Super Mario Bros. (1993)
Twenty-five years ago, Super Mario Bros. was released upon an unsuspecting public and subsequently met with universal critical derision and box office failure. With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight is seems incredible that this project ever got given a green light. Yet at the time, not only was it granted a generous $48 million budget, but it boasted a cast and production team of the highest pedigree. Produced by Oscar nominated director Roland Joffé, the cinematography was by Dean Semmler and the editing was by Mark Goldblatt. The central characters of Mario and Luigi where played by Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo and the icing on the cake was Dennis Hopper as King Koopa. You simply couldn't make it up.
Apparently, the script was hawked around most of Hollywood as the production tried to secure a suitable A list director and some bankable box office names. Harold Ramis was initially linked to the project but opted to make Groundhog Day instead. A move I'm sure he has never regretted. Both Michael Keaton and Arnold Schwarzenegger passed on the chance to play King Koopa. The role of Mario was at first offered to Danny DeVito, but he would not commit to the movie until he had seen a complete script. Tom Hanks was then hired and let go, in favour of Bob Hoskins. Mr. Hoskins was subsequently traumatised by his experiences shooting this movie.
“The worst thing I ever did? Super Mario Bros. It was a fuckin’ nightmare. The whole experience was a nightmare. It had a husband-and-wife team directing, whose arrogance had been mistaken for talent. After so many weeks their own agent told them to get off the set! Fuckin’ nightmare. Fuckin’ idiots”.
Then there is of course the script. After numerous incarnations ranging from traditional fantasy, to a post-apocalyptic futuristic setting, it was decided to opt for a dystopic cyberpunk alternative reality where evolved dinosaurs ruled the world. Ed Solomon of Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure fame was brought in to make further, “kiddy friendly” revisions to the plot. This caused major discrepancies with elements of the production that directors Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton (of Max Headroom fame) had already created, such as costumes, prosthetics and character art.
As the primary shooting ended the original finale involving Mario climbing the Brooklyn Bridge and dropping a bomb on King Koopa and kicking him into the river, was replaced with alternative material where he was shot by a high-tech weapon that melted him. Directors Morton and Jankel were subsequently excluded from the editing process, in which a great deal of new material shot by the second unit was integrated into the film. As you would expect with such a production, the final cut was far from everyone’s expectations. The critics and fans were harsh and unforgiving. The nicest quote I could find was "doesn't have the jaunty hop-and-zap spirit of the Nintendo video game from which it takes – ahem – its inspiration."
Like so many epic failures, Super Mario Bros. seems to have acquired, some sort of cult following over the years. I think that is never does any harm to revisit any movie after a period of time and to attempt to re-evaluate it, although such a process does not guarantee a change of opinion. In the case of Super Mario Bros. the passage of time has not altered the fact that the movie is a mess.
Yet there is a degree of freak show fascination that makes the film compelling. It has an air of car crash cinema to a degree and is most certainly is a text book example of stripping a franchise of all its charm and selling points, while trying to bring it to the big screen. Perhaps one of the interesting aspects about the film, is that the mistakes that were made during its production are still regularly made today. No doubt they will happen again in the future. In the meantime, if you have a strong sense of curiosity and a high tolerance of bad cinema, then watch Super Mario Bros.as some sort of cinematic “Kobayashi Maru test”.