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In Defense Of ‘Super Mario Bros.’

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In Defense Of Super Mario Bros, the 1993 film.

Ah, the video game movie genre. Probably the least successful genre in terms overall quality, and generally being quite consistent in being able to constantly deliver failure after failure, but what if I were to tell you that the pioneer video game based film, the now infamous ‘Super Mario Bros.’ is still the best film in its genre. Silent Hill following close behind.

Super Mario Bros. has been widely lambasted for nearly thirty years now, as being called anything and everything in the insult category from abysmal to atrocious, and I’m going to be honest, I’ve never been able to see what makes this film so intolerable.

I won’t be trying to make the case that Super Mario Bros. is some sort of hidden masterpiece, because it’s not. It’s absolutely not perfect by any means, but to me, it’s no where near as bad as a lot of these online ratings would suggest. (23% on Rotten Tomatoes, 4.1/10 on IMDb, and a 1.8/5 on Letterboxd at the time of writing this.) Super Mario Bros. unfortunately was a box office bob-omb, making not even half of the production budget back worldwide. This can easily be blamed by the release of Jurassic Park, which opened mere weeks after Super Mario Bros. and went on to gross over one billion dollars, just compared to Mario and Luigi’s measly twenty-one million dollar gross.

The directing and filmmaking by Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel is the first category I would like to go over, and to start off, I think that both were done very well. The directing is incredibly admirable considering the type of film that was being created. Considering the fact that Super Mario Bros. was the pioneer original in the “video game movie” genre, no pre-existing examples of how to adapt a gaming IP were available for the filmmakers, so in that case, it’s undeniably impressive with what they were able to accomplish. There were a lot of cool and unique ideas for this film, which is something I don’t think people appreciate enough. A common complaint about this movie is that it differs too much from the video game in terms of setting and tone, but if I’m being honest, I actually much prefer the dystopian “Dinohattan” over the happy-go-lucky Wizard Of Oz type of world that the “Mushroom Kingdom” is. The filmmaking surprised me with the rich amount of camera angles/tricks this movie contains. There’s a lot of style with it, and that grows even further with the set design. Like I said, I still prefer the “Dinohattan” setting, and that’s because of how visually impressive it is. The set designer David L. Snyder (Blade Runner) did a great job making the city look both clean and gross at the same time. Both alive with the amount of color, yet also dead with the amount of filth. The costume design I thought was incredible. Everybody likes to complain about how the Goombas look here, but I honestly love them. Mario and Luigi’s jumpsuits are easily preferable to me over the overalls they both wear in the video games. The visual effects are another piece of this movie that impressed me. 1993 was a very early time in the age of CGI, it’s when filmmakers really started to get experimental, and Super Mario Bros. (as well as Jurassic Park) are prime examples. Most of the CG still looks pretty acceptable nearly thirty years later, especially the merging effect that occurs near the end of the film (the first time it’s done, the second time is a bit ridiculous lol). The T-Rex Koopa at the end where Mario and Luigi use the “Devo Guns” also still looks surprisingly decent. As for practical effects, Yoshi is still one of the most impressive animatronics I’ve ever seen in a movie. Incredibly life-like and still exceptionally convincing. The worst part about the overall directing and filmmaking is just the noticeable continuity errors that can be easily spotted with multiple viewings. Yes, I am aware that certain errors in continuity are due to scenes being cut (both the Devo Chamber scene and the Elevator scene had moments cut, which lead to continuity errors), but there are a lot of other visual errors. For example, Mario’s mustache constantly changes so much through out the film that it could unironically be considered its own character. There is also a lot of ADR and dubbing in the movie as well. Countless moments where the characters are speaking and clearly they aren’t talking. It’s not that big of a problem considering the delivery of the ADR was quite good, and it’s not really surprising knowing that this movie had a VERY disastrous production.

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The writing and story are the next elements I would like to go over. As for the writing, I actually really enjoyed a lot of the dialogue. Humor is subjective, but Super Mario Bros. is one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in a long time (sometimes unintentionally), and that’s due to some niche tongue and cheek dialogue exchanges, which this film is full of. There was a good amount of drama in the film as well. The story itself had acceptable drama with the characters and their issues, but it actually has a lot of important political commentary. Super Mario Bros. isn’t your average adventure movie, it has a lot to say about current world issues (yes, major problems from 1993 are still major problems today). Dealing with unemployment, lack of resources, total fascist dictatorship, the importance of environmentalism, silencing and murdering those who speak out, revolution and protesting, and totalitarian anarchy. It’s amazing that such a film could have this much to say, and it’s eye opening that so many people could miss it. The story is simple on a basic narrative level, closely following the primitive “save the princess” tale that just about every single Mario game provides, yet it adds a lot of complexity on a deeper level. As I already said, Super Mario Bros. gives formidable drama, and strong political commentary, making what seems like a basic, very surface level narrative much more valuable.

The performances are mostly pretty decent to me, but there are still some extremely laughable moments. Bob Hoskins easily provides the best performance in the film, playing a more gruff Mario rather than the jumpy ADHD Mario that we’re used to, and John Leguizamo was really good as well, acting as the energetic and always optimistic little brother that Mario clearly needed to keep going. Hoskins and Leguizamo have a great dynamic together on screen, as they’re not only playing a brother/brother duo, but also a father/son duo, while also a mentor/apprentice duo. It’s mentioned by Luigi in the movie that him and Mario lost both of their parents at some point in their lives, so Mario had to become the parent and take care of Luigi, which was an aspect that I thought was really well done. Dennis Hopper probably gives the worst performance in terms of overall quality, but he’s just so entertaining as Koopa, and a lot of his delivery is so ridiculous and over the top that it reaches a point where the poor delivery kind of cancels itself out. Samantha Mathis would be next in line for the worst performance, as she didn’t contain nearly the same amount of entertainment value that Dennis Hopper did, so by default I guess she receives the award. This is more than likely due to the lack of experience, as she was objectively the least experienced actor in the film (Mojo Nixon gets a pass for being a singer). Fiona Shaw is really good in the film, and honestly her character is more menacing than Dennis Hopper’s Koopa. Fisher Stevens and Richard Edson are absolutely hilarious in the movie, and are easily one of the biggest highlights in the film, playing complete buffoons. Every time a scene started to drag they would start to speed it up again, and I wish they were in the film a lot more. Shoutout to Francesca Roberts as Big Bertha, very minor role, but she was great in the scenes she was in, and was a very memorable part of the film (love the dance club scene).

The musical score by Alan Silverstri was another aspect that I thought was great. The tracks “Suite” and “Farewell” being the standouts of the CD. I wish that there was a larger OST though, several tracks play multiple times through out the movie, and sometimes it does start to get repetitive. “Walk The Dinosaur” being the played in the movie was kind of funny, yet very appropriate. “Almost Unreal” by Roxette is also an absolute banger and is easily one of my favorite songs, the fact that it spawned from Super Mario Bros. absolutely helps this movies case. Also, I would like Mojo Nixon to release his anti-Koopa song that he (partly) sings in the film, I need it.

In the end, I do wish Super Mario Bros. would get the credit I believe it deserves. I genuinely do think it did a lot of things right and overall is a very solid film. I think it had a lot of its ambition in the right place. I hope I was able to open a new light on this movie to some people, if not change a few opinions. God bless.

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