Video game movies have been a Hollywood staple for a long time. SUPER MARIO BROS. was significant in that it was the first movie based solely on a video game property. It is perhaps telling that the adaptation didn't go too well and that Hollywood has struggled to make a decent video game movie since (and most would say they've failed almost universally).
It's interesting for me sometimes to return to a film that came out in the theater in my lifetime but 20 plus years ago. It's fascinating from an anthropological perspective just to see what studios were making back then, the kinds of films they were putting big money into. I think we often forget that a lot of movies are the most textbook definition of "disposable entertainment". They are meant to get people to throw down for the price of a few tickets, watch the movie and then forget about it. Sure the studios often go through a rigorous process of testing films to get make them "better", but one thing they can't think about or rarely seem to think about is "how will this film play in 20 years?". In all fairness, with a lot of studio product, there's no way they can have any clue about the film's continued popularity. Trends and fads shift all the time and who is to say what will be all the rage in 2034. I have no idea, but I hope people will still be coming back to movies like SUPER MARIO BROS. It's really a special movie in a lot of ways. Some might equate "special" to "bad", but there's more to be enjoyed in SMB than just badness. Sure, it's not a great movie, but it is so out there and on such a grand scale that there's no denying the sheer spectacle of the thing. Every once in a while, a major Hollywood studio throws a boat load of cash at an idea that just isn't ready to be a movie (or they keep start making endless changes once it's in process). Maybe the script was shaky or there was a lot of unintentional weirdness embedded in the material (or the weirdness comes about from many visions colliding), but for some reason those flaws are passed over and the movie goes into production or has to be finished despite structural issues. I'm sure some of those decisions are influenced by pressure to meet a release date or to keep the film's budget under control and some kind of unrealistic optimism tied to the phrase, "We'll fix it in post.". Sometimes, a movie is just so deeply nuts to it's very core that there's no way to make it a broad appeal four-quadrants kind of thing. This seems to happen often with fantasy-based films. Since they exist in their own reality or a stylized and heightened reality, there needs to be an infusion of cash to get that fantastic world up on the screen. And since fantasy is much more subjective than some genres and almost opens the door for strange and non-reality based scenarios, it would seem harder to be critical in some case when the film is being made. Maybe too much faith was out in the given filmmakers, maybe things wet rushed, who knows. The result can be magical though. Sure, we're used to seeing amazing sets and detoured in say a DARK KNIGHT film, but what if we took that money and out it into a movie based on a video game starring two plumbers. It's still loosely based on that video game, but now we have big Hollywood money to make it feel like a big event movie. I am always drawn to troubled films with big studio budgets that end up really going off the rails. It's especially enjoyable when these movies have some major fantasy elements because that's when you can see some crazy dreamworlds realized on screen. SUPER MARIO BROS. at the very least has some unique and elaborate sets and concepts that make it stabs out as weirder than just about any other video game movie ever made. I love that the film shares a production designer with PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE and BLADE RUNNER. That 's kind of awesome.
From what I've read, one of the essential problems seems to have been that there was perhaps an inflated sense of confidence about kids wanting to go see this film because so many were obsessed with the games around that time. But it's of course more complicated than that and thankfully this disc includes a nice documentary that helps give some insight into the whole backstory.
-"This Ain't No Video Game" (60 mins) This newly produced retrospective documentary delves into the trouble production that was SUPER MARIO BROS and the circumstances that created it. Hats off to Second Sight for putting this thing together, taking it seriously and shedding some light on the story behind this notorious fan favorite.
The documentary features interviews with Roland Joffe (Producer), John Leguizamo, Rocky Morton (Co-director), Annabel Jankel (Co-director), Parker Bennett (Co-writer), Richard Edson, Mark Goldblatt (Editor), David L. Snyder (Production Designer) & more.
Directors Morton and Jankel talk about their origins with MAX HEADROOM, how they became involved in this film, their original vision for it and the obstacles they met along they way. Bennett, Edson and Leguizamo all have great stories of hijinks and frustrations on the set while still being pretty positive overall. The whole doc gently paints a picture of this troubled production whilst still celebrating it and showing just how much creative energy went into it. It's pretty neat.
-"The Making of SUPER MARIO BROS." (18 mins) this is a vintage making-of made at the time the movie was coming out and includes on set interviews with a lot of the principal cast as well as the directors and the producers. This featurette is also a fun time capsule that highlights the then cutting edge technology that was being used for the special effects at the time. It seems quite charmingly antiquated now.