Super Mario Bros. (1993) Movie Review
The early nineties witnessed one of the worst cinematic atrocities in history, the first & only live adaptation of Nintendo’s Super Mario Brothers.
Genre: Adventure / Comedy / Sci-Fi
Director: Rocky Morton & Annabel Jankel
Cast: Bob Hoskins, John Leguizamo, Dennis Hopper, Samantha Mathis, Fisher Stevens, Richard Edson, Gianni Russo, Mojo Nixon & Fiona Shaw.
Run Time: 104 min.
US Release: 28 May 1993
UK Release: 09 July 1993
German Release: 22 July 1993
As a kid of the 90s, I grew up with the Nintendo Entertainments System, the Super Nintendo, Nintendo 64, as well as several variations of the GameBoy. As such, the company's mascot Mario was a big part of my childhood, having played several of his games, especially Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, which I loved as a kid. Just before my tenth birthday, I received a VHS recording in Italian from a friend of my family, containing this adaptation and the Ninja Turtles sequel, Secret of the Ooze. It wasn’t until my days in University that I would revisit the plumbing brothers’ adventure, to be reminded how terrible it is!
So grab your plungers, as we unclog the crap stuck deep inside the toilet, which is known as the Super Mario Bros. movie from 1993.
— WARNING, THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS! —
The two Brooklyn plumber brothers, Mario and Luigi, need to travel to a parallel dimension to save Princess Daisy from the evil King Koopa, the tyrannical dictator of Dinohattan. Making their way through the fungus-infested city, they soon realise they are the only hope to save Earth from an invasion.
Oh my god, where should I start? This’ll be much more of a ranting review, of what might be one of the worst films ever! With the rising popularity of Nintendo’s prime mascot, producer Roland Joffé wanted to capitalise on the character, by creating a live-action motion picture. Meeting with founder and former president of Nintendo North America Minoru Arakawa, he presented an idea to bring Mario to the big screen. This got him a meeting at Nintendo Headquarters, with former president Hiroshi Yamauchi, who greenlit the project.
Nintendo seemed rather intrigued to see if a US studio could capture the unique wackiness of the games, incorporating them correctly into a motion picture. Joffé returned to his production company Lightmotive, bringing in several writers to start working on a script. Several ideas had been put to paper, such as Barry Morrow’s serious drama-like piece, which saw the brothers on a fantasy-like quest that would play out like Rain Man.
Joffé envisioned a comedy, leading the end product to become an amalgamation of several inspirations, except for the most important one; the Super Mario Bros. game itself! The screenplay added nuances of The Wizard of Oz, satirising the fantasy genre. With the hiring of the directing duo, further influences were added to the project, such as the darker tones of Batman (1989), as well as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movie, while the dystopian /cyberpunk-ish look was taken from The Running Man and their flick Max Headroom.
With a lot of backstage drama between the cast, directors, editing crew, as well as producers, the game adaptation ended up being an absolute mess. The evolution of dinosaurs into human-looking creatures, due to a meteorite impact splitting the planet into two dimensions, is plain stupid. The plot about the merging of worlds makes no sense, as it is established that a portal to the human world is already open. Generally, the very quirky tone is not compatible with the bleak visual atmosphere! It is a complete disaster!
The dialogues contain unfunny plumbing humour, and brainless conversations, mixed with the constant repetitive exposition of the villains' plan.
Before Hoskins got offered the role, the studio had expressed interest in casting Dustin Hoffman as Mario, however, Minoru Arakawa did not think he was right for the role. Danny DeVito was approached by Lightmotive but declined. Ultimately Bob Hoskins obtained the role of older brother Mario, due to facial similarities. Unfortunately, he does not portray the character anything like his video-game counterpart. A womaniser, just like being obsessed with plumbing, Hoskins comes off as irritable and unfunny. His chemistry with co-star John Leguziamus, who plays a dimwitted version of Luigi, is also lacking.
Instead of Princess Peach, the creators decided to include Daisy, who in Nintendo’s world is the ruler of Sarasaland. Daisy is portrayed by Samantha Mathis, who gives a lukewarm performance, not credible as an archaeology professor. The romantic subplot between her and Luigi contains no spark. Mathis is wooden, seemingly uncomfortable in her role.
Finally, we have the great Dennis Hopper, as King Koopa. I don’t know what he did to get entangled in this monstrosity, but his over-the-top, demented, rapey, performance did not help. His hair design looks ridiculous, as the directors straight-out copied the haircut of Max Headroom, meaning it to resemble spikes.
The camera work ain’t much better, applying misplaced J-cuts, unnecessary jump cuts, low/high angle shots, plus camera pans, just like terrible close-ups. Even for when this came out, the image quality resembles more that of a B-movie. The lighting is mostly extremely dark, making it hard to see what is playing out on screen. The colour palette uses mostly pastel-type reds, greens or creme colours, additionally using a lot of black, grey plus whites. Exceptions are made during a club scene, where stronger colours are used.
While this video gaming picture might be remembered for innovating the transition from practical to digital effects, the computer-generated imageries are still dreadfully looking! Be it the disintegration of characters, when transitioning from one universe to the next, or the drug-induced, psychedelic fall between dimensions, which looks like a Windows screen-saver. The practical effects are hit-and-miss, while the design for Yoshi is impressive, the Goombas look simply too ridiculous, having nothing to do with the game creatures!
Apart from the open credits scene, which contains the memorable soundtrack to the video game, the music sounds generally goofy, once again clashing with the more dystopian visuals.
Verdict: There is a reason why Nintendo hasn’t ventured into filmmaking for three decades - that reason is this flick! Sure, this adaptation’s box-office flop didn’t hurt the gaming giant in the slightest. Nonetheless, after witnessing how badly their property had been mishandled, it seems a decision was made, to shelf any further attempts at transferring their characters onto the silver screen. I can’t blame them, because after rewatching this dumpster fire to write my review, all I wanted to do was take a shower to scrub off the shame. In all honesty, this production by Lightmotive has no connection to the video games, apart from using the same names. The plot idea is dumb, the motivation for characters even dumber, the narrative is riddled with plot holes and conveniences. The acting is bad, as not even the great Dennis Hopper can save it. The cinematography is terrible, the effects are laughable. Even the music sucks. Super Mario Bros. gets my lowest score, a 1.0 out of 10.
I am aware that this B-flick has a cult-following, unfortunately, I can not understand why. What about you? Do you agree with my review? Let me know below & thank you for reading!