Today I watched Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel’s Super Mario Bros. (1993)
The Mario franchise of video games is legendary, perhaps the single most well known and pervasive one there is. Unfortunately adaptations of games to film is a risky undertaking that has yielded very little success. One of the main reasons for this, and one of the main reasons this film was doomed from inception, is that the appeal of many video games and the Mario series in particular is the joy of execution. Games like Mario set up a simple series of obstacles and give the player a very easy to understand set of abilities, in this case running and jumping, for you to complete the objective as simple as get from the left to the right. So how do you adapt the joy of jumping and puzzle solving into a film that the audience can only observe? Simple answer is you don’t.
Instead this film is a bizarre fantasy romp through a parallel dimension where human evolved from the survivors of the dinosaurs. A pair of plumbers, Mario and Luigi, are sucked into this strange dystopian world where King Koopa is preparing to somehow invade the Earth. The similarities this narrative has with the source material is obviously very low but what else is one supposed to do with so little to work with? Though when I thinks of the whimsy and delight offered by Mario games, dystopia is fairly far from my mind.
I don’t really think this film’s approach is the worst idea ever, the gonzo imagery and bizarro plot could theoretically work, but being based on a child friendly property does no favours for this approach. The film is torn between this desire to be an over the top dark comedy in the vein of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil with more American banality and absurdism mixed into the parody. But the film is neutered, it has to pull up short of the grossest ideas and the most over the top violence.
There is a world in which this film was handled by someone like a young James Gunn and it became a gorn filled parody of American entertainment. But we live in a world where this film has no real identity beyond it’s own oddity. It is quite obvious that no one had a handle on this project and it is pulled in all directions, like William Wallace at the end of Braveheart. Ultimately unfulfilled, there is an idea here that could have been great, but the potential is held behind an impenetrable wall of strangely bland execution and gutless pedantry. 1/5