['Cinema Pixeldiso' is a bi-weekly column by Matt 'Fort90' Hawkins that spotlights movies that are either directly based upon or are related to video games, with an emphasis on the obscure and the misunderstood. This week looks at two very different approaches toward the same subject matter, Super Mario Brothers.]

Previously Cinema Pixeldiso featured 8 BIT, a documentary that focused on artists who used video games as a source of inspiration, and even tools. One such individual was Cory Arcangel who takes NES cartridges and alters the information printed on them; the one example that most people are familiar with that he's most famous for is Super Mario Clouds in which all the information in a copy of Super Mario Bros was erased with the exception of the clouds, and was also featured in the documentary.

But a similar piece that wasn't highlighted was Super Mario Movie, in which Cory along with several artists hacked a SMB cart to produce a 15-minute movie using just the original assets from the game to tell a story. And what exactly is this tale? Arcangel described it as: "Mario's world [as it's] falling apart. Like Mad Max, but in 8bits."

[Click through for more on molto Marios - including handy screencaps!]



The "movie" features Mario traversing his familiar fantastical haunts, but things are indeed falling apart, with all the graphics and even the sounds messed up. Everything is meant to illustrate a video game world that’s deteriorating due to age (and the result is not that different from booting up an old NES game that needs to be removed from the system and blown in). Events are loosely tied together via broken game speak, reminiscent of the good old days or bad translations.

At a certain point, Mario comes across a blue Goomba (btw, it’s worth noting that Mario is actually sporting his brother’s colors at times) and is taken to... a rave. The true highlight of the movie, the rave scene isn't brilliant due to the concept but in its execution; the action is a bit hard to describe, though I will say it's more Pong than Mushroom Kingdom (with a tinge of Yars' Revenge), and Mario being merged with some other game, one that is relatively primitive, is rather fascinating on a historical and metaphysical level, and makes wonder of Mario's place in "the order of things", though its not known if Arcangel and his crew went for such a statement on purpose. The important thing to know is that the piece does an excellent job of playing with and adding some meaning behind one’s conceptions of “messed up” graphics, with the most effective moment behind the long pause in the action at a certain point, which makes wonder if the game had crashed (perhaps it almost did for real).

But is Cory Arcangel the first person to play with the notion of who and what Mario is, and on such an experimental level? No! That honor goes to Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton, the directors of the live action Super Mario Bros movie from 1993.

Mario Movie #2: SUPER MARIO BROS


Hailing from the UK and backgrounds from the music videos (as well as work on the Max Headroom show), both directors sought to create something out of nothing, or at least from something solid from that which seemed too flimsy to be a premise of a live action movie. That being the "story" of a pair of plumbers that stumble across a magical land called the Mushroom Kingdom in which they must rescue a member of its royalty from the clutches of a large dragon-type bad guy. Ultimately, a literal translation might not have been the best course of action; after-all, millions of kids across the world had no problems with the premise as they played the game. But instead Jankel and Morton decided to stick their necks out and attempt something different, something daring. With the end result is one of the biggest embarrassments, as well as the very first, in the hallowed hall of movies based on a video game.

The live action movie starts off with an explanation of how dinosaurs ruled the earth 65 million years ago, until a meteor arrived and seemingly wiped them all out. But in reality the impact created a parallel dimension in which the surviving dinosaurs evolved in a similar fashion as apes did on our earth. It then immediate cuts to a rainy evening in Brooklyn 20 some odd years ago and a woman dropping off a basket at the front steps of the church. Nuns take it inside and they discover an egg enclosed, which immediately begins to hatch, with a human baby emerging in the end. All that in just the first four minutes (and twenty five seconds) of the movie!

We then skip towards present day and are introduced to the Mario Brothers, a pair of down to earth Brooklynite plumbers that are barely scrapping by, primarily due to the shenanigans of the dirty businessman Anthony Scapelli, who also happens to be giving Daisy, a rather young and cute female archeologist a difficult time. It isn't long before one of the Mario Brothers, Luigi, encounters Daisy and is instantly smitten, so they go out on a double date with Luigi's brother Mario and his lady friend Daniella. The evening goes well, so Daisy takes Luigi to the site where she's excavating for a new breed of dinosaur bones when Scapelli's men appear and attempt to ruin the site. Mario is called in, and both and Luigi are able to fix the damaged pipes, but in comes Iggy and Spike, two bumbling hooligans who are obviously out of towners that kidnap Daisy (who also just previously kidnapped Daniella as well). The Mario Brother naturally gives chase, which takes them to a foreign city in the aforementioned alternate dimension populated by people that are evolved from dinosaurs.

It's not long before we discover that the entire place is run by Koopa, who's also the guy that's behind Daisy's kidnapping, since she's apparently a princess; Daisy, who grew up an orphan with no knowledge of her family, is actually the daughter of the former rulers of this land, and she also holds a key or sorts, that being a shard of crystal from the meteorite that caused the splitting of the dimension all those millions of years ago. Besides being the only object Daisy has from her unknown past, if reunited with the meteor, the shard would merge the two dimensions, which Koopa aims to do, along with taking over the mammals' world. And thus the rest of the movie follows the Mario Brother as they try and get Dasiy back as well as deal with the brave new world of dinosaur folk. For the most part they all look like regular, everyday people from our Earth, unless they are "de-evolved" into an earlier, more primitive (as well as more dim-witted) state of being by Koopa, which he uses as a means of crowd control. It's actually how he amasses his army; each soldier is known as a Goomba (so they are not evil mushrooms like in the video game, just big dumb dinos in the movie).

Everything is rather weird, confusing, and sloppy. Yet it's all so oddly compelling and never boring. The re-envisioned Mushroom Kingdom feels just like Mad Max (much like Cory Archangel's stab at fleshing out the Mario-verse), with a bit of Blade Runner and Big Trouble in Little China thrown in. Aside from the rather boring and out of place car chases and disco dance scenes, there's numerous references to the games, along with many creative liberties, some of which are rather cute, even amazing, at least looking back, and some just plain make zero sense.

The strongest part of the entire effort is the cast. Bob Hoskins plays Mario Mario and John Leguizamo plays Luigi Mario (yes, this was the first official attempt to confront the fact that Mario is both a first and last name for the famous brothers, and no, there's no real explanation given), and both do a fairly good job with the material they are given. Hoskins basically reprises his Eddie Valiant character from Who Framed Roger Rabbit as someone who's gruff but lovable, and Leguizamo is more than adequate as a the happy go lucky kid that has a lot of faith and just wants his girlfriend back. But the real star is Dennis Hopper as Koopa, who is also basically doing the same character from a previous movie, which in Hopper's case is Blue Velvet, but more PG-13 than R, along with a dose of bad dinosaur jokes.

Another new to aspect to a familar character is how Koopa is a clean freak and germ-phobic; the entire city is run by mold and fungus (it is the Mushroom Kingdom after-all), which is actually the King of the Mushroom Kingdom, but highly devolved. Later on, he becomes a man again, and is portrayed by... Lance Hendriksen! Mojo Nixon plays the part of Toad, whom Mario players might recall as the tiny little mushroom guy. Here he's a folk guitarist that gets transmogrified into a simpleminded Goomba. And Samantha Mathis is also fairly serviceable as Princess Daisy... again, given the wonkiness of the script, one can't expect too much, though the scene in which she is reunited with her dad in fungus form is rather heartwarming.

But some might be wondering, what's with Princess Daisy? Why not Princess Toadstool/Peach? It is funny how the filmmakers, or scriptwriters, or Nintendo, or whomever decided to go with Daisy (which educated Mario fans know as "the other princess" from Super Mario Land, who's from Sarasaland, not the Mushroom Kingdom) and have her be the love interest for Luigi, especially since only recently has Nintendo made them an item of sorts. There's also a scene in which Mario has to slide down an icy tube, which is also somewhat reminiscent of Mario 64, but again, that could just be another coincidence. But anyway, why also is Mario's girlfriend Daniella, and not, say, Pauline, which was his original girl from Donkey Kong?

And yet there's enough sly in-jokes and references to prove that the filmmakers were familiar with the source material, such as how when Mario and Luigi first try to operate a hijacked car, the screen is exactly what Mac users are used to when booting up a machine that cannot find its system folder, but in this case its a block with a question mark in it. Or how all the bad guys basically shoot fireballs. Or their de-evolution cannons are simply re-painted Super Scopes. Or how the stompers, which are the super powered boots that allow the Mario Brothers to jump great heights and distances use cartridges that look like Bullet Bills. So maybe the filmmakers were indeed just throwing things into a large pot all-random like after-all... though Bob-Ombs do appear in the movie much like they do in the games.

Yet again, there's Yoshi. One primary reason why Super Mario Bros was such a failure is that it was supposed to be a kid's movie, but it really wasn't. Take Yoshi for example: in the video games he's a totally lovable and very cartoony looking dino that you just want to hug. But in the movie he's very realistic looking, and at times scary. The first time you see Daisy together with Yoshi on-screen, you will swear that he was going to bite her hand off at any moment.

Plus there's other little things, such as how when Mario tries to free all the other women who were kidnapped from Mario's dimension, including his girlfriend, one of the girls is seen with a cigarette in her mouth in practically every since shot. Not to mention the whole thing just gets weirder and weirder by the end. Another prime example is near then end when Mario and Koopa are temporarily sent to Brooklyn and Koopa de-evolves Scapelli, which leads to the movie's best line: Hopper saying with happiness: "Monkey!" This is immediately after Koopa's girlfriend, who earlier was almost eaten by Yoshi and retaliated by stabbing him in the neck, is violently electrocuted and killed (and not too long before that, the Mojo Nixon Goomba is set ablaze by his dimwitted brethren). Plus Koopa's HQ, which is supposed to look like the World Trade Center buildings but destroyed, which in this post 9/11 world is rather eerie.

Final Score...

So is the live action Super Mario Bros movie good? The answer is not really, but much like another Cinema Pixeldiso featured film, Resurrection of the Little Match Girl, it's a bad movie that also happens to be pretty interesting, with bits of genius shining through. And just as valid an artistic statement as the hacked Super Mario Movie in a certain sense, just not as understood. Maybe. In the end, the world is just find with two attempts at creating a film from the Marioverse. Though the world also might be in the need for at least one featuring the fantastic world of Dig Dug...

[Matt Hawkins is a New York-based freelance journalist and Gamasutra contributor. He also designs games, makes comics, and does assorted “other things.” To find out more, check out Fort90.com.]