Game to Screen: Super Mario Bros
Morton & Jankel's Super Mario Bros.
Directed by Rocky Morton and Annabel Jenkel, the film Super Mario Bros. was released 1993. Adapting from the game, it follows the pair of plumbers as they attempt to free the kidnapped Daisy (Peach's counterpart as Luigi is to Mario) before stumbling across an alternate dimension, home to evolved reptilians staging back from when the dinosaurs went 'extinct.' Add in bucketloads of 90's aesthetics, and you have this film. It stars the late Bob Hoskins and Dennis Hopper, John Leguizamo, Samantha Mathis, and so forth.
On a positive note, the film received nominations for Saturn Awards for Best Costume and Best Make-up. On the negative side, the film is largely acknowledged as both a critical and financial failure. Most of the actors cited the experience as terrible, and the main characters (Hoskins and Leguizamo) claim that they would frequently get drunk in order to get through production.
Super Mario Bros, specifically, is the sequel to the Mario Bros arcade game. Released in 1985, Super Mario Bros has been re-released numerous times for every major Nintendo gaming platform. It's so successful, it is the de facto best selling Mario game ever, and it's the fourth highest selling video game (after Tetris, Minecraft, and Wii Sports). Furthermore, the release of this game was one of the biggest reasons for ending the North American Video Game Crash of 1983.
The game is a simple platformer. From left to right, you navigate the Italian plumber Mario, or slightly younger brother Luigi, through a kingdom largely decorated by mushrooms, fiery flowers, and bipedal turtles, all in pursuit of Princess Peach from a giant firebreathing shelled lizard.
The Menu for the Original Super Mario Bros
Difficulty of Adaptation
The Mario franchise is largely supported by platforming games, jumping from one foothold to another while stomping on enemy heads to progress, not including the myriad of power ups available to the avatar. With that being said, exactly what should a movie be like that's based on this premise? Unless one aims to recreate the jumping attractions of the Olympics within a near-nonsensical world not altogether unlike Alice in Wonderland, it's very likely that the work is going to take some liberties.
And is that so bad? There are many adaptations of books, games, and comic books that are made to catch everything exactly almost down to hair and eye colors in the actors. But these rarely enhance the already existing work. Still, if this adaptation of the Mario franchise was more true to its original content, it would not have made a good movie (not that I'm saying it currently is one). In fact, Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Mario, thought the film suffered from being too similar to the games.
However, it should also be noted that there were conflicting ideas with how this film should turn out. In 2007, Leguizamo admitted that the studio desired a family friendly film with more aim towards the children while the directors were attempting to make it more mature, causing a tug-of-war of interest.
A lot of what I have to say following this is much of my own opinion and less factual. You can agree or disagree with it, of course.
The Trailer for the Film
The Adaptation Itself
Features that were Kept that Benefited the Film
Personally, I liked Leguizamo's portrayal of Luigi in some respects. Luigi has always been portrayed as the second fiddle, awkward, and clumsy. While the script had Leguizamo pushing the line between the bumbling hero and unlikable lead, it was somewhat refreshing to see this portrayal.
The Bob-omb was also fantastic in simply building tension in the film. Having everyone literally freak out and run away when Mario pulled it out was fantastic, even if we didn't quite know what it was. Still, in the end it was a little disappointing but the buildup was fantastic.
Kept Features that Hurt the Film
I'd argue that the whole inclusion of the fungus as a plot device was poor and just odd. Claiming it to be the sentient remains of the former king trying to liberate his kingdom is strange, especially when the nexus of it is so disgustingly creepy. The Bob-omb could have been obtained in any number of other ways. Also, the actual mushroom given does nothing but work as a one-time shield. The rest of the film is absent of the mushrooms that so dominate Mario, from Super Mushrooms or 1-Up Shrooms.
Not nearly as offensive is the character of BIg Bertha, which in the games is a giant fish who attempts to eat the brothers, but in the film is a bouncer who develops a crush on Mario and decides to help them out. Her role in the film was rather strange and the only thing she has in common with her character is the overwhelming amount of red that adorns them both.
Yoshi has really nothing more than a cameo. Still, one might have expected something more of it, and its rather small size doesn't suggest that it could hold up either one of the Mario Bros, nor does it feature any eggs.
Between the characters of Mario (Hoskins) and Luigi (Leguizamo), it's much easier to become interested in a relationship between Luigi and Daisy (as Peach is absent from the film). I'm not saying that Hoskins couldn't have pulled off a charismatic love interest, but I will admit it would likely have been more difficult. It should also be noted that Princess Daisy is actually the ruler of Sarasaland which is hounded by aliens, not dinosaurs.
Even though they're plumbers, the Mario Bros never do anything related to plumbing in the games (aside from jumping through pipes, I guess). In the film, they're able to use it to great effect. Not that watching someone do plumbing is all that exciting, however.
I personally enjoyed the changing of fire flowers into guns that literally spit out fireballs. In the dystopian setting they give this Dinosaur World, flowers granting the ability to throw fire wouldn't sit well.
There's also no underwater levels, so there's that.
The Realm of Dinosaurs, as it's hinted, is rather stupefying. Rather than calling it a Mushroom Kingdom (which is mentioned once in a passing comment), it's claimed that this is the dimension the dinosaurs made their own. However, we get a handful of little scavengers and King Koopa turning back into a T-Rex. Very little elsewhere resembles the evolution of dinosaurs, especially since the Goombas that citizens are turned into are originally mushroom creatures, although they have scales in the film.
Toad is also a very drastic change. In the games, he's a royal retainer, serving the royal family however he can in a dignified role. He's changed to be punk acoustic street singer who's turned into a sympathetic Goomba (despite the explained science that he would perfect loyalty). At least the transformation gets rid of his disgusting haircut.
The worst of all is Dennis Hopper as King Koopa. King Koopa is the self-appointed name Bowser gives himself in the games but there's scarce resemblance between the two aside from the awful haircut Hopper has to deal with. He doesn't breathe fire or wear a spiked shell (although he does have cousins) but instead is based off of an evolved T-Rex, which still refuses to make sense to me. Worst of all is the lack of charismatic performance from the usually fantastic Hopper. Whether it was the script that limited him, or his understandable lack of enthusiasm for his role, this role barely touched the talent the late actor possessed.
In the end, while the film did take several liberties, there were two main reasons why this film is believed to have failed as an adaptation. First, the minds responsible for creating this film fought over the film's direction, and two, the film itself failed to properly adapt its source material.
In my opinion the film should have presented itself as something more independent, focusing on the film first, making sure its story was good (otherwise you literally make a film for kids that adults likely wouldn't enjoy). There are plenty of examples of stories in film where a hero or heroes venture forth to save a princess without coming across as campy or strained; combining elements from the Mario series (such as the well adapted Bob-omb) could still leave it as an adaptation.
It is more than understandable that the first video game to film adaptation would have some trouble breaking into uncharted territory, but the chemistry going in to make this film was awful. With the experience now present in making video games into movies (while not altogether promising at this point in time) and hopefully a cinematic team that's better synchronized would easily make a better film than the one released in 1993. Still, it's unlikely the subject will be approached ever again, leaving the Mario franchise to do what it does best, stay as video games.
Enjoy what you've read here? I've got a list of Game to Screen adaptations I'm currently working on.
© 2014 Travis Wood