Super Mario Bros. (Yes, the movie)
The recent video game film, Wreck-It Ralph (2012), has been called by some “the best video game movie ever made.” On the surface, that sounds like quite the endorsement, but if you dig deeper, such a title doesn’t carry much weight when you look at the rest of the sample in question.
In short, it is almost like calling Rambo III (1988) “the best Rambo-goes-to-Afghanistan movie ever.”
OK, that’s an exaggeration, but not far from the mark.
The original Tron (1982) is perhaps the only other video game film worthy of battling Wreck-It Ralph for the title of “best video game ever,” because let’s be honest — most video game movies ain’t that good.
One would think, with plenty of captivating stories played out on home consoles every day, making a great video game movie would be easy. For some reason it is not.
Why? I don’t know, maybe, unlike Wreck-It Ralph, most video game films don’t embrace their video-gameness. Wreck-It Ralph doesn’t try to be something it is not, which is the Achilles’ heel of most video game films. Resident Evil (2002)? How do you screw up a special forces team fighting zombies in a spooky mansion?
Street Fighter (1994)? That is worthy of its own article. Man, I waited in line on opening night to see that turkey.
And then there is the gold standard of failed video game films: Super Mario Bros. (1993).
I confess to a) seeing Super Mario Bros. in the theater on opening weekend and b) owning the DVD.
Yes, years later, as an adult, I made the conscious decision to own the film.
Is Super Mario Bros. “good”? That depends on what one considers good. Story-wise, no, not really. It’s just strange. Entertainment-wise, yes, because it is so ridiculous. Get some beers, call over your friends, and put on Super Mario Bros. — there is no way you don’t enjoy yourselves.
Plus, Mojo Nixon has a cameo.
Why is Super Mario Bros. so strange? Because it didn’t embrace its video-gameness. The film tries to explain the hows and whys of the Super Mario Bros. universe, which is its biggest mistake — but it is also the reason why it is so hilarious.
Let’s look at the film in a vacuum. If the screenwriters were told “try to explain how this universe with King Koopa and mushroom people could really happen,” they made quite the effort. An asteroid knocking dinosaurs into a parallel dimension, where they evolved into humanoids? OK.
That’s great for an episode of Star Trek or Sliders, but it doesn’t really belong in a movie about Super Mario Bros.
We don’t need realistic explanations for plumbers growing into giants or shooting fireballs at angry turtles as they try to save a princess. People accept The Wizard of Oz or Alice in Wonderland for what it is: fantasy.
And this is how Wreck-It Ralph earned its many praises: it ups the fantasy and doesn’t try to be something it is not. There isn’t any screen time devoted to why the video game characters are “alive.”
They just are, and that is good enough for me.
But, on some level, I am glad Super Mario Bros. tried to be as serious as it is — otherwise, I may not have one of my favorite bad movies to watch with friends.