John Carter / Super Mario Bros: A Comparative Study



Author: Jérémy Beaujoin (Hushed Conversation - French)

Translated by: Simon Langloi


January 14, 2013



First of all, Happy New Year 2013 on all levels to our readers, those casual wandering visitors from the web. Let’s start with the tradition of a good new years’ resolution: I’ll be resuming this blog in a more regular function (about once a week).

I realized that I hadn’t been taking note of all the movies I’d seen this year, or of the games I’d played, yet this blog is the ideal tool to keep a kind of diary that could always prove useful. For instance in December of 2013 when I’ll have to make a Top Movies list, although my lists don’t really take into account the date of release of the film.

Thus, I put Casablanca by Curtiz in my top 5, yet it didn’t come out yesterday (although the Blu-ray release attempts to make us believe otherwise with its quality video projection). But it remains among the very good discoveries of 2012, along with The Grey.

Bottom line, what’s new this January?


Well, a viewing of JOHN CARTER, followed a few days later by SUPER MARIO BROS.

Two stories of parallel worlds both with a pretty princess to save, and an animal friend who is more or less cute. Two movies where the heroes are ripped from their realistic everyday lives for them to confront a new world. Kingdoms with a peculiar code, its soldiers and, well… that’s pretty much it.


JOHN CARTER, rather well received by the press and those that watched it, saw very moderate success at the Box Office, depriving Disney of what was meant to be its more serious rival to AVATAR (from the investors’ point of view).

John Carter is simply an excellent old fashioned adventure movie, a mix of fantasy and sci-fi without the bland and/or overtly cynical aspect of an AVENGERS movie. Andrew Stanton (Wall-E) believes in his movie, in his universe. It evokes the magic of yesteryear’s comics, it’s fantastical like an old Jules Verne story. The movie is at the bleeding edge of modern film technology (utilizing motion-capture acting; one can shamelessly prefer John Carter’s Tharks over Avatar’s Nav’i). It could have used an extra half hour of running time (only gripe: maybe a bit short given the film’s ambition), and the lack of enthusiasm generated by the movie’s release only reinforces one’s bitterness. But apparently Disney shot itself in the foot with the movie’s marketing.

I strongly suggest Julien Dupuis’s excellent article [French] which proposes his vision of the ideal Blu-ray release of John Carter. Please note that Capture Mag is among my favorite websites. It’s as fun as it is educational to read.



The French and US Posters - Aesthetically, I prefer the US poster, but the final movie is more in line with the French one.

Alright, I won’t lie: it’s not as good as John Carter. Much worse, in fact.

Yet, although it’s often cited in articles that denounce bad video game adaptations, one statement must be made: the movie is far from deserving of its sad reputation. First of all, its most staunch of detractors don’t even know the film.

Though its DVD remains unpublished in our land, yours truly discovered it on VHS during a VCR loan.

Even uglier than the French poster: the VHS cover.

It must be said that the announcement of an adaptation of the famous platformer was a great surprise. In 1993, there was no such thing as MoCap. Much more than Tintin, Super Mario is a difficult, even impossible universe to translate as is into flesh and blood acting. In the end, a decision was made to take key elements, numerous characters/symbols from the game’s universe but facing a world that has strictly nothing to do with the games.

In and of itself, beginning the movie in a realistic New York with the everyday lives of the two plumber brothers (the Marios), isn’t such a bad idea. One can close their eyes to the age difference between the Mario brothers, and the male pattern baldness of the eponymous hero.

What I surprisingly liked a lot was the metropolis of Dinohattan, a parallel city which dates to 65 million years ago, when a meteorite sent its current inhabitants to this parallel dimension. We could not be further from the game: the sets more closely resemble Blade Runner, Gotham City than Miyamoto’s universe.

It is plain to see that this city is a caricature of New York. Imagine a city without road signs, where the cars ceaselessly bump into each other, a vile public dump, grannies armed with blunderbusses… and controlling all of it, a repressive state police with expeditious justice. Huge (and stupid) dino-soldiers follow orders from a tyrant who abhors any physical contact (Dennis “Bomberman” Hopper).

The most frightening (and disgusting) part is this kind of fungus that taints the whole city, and which holds the true king prisoner in a sort of slimy pod that Cronenberg himself would not have hated.

Seeing Princess Daisy embrace this sort of viscous protuberance and say “father” is one of the attractions of the film that accumulates a good number of ideas. In reality this movie could have had the same nonsensical potential of Big Trouble in Little China, but it’s not Carpenter who’s behind the camera and the characters struggle to hold our sympathy.

Full of clumsy editing (for example the Mario brothers who get knocked out cold and, in the next scene, emerge completely unscathed while running out into the tunnel) and mediocre gags, in short, writing and production problems; the movie oozes development hell. Shame, the movie was chock full of interesting ideas, notably that deliquescent atmosphere that every moment seemed to hold, owing to its rather successful artistic direction, the idea of a neurotic society (with its social rejects, like the street musician who criticizes the government, named… Toad!).

Concerning the casting, stunningly sober (in which case, why even hire Dennis Hopper…!), it seems disconnected from the reality of the movie. Between Bob Hoskins who looks to bring a minimum of credibility to the role and watches not to ham up the serviceable Italian, and John Leguizamo, just as sober, who tries as best he can to bring some youthism (and flexibility) to the cast, but is a less than credible italian.

A vain but valiant effort. What’s more, while rummaging through my archives, I discovered the film was well received by the magazine Mad Movies. Thus in the 83rd issue, Marc Toullec ended his article with “Directed with significant resources, led by a lively and bounding tempo, punctuated by effective but not rumbustious special effects[...] Super Mario Bros., a successful attempt, leads the way to a new passage from the console to the big screen.”

The article, followed by an interview with the two writers, does not play coy in regards to the movie’s development issues. Notably Dennis Hopper, who purportedly had provoked agitated discussions on set. Thus, the producers affirm that “as the temperature sometimes rose to a high degree on set, so too would our conversations get heated.”

In reality, 20 years after the fact, I found a recent quote from Bob Hoskins on the net: “The Worst Thing I Ever Did? Super Mario Brothers. 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.”

It’s worth noting that other sources say that the director put the filming back on track. That is to say, Roland Joffé (The Killing Fields, The Mission…).

In short, an enormous mess, far from being unpleasant, but which messes up two key aspects: the characters, and the gags.

Stay tuned for a commentary on FAR CRY 3!


Hush [Unknown]. “John Carter / Super Mario Bros . Une étude comparative.” Hushed Conversation, 14 Jan. 2013, Accessed 10 Jan. 2018.


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