In Not Guilty, we look at movies that the general consensus tells us that we should feel bad for liking, but that our hearts tell us we should embrace -- "guilty pleasures" we don't feel guilty about. This time around, we look at the surreal remake of a pop culture property loved by millions ... Super Mario Bros.
There was a time in the early '90s when the Mario Bros. were the videogame equivalent of a boy band. Between countless games, toys, a television show and even food products, the two plumbers from Brooklyn were the biggest things in pop culture. In 1991, Oscar-nominated director Roland Joffe set in motion plans to bring the world's most beloved and iconic videogame characters to the silver screen.
Initially, Joffe and directors Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel intended to introduce a more grown-up version of the duo in the film. They wanted a darker, more sinister take on the brothers from Brooklyn, launching them into a seedy parallel universe that had more in common with Demolition Man than the videogame itself. But weeks before principal photography was set to start and after the set was largely completed, investors and studio execs felt the direction of the film was going too dark, and brought in new writers to take a pass at the script. Thus began a never-ending creative battle between the directors and everyone else, who second- and third-guessed everything from the writing to costume design.
Due to numerous rewrites and an unstable filming environment, the late Bob Hoskins and Dennis Hopper had each gone on record voicing their regrets with the project -- Hoskins going as far as calling it the worst thing he had ever done. However, I think Super Mario Bros. wasn't quite worth the hate. Yes, I'm serious. And I can practically feel the collective eye-rolls from here.
Admittedly, the film is far from a classic. But are there bright spots poking out of the muck?
Bob Hoskins' Mario
Bob Hoskins' Mario is totally believable as the hard-working, blue-collar, traditionalist who takes pride in his job and taking care of his family above all else. Even without ever speaking a word, a mustached Hoskins looks like a real-life Mario. But once he does open his mouth, the normally cockneyed actor sounds just like your average working-class Brooklynite. He perfectly blends the borderline abrasive and perpetually unimpressed New York native persona with the lovable kids' character that you just want to hug. The real-life Mario is a throwback to an old-school immigrant mentality that used to dominate the cultural landscape of early Brooklyn and the outer boroughs -- you know, before the hipsters. Hoskins nails it.
The Set Design & Effects
When creating the first Mario Bros. game, Shigeru Miyamoto said he chose NYC because of its labyrinthine subterranean network of sewage pipes. And that is the perfect description for the parallel universe that set designers created. The gritty alternate dimension had just the right amount of neon scattered throughout, making it look like anarchy overthrew a video arcade. Add to it some visual effects that still look pretty decent 21 years later, and an animatronic Yoshi that has fared better with age than some of his Jurassic Park cousins from the same year, and you have respectable interpretation of the sub-levels from the game.
Roxette, The Divinyls, Us3, Extreme; the artists read like a who's who of the biggest names in music at the time. Pepper in some Megadeath and Queen, and listening to this is like finding an old mix tape from a high school friend. It rocked then, and it still does now.
While the Super Mario Bros. movie was vastly different in overall tone from its source material or TV show adaption, maybe it's important to really consider the origins to put things into perspective. Before being named Mario, allegedly after the grumpy Italian-American landlord of Nintendo's American offices, the character was known simply as Jumpman: the carpenter whose giant pet ape breaks free, kidnaps his girlfriend, and throws barrels at him through multiple levels in a little game called Donkey Kong. Jumpman evolved from ape-owning carpenter to the plumbing older brother of Luigi, and together they traveled through the Mushroom Kingdom to battle the lizard king Koopa and his turtle-like army in order to save Princess Toadstool. So ... yeah, this isn't Doctor Zhivago. Let's face it; DOOM had a more compelling story and plotline. Given that handicap and the aforementioned studio issues, it's a wonder a movie was made at all. But you know what Luigi says: "Anything is possible, Mario. You just gotta believe in it."