As a child of the 80’s, Nintendo played a large part in my childhood. Their mascot Mario and, to a lesser extent, his brother Luigi were responsible for the success of the Nintendo Entertainment System when the Japanese company brought their video game console to the United States. The games starring the brothers were full of surreal cartoon-like imagery and themes. Such as killer turtles in a mushroom filled kingdom that had a princess that needed rescuing from the evil King Koopa. Not to mention that the two brothers were only simple Italian plumbers. As children, I don’t think any of us really questioned this world. We just wanted to play the games, and save the princess who was always in another castle.
So, when it was announced in Nintendo Power, Nintendo’s own propaganda magazine, that there was going to be a movie based on one of my favorite games, I flipped out. There had been video games that were based on movies. There had been video games featured in movies, but this would be the first time that a video game franchise would be adapted into a live-action major motion picture. I didn’t question how they were going to translate the wacky world of the Super Mario Bros into a movie. All that I knew at the time was that it was going to be the greatest movie ever. I was wrong. So very wrong.
The film was a trainwreck. It was a commercial and critical failure. I can enjoy it now as an “it’s so bad, it’s good” type of thing. The colorful animated fantasy world of the video games was traded in for a dark, depressing dystopian sci-fi world. The toadstool people, killer turtles, and the other crazy creatures were now just human weirdos with terrible fashion sense. King Koopa’s plot to kidnap the Mushroom Kingdom’s Princess Peach wasn’t enough for the motion picture either.
In the movie, Koopa’s master plan revolved around a missing meteorite fragment that would be used to merge our world with an alternative dimension. In this reality, the meteor that was thought to have made the dinosaurs extinct actually sent them to a parallel dimension with the dinosaurs following a similar evolutionary tree as humans did. To begin the process of bringing the two worlds together, the meteorite needed to be whole, and there was only one piece missing from it. The piece was left in our world with a baby girl. That infant grew up to be a young woman who inadvertently teleported Mario and Luigi to the dino dimension. The brothers must then save the girl and escape the bizarro world.
I recently discovered that there was a novelization published for this movie. It’s one hundred and twenty-six pages of nonsense, so it did a good job sticking close to the film. Nothing was added or expanded upon. It might as well have been a paperback version of the movie’s script that was published. I can’t recommend the novel over the film. One of the elements of the flick that I’ve grown to like is the outrageous costumes and sets. They are so flashy and campy. The descriptions in the novelization fail to capture them and do them justice. The same goes for the acting of Dennis Hopper as King Koopa. His over the top performance alone is worth checking out the movie over the book.
Reading and watching Super Mario Bros as an adult, they both just don’t work, but I don’t think they were ever really meant for a mature audience. If I had read this book as a kid when it came out, I probably would have been satisfied with it. I liked the movie when I saw it in the theater. Major liberties were always taken with anything that was adapted to the screen, particularly in that time, and Nintendo wasn’t as protective of their brands as they are today. It was just easier to roll with the punches and just to focus on the things that I liked and not how they should have been.
Being older and jaded, it is easy to be super critical of this movie and book. Bold decisions were made in an attempt to do something that had never been done before, adapt a popular video game franchise into a major motion picture. There have been countless attempts since Super Mario Bros was released to translate other video games into movies, but none have set the world on fire. I think that it was a near impossible task to turn Super Mario Bros into a live-action film. Today, Nintendo would not allow such a far-out adaptation of their most beloved property. It might be better to just leave both versions on their respective shelves and to just pick up a Nintendo controller instead.
Novel by Todd Strasser
Based on the Screenplay Written by Parker Bennet & Terry Runtè and Ed Solomon
Publication Date: June 1993