May 3, 2014

Bob Hoskins & Super Mario Bros.

May the fungus be among us. Amen.

Earlier this week, it was reported that English actor Bob Hoskins had passed away due to pneumonia complications. While he wasn't always an actor I immediately thought of when discussing movies, I still enjoyed his work in everything I saw him in.

My fondest memories are of Super Mario Bros., Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Brazil, and Hook. The news of his death was eerie, because we had just watched Super Mario Bros. a few days before on a whim, not having seen it for years.

While the movie could not be a more bizarre take on the source material, it's always been one of my guilty pleasures. I can quote it inside and out, and just find the whole experience fascinating. There is obvious creative thought behind the project, but no ability in terms of execution and follow-through. And hands down, it is most definitely not the "worst video game movie adaption ever." If you hear someone saying that, then they don't know how bad it can really get (or they're just a parrot). Because even though it isn't the greatest adaption in the world, at least the people behind it actually cared about it and put effort into the thing. It's the kind of movies based on video games that people actually remember (e.g. Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter), even though they're not really that good in a traditional sense. They're fun to watch, because people cared about them while they were being made, and that comes through.

Most of the time nowadays, slapping the title of a game on the project is as far as "caring" goes. It's just a throwaway, quick money grab. Are people really going to be discussing House of the Dead, Resident Evil 5, Doom, Need for Speed, DOA: Dead or Alive, or Alone in the Dark twenty years after they came out? They have absolutely no value, and they're just not enjoyable to watch. It's just watching a bunch of uninteresting characters shuffle through a bunch of lazy CGI and mindless "action sequences" with a lot of explosions and laughable cinematography, all whilst the people in front of and behind the camera don't give a shit. And they don't even try to hide it. Every public statement made by anyone working on it sounds so dull and pre-rendered, and it's obvious they just don't care. The writing is bad, the casting is bad, the acting is bad, the lighting is bad, the cinematography is bad, the effects are bad, the editing is bad, and the marketing is bad. I can't understand how people sit through these movies, let alone freaking pay money to do it. How backwards is that?

Tens of millions of dollars. Try and wrap your head around that.

For all its faults, Super Mario Bros. does have a very distinct and creative look. It manages to escape the "generic early 90's movie" category, though it doesn't even come close to the "cinematic achievement" category. One of our viewing party had never seen it before, which is why we watched it in the first place. Granted, they fell asleep partway through, but the rest of us still enjoyed the whole thing.

I am a big fan of practical special effects, and this movie does have impressive stuff in it. The Yoshi scenes immediately come to mind. That thing is awesome, and took a total of nine puppeteers to operate. The de-evolution chamber was also pretty cool. The fact that they actually constructed unique and interesting sets makes all the difference. The devo chambers, the police station, the city exterior, the digging site and tunnel, Koopa's tower interior, things like that. Despite failing in many areas, there was a lot of effort put behind the project. 99% of the creatures were done with prosthetics, animatronics, make-up, puppetry, and props. Only a rare few were touched up with digital effects afterwards, and only by necessity at that.

Can you imagine, today, a big studio going through the effort of building an animatronic/puppet hybrid that takes nine people to control that only appears in a few scenes in a movie? Or would they take the lazy, superficial way out and just stick in some poor-looking CGI half-assed creature? And things like having actual giant fireballs fire across the screen will always, always be better than some digital effect. And it's not that hard to do. That's what makes the effects special. The main purpose of CGI was to create or touch up things that can't be created with traditional effects. But what's happened instead is it's used to just replace everything in every case. If you're a huge, multi-billion dollar studio, and have the money and ability to actually create those practical effects, then why not do it? What is more "real" than actually having something that is real?

This was the coolest thing ever (and still pretty much is).

And over 10 years later, this is apparently acceptable.

Super Mario Bros. isn't totally in the clear, though. It does have its moments when I just watch dumbfounded, wondering, "Why the hell would they do that? Who thought that was a good idea?" I'm talking about that awful opening animation/narration (where the premise is forced to be laid out in black and white due to the labyrinthine plot). And things like when Hoskins gets thrown into the "parallel dimension" near the start. Holy crap.

And I'll admit that the city exterior was a minor letdown. It was all smashed together and reduced to basically one big street sound stage. That back billboard wall really hits the point home. Even some sort of matte painting would have helped immensely. Had it been closer to the concept art, it could have been really awesome. Even though it looks like they ripped a page straight out of Blade Runner. But that's pretty much how a lot of the movie was made, just straight-up taking concepts from other films and making them fit together.




The acting really isn't that bad. But there's nothing to it in general. Most of the time the actors are just going through the motions. Hoskins actually seems to be genuinely angry most of the time, which is pretty funny. He's repeatedly stated in interviews how much he hated the project. Hopper's performance is interesting to watch, he kind of seems to be experimenting during the whole thing. And I was always a fan of Fiona Shaw's villainess Lena character. The weakest performances come from Leguizamo and Mathis, but they're not cringeworthy by any means. I would say the biggest problem is the actors didn't have a lot to work from. Revised scripts were being thrown at them every fifteen minutes, and having a parade of writers and an abysmal directing team didn't help either. But they were actually acting. They were actually trying.

General consensus by people who were involved in the movie was that it was radically different ideas constantly forced to fit together. The directors wanted "this," the producers wanted "that," and the studio wanted "the other." It was being figured out as it was happening, and everyone was flying by the seat of their pants. It definitely feels like that when you're watching. The "plot" is so convoluted that you can easily lose track of what the hell is going on, as well as what motivations characters have for their actions. It was so messed up that two of the main cast (Iggy and Spike) practically ad-libbed all their scenes, basically re-creating their own characters from scratch. Hoskins and Leguizamo would regularly drink between takes, and Hopper would explode on set more than once.


I can't say that the movie is "good" in any traditional sense. But it is good for other reasons. Like I said, it's a guilty pleasure, and I know I'm not alone. It had effort behind it, and that's what makes the difference. That is what has allowed it to stand the test of time, not the fact that it's a "bad movie." There are plenty of bad movies that come out every day. Hell, I bet you watched one recently, and don't even remember most of it because it was so forgettable. Case in point.

Nowadays, if a movie is announced that's based on a video game, it's simultaneously labeled as "bad," even by the people behind the project as they're making it. It's really a shame, and it shouldn't be that way. But we passed the line long ago when a "video game movie" had genuine effort put behind it, despite whatever the end result was. Movies like Super Mario Bros., Mortal Kombat, and Street Fighter are proof of this.

If you're interested in more about the Super Mario Bros. movie, you can find practically anything you wanted to know from the site entirely dedicated to anything and everything related to it. It's a really impressive show of love for the film, and is still updated semi-regularly (although for some reason a lot of the set photo links are down as of now). Even though you hated it, Bob, we still enjoy it a lot. Thanks.

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