With Bob Hoskins’s recent death, a lot of bad movie fans have been going back to check out the big budget disaster that was Super Mario Bros. I recently discovered that the work that Bob Hoskins referred to as the worst film he ever made was actually on the IMDb Bottom 100 some years ago (although it has sense dropped out of the list). So, I decided to revisit this flop from my early childhood as well.
Super Mario Bros, like many adaptations gone awry, made the crucial mistake of angering the source material’s existing fan base. The script and direction should add their own voice to the work, but it is a delicate balance to hold (and it often goes badly). First and foremost, the negative popular reception of this film can be traced directly to this disgruntling of the fan base. There were a lot of liberties taken with the stories and the characters in the film that did not resonate well with the existing, massive base of passionate Nintendo fans. However, I don’t think that all of the creative decisions were necessarily bad, but they were certainly risky (and didn’t pay off).
Perhaps the most evident change from the source material are the peculiar decisions on the scenery and set design. Super Mario Bros. the game is well known for bright colors and castles, whereas the movie decided to go with a grungy, dystopian sci-fi appearance. I’m tempted to say that the film adaptation of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles may have influenced that decision (and many others), though I thought that the grungy scenery worked much better with that material. Likewise, the realistic practical effects seemed wholly unnecessary given the highly cartoonish source material. That said, I was generally impressed with them, despite them not really fitting the story well. Given the time, the effects on the Goombas and Yoshi are moderately impressive. However, that isn’t what people wanted to see. The fans wanted to see the loveable, puffy-cheeked Yoshi that they loved. Instead, they got a realistic, miniature carnivore. It was a risky decision, and as stated previously, was one that did not pan out well.
Another oft-complained about aspect of the film were the unnecessary changes to the existing characters. Most notably, fans were enraged at the absence of Princess Peach, the altered relationship between Mario and Luigi (not Bros?), and the name change to Dennis Hopper’s character (King Koopa vs Bowser). I personally think of these as pretty minor gripes in the larger picture, but they are indicative of the mentality of the film-makers. They (direction, writing) didn’t particularly care about the source material, and were not afraid to change details that fans cherished to tell their story. However, when dealing with such a high-profile adaptation with an existing, hyper-passionate fan base; these sorts of minor details need to be treated with a higher gravity than with your typical adaptation. The recent Marvel movies, for instance, have managed to keep the fans on their side with consistent nods and acknowledgements, despite having to change these sorts of details from the source comics. Still, it is unsteady ground to tread, and fan bases can turn on a dime.
The acting and dialogue in Super Mario Bros. is, in all honesty, fucking abysmal. However, I can’t help but feel like I should be lenient about them. The whole movie feels like it was primarily catered to children (which makes the dark set design and sex jokes a bit more odd), so that gives the dialogue and acting a naturally lower bar in that lens. However, it was not marketed that way: this was meant to be a blockbuster for the whole family, not just a spectacle for children. Looking at the movie from that perspective (the one that people would have had at the theaters), it is pretty much unforgivable for the dialogue to be this bad. I’m surprised the script got greenlit at all. There are three writers listed on IMDb, so it is plenty possible that the script went through some significant reworking. Still, the final product is just horrid. The actors, if you can believe Leguizamo, were so incredibly miserable on set that I am shocked they put in the hammy effort that they did for this wreck. Admittedly, I actually liked seeing Hopper’s cheesy rendition of Bowser. If he was unhappy in the role (I’m sure he was), he certainly didn’t show it.
Despite all of the issues with this film and its low quality, I am not surprised that it is no longer listed in the IMDb Bottom 100. Compared to everything else I have watched in this challenge, Super Mario Bros was a breeze, and damn near enjoyable. If I had been watching with a group of friends, it would have been a good time. I couldn’t say that for most of the schlock I have had to watch for this. This is sort of on the line between a “good” bad movie and a “bad” bad movie, but I would generally recommend checking it out if you dig riffing on crappy movies, and especially if you haven’t seen it in a number of years. It is pretty astounding.