Trust the fungus.
FROM JASON’S 8-BIT DREAMS — So it’s come to this. In the 14 years since the debut of the very first video game movie — Super Mario Bros. — we’ve made very little progress. The sets are still ass-cheap, the characters are still cardboard, the plots are still riddled with plot holes.
And we’re still watching them. Today, audiences are lining up to see the CG-laden crapfest that is Hitman, based on the awesome game of the same name. French director Xavier Gens (who’s never directed anything worth note) is responsible for this latest travesty, but the video game-to-silver-screen genre has suffered its fair share at the hands of Uwe Boll, director of such low-budget, high-octane no-brainers as Bloodrayne 1+2, Alone In the Dark 1+2, and Dungeon Siege.
Other adaptations have resulted in Mortal Kombat, Mortal Kombat Annihilation, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, the Resident Evil trilogy, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and its sequel, Doom, and Silent Hill.
They’re all horrible, and that wonderful, undeniable guilty pleasure tradition of watching them all started with the granddaddy of modern video games in 1993.
Andrew and I watched this one Sunday night over the web from Virginia and Ohio — a strange habit we picked up a few months ago. Every second was Chinese water torture.
Where to start? I guess the thing that bothered us most was that when boiled down to its core components, the movie had almost nothing to do with the Super Mario Brothers. Oh sure, their likenesses were there. But since when the Mushroom Kingdom a Blade Runner wanna-be dystopia? Where did all the post-industrial sets and Mad Max hairstyles come from?
Even the color pallet was strange — Mario games are always bright and cartoonish, but the movie skips World 1-1 in favor of 90 minutes of World 4-2 and World 5-4.
It’s clear that Allied Filmmakers and Cinergi Pictures were just trying to raise the spirit of the Grand Almighty Cash Cow. SMB was the ultimate cross-marketed brand, with 40.2 million copies of the NES game saturating the market. With Mario sleeping bags, coffee mugs, action figures, pajamas, Happy Meal tie-ins, Underoos, cereal, The Super Mario Brothers Super Show cartoon, and Spaghetti-Os, a movie was just the next big ka-ching at the register.
That in mind, I don’t the producers cared too much about plot, and it shows. In truth, the video game was far too surreal to be cobbled into any viable film. There’s no way to take magic mushrooms, floating bricks, flower power (the flower is conspicuously absent from the movie), or a dino-bad-guy work on a serious level.
What we get is an archaeological dig — in the middle of Manhattan no less — that opens a doorway to (gawd, here it comes) a PARALLEL DIMENSION! The Mushroom Kingdom and Earth are two divergent realities that sprung into being when an asteroid hit the planet 65 million years ago. On Earth, it killed the dinosaurs. But in the other reality, reptiles rose to be the dominant species. Somehow the evolved from scary scaled monsters into bipedals that look just like humans.
But the Mushroom world has a problem. The king (Princess Daisy’s father) was de-evolved into a huge fungus and Koopa took over. He’s not a very good ruler — during the last 20 years or so, the entire planet has been leeched into an enormous desert and only a huge, grimy city remains. Koopa wants Earth’s abundant resources and plans to merge the two dimensions together again using a shard of the original asteroid.
Daisy has the shard, and Koopa has her kidnapped. Luigi is infatuated with her and rushes to save her, with Mario at his side (let’s hear it for role reversal). From there, if it can be believed, the movie goes downhill:
The goombas are all small-headed giants with rocket launchers. In one scene, Mario and Luigi escape their clutches by getting the goombas to dance.
There’s a car chase in which we see that all automobiles in the Mushroom Kingdom run on a bumper car electrical grid.
An excruciating sequence shows a wind-up bomb-omb walking slowly toward its target over a five-minute period.
Koopa gets de-evolved for about 4 seconds (SPOILERS ZOMG) into a T-Rex.
Mario uses a mattress to rescue half a dozen Brooklyn girls kidnapped by Koopa. They slide down the frozen insides of well-lit pipes.
About the only saving grace was a much-appreciated cameo by Yoshi.
What is so surprising is that while the movie looks like it was made out of cardboard props, toothpicks, and masking tape, the studio spent millions on its talent. Bob Hoskins as Mario, John Leguizamo as Luigi, and Dennis Hopper were all slumming.
Also, watch for B-movie idol Fisher Stevens (My Science Project, Short Circuit, Hackers) as a Koopa henchman with the coolest sideburns evar. The other goomba thug was Richard Edson, the parking garage attendant who took the Ferrari for a joy ride in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.