02nd Nov2014

‘Super Mario Bros.’ Blu-ray Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Bob Hoskins, John Leguizamo, Samantha Mathis, Dennis Hopper, Fisher Stevens, Richard Edson, Fiona Shaw, Dana Kaminski, Mojo Nixon, Gianni Russo, Francesca P. Roberts, Lance Henriksen  | Written by Parker Bennett, Terry Runte, Ed Solomon | Directed by Rocky Morton, Annabel Jankel

SMB-Movie-cover

Let’s be honest, Super Mario Bros: The Movie is not a great movie. It’s not even a great video game adaptation. As a movie-loving teen the film was high on my must-see radar, so imagine my disappointment when I eventually saw the film on VHS… However since then I’ve come to appreciate the film for the bizarre SF-tinged adventure movie that it is, rather than an adaptation of my all-time favourite video game franchise.

A critical and commercial failure on it’s original 1993 release, Super Mario Bros: The Movie has, in the intervening years, become something of a cult classic. So much so that the out-of-print DVD of the movie actually – at least for a brief time – commanded high prices on eBay and Amazon! Which is why this new release, from the folks at Second Sight (who have been making waves with their excellent Blu-ray releases of many a cult movie) is actually, now, eagerly awaited! So was it worth the wait? Well if you’re a fan of the movie, it’s a resounding YES.

Very (and I do mean very) loosely based on the classic Nintendo video game, Super Mario Bros: The Movie follows Mario (Hoskins) and Luigi (Leguizamo), two plumbers from New York who are called in to help out with a flood at a dinosaur excavation site by the beautiful Daisy (Mathis). When Daisy is kidnapped by a couple of thugs, they become embroiled in a struggle with a parallel reptilian universe, ruled by Koopa (Hopper), who wants to merge his universe with Earth.

Looking back at the film now, some twenty years later, the movie is actually rather impressive. Helmed by Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel, who also directed the original Max Headroom pilot and the US television series that followed, Super Mario Bros: The Movie is actually something of a companion piece to Morton and Jankel’s futuristic TV tale. Both are set in dystopian “future” worlds and both are heavily influenced by the future-noir(ish) look and feel of Blade Runner – in fact this films Mushroom Kingdom shares a lot in common with Blade Runner: none moreso than in it’s use of the same neon-laced, rain-filled streets…  What also impresses are the special effects – the goomba soldiers, even two decades later are still examples of great practical FX work, as is the little dinosaur version of Yoshi, whose creature FX sit somewhere between Carnosaur and Jurassic Park.

Whilst Mario may be the star of the games, it’s Luigi who takes the lead here, thanks to a tremendous performance from John Leguizamo who, at the time, was known for more serious fare, and who somehow – even without the moustache – captures the essence of the more madcap, younger, Mario brother. Of course it helps that he has such a consummate performer as Bob Hoskins as his acting foil – his Mario may be a little too serious, a little too straight-laced, but Hoskns brings the same playful nature to Mario as he did to his role of Eddie Valiant in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Both are ably supported by a Dennis Hopper, channeling his twisted performance in Blue Velvet with a little more family-friendly edge as Koopa (aka King Koopa; aka Bowser, King of the Koopas); and Samantha Mathis (one of my favourite actresses at the time) as [Princess] Daisy – although Mathis’ Daisy is no damsel-in-distress, she gives as good as she gets in what is, at the core, a superb female “action hero” role. The final scene, in which she comes bursting into the Mario Bros. Brooklyn apartment is still one of the great all-time epilogues, ranking up there with Doc Brown’s “It’s your kids, Marty. Something gotta be done about your kids.”

The new Blu-ray from Second Sight looks stunning. It’s easily the best Super Mario Bros: The Movie has ever looked – on any format – with rich colours and a really crisp PQ which shows off all the intricate details of Morton and Jankel’s futuristic dino-world vision. My only qualm is with the almost ever-present film grain which, at times, over-powers the image (especially early-on during the Brooklyn-set scenes), although as I always say, I’d rather live with excessive film grain rather than the over-DNR’d imagery that threatened to be a signature of Blu-ray releases in the early days! Just as a full disclaimer, our review disc did have a couple of sound drop-outs and a slight stutter during the pre-Mushroom kingdom portion of the film, but that could be a side-effect of our aging Blu-ray player.

Special features on this new Blu-ray include ‘This Ain’t No Video Game’ a brand new 60 minute documentary featuring new interviews with: Co-directors Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel, producer Roland Joffe, actors John Leguizamo and Richard Edson, writer Parker Bennett, production designer David Snyder, art director Walter Martishius, FX artists Paul Elliot, Vincent Guastini and Rob Burman, visual FX designer Chris Woods, editor Mark Goldblatt and creature designer Patrick Tatopoulos; and archive interviews with Bob Hoskins and producer Jake Eberts; a ‘Making Of’; the Original Electronic Press Kit; and Behind-the-scenes / Storyboard Galleries.

Super Mario Bros: The Movie is released on Blu-ray on November 3rd, courtesy of Second Sight.

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