Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Was it Really That Bad? Super Mario Bros. The Movie. by Kyle Johannessen

So, last time I jumped in the Ace of Geeks way back machine and watched Judge Dredd, and while yes, it was really that bad, it had its moments. I figured that if I was gonna be in the way back, and the Machine is already primed and ready to go, I might as well stick around and watch a childhood favorite; The Super Mario Bros Movie. I mean, what’s the point in having a way back machine if you’re not going to use it? Am I right?

It makes sense that the first video game to movie adaptation would be the granddaddy of them all, Mario. And by makes sense I mean there is not one thing about it that makes sense. Games back then weren't exactly known for their terrific storytelling, and Mario is a game where all you do is move right and avoid obstacles in hopes that you find a princess who always seems to be in another castle. All the geniuses in Hollywood knew, however, was that Mario sold a lot of video games, so obviously people would pay to see a movie about him.

The background on how it all came to be is actually really interesting. It reminds me a lot of Alien 3, and if you don’t know the story of Alien 3 you should go look it up - or perhaps I will write an article about it. You could teach a film production class on Alien 3 and Super Mario Bros.

You see, there were about six drafts and treatments done on this movie, all with different screenwriters and directors attached. The studio would get someone to write a script, and then get a director attached. Then, the director would want to make a completely different movie that really had nothing to do with the Mario Brothers, so they would bring in new screenwriters to write that movie and throw the Mario Brothers in it somehow. That’s how the movie we saw on the screen came about, directors Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton had no desire to make a Super Mario Bros. movie. They wanted to make a gritty Blade Runner type of film. No one would let them make that movie, so they signed on to do Mario Bros., and tried to turn it into a movie they wanted to make instead of what it should have been. Hell, Bob Hoskins didn't even know the movie was based on a video game.

Apparently, neither did the design team. (-Ed)
The movie was a bomb with just about everybody. Critics hated it, audiences stayed away. I remember even as a kid no more than eight going “What the hell was that?”

Before we really dive in here, let me tell you some of the good things about this movie, cause there are a few. Like Judge Dredd, the production design is really quite good, and the creature effects, although very strange, are also convincing and well executed. Bob Hoskins, despite not knowing it’s a movie based on a video game, gives an earnest and genuine performance when he could have just phoned it in. To be honest, I’ll never say a bad thing about Bob Hoskins, it doesn't matter what movie he is in! John Leguizamo also does a good job as the bright eyed and eager Luigi.

So, was it really that bad? Yes it is. It’s bad. It’s so very bad. It’s so bad, it's good! And I mean that!

What the hell am I watching here?

As I stated above, the directors of this film had no desire to make a Mario Bros. movie. None. They wanted to make a gritty, adult oriented cyber punk film like in the vein of Blade Runner or Alien. So they had the script rewritten. And rewritten. And rewritten. There were so many rewrites, that Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo just said screw it and started ignoring new pages and worked with whatever the hell they were given the night before. That is, if they weren't drunk already. Story goes that they both knew the movie was going to be a complete pile of shit, so they just took to getting drunk on set and trying to have a good time. This was all apparently Bob Hoskins' idea, which makes me respect the man more.

The directors weren't much better when they got on set, either. The Director of Photography quit on the first day and the replacement didn't want to be there either. Morton and Jankel were constantly fighting with producers on set about the tone of the film (the studio, obviously, wanting a kid friendlier film than what they were seeing) and pouring coffee on poor extras. That's not a metaphor, they really poured hot coffee on some poor guy who just wanted to be in a movie cause they didn't like his costume. As if that was his fault. Maybe no one told them that Super Mario Bros was a video game? I dunno, I wasn't there, I was ten or something.

Despite all this craziness and insanity, there is something inherently fun about this movie. The "fuck it, lets have fun" attitude of the Hoskins and Lequizamo actually, in my opinion, helps their performance. They do seem to have a genuine affection for one another, as drinking buddies often do, and that transfers to the screen. The insane lack of direction in the matter of tone lets the film have a really zany feel to it and I got a lot of enjoyment out of the film's confusion. The plot doesn't make sense, Dennis Hopper is almost literally chewing the scenery every time he's on the screen as the villainous Koopa and it all just somehow works.

I think this picture speaks for itself.
Is there a PLOT in this movie?

Nope. Not at all. None. Zero. Zilch. Well, at least not one that makes any sense. From what I could gather, what is passing for a plot in this movie has something to do with the fact that the meteor that killed the dinosaurs hit in prehistoric Manhattan. It didn't actually kill the dinosaurs, however, but created a parallel dimension where they were able evolve separately from humans. After millions of years of evolution and building a civilization, they've used up all their resources. Then, General Koopa of the Mushroom Kingdom overthrew the King, turned him into fungus (that's right, FUNGUS) and tried to kidnap his new born daughter, who the Queen took to Brooklyn in the alternate universe and left her on the footsteps of a church with a magic piece of the meteor, because with the piece, Koopa would be able to merge the universes and rule both. Somehow. Does any of that make any sense to you?!

That's just the first five minutes of the movie! Somehow, the portal between the worlds gets buried. Years later, the Princess grows up to be Daisy, a paleontologist working on a new dig site in New York. But the mob wants to develop the land the dig site is on, so they are trying to muscle her out. Still with me? She accidentally bumps into the Mario Bros and magically falls in love with Luigi in about five seconds. What she and the Mario Bros don't know is that, because of the dig, the portal has been reopened, and Koopa has sent his two mentally challenged cousins to find the princess and bring her back. Yup, Koopa is such a masterful leader that he sends two morons to find ONE girl in all of Brooklyn. It goes on and on like this.

Don't worry, Princess. I don't get it either.
So, what does all of this mean? I have no freaking clue. Chalk all that up to the directors trying to make one movie, a studio wanting a completely different movie, and writers rewriting scenes that the actors ignore in favor of booze. Despite this nonsense, the movie is still a ton of fun. It's like a crash at a Nascar race, it's horrible that it happens and you hope no one gets hurt, but you can't take your eyes off of it and deep in your subconscious, you're filled with glee.

The Mario Bros. Movie is absolutely in that category of films that are so bad they're good. It's not quite on the level of something like The Room or Troll 2, but it is in its own little category. 

I really don't have that much more to say on this movie. I was really surprised that as I was watching it, I couldn't help but smile and laugh and the sheer insanity on display. Maybe it was nostalgia,  but this is one of the first times I've written one of these articles where I will tell you, dear reader, go check out this film. It will put a Goomba like smile on your face.

Next time I hop out of the way back machine and look into something a little more recent. And when I mean more recent, I mean I'm going to switch it up and talk about a film that came out THIS YEAR because damn you, internet, you're just wrong about something.

Kyle Johannessen is a screenwriter and director based in the Boston area. His most recent film was the award winning Devil May Care. He recently finished a script in which he didn't savagely kill off any main characters for no reason, which is a huge growth point, and he should really know better than to let the editor write his bio.

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