Tag Archive: the 90s


Review: BATMAN FOREVER

BATMAN FOREVER (1995)
Starring Val Kilmer, Jim Carrey, Tommy Lee Jones, Nicole Kidman, & Chris O’Donnell
Directed by Joel Schumacher
Written by Lee Batchler, Janet Scott-Batchler & Akiva Goldsman
Produced by Tim Burton, Peter MacGregor-Scott, Benjamin Melniker & Michael Uslan
Cinematography by Stephen Goldblatt
Music by Elliot Goldenthal
Edited by Dennis Virkler & Mark Stevens

I'm only slightly ashamed to admit I had this hanging on my bedroom wall as a child....well okay, maybe I'm fully ashamed.

   Everybody knows that Batman is cool. He’s got the cape, he’s got the car, he’s got the cave and the gadgets, and he goes out at night and beats the shit out of imaginative villains and average street thugs…all while maintaining his alter-ego status as a playboy billionaire bachelor. Simply put, Bruce Wayne/Batman is one of the most iconic creations to ever spring from American culture. Plus he’s AWESOME. And, given the box office earnings of the films based on the character, the public generally agrees with this sentiment. But, for a very short time in recent cinematic history, the Batman movie franchise was not only dead in the water…it was butchered, torn to shreds and strewn about for the game of the fishes swimming there. What started as a captivating, brooding, triumphant saga with the Tim Burton-directed Batman in 1989 ended as a stupid, embarassing, cartoony mess just 3 films and less than a decade later with 1997’s repugnant dungheap Batman & Robin, directed by Joel Schumacher. The Batman cinematic dream all but faded into shameful memory until a talented and promising filmmaker known as Christopher Nolan resurrected the Dark Knight from the throes of mediocrity with 2005’s excellent Batman Begins, and America could once again celebrate one of its most beloved characters in the manner he so rightly deserved. But, the old Batman film series is still there, lurking about in the shadows – not unlike the character for which they are named. And while the two Tim Burton-directed films – Batman and 1992’s Batman Returns still hold up fairly well, the two Joel Schumacher-helmed films – 1995’s Batman Forever and the previously mentioned abomination – live on in a somewhat woeful infamy. And while I could no doubt write an entire book on the subject of why Batman & Robin is a turgid, offensive, and unwatchable mess, I’m instead going to focus on the first Schumacher production – the one that still manages to maintain a shred of dignity and respect for the character of Batman. I’m going to talk about Batman Forever.

   Batman Forever (or Batman For More Than A Day, as my father calls it) exists as an interesting middle point in the first Batman film franchise – not really as serious or involved as the first two movies, but not nearly as mind-numbing and vomit-inducing as the one that followed it. Instead, it’s somewhere in between – it still holds on to that mystique and intrigue that the first two films established, while also starting to stray into campy, silly territory.  This is clearly why Michael Keaton, who played Bruce Wayne/Batman in the previous films, opted out of this one – he didn’t like the direction the series was taking. Really, if we should blame anyone for the death of Batman, we should blame Warner Bros. – they’re the ones who decided to make the Batman films “more mainstream” (even though the first two films grossed a combined total of $678,171,278. Clearly pretentious, underground, indie type of stuff). Burton was relegated to “producer” status, to…I dunno, make him feel important, I guess.  Directing duties were passed unto Joel Schumacher, who at the time was a relatively successful filmmaker who had directed films like St. Elmo’s Fire (1985), The Lost Boys (1987) and Falling Down (1993; actually a really great movie). A decent fit at the time I suppose, but the Warner’s guys had no way of knowing how this director would completely fuck up the series in just a few short years. Anway, Michael Keaton was replaced by Val Kilmer, a script was written and shot, and eventually Batman Forever made its way to theaters, where it went on to gross a respectable $336,529,844, despite receiving a tepid reaction from critics. I remember seeing the film as a child very well – it was in Los Angeles with my family, actually, and as a child I was completely enthralled by the spectacle taking place before my eyes. It wasn’t until later, after I grew up and became a cynical film snob that I realized how mediocre the movie really is – but wait, all is not lost!

After all, it's got stuff like fancy headwear! What's not to love?

   I actually think that Batman Forever, despite its MANY flaws, is pretty decent. It’s genuinely entertaining throughout, time is actually spent on developing characters (well…some characters) and the film touches on many important issues that define the character of Bruce Wayne and his relationship with himself as the caped crusader known as Batman. The movie’s plot is a bit…..thin, to put it mildly, but there’s enough there to keep one interested in what happens. There’s still a devotion to characterization and tone, and general filmmaking style. This, of course, is entirely unlike the film that follows Forever, which was just a giant toy ad featuring horrible puns about ice delivered by a grossly miscast Arnold Schwarzenegger….but I’m getting off topic here. The point is, this is actually still a MOVIE – it delivers a cinematic experience in a manner befitting the most fun and entertaining summer blockbusters. The writers saw fit to give Batman and new addition Robin (played by Chris O’Donnell…remember him?) character arcs that make sense and add to the dramatic elements of the story.

   That being said, the flaws in Batman Forever are almost too numerous to elaborate on in full detail. Just for fun, let me dissect the very first scene in the film – Batman’s harrowing rescue of a poor security guard from the evil clutches of Harvey Dent/Two-Face. So the setup is Two-Face (played with over-the-top zeal by Tommy Lee Jones, more on him later) is robbing a bank and holding said security guard hostage. The scene successfully establishes Two-Face as a maniacal asshole and we get a sense of his lunacy as he flips a coin to decide the security guard’s fate. Once it’s decided that the guard will live, he is bound, gagged, and thrown into the bank vault as bait for Batman. After Batman kicks a bunch of dudes’ asses he makes his way into the vault and un-gags the guard, who screams “IT’S A TRAP!” before the vault door shuts. So far, so good – but this is where things start to take a turn for the ridiculous, and somewhat confusing. The entire vault is chained to a helicopter hovering outside and then pulled out of the building, allowing it to hang freely above the streets of Gotham. I’m not sure why the entire vault is able to be moved with such ease….maybe it helps when they’re cleaning it or some bullshit. Kind of makes stealing it a lot easier, especially when you have a helicopter that can simply pull it out of the building. Then, the personal lockboxes in the vault open up and start spewing some kind of red liquid, which is identified when the terrified guard screams out “OH NO! IT’S BOOOOILING ACIIIIID!” Two-Face then does the audience the favor of elaborating on the fact it’s the very same acid that disfigured him and made him into a raving lunatic.

Severely acid-charred madman, or new Clearasil spokesman? You decide.

   Okay, let’s just talk about the logic of this event for a moment, shall we? First off, Two-Face had to have previously planned to lock Batman in this vault, and then somehow rig the lockboxes to shoot “boiling acid”. But we saw Two-Face flipping a coin earlier to decide the fate of the security guard, meaning that the coin could have very well landed on the other side, and Two-Face then would have been bound to killing the guard. This was an option! So if Two-Face already had this plan to trap Batman in the vault with the boiling acid, why would he flip a coin to decide if he should let the guard live to use as bait? Did he have someone else in mind to use as bait if it was indeed determined that he would kill the guard? Like, was there an actor just standing off to the side waiting to be bait or something? I’m pretty sure Two-Face can’t predict which side his coin will land on when he flips it – that would negate the whole point of flipping a coin.  So if the coin landed on “kill guard”, he would have shot the guard in the face and he wouldn’t have had any bait to lure Batman into his elaborate trap! Why even flip the coin at all? Why not just throw the guard in there like he ended up doing anyway without the hassle of potentially having to kill the very thing that would lure Batman into his trap? And then there’s the very fact that the boiling acid starts spewing from the lockboxes – how would somebody rig up this incredibly dangerous and elaborate contraption? Did Two-Face bring tubes, wiring and vats of liquid acid along on this bank heist? Did he get his dumb thug guys to wire it up? If there is indeed something hooked up to the vault that is feeding the boiling acid into it, why can’t we see it hooked up to the outside? Um….what the hell is going on?

   You see, this is what’s known as “sloppy writing” – the writers wanted to establish Two-Face’s coin-flipping schtick and also put Batman in a deadly situation that sort of ties in to Two-Face’s own acid disaster, so they just threw them into the movie without even thinking about the contradictory logic of the scenario. And I know this doesn’t really matter in the long run, because it’s just a stupid Batman movie, but these are pretty common sense things, wouldn’t you agree? I mean, Two-Face is supposed to be a criminal mastermind – he wouldn’t be making potentially plan-threatening mistakes like this.

   And it only gets better from here, my friends. So once the acid starts pooling up and rising at the bottom of the vault, Batman and the guard hang on for dear life near the vault door. The guard’s glasses fall into the acid and disintegrate, establishing the fact that yes, this acid will kill them if they fall into it. Batman then reaches down and pulls out the guard’s hearing aid and uses it to listen to the vault door as he tries to figure out the combination, while the guard unconvincingly screams “HEY – THAT’S MY HEARING AID!” . Now, usually hearing aids are reserved for people who are, you know – OLD. People who can’t hear well anymore. The actor playing the security guard looks like he’s in his late 30s, maybe early 40s – AT BEST! What the hell is he doing with a fuckin’ hearing aid?! I understand that the filmmakers needed to give Batman a clever way to get out of this situation somehow, but c’mon!!! If you indeed wanted to make the whole hearing aid bit plausible, wouldn’t you at least hire an actor who looks like he actually NEEDS a hearing aid? It’s probably one the most inexplicable and convenient turns of events I’ve ever seen in any movie in my life, and it’s not even effective because the security guard in question isn’t even pushing 45! And then, to make matters even worse, later after Batman opens the vault, rigs it to swing back into the building perfectly, and saves the guard, the police come in and Commissioner Gordon says to the guard “You’re gonna be all right, young man, just stay calm.” I guess hearing aids are all the rage for the semi-middle aged in Gotham City. Or maybe the filmmakers think the audience is retarded. Either way, the hearing aid thing is incredibly stupid.

But not nearly as stupid as this. Thank God for Arkham City, that's all I'm sayin'.

   Let’s move on from the incredibly sloppy writing already present in the very first action scene of the film and focus on some good things – the first of which being Jim Carrey as the film’s main antagonist, The Riddler. Now personally, I find Jim Carrey to be absolutely hilarious. He’s always been one of my favorite actors, and he was undoubtedly the reigning king of comedy during the 1990’s. Nearly all of his movies released during this period are classics in my mind, and most were highly successful with audiences. When I heard he was going to play a villain in the new Batman film as a little kid, I couldn’t WAIT to see it! And Carrey doesn’t disappoint – he knocks the role of Edward Nygma/The Riddler out of the park. Carrey’s brand of inspired lunacy somehow works well in this film, and doesn’t distract from the brooding seriousness that Bruce Wayne is imbued with. He goes for broke in the role and it makes for a truly memorable performance. Plus, whoever’s idea it was to give him an orange flat-top….pure gold. It’s fun to watch Edward Nygma go from a borderline psychotic scientist who’s obsessed with Bruce Wayne to a fully psychotic mastermind villain after devising a way to suck the brainwaves out of the citizens of Gotham (yes, that’s really the plot, get used to it).  There’s a scene halfway through the movie where Nygma, having both stolen and legitimately earning millions of dollars, throws a grand gala for all the elite of Gotham to attend, including his idol/enemy Bruce Wayne. Nygma does everything he can to rub his success in Wayne’s face, while Bruce maintains an utmost cool. At one point he puts on glasses, which forces Nygma to instantly don glasses of his own as well. A few lines of dialogue pass and Wayne takes the glasses off again, which Nygma hastily does in turn. It’s a little moment, but it reinforces notions of the Edward Nygma character in a purely visual way, without bringing too much attention to itself. Jim Carrey imbues the role with a perfect dose of zaniness and as a result The Riddler definitely comes off as one of the stronger villains in the first Batman film series.

   Another thing I like about the movie is the romance subplot between Bruce Wayne and Nicole Kidman’s character Chase Meridian. Val Kilmer and Nicole Kidman have pretty believable chemistry with each other, and their scenes together are written very well and have a certain flirty sexiness to them. This is testament to the acting abilities of Kilmer and Kidman, who do very well in their respective roles. I do think it’s kind of ridiculous that in her second scene in the film she instantly jumps Batman’s bones on the rooftop of the police station – the only reason she does so is to get the whole romance plot going. I guess it’s kind of believable that she would instantly have the hots for Batman – I mean, he‘s friggin’ Batman, after all. And the movie even does try to justify this a little bit…but I still feel that the whole thing is a little forced just for plot convenience. Anyway, it’s no huge deal – she digs Batman and Bruce Wayne digs her. The main reason this is in the film is so Bruce Wayne can question his role as savior of Gotham City…he seriously considers giving up the superhero life and settling down with Chase. This is supposed to add dramatic tension to the story, but we all know that it isn’t going to happen (the movie’s called Batman Forever, for Chrissakes), so it ends up feeling a little tedious…but I give them credit for trying to shake things up a bit. Overall, I like the Chase Meridian character. I feel like she challenges Bruce Wayne in a mental capacity, and it’s fun to see him sort of meet his match outside of his darker second life.

Seriously, if this don't make you want to rip the rubber nipples from your real ones, I don't know what will.

   Anyway, back to stuff that doesn’t really work. As time has gone by, I realized I don’t really like Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face. I feel like he makes the character a goofy Jack-Nicholson-as-The-Joker impression, totally hamming it up in a way that belittles the intent of the original character. Harvey Dent/Two-Face always struck me as more of a tragic character, with a certain intensity that made him a formidable foe for Batman. Tommy Lee Jones plays him as a gimmicky, clown-like trickster who’s obsessed with the number 2 (robbing the 2nd Gotham Bank on the 2nd anniversary of his accident, rigging a bomb with 200 sticks of TNT). [Whoops, turns out he actually does this in the comics after all…but I doubt he did it as childishly there as he does in the movie. Anyway, my bad. – Trent] There’s even a scene in the movie that could be considered downright blasphemous to fans of the comic books: So Two-Face and The Riddler break into Bruce Wayne’s house and chase after him and Chase Meridian. Two-Face sits and watches his thugs chase them around while continuously flipping his coin to get the outcome that he desires. One thing you need to know about Two-Face is that he does NOT question the outcome of his coin tosses. He rests everything upon fate and chance, which is what the coin symbolizes – it’s pretty much the defining trait of the character, apart from his half-burnt face. This scene shows a complete disregard for Two-Face’s character and I’m almost completely dumbstruck at the fact it’s in the movie. This isn’t Tommy Lee’s fault, but it is a blight on the character he plays and just makes him look even worse. Two-Face is totally cheapened in this film and it’s one of the weakest things about the entire production.

   This film was made in a time when superhero movies were still considered to be hokey, mindless entertainment instead of serious, character-based stories chock-full of true dramatic potential. Comparing the first 4 Batman films (especially the last two) to Christopher Nolan’s new take on the character not only makes them look like a joke, it’s just simply unfair. Nolan bases his films on a respect for the character and the world of Batman and grounds them in reality, while the first 4 movies treat him as some sort of spectacular, otherworldy mythical figure. This is most apparent in the Schumacher-directed movies, especially in regards to the much-maligned and infamous rubber nipples (Batman & Robin always takes the heat for this one, but they are in this film, too), which were said to be inspired by statues of Roman gods. Batman is at his best when he’s a relatable human being, even if he is an absurdly wealthy one. This is why the Nolan directed Batman films are so effective – they make you really relate to the character of Bruce Wayne, and they focus more on the human side of him, as well as providing the awesome ass-kicking Batman action. There’s a warmness to Bruce Wayne, a kind of charismatic likeability – you feel like you could hang out with this guy, even though he might be a little intense.

   The first 4 Batman films are all more focused on the Batman side of Bruce Wayne, rather than the character as a whole. The films are all built around the scenes in which Bruce Wayne is in the Batman suit, kicking ass – the rest of the movie kind of exists just to get to these scenes. Michael Keaton had a bit of that charm about him, but I’ve never really thought of him as a great fit for Bruce Wayne – he just seems a bit underwhelming to me, and even scrawny. Val Kilmer, I think, actually fares best out of all of the 90’s Batmans, but he plays Wayne with a bit of a coldness, and a hint of unrelatability. He kind of seems like a boring nerd at times, one with a slight holier-than-thou attitude. Kilmer doesn’t really put a lot of emotion into his line reads – in the scene where Bruce and his butler Alfred (the completely natural Michael Gough, seemingly born for the role) figure out who The Riddler is by deciphering the 4 very simple riddles he delivered, the “eureka!” moment when Bruce Wayne states “Edward Nygma” is so plainly expressed by Kilmer that I almost feel like Bruce Wayne can never feel true elation. I know Batman is supposed to be all stern, but at least a little hint of an exclamation point at the end of “Edward Nygma!” would have been appreciated! I mean it’s a big moment for them!

….And don’t even get me fucking started on George Clooney. Again, that will all be in the Batman & Robin review book.

Anyway, I know I’m kind of straying from the review and unfairly comparing Batman Forever to Nolan’s films, and I apologize for that, but I feel like it’s kind of hard not to. I just feel the character of Bruce Wayne/Batman is more substantially realized in the new movies, while the older ones are kind of one-dimensional – even though they try not to be. It’s all in the tone of the flicks, and how they’re executed. There’s not really a focus on getting to know Bruce Wayne as a person, it’s more about the fact he flies around and kicks ass as Batman – and also about the over-the-top, comically maniacal villains. However, despite having said all that, I DO give Batman Forever credit for trying the hardest out of all 4 of the original Batman flicks to delve deeper into Bruce Wayne’s psyche. Chase Meridian is a psychologist, and during the scenes in her office many thematic elements are touched upon which reflect later in the film – namely subjects like duality (blantantly through the character of Two-Face and subtly through Bruce Wayne and his double life as Batman) and obsession (Robin’s vendetta on Two-Face for murdering his entire family, Edward Nygma’s obsession with Bruce Wayne). There’s a great scene in the movie in which Bruce sees a framed painting hanging on Meridian’s wall that is obviously in the shape of a bat. Bruce asks her if she’s got a “thing for bats” and she replies that the painting is in fact a Rorscach test, and meaning is inferred by the one viewing it. She then tells him the question which should be asked is if he’s got a thing for bats. This is a totally awesome way to establish Bruce’s mind state to the audience, and also brings up the question of what that Rorscach would look life if viewed by someone else. We, the audience, view it clearly as a bat, but only because we’re seeing the test through Wayne’s perspective. It could very well look like anything else to Chase Meridian, and anyone else for that matter. It definitely brings up a few questions that challenge the viewer’s perception, and I love it.

The Riddler and Two-Face are VERY disappointed with today's Garfield strip.

   This is why I consider Batman Forever to truly be the deepest out of all the 90’s Batman films (I should say all the live-action 90’s Batman films, because the animated Mask of the Phantasm is easily the best and most psychologically complex 90’s Batman film) because the writers actually delve into the meat of what makes Batman Batman, and Bruce Wayne’s inner conflict with his own vigilantism and lone wolf lifestyle. Bruce is presented with not one but TWO people interested in intwining their lives with his by way of Chase and Robin – the former as a love interest and the latter as a crime-fighting partner. This is definitely new territory for the withdrawn Bruce Wayne (well, at least in these movies) and it messes with his mind a little. He even considers quitting the Bat-game for this chick, which sort of feels a little abrupt considering he hasn’t really known her that long – but it’s something I could realisitically see happening to a guy who runs around in black tights with rubber nipples. Also, he is completely against letting Robin be his partner for no real legitimate reason, implying he might be acting a bit more selfish and defensive than he truly lets on. This is all great character building stuff, and it’s done very effectively and subtly.

   For me, it’s these things that save Batman Forever from being a schlocky, over-the-top, thinly-plotted action flick. While the film certainly bears all of those unfortunate qualites, it also manages to provide real emotional depth to the things that are transpiring onscreen – and for that reason it receives a saving grace in my mind. It’s really interesting that all of these deeper psychological themes exist in the movie, because there’s also all kinds of slapsticky, off-the-wall stupidity and immaturity (probably brought on by Carrey’s presence in the film, admittedly) that sort of bring the film down from being a truly satisfying Batman narrative.

Presenting the latest and greatest of Batsuit features....the mouth illuminator. Handy when delivering hackneyed attempts at cutesy humor.

   Before I close up I just want to mention a few more things that stick out to me, mostly just little things I couldn’t really fit it anywhere else. There’s a scene in which they awkwardly try to reference the 60’s Batman TV show by giving Robin the line “Holy rusted metal, Batman!” once they get to The Riddler’s island. Batman says “Huh?” and Robin says “The ground, it’s all metal, it’s full of holes, you know? Hole-y!” to which Batman replies “Oh.” I’m almost positive that this was a cute attempt at self-referential “humor”, but my oh my does it come off as forced and awkward. I love the scene in which The Riddler says to a kidnapped Chase about his glowing jacket, “Like the jacket? It keeps me safe while I’m jogging at night!” which I hope was improvised by Jim Carrey. Also, the film actually has a pretty killer soundtrack. This, of course, is the film which brought about Seal’s simply awesome song “Kiss From A Rose”, and also has a great track by The Flaming Lips called “Bad Days” which is very effectively used to establish Edward Nygma’s shitty apartment when he gets back from murdering his boss. 90’s music….gotta love it! And speaking of the 90’s, the entire movie is just such a testament to the time in which it was made….the tone, the set design, the general execution of the film – it all just screams 90’s to me. Anyone who wants a good nostalgia trip would be very well served by watching Batman Forever – it’s a relic of 90’s filmmaking style. I also like the scene in which Robin steals the Batmobile and goes for a cruise around Gotham (even though I have no idea how he could have possibly done that, and the movie doesn’t even try to explain how), eventually finding a gang of brightly painted neon skull dudes or something who are trying to…I guess rape a poor, twenty-something 90’s chick. Robin saves the girl and gets to have a glorious kiss with her, complete with sweeping and heroic music, and I think this scene is really fun and works well, while establishing that Robin could in fact legitimately pass as Batman’s partner….plus the fight is underscored by an awesome Offspring song, which can’t hurt a 90’s movie at all.

   So, to bring this very lengthy review to a surely much-anticipated conclusion, Batman Forever is, despite being heavily flawed in its complete execution, still worth checking out and enjoying if you’re in the mood for a fun, dumb superhero/action flick. It’s got juuuust enough smarts to not make your brain completely corrode inside your skull, and it’s got some pretty well-designed action set pieces that please the eye. It’s a silly film, and completely dated when compared to the new Christopher Nolan Batman films, but it’s still worth watching if only for a trip down 90’s nostalgia lane. Good performances, dumb writing, and great action. Gee, with a combination like that, what could possibly go wrong?


SO MUCH. SOOO MUCH COULD GO WRONG. OH GOD PLEASE END THE PAIN PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE NO MORE!

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Review: SUPER MARIO BROS.

SUPER MARIO BROS. (1993)
Starring Bob Hoskins, John Leguizamo, Dennis Hopper & Samantha Mathis
Directed by Rocky Morton & Annabel Jankel
Written by Parker Bennett, Terry Runté & Ed Solomon
Produced by Jake Eberts & Roland Joffé
Cinematography by Dean Semler
Music by Alan Silvestri
Edited by Mark Goldblatt

If this awesome poster doesn't make you want to see this, then brother, I don't know what will.

   It was bound to happen eventually – a big-budget, full-length feature film based on a video game. After decades of adapting from other mediums, it was only a matter of time before somebody in Hollywood decided to make a movie inspired by the interactive worlds that games offered. And in the early 90s, the video game market was still relatively new – still evolving and growing to the level of sophistication (depending on who you ask) that we know and understand today. And at the forefront of the video game revolution was Super Mario Bros. – undoubtedly the most successful video game of all; the game that singlehandedly made Nintendo a household name and saved the video game industry from becoming a forgotten, irrelevant fad during the mid-80s. Mario was the Mickey Mouse for the gaming generation, a veritable icon for the ages and beloved mascot for a titan entertainment company. So it’s really no wonder that Super Mario Bros. became the first ever movie based on a video game – and unwittingly set the unfortunate precedent for almost every video game-to-film adaptation to come.

   Upon its release in 1993, Super Mario Bros. was universally despised by pretty much everyone who saw it. It was loud, strange, tonally inaccurate with the games that inspired it, and generally boneheaded in its execution. The film cost $48,000,000 to make and only recouped $21,000,000 from the box office. Siskel and Ebert gave it two thumbs down – an unavoidable kiss of death for movies during the 1990s. Bob Hoskins, who had the distinction of portraying Mario in the film, would go on to say that it was the worst thing he ever did and that he wished he could delete the film from his life – and this is coming from the dude who was in Heart Condition. If there were a picture in the dictionary to go alongside the word “failure”, the poster for Super Mario Bros. would surely do the most justice.

Or maybe this one, actually.

   But, my friends, I have a sort of deep, dark secret I would like to confess to all of you right here and now: I actually kind of enjoy Super Mario Bros. I know, I know, what the hell could possibly be wrong with me?! How can any of you trust my word on films when I actually enjoy a travesty such as this film?! Well to that I can assure you that Super Mario Bros. exists for me purely in the realm of guilty pleasures – something that is so horrendously, appallingly terrible that I just have no choice but to love it for being so bad. I first took a shine to the movie as a young lad, when I rented it from Zip’s Video without any knowledge of its abysmal performance at the box office or any care what critics thought of it – I was just a little kid who loved the Mario video games, so a live action movie was pretty much the coolest idea ever! I really liked the movie as a little kid, so maybe that effects my judgement of it as an older, semi-wiser adult. But, to reiterate, I definitely do understand that the movie is bad. And to be fair, Super Mario Bros. isn’t bad in the way that a movie like, say, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is bad. Super Mario Bros. actually has several redeeming qualities about it that save it from the realm of evil, offensive, mind-destroying crappiness that so many other movies fall into. What could those qualities possibly be? Read on, my friends, read on!

   For one thing, Super Mario Bros. actually tries to take itself seriously – which can either be construed as a bad thing or a noble thing, depending on your view. There is a sort of devotion to the reality the film is trying to present, even if it is a silly and over-the-top one. You get the feeling that the characters in the movie actually believe they’re participating in the ridiculousness being put upon them, and because of this, it’s actually possible to be drawn into the world of the movie, rather than being alienated from it and detached while things are going on. I guess what I’m trying to say is, while the tone of the film is COMPLETELY different than the tone of the games, it establishes itself for what it is and remains consistent throughout its running time. This is something which cannot be said for a LOT of movies considered to be in the same vein as Super Mario Bros., so I give the movie some credit for actually staying faithful to its own grand design…unfortunately, it’s just a very misguided one.

   Anybody who’s ever played a Mario game knows what the deal is: Princess Toadstool (later renamed Peach) gets kidnapped by Bowser, a big, menacing, fire-breathing, evil & spiky-shelled turtle, and it’s up to Mario (and sometimes his brother Luigi) to go on a magnificent quest through bright, colorful worlds to rescue her – all while defeating troublesome enemies along the way. There’s not really much else to the early Mario games – they’re lighthearted platform adventure games with catchy music with a VERY thin plot to give you an excuse to bop digital bad guys on the head. I’m sure when people went to go see the movie back in 1993, they were expecting something similar to this, since – you know, it was based on the game n’ shit. But instead of seeing this bright, colorful world filled with smiley happy characters, they got a grungy, dilapitated hellhole populated by unfriendly and ugly dinosaur people and controlled by Dennis Hopper. The plot is, Mario and Luigi are plumbers from Brooklyn, and get sucked into an alternate dimension where dinosaurs have evolved into intelligent beings (who happen to look exactly like humans), and are now actively being pursued by King Koopa (NOT Bowser) for harboring a piece of meteorite which belonged to Princess Daisy (NOT Toadstool) that can be used to merge the dino-dimension and the human dimension into one. If you’re saying “What the fuck?” to yourself after reading that sentence, trust me….you are NOT alone. The makers of the film, in a vain attempt to modernize and ground the film in some kind of reality, completely morphed the concept of Mario into some kind of sci-fi/action/comedy spectacle flick….and the effect is, needless to say, quite confusing.

Seriously, how do you go from THIS........

..........to THIS?!

   Gone were the bright green pipes which housed chomping Pirahna Plants. Gone were the mushrooms which made Mario grow larger and stomp enemies. Gone were the green-shelled turtles and mushroom-shaped Goombas which populated Mario’s world. Gone was anything that even remotely tied in to the Super Mario Bros. franchise visually, save for the appearance of Mario & Luigi themselves and one sole Bob-Omb. It was all replaced by lavish, S&M-inspired hysteria and dystopian grunge with only mild references to the actual games themselves (a nightclub called “Thwomp” and another called “Bullet Bill’s”, for example) in a sort of send-up of 90’s New York culture. I think this is primarily why so many people rejected Super Mario Bros. upon its release: it was just way, WAY too different from what they knew and loved from the video games. Not only that, but it was a lot more violent and harsh than the games, which exemplified kid-friendly cuteness in almost every way. I’m positive there were MANY parents out there who stormed out of the theater with their children once they laid eyes on the dark, dystopian society the loveable Mario & Luigi found themselves trapped in and the surreal, violent antics which occurred there. You go from such simple themes as adventuring and saving a princess to fascist rule by an oppressive dictator, childhood abandonment, the concept of evolution AND de-evolution, and inter-dimensional domination, to name a few.

   So what hell happened here? Well, I think that when time came to develop the Mario license into a live-action movie, there were several problems that instantly came into play:

1. There’s no plot.
2. Nothing in Mario’s world tangibly exists in reality.
3. Faithfully recreating the exact style of the games would cost a shit-ton of money.
4. The only people who played video games were little kids….and maybe weird adults.
5. Nobody had ever made a video game into a movie before.

   I think this last one was the most troubling for the creators of this film, since they had absolutely nothing to go off of – they were essentially creating a brand new genre of films. Now personally, I think that notion would be incredibly exciting and open up a nearly endless well of creativity, and maybe it did for the movie’s producers – but they didn’t necessarily use that creativity in a very productive way. I still believe it is VERY possible to make a good, solid Mario movie using the actual style and characters from the universe of the games, but apparently at the time the filmmakers thought they needed something a bit more substantial to make a live action movie with. The result, unfortunately, was something wholly unworthy of being considered anywhere near the quality of the games which inspired it.

   But, if you recall, I did say that I actually enjoy Super Mario Bros., and I really, truly do. I completely understand that it is is a terrible movie, with a hopelessly inept script and somewhat hammy acting from all parties involved, but for some reason, I can’t bring myself to completely write it off as another failure from the bowels of Hollywood. There’s a sort of quirky charm to the movie, a kind of lightheartedness that endears itself to me. The movie begins with what could possibly be the worst animation ever committed to celluloid – I don’t know if they were trying to emulate the 8-bit look of NES games, but the poorly-drawn, barely lip-synced dinosaurs in the intro look laughably terrible. Then a cheesy-sounding narrator with a bad New York accent begins to awkwardly expose the plot before the opening credits even begin, effectively showing that these filmmakers have absolutely no idea how to begin their own movie. Seriously, they could have done away with this entire opening segment and the movie probably would have made at least 10,000 more dollars…but this is just speculation. Anyway, the movie really begins with a mother leaving her baby (a giant, unhatched egg) on the front stoop of a nunnery in the middle of the rain, along with a mysterious piece of blue rock. Then, when she goes back underground to go into her dimension, Dennis Hopper comes out of the shadows and grabs her by the shoulders….which makes the whole cave shake for some reason, and the mother screams while the rocks presumably bury her alive. We don’t know for sure because it cuts away instantly to present-day Brooklyn, where we meet Mario and Luigi, two plumbers who are dangerously low on funds. We follow them around and get to know their personalities, and they eventually run into Daisy, whom Luigi falls for and which gets out plot going. I’ll stop summarizing here because I think you get the idea – this movie is pretty damn ridiculous.

Koopa wants to hit it too.

   Despite the shortcomings of the heavily flawed script,  it does actually make sense in its own way – I know what motivates each character, I know what the stakes are and what happens if Mario and company fail, and because of that, I can actually squeeze a small amount of dramatic tension from the story. The characters have a sort of goofy charm about them, and the actors try their best to breathe a little life into them. It’s not Shakespeare, but c’mon, it’s a stupid movie based on a video game! And hey, the production value on the film is GREAT! It really is a fun film to look at, even though what’s transpiring onscreen is enough to make you question what the hell the directors were thinking. The set designs are creative and elaborate, the makeup effects are pretty damn dazzling, and the creature effects are very impressive. It’s very clear that a lot of money went into this production, and they actually used it to create a believably hostile environment filled with strange and perplexing characters. This is all part of what makes movies fun to watch – complete immersion into a make believe world.

   Although, for this feat, I should really give credit to production designer David L. Snyder – the same man who designed the sets for Blade Runner. He’s pretty much the reason why the movie looks cool, because the film’s directors – the husband and wife team of Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel – probably didn’t have much to do with that. Stories of the duo’s inability to control what was happening on their set are now infamous, but needless to say just from watching the movie, these two people were in way over their heads. It’s really mind-boggling to me that the movie’s producers (including Roland Joffé, the director behind the critically lauded filmed The Killing Fields….WTF?!) didn’t try to find someone with a bit of a track record for big-budget adventure flicks….the only movie these two yahoos had directed was a little noir film called D.O.A. (1988) which was critically accepted but bombed at the box office. Their biggest success was creating the popular 80s commercial character Max Headroom. Other than that, Rocky and Anna were pretty much hacks whose “arrogance had been mistaken for talent”, according to Bob Hoskins. Inexplicably these two people were put in charge of a big-budget video game adaptation and this was the result. Not to mention the screenplay had been rewritten several times by several different writers and wasn’t even completely finished by the time production began…in essence, making Super Mario Bros. was almost more unbearable than the movie itself. It’s really a shame, because the potential for something great was squandered by people who thought they knew what they were doing.

When we said we wanted to "gross millions" this isn't exactly what we meant.

   Super Mario Bros. exists as one of those rare movies where everything goes completely wrong but is, for some reason, still somewhat entertaining. Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo actually have pretty good chemistry and are pretty believable as Mario and Luigi, and Samantha Mathis, who plays Princess Daisy, tries her damned hardest to be a convincing emotional center for this movie and somehow manages to succeed at doing so. Dennis Hopper gets to have the most fun by being a completely over-the-top asshole, and I’m pretty sure he just agreed to appear in the film to score drug money – but his performance is memorable nonetheless and one of the saving graces of the film. And for all the silly antics and ridiculous occurrences that happen, the movie is actually smart enough to give Mario and Luigi character arcs – Mario is portrayed as a sort of average Joe everyman, someone who doesn’t believe in supernatural phenomenae or wild stories until he finds himself in the middle of one, while Luigi is portrayed as a goofy younger guy who has trouble talking to girls, until he falls for Daisy and eventually gains confidence…ok, I might be reaching with that one, but it’s still a small semblance of an arc nonetheless. My point is, things actually happen in this movie, and the characters have things to do and are developed semi-well. It’s not complete garbage, as most people who see this movie would have you believe. It’s harmless popcorn entertainment, just smart enough to provide some inspired moments but ultimately an unfocused, flawed production. I’d only recommend it to those who like to sit around with friends and watch subpar movies for fun, but other than that, I can’t really recommend it in any serious fashion – even though I personally like the film for what it is. What could have been at least marginally great is now instead one of the biggest blunders in recent cinematic history, and it set the stage for even more atrocious video-game-to-film adaptations that are still being made to this day. I guess there’s something about the interactive experience games provide that gets lost in translation to movies – or maybe the people who make video game movies think that the movies themselves have to be like actual video games, instead of actual movies. Whatever the reason is, it’s definitely been one of the worst genres to exist in film history – and it all stems back to Super Mario Bros.

   Oh, I almost forgot to mention the best part: the movie ends with Daisy running back to our dimension to fetch the Mario Bros. for another adventure, ostensibly setting up a sequel which would never, EVER come. Such high hopes, yet nothing to show for it…in a tragic way, it pretty much sums up the entire movie.