The Super Mario Bros. movie is an interesting look back in time
The Super Mario Bros. movie is an interesting treat for those who love Mario and have an open mind.
A lot of people dump on it because it doesn't quite resemble the Mario they know, but when it comes to Hollywood, that is nothing new. We've seen what Adam West did to Batman before Frank Miller took him back to his darker roots, and similarly, the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon which became a smash hit and cultural phenomenon bore little resemblance to the grim 'n gritty comic book parody originally envisioned by creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. Ironically, the popularity brought on by that cartoon would lead the TMNT to their own series of major motion pictures, none of which resembled the cartoon very much.
And then we have the criticisms that this world of Mario does not resemble what we know today. Of course, this portrayal was created before Charles Martinet gave him an Italian accent and punctuated so many of his actions with yells of "woo-hoo!" and "yippee!", so there would have been no way for the movies to get that unless they were to have created it, and for the games to take it from that. Obviously, that isn't how things played out.
This version of Super Mario Bros. follows on from a more oldschool interpretation of the characters, where they come from Brooklyn instead of the Mushroom Kingdom, and speak accordingly. Mario is a bit more gruff-sounding, but that's nothing new-- at least, not to fans of the day, as those who watched the cartoons can attest. And while the cartoons based on Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World were a bit more true to the games, the movie is more like the original Super Show, in that they played things rather fast and loose with what little the games had managed to establish by this time.
To that end, though records show that the directors had no idea what they were doing, the end result manages to be an enjoyable enough work on its own. Mario and Luigi have an enjoyable brotherly rapport, and while Dennis Hopper could have used a big tube of red hair dye, horns, and bushy eyebrows to better approximate a Koopa recognizable to fans, his cartoonish supervillainy seems to strike an appropriate balance to the darkened atmosphere provided by the post-apocalyptic world presented in the parallel dimension of Dinohattan.
In fact, the movie feels almost like a big-budget Mario film version of what SEGA and DiC produced in the Saturday morning version of Sonic the Hedgehog, which came out around the same time. Both have their environmental themes, and where Sonic plays with turning organic creatures into robots (not cyborgs, but full metal-and-circuitry robots), Mario instead features dinosaurs and evolution-- or more precisely, de-evolution, Koopa's weapon of choice against those who would stand in the way of his goal of unifying his resource-depleted world with ours.
Of course, one obviously became a hit with its fandom, while the other did not. If you can't tell which is which, just know that Sonic has kept the characters of that cartoon alive to this day through Archie's comic book.
And though the movie is a bit darker than the Mario world fans know and love today, it's not SO dark as to be off-putting. The movie drew influence from the 1984 film Ghostbusters, and you can see how some of that came through in the humor provided to temper the grim setting.
Another complaint about the movie is how it seems to resemble very little in the games, but the truth of the matter is that while it does not bear as strong a resemblance as earlier drafts of the script had intended, those working behind the scenes did their best to subvert the wishes of the directors and include a number of nods to the games. And while some are plainly obvious, such as the neon signs reading "Bullet Bill's," there are also a lot of other really subtle touches which seem designed to reach out to fans of the games, and can require multiple viewings just to catch them all. There may be some question as to which ones were deliberate, and which ones are coincidence, but that's all part of the fun of watching, to see how many you can find.
(Hint: Pay close attention to Mario's battle with Koopa near the end of the movie, and see if some of those scenes don't ring familiar with what you know of their fights in the early games.)
The Super Mario Bros. movie is an interesting piece of the franchise's history, and while it diverges from its origins in some ways, it still manages to embrace them in others. In fact, Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto has even gone on the record as stating that he felt they may have even tried a little too much to be like the games.
Again, it's nothing new: just look at the current Transformers movies, or even compare the original toyline to the original cartoon-- changes were made, as they always are. The fact that Goombas were seven-foot tall dinosaur soldiers instead of seven-foot walking mushrooms with eyes would not have likely made a huge difference.
Beyond the film itself, the problems with this product are in how it's presented. The widescreen only works when you're viewing it in fullscreen mode, which means playing it in 16:9 stretches the image. In addition, it's incredibly bare-bones, whereas the European releases of the film have included trailers and behind-the-scenes material, which help shed a little light on the direction intended for this version of Nintendo's mascot.
It's not the greatest movie ever made, but it is enjoyable for Mario fans in the right state of mind and who can appreciate such trivia from the franchise's earlier days. That is, unless you're the sort who embraces the likes of Batman Begins or The Dark Knight, but spits at the Adam West movie in resentment. To put it another way: if you're the sort who can only accept one vision of a character, you'll want to avoid this, but if you're open to all sorts of interpretations, then you'll definitely find something of interest here.