Cinematic Flashback: Super Mario Bros. (1993) Review
A long time ago, the Earth was ruled by dinosaurs. They were big, so not a lot of people went around hassling ‘em. Actually, no people went around hassling ‘em cuz there were any people yet. Just the first tiny mammals. Basically, life was good. Then something happened: a giant meteorite struck the Earth. Goodbye dinosaurs! But what if the dinosaurs weren’t all destroyed? What if the impact of that meteor created a parallel dimension when the dinosaurs continued to thrive and evolve into intelligent, vicious, and aggressive beings…… just like us? And why, what if they found a way back….as Jason’s Movie Blog takes a look at a “cinematic flashback” for the infamous 1993 film Super Mario Bros.
SUPER MARIOS BROS.
“This Ain’t No Game”
Director: Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel
Writer: Parker Bennett, Terry Runte, and Ed Solomon
Starring: Bob Hoskins, John Leguizamo, Samantha Mathis, and Dennis Hopper
Run Time: 104 Minutes
Release Date: May 28th, 1993
In New York City, two hard-working Italian plumber brothers named Mario Mario (Bob Hoskins) and Luigi Mario (John Leguizamo) are struggling to their mark in their day-to-day lives. One day, however, the pair befriend a young paleontologist named Daisy (Samantha Mathis), who uncovers a massive find of mysterious new dinosaur bones in a nearby construction site. While exploring the tunnels where dinosaur fossils lay, saboteurs hired by the Mario Bros. rival businessman, Anthony Scapelli, to break some underground pipes. Meanwhile, in a hidden world called Dinohattan, King Koopa’s (Dennis Hopper) land is running out of water and going through problems so he sends Spike (Richard Edson) and Iggy (Fisher Stevens) to kidnap Daisy. Now, the Super Mario Bros. find themselves the only hope to save the Earth from invasion then challenge a diabolical lizard king and they must battle giant reptilian goombas, outwit misfit thugs, and undermine sinister scheme by taking over the world!
Growing up in the late 80s and 90s, I definitely saw the rise in popularity of the video games, including the franchise starters of the game genres, including Sonic the Hedgehog, The Legend of the Zelda, Mega Man, and (of course) Super Mario Bros. I use to play a lot of Super Mario Bros. 3 over at my grandmother’s place and my family owned a Super Nintendo, which we had Super Mario World. So, I was quite well-versed at the time of the memorable plumber character and how he tried to save Peach from the clutches of Bowser. Thus, I was completely blown away when it was announced that Hollywood was going to do a live-action film adaptation of Super Mario Bros. I think I was eight or nine when it came out that year, but I didn’t get a chance to see it in theaters. I did, however, remember seeing it later that year when my family rented the VHS tape. Even back then, I liked the movie, but still had some reservations about it. It was definitely cool to see characters like Mario and Luigi and even Yoshi appearing in the film, with such fully realization of them on the big screen, but I wasn’t super impressed by. Naturally, the movie bombed at the box office and was critically panned by most, with the movie becoming famous for being a poor film adaptation of the Super Mario Bros. video game brand. It’s definitely been quite some time since I last saw this movie, so, with the new animated movie coming out, let’s take a “flashback: look at the misunderstood and total misfire feature film that was (or rather is still) 1993’s Super Mario Bros.
The Super Mario Bros. was directed by Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel, who were partners together when they collaborated on this particular project. With several productions of directorial works, include several music videos and other productions, Morton and Jankel took a step forward to tackle the most iconic character in video games and bring it to a cinematic medium for a larger audience to enjoy. The result was, to put it mildly, a mixed bag. I do have to admit that I was intrigued by a little bit of the narrative, with the world splitting after the meteorite struck earth, which caused a new dimension to appear and thrusted the dinosaurs (the remaining ones) to live there in a sort of exile limbo. They, of course, evolved like humans, so it was kind of an interesting take on a sci-fi concept, especially one found in a video game film adaptation. If there is anything to be said about this movie is that I would say that movie is somewhat easy to discern and digest, regardless of if one (or hasn’t) played a Super Mario video game during that timeframe. Even in today’s world, the movie doesn’t get bogged down too much in “insider” references, with only a few nods and winks to the video game source material.
For its presentation, the movie was just okay. Of course, with the film being made in the 90s, the setting for the feature definitely had that “look” and “feel” of a late 80s / early 90s and definitely is something of a character of itself. However, I does feel like that a somewhat of missed opportunity for the filmmaker to develop a “new world” aspect of which Dinohattan to appear in, with the movie opting for a darker and grimier looking take on NYC. Again, it’s sort of the “sign of the times”, but it just felt like something that the movie could’ve utilized with a more different locale and design work for the feature. The visual effects, while utterly dated by today’s work, was quite impressive for its time. Sure, it didn’t beat out anything of a high caliber blockbuster endeavor 1993 releases, but was still interesting to see in a few snippets. Same can be partly said for the cinematography work by Dean Semler, who offered up several clever moments of dramatic poise, while the film’s scoring by Alan Silvestri was serviceable (not the best work by him, but still manageable for the feature).
Unfortunately, the movie has numerous faults unto itself, with huge glaring problems that hamper the feature from being memorable. In truth, the picture itself is remembered for being a cult classic for being poor conceived and executed….and that’s never a good thing. How so? Well, Super Mario Bros. is littered with a plethora of problems, including (but not limited to) an unbalanced pacing, several uneven tones throughout, a heaping helping of unfunny moments, and several uninteresting characters that really don’t amount to much. However, the biggest blunder that the movie presents in the feature is the underutilized and utterly wonky story that it displays for the main plot. True enough, the Mario video games during that time didn’t have the most “well-rounded” narrative, which were mostly stripped down to the basic and rudimentary level, with the game themselves more about playing certain level designs and strategy rather than a plot. So, it’s sort of understandable the script for the Super Mario Bros. Movie didn’t much to go on (to a certain degree) and that they had to “embellish” certain ideas and scenario to fill out a feature film length story. That being said, the source material of all of the Mario characters are completely bastardized character constructions and didn’t feel like anything from what many were expecting from the video game counterpart. King Koopa was like a evil businessman, Toad was merely just a small, minor supporting character, the Goombas were just a complete joke, Yoshi was just there for a cameo appearance (and really didn’t serve a purpose in the feature), and the whole “devolution” of Daisy’s father (the king) into a fungus was just weird and gross. Thrown this all into a mix of a movie that’s ripped from a poorly conceived story and heavily influences of the early 90s films, and you end up with such a bad movie that doesn’t really know what it is.
While the cast for Super Mario Bros. has several recognizable acting talents involved on this project, their involvement sort of puts a “black mark” on their career, with many citing that their experience on this film to be horrible and a nightmare. Of course, actors Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo were amusing to see as the iconic Mario and Luigi characters in the movie, but also felt like that they were only in their names from the popular video game characters. What do I mean? Well, for most of the movie, the pair don’t really act like the famous video game characters brothers from Nintendo and their famous plumber attire from the games don’t appear until the third act of the feature. It’s not so much the fault of Hoskins and Leguizamo, who are still good in the movie, but rather the direction of the feature and the written dialogue given to them. The same can be said with actor Dennis Hooper playing the role of the titular character of King Koopa, the main antagonist for the feature. Hopper was a very skilled actor and definitely made the character his own in the movie (as seeing through his many scenes of chewing through his dialogue with great ease). However, the character is written (and presented) in such a generic and bland way that it becomes a bit too nose of how “bad” the character is and just ends up being a cheesy villain in a business suit. In contrast, actress Samantha Mathis does a decent job in the role of Daisy, the love interest / female protagonist character in the film, who holds the key to Koopa’s plan for world domination. The downside, however, is that her character is pretty much the commonplace female hero character from the 90s era of filmmaking, which makes Daisy rather formulaic to the touch.
For much of the rest of the cast, it’s pretty much the same. A lot of the characters are rather generic and stock-like in both lending a hand to the two plumbers (or Daisy) or thwarting their efforts along the way. Perhaps the best ones would be Iggy and Spike (Fisher Stevens and Richard Edson) that, while not the most original or well-rounded characters, do provide sort of comical relief in and out of the movie experience, with the two bickering and having that good “back and forth” with each other or whoever that comes across. Additionally, actress Fiona Shaw’s Lena was kind of interesting in the movie that, while the acting talent was capable of producing something of that caliber, kind of became flat and generic. Everyone else, was either too broad or too goofy to make a lasting impression.
The legacy of Super Mario Bros. has been throughout the year one of the more perplexing kinds. When released, the film was both critically panned and considered a commercial failure, with many citing the plot, inconsistent tone, and lack of faithfulness to the video game source material. Yet, despite that, the movie (during the time of its release) was praised for its special effects and the cast performances. Even further examination looks to make the movie have a somewhat of a cult classic with many….in a “some bad, its’ good” as well as a byproduct of the early half of 90s era picture endeavor. In addition, because of the poor reception the movie had, Super Mario Bros. remained the only live-action film based on a Nintendo game property until 2019’s Pokémon: Detective Pikachu twenty-six years later. As mentioned, it will be interesting to see what lies in store in the new animated film The Super Mario Bros. Movie and how will it ultimately compare to this particular feature.
In the end, 1993’s Super Mario Bros. is really a “eye of the beholder” examination, yet there is no escaping the fact that the film itself is a bad one. As mentioned, it really has the feeling of its time in its visual art direction aesthetics, comedy angst, actions scenes, and in the actors / characters that play their part in the narrative. Yet, the misgivings of the feature can’t be denied on how dismal the feature is and how it was received by many, especially to both causal moviegoers and to fans of the iconic Nintendo franchise. From goofy concept ideas, a sluggish pacing, wacky / zany characters that are quite “over-the-top” and the undermining of the video game lore, Super Mario Bros. has (and will remain) a movie that will live in infamy for all the wrong reasons. In short, the film is an utter misfire and a poor man’s interpretation of what many were looking for in a video game / movie adaptation of a movie about two Italian plumbers that go off on adventure to save a girl from an evil tyrant.
Cinematic Flashback Score: 0.8 Out of 5
Fun Fact: Four versions of the Yoshi puppet were built: a stand-in, a wireless model, a half-puppet for the tongue, and a fully functional model. The fully functional puppet utilized roughly 70 cables and nine operators and costing $500,000 to make.