Saturday, August 20, 2011

I Love those Plumbers...

The early 90s were a magical time for a child because it seems that every film idea that was based on a 'kid' property was being made.  The Ninja Turtles were tops at the box office for several years in a row, the Transformers had already been a minor hit in the 1980s and Disney was still churning out quality product (and were now entering their Renaissance) but it wasn't long before film companies began developing films based on video games.  It was a great business idea for sure, many game franchises had been big sellers and were well established with both children and adults for several years thanks to Nintendo and Sega and animated programs such as "The Super Mario Bros. Super Show" had already shown that licensing out these characters for filmed work could be successful.  And so it came to be that 1993 saw America's first theatrically released movie based on a video game...and it would naturally be based on one of Nintendo's first and best loved franchises.  So lets get tangled in fungus as we examine the oddity that is Super Mario Bros.

 The film opens with a shot of Brooklyn 65 Million Years ago (which is the first joke) and shows how dinosaurs lived there before a meteorite struck the Earth and killed them all...flash forward to 20th century Brooklyn and we see a strangely dressed woman dropping off an egg and a chip of mineral at a nunnery before running back to a dark tunnel where she is attacked by Koopa, a tall blond man with an evil glint in her eye.  20 years go by and we are introduced to the Mario Brothers...Mario Mario, the oldest and most wise, and Luigi Mario, the younger and more idealistic brother.  The two run a floundering plumbing buisness and find themselves skunked at every turn by the Scappelli buisness...a nationally franchised company run by mobsters.  When checking their messages, Luigi is struck by the beauty of Daisy...a graduate student of paleontology who is currently overseeing a dig near the river where Scappelli has accidentally uncovered fossils due to excavation.  The Mario Bros. help Daisy fix a sabotaged pipe in the dig and before they can blink, Daisy is kidnapped by two odd looking men and dragged off into the caverns below.  The Marios make chase and soon find themselves in another dimension where humans have evolved from dinosaurs, not mammals.  It appears that the impact of the meteorite way back when resulted in a dimensional tear that created the Earth as we know it today and another world where a Manhattan-like city is surrounded on all sides by vast desert.  It seems that the President/Ruler, King Koopa, has discovered that there is a mammal world that mirrors theirs and plans to use Daisy (who hatched from the egg seen at the beginning) and her meteor shard to merge the two worlds and overtake the Earth...and only the Mario Brothers can stop him.

In terms of adaptations...Super Mario Bros. is about as far away from the source material as you can get.  The filmmakers have transformed the bright and colorful Mushroom Kingdom full of strange looking mushroom and turtle monsters from the video games into a dark, dystopian world full of strangely costumed human actors reminiscent of Blade Runner and for many fans that was the first straw of many.  Goombas didn't look like goombas, but rather were de-evolved dinohumans with tiny heads, Koopa was a man rather than a large spiked-crossed-between-a-turtle-and-a-dragon, Luigi was not as old as Mario, tall, or mustached, and the script was full of oddly-placed one-liners and strange jumps in logic.  Needless to say, it is known as one of the worst video game adaptations...which is saying something among all the dreck that exists from that category (to date...none of them have higher than a 35% rating on rottentomatoes.com)...and yet I think many of those fans are missing the point.  Yes, Mario Brothers could have been a bright and colorful film reminiscent of Speed Racer and could have been full of puppet goombas, koopa troopas, and a large animatronic King Koopa and yes it could have followed the story of the games closer with Mario falling into a pipe and emerging in a world where he had to save a princess....but how interesting would that have been?  Rather, I mean, how filmic?  What motivation would Mario have to save a princess he doesn't know from a terrible monster other than he's a nice guy?  I can't think of many Brooklyn plumbers that would...and that's what the writers and designers must have thought as well (with a heavy dose of economic logic thrown in...who has the money for all those goomba and koopa puppets?) because they invented a story of their own and grafted the basic elements of Mario onto it (because lets face it, that's what Mario is...very BASIC elements which is perfect for a game but not for a film).  So we didn't get to see how clever the screenwriters could be by creating good reasons for Mario to bonk his head on a block, grab coins, and slide down a flag pole...but we did get to see a clever use of mushrooms, bob-oms, and fireballs (yes, those flamethrowers were shooting classic Mario fireballs).  Is it a great movie?  Hell no...is it even a good movie?  Hardly...its more of an interesting curiosity of 90s filmmaking that is diverting enough to not be turned off...but which you won't remember after a few days.  In short, the perfect popcorn film for a weekend evening or a drunken gathering with friends.  So lets lay off this movie for being the worst game adaptation...I think Uwe Boll's movies have a corner on that market.

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