daisy, Samantha Mathis, is leading a dig to do with some nonsense about a meteorite, and becoming a bit concerned at her crew of young attractive girls disappearing. The press has it that they’re being snatched by a serial killer, but couldn’t be more wrong. They’re actually being kidnapped by Iggy and Spike (Fisher Stevens and Richard Edson respectively), two of the most useless henchmen to ever work for a supervillian. On King Koopa’s (Dennis Hopper) orders, they’re looking for the daughter of the rightful king of their world and the shard of magic dimension-bonding meteorite she wears round her neck. Mario’s girlfriend Daniella (Dana Kaminski) is snatched, then Daisy is taken, thus forcing our intrepid plumbers to make a journey into the alternative dinosaur path of evolution dimension. Koopa’s plan is to reunite the shard, and use his advanced technology to conquer our world. The brothers spend a less-than-entertaining hour navigating the freaks and misfits that populate this realm, avoiding Koopa’s de-evolution gun and attempting to rescue Daisy, restore the kingdom and whatnot. Eventually, it all heads to a showdown in New York, and our heroes save the day, before being called back into bizarro-world by Daisy, presumably to unblock the toilet after one of the Goombas took a dino sized dump in it.

These two were actually secretly filmed when they first read the script, and asked to recreate that face at crucial times.

The acting here is uniformly bizarre. Hoskins openly hates the film, admitting that, although I think he’s lying- bear in mind that he’s got form for being in lousy BT advertisements, that it’s the only one he ever did purely for the cash. Leguizamo is only marginally less rude about it, although he clearly hates it too. Hopper, on the other hand, must have been high, because he’s disturbingly channelling his Blue Velvet performance (just one of many incongruous features of the film), but I, personally, think he was still going with the original script treatment, where it would have been far, far more appropriate. Finally, Mathis couldn’t care less, which is odd, considering it should have been her big break film.

Nice Pet Dinosaur. Now go kill Joffé.

Or is it? Actually, on reflection, I would say that not caring and putting in the bare minimum of effort is totally understandable given what happened on set, and most importantly to the script. The original treatment handed out was that Mario was “going to grow up” and the Dino-World was some nightmarish dystopian Blade Runner inspired hell. Joffé’s idea, while terrible, would at least have been interesting, but I don’t think that going “dark” as he says here is a terribly good idea for Super Mario Brothers:

“This wasn’t Snow White and the Seven Dinosaurs. The dino world was dark. We didn’t want to hold back.”

Perhaps some restraint should have been in order, simply because when the distributors turned up on the concrete hell-hole of a set, they collectively shat one. Cries of “It’s supposed to be a kid’s film” rent the air, and realising that nobody was going to buy a movie populated by latex rejects from the Garbage Pail Kids and fetish gimps from lord knows where (Russel says “Todd Browning’s Freaks” which is a good one), they frantically began to try to remould the film into something child friendly.

A typically gross and inappropriate interlude. Koopa is bragging about how once women go dino they never go back. Yes, he is referring to exactly what you think.

As a result, the rewrites started. Between takes. Morton (despite considering walking, which he and Jankel should have done) believed that they could try to keep the original idea alive, ignoring the fact that the original idea was completely inappropriate, but it turned into a nightmare for him and Jankel, and he now concedes that the film “became a huge mess”. This is an understatement, as the plot and dialogue are all over the place, nothing is comprehensible and there are holes in it you could drive a bus full of screaming kids through. Take, for example, Koopa’s plan. Now, I’m not convinced that his victory is as nailed on as he thinks it is simply because the technology the Goombas have, while cool, such as the reverse evolution gun, is both very slow and due to a lack of resources limited to one weapon. I would take a large bet that the hairless chimps of New York, given the availability of guns in America, could take them down without breaking sweat. Furthermore, Luigi and Daisy are meant to be star-struck lovers, but nobody considered the chemistry/ biology involved here: Daisy is the daughter of something that resembles giant slime mould and was born from an egg, while Luigi is (kind of) human. Can they even shag, let alone breed? This is a tad nitpicky, admittedly, because nothing makes sense in the film, so the inter-species love so beloved of the Welsh is perfectly acceptable here.

Bob and John shared a high-five when Bob managed to squeeze in to his very fetching red jumpsuit.

None of the above would matter if it were an entertaining mess, but it isn’t. It’s a boring and incomprehensible mess. I’d not seen it before, but was aware of the disastrous reputation it carries, and neither had the wife, yet it took me three attempts to make it through it, and she went and did the ironing (result) to escape. The problem is threefold: 1) We just don’t care about any of the characters or the predicament they’re in; 2) It never feels like they’re in any danger, and if they inadvertently are at risk the giant mutant Athlete’s Foot King will step in to bail them out; and 3) The film feels painfully disjointed, as our plumbers blunder from weird scene A to populated by oddities scene B with nary a link between them.

This look of confusion is actually the default one for most of the actors.

The sequence of random encounters is just totally uninteresting. There’s no rhyme or reason to any of the events in the film, and to make matters worse there are several insane “touches” that are clearly meant to be comedy. Not one of these touches are remotely funny, and some, such as Mario chatting up a large woman with some offer to let her punch him in the face all night, are downright gross and bizarre. These attempts at humour may have worked in the original idea, but they just don’t in the “kiddified” version, and come across as, for the most part, creepy. Particularly unfunny are the two cretinous henchmen, who manage to sink every scene they are in. Which is bizarre, considering that this film is already sitting on the bottom of the ocean. Think the sequence in The Abyss where the rig nearly gets pulled into the trench, and imagine that it were actually pulled to the bottom of the ocean and crushed and you’re part of the way to understanding.

If you have to be in this film, you want to be a Goomba. Nobody can recognise you under that latex.

At the end of the day, Super Mario Brothers is a lamentably awful film. It’s not got a single redeeming feature, and there’s an easy explanation. Adapting the game itself was always going to be incredibly difficult, in part due to the childish nature of the game, but more due to the difficulty of explaining the events taking place. I’d almost go as far as suggesting that adapting the game is, in itself, a bad idea. However, adapting the game as some kind of fetish-populated dystopian Blade Runner influenced film is such an inordinately terrible and completely wrong idea that I don’t blame the suits for putting the brakes on. This is a film that should have been terminated at birth, yet somehow made it to the screen. Pity.

Dennis takes aim at the warehouse where the prints are stored.

Overall, I don’t recommend this. I do quite frequently recommend car crash films, because they can be gloriously insane and often hilarious, but that isn’t the case here. Super Mario Brothers is a disaster of a movie, a joyless and painful couple of hours and one that needs consigning to the dustbin of history and forgetting about. I’m dishing it a very, very deserved Orangutan of Doom, because it is that terrible, and it may well be worse than The Garbage Pail Kids. It doesn’t get any lower than that, yet somehow it still isn’t as bad as Resident Evil: Apocalypse.

While I’m only half kidding about the above statement, I do find it astonishing, though, that Super Mario Brothers has developed a strange cult following, and that to this day Joffé remains proud of it, saying “It was an interesting and rich artefact and has earned its place”. It hasn’t Roland, and you remain as deluded now as you were when you came up with the original treatment.

The Guardian’s superb essay on Super Mario Brothers can be found here

Signing off this series for the forseeable future,

Ciao,

Jarv.

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About Jarv

Workshy cynic, given to posting reams of nonsense on the internet and watching films that have inexplicably got a piss poor reputation.

73 responses to “Video Game Adaptations: Super Mario Brothers”

  1. Jarv says :

    Quite pleased with this- even if I have borrowed heavily from the Guardian.

    Awful film though.

  2. Just Pillow Talk says :

    I’ve only seen bits and pieces of this shitfest, which was quite enough thank you very much. This has been (vast understatement forthcoming) an awful, awful series to contend with. I couldn’t imagine sitting through this. Well, I guess I can considering the dreck I’ve sat through, but fuck, who would think this was a good idea?

    • Jarv says :

      When I started, I thought that beneath the mire of garbage there would be a few that would be stupidly entertaining and a few that would be quality. They’ve almost all been rotten to the core.

      • Jarv says :

        I didn’t pace it properly as well. The three best films were Silent Hill, Street Fighter Chun Li and Final Fantasy and I got them all out of the way too early.

  3. Xiphos0311 says :

    this movie is awful the vey defintion of the word actually.

  4. Bartleby says :

    It really is a magnificent trainwreck, but unfortunately it’s pretty nightmarish to watch—not entertainingly insane like the equally awful Highlander II. I think this is actually a really good review, because instead of just reacting to the insanely bad crap on screen , you have done some research. It’s just a bad idea, but I do maintain that a fun camp movie could have been made from the premise of an underground dinosaur world—they screwed it up again with Anonymous Rex—but it never should have been tied to Mario. For one thing, why dinosaurs, and why so weird? Wasn’t the original game about evil turtles and mushrooms?
    And one more thing for us to ponder. Lance Henriksen as the Fungus King—did he have any actual screentime?

    • Jarv says :

      Cheers Jonah- I did borrow very heavily from the Guardian’s essay on it, but their article is more of a retrospective on what went wrong than a review.

      It is an astounding trainwreck, and you are right a mare to watch. Lance didn’t feature in the version I saw.

      Bowser was always a Dino type thing, but the Koopas were turtles. Just doesn’t make sense, and it’s doubly twisted to apply the colourful mario world to a drab and grey industrial context.

      Fuck knows what they were thinking of, and I’m just cross that I forgot to write about Hopper walking around with his arms in front of him like an actual T-Rex, which is so weird that I don’t know where to begin.

      • Bartleby says :

        I always thought bowser was just a larger, fire-breathing turtle..he did have a turtle shell afterall.

        Not that any of that really matters. This really should have been a dumbhouse for the ages, but instead it’s just dumb.

        It’s funny because as a middle school kid just coming off Army of Darkness and still harboring a faded love of dinos, I really wanted to see this–and then the same week I saw these ads I saw the ones for Jurassic Park and forgot all about this.

      • Jarv says :

        So he did.

        I’d forgotten his shell.

      • Bartleby says :

        also the marketing emphasized Yoshi and the few dino fx, not revealing that most of the ‘dinos’ were just guys with extra vidal sassoon in their hair.

      • Jarv says :

        Hehehehe.

        That’s funny and true. Although, to be fair, Koopa does turn into a t-rex at the end.

  5. Bartleby says :

    The thing is, there is probably a fun ‘animated’ kid’s movie that could have been made from Mario, but it would have had to gone sillier and probably far more childish. Something grown-ups might not care much for, but would entertain kids. Problem is the fanbase of the game extended beyond that, and they wanted to aim it at teenage kids playing video games.

    Again, the underground world of humanoid dinos is so intensely strange Im surprised anyone who heard the words ‘Mario Bros movie’ would come up with it.

    Does anyone here remember Captain Lou Albano as Mario on afternoon television? Now that was something…

    • Jarv says :

      That is precisely what they should have done. This had no business being dark and “grown up”. Why the fuck would you want to do that? And the proof that it was completely wrong is that SMB 3 took $500m in sales, and the film made $20m.

      Guess which one was adult.

      • Bartleby says :

        animation would have allowed for the racoon suits and the airships and the haunted castles–not that all of that had to be in a movie, but it could have at least been fun for someone.

        I dont get the people who think this is a cult item. My uncle swears its an overlooked gem while insisting the new Muppet movie was literally unwatchable.

        Sometimes, I just dont understand people.

      • Jarv says :

        I don’t either. I’m not joking in that it may be worse than The Garbage Pail Kids.

        It’s almost completely unwatchable, and doesn’t have the sheer “what the fuck” factor that TGPK has. Not that that’s a good thing, necessarily, but you get my point.

  6. Jarv says :

    The thing is, I’d in most circumstances, probably due to the nature of the films I watch, be quite content with a film about Plumbers saving the world.

    Just not this one.

    • Toadkillerdog says :

      Good gravy!
      That sounds awful.
      I never got into video games, but even I had heard of mario broters, but had no interest in seeing it.

      This review does not even make me curious about it.

      Good job you long suffereing Jarv you!

    • koutchboom says :

      Eyes without a face was on TCM last night recorded it.

      • Toadkillerdog says :

        Ya Koutch,
        I saw it last night for the first time in decades and the first time in uncut version.

      • koutchboom says :

        Cool, for some reason I keep confusing it with Eyes of Laura Mars, another movie I need to see.

  7. tombando says :

    Sounds awful.

  8. AndyWatchesMovies says :

    I went to see this in the theater when it came out. Came out totally hating it but thought Yoshi was pretty sweet. I think I blocked the rest of the movie from my mind, though.

    • Jarv says :

      I’m going to do my damndest to forget all about it. Luckily as I get older my short term memory is shot, so it’ll be lost soon (fingers crossed)

  9. kloipy says :

    worse is the ‘dark’ version of Sonic where he spends most of the runtime stuffing his face in piles of coke and lamenting the death of his best buddy, Tails, while giving BJs to Dr. Robotnik for gold rings

  10. koutchboom says :

    I hope SumperBrothersMovie.com gets to make their making of this movie doc.

    NOW Pixar needs to get their shit together and make a fucking Mario movie, I mean it’s Pixar and Nintendo they pretty much are one in the same.

    And yeah I remember that bad ass Lou Albano show, who doesn’t? That thing was awesome.

  11. ThereWolf says :

    Very good review. Informative and everyfink!

    I’m pleased to say I’ve never seen this bollocks. And never will.

  12. Droid says :

    The way to make a SMB movie is to make it like those Journey movies. The new ones.

  13. Steven Applebaum says :

    I help run The Super Mario Bros. The Movie Archive, a website obviously dedicated to the movie. It really does have a cult following, though I won’t bother arguing that with you.

    Instead, perhaps you might be interested to know that we’re currently prepping a documentary on the film, hosting several nationwide screenings and working on a licensed comic sequel. Lots of fun!

    • Jarv says :

      Thanks for the comment Steven.

      I know full well that it has a cult following- I think it’s just not for me, and I’m the mug that goes in to bat for stupid films like Hell Comes to Frogtown (I will not hear a bad word against it).

      I’m really looking forward to that documentary- the article that I drew heavily from in the Guardian piqued my interest, and I’d love to know what the director of the Killing Fields was doing hiring the two people behind Max Headroom to make an “adult” Super Mario Brothers. The whole idea was so fundamentally insane, that I’d love to see the genesis of it. How did nobody point out that it was a bad idea?

      I see above that you’ve got interviews lined up, I hope that you get this together, because I genuinely think that the story behind the film (including the rewrites between takes) must be much more interesting than the film itself.

      Incidentally, I don’t know, but is it standard practise to invite the distrubutors to the set before the film is completed?

      • Steven Applebaum says :

        If you really are interested in how the film came to be as it is now then you should check out our site. We have several of the early scripts, including the original fantasy version, as well as interviews with the cast/crew.

        From what we’ve been told by numerous sources, Disney and other distributors were invited onto the set to sell them on the project. None had yet to buy the film.

      • Jarv says :

        That’s what the Guardian’s account said- I’m just surprised, because you would think that they knew it was going to the extreme, and surely it would have been better to not show incomplete work, and it seems that a lot of the meddling came from that visit.

      • Jarv says :

        Aye- I had a look at the actors quotes to see how antipathetic they were to it. Hoskins in particular is venemous.

      • Steven Applebaum says :

        That’s pretty much where the disconnect arose. They shot a lot of stuff that tied the film together much better, at least thematically, but were forced to cut most of it out because it was too scary or mature for what Disney wanted.

        We are in contact with Morton/Jankel and the film’s editor, so if we can work things out with Disney we might be able to get a director’s cut of sorts out.

      • Jarv says :

        I’d be interested to see it out of curiousity. Did you get Joffé as well?

      • Steven Applebaum says :

        We have been offered an interview with Jake Eberts, but we anticipate having to court Joffé.

      • Jarv says :

        Well, if he’s telling the truth that he’s still proud of it, I wish you the best in getting him. I’d love to read/ hear a more full account of the sending tea to Nintendo thing.

      • Steven Applebaum says :

        There’s a lot to gain in speaking with him and Eberts. Keep in touch and we’ll see about getting you involved.

      • Jarv says :

        Thanks- It’s a great site by the way.

        That Mojo interview is hilarious.

      • Steven Applebaum says :

        Mojo was our first real interview. Great guy. We’ll need to reconnect with him.

      • Jarv says :

        The “waiting 6 takes for the Hopper scary face” thing had me laughing out loud.

      • Jarv says :

        Have you had any luck with Mathis and Leguizamo? I’m curious to see what Mathis said, because of all the cast members she seems to have been the quietest about it.

      • Steven Applebaum says :

        We have had some interaction with Leguizamo, but absolutely none with Mathis. I think of all the lead cast she was affected the most, so she perhaps won’t want to speak on it too much.

      • Jarv says :

        That’s the gist I got from it when I was reading up for this review. It’s funny, because Hoskins is vocally hostile, and Hopper used every opportunity to use the “shoes” joke, but there’s almost complete silence from her.

      • Steven Applebaum says :

        Actresses are more affected than actors by flops, it seems. We’ll continue making an effort to reel her in; perhaps the documentary will be enough.

        Leguizamo has cooled down over the years. He has kids now and they have his Luigi action figure. He acknowledges it as a kids’ film, if anything.

      • Jarv says :

        He was in a similar boat to Mathis, as I remember, in that he was basically unknown before it. I do think he’s done better than she has since though, although he doesn’t have the aging thing that affects actresses.

        Even if he was in The Pest which is far, far worse than anything Mathis has been in.

      • Steven Applebaum says :

        The Pest is a far worse film than Super Mario Bros. I can’t understand how Super Mario Bros. comes on top when even Hoskins has the dubious position of having been in both Spice World and The Mask 2: Son of the Mask.

      • Jarv says :

        Hoskins is a lying bastard, though. I did mention this, but he’s been in loads of absolute horseshit (clearly for the money) so it strikes me as weird to pick on SMB.

        The Pest was hideous.

      • Steven Applebaum says :

        It’s a shame Hopper passed away. He seemed like the kind of guy who would have loved to talk about it, even if it was mostly negative.

      • Jarv says :

        Hopper loved talking about his films regardless of what he thought of them. I think he’d have definitely done it.

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