Tag Archives: Video game adaptation

READER RECOMMENDATION: SUPER MARIO BROS. (1993)

Reader Review by John Klingle

DIRECTED BY: Annabel Jankel, Rocky Morton

FEATURING: , ,

PLOT: Two plumbers from Brooklyn are unwittingly warped into an alternate dimension populated by human-dinosaur hybrids, and  discover a plot to invade the Earth that only they can prevent.

Still from Super Mario Bros. (1993)

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The fugitive Princess Daisy discovers her long lost father, the King: a sentient mass of yellow fungus drooping from the ceiling above his old throne.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Combining slapstick humor and trite wordplay with a penchant for grotesque visuals and fascist imagery completely disconnected from its beloved source material, Super Mario Bros. seems determined to shock and disturb its supposed target audience.

COMMENTS: The original sin of video game-to-movie adaptations, Super Mario Bros. is widely regarded as a transgression against its beloved source material and a discordant mish-mash of half-baked, poorly-executed ideas. But while it’s true that the film is unforgivable as an adaptation, looking at Super Mario Bros. for its own merits reveals a unique Gothic fantasy filled with psychedelic imagery.

Rather than making any real effort to replicate the experience of playing Shigeru Miyamoto’s foundational game series, Super Mario Bros. instead takes the bare skeleton of the Mario games and builds its own dystopian adventure around it. The elements the film plucks from the games are well-chosen ingredients for a cult film, too: it borrows the game series’ central fish-out-of-water fantasy world conceit (The Wizard of Oz), its recurring theme of bodily transformation (Videodrome), and its visual obsession with ducts and pipes (Brazil ) and, of course, mushrooms (“,” take your pick). The filmmakers (“Max Headroom” creators Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton) unfortunately don’t manage to create any sense of cohesion among these various elements, but this doesn’t prevent each of them from being deeply memorable on its own.

Mixed in liberally with these ingredients from the games are the film’s own inventions, whose connection to the Mario universe is much more tenuous. The most notable of these is the corporate fascist imagery. The movie adaptation re-imagines the games’ draconic King Koopa as a Donald Trump-like plutocrat who runs a mechanized police state under the guise of democracy. This conceit is perhaps the film’s most powerful source of tonal dissonance: the bumbling, Stooges-like antics of Koopa’s minions do little to detract from the horror of seeing a street busker forcibly converted into a devolved monster as punishment for political dissidence.

Much like Labyrinth, Super Mario Bros.’ commitment, however lackluster, to being a commercial children’s film prevents it from pursuing its darker themes to any satisfying conclusion. In some ways, this makes it all the more disturbing; the film consistently dips its toes into dystopian or psychosexual territory only to retreat back into John Leguizamo and Bob Hoskins’ yukking and shucking, depriving the viewer of any catharsis. Super Mario Bros. is a movie that doesn’t leave you, its most bizarre moments sticking like burrs to the minds of the children who saw it.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Bizarre, replete in often stunning special effects and verrrry strange from the outset, Super Mario Bros is curiously entertaining, even though it often makes little sense.” – Roger Hurlburt, South Florida Sun Sentinel (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: HOUSE OF THE DEAD (2003)

DIRECTED BY: Uwe Boll

FEATURING: Jonathan Cherry, Ona Grauer, Clint Howard,

PLOT: Teenagers go to the Isle of the Dead for the “rave of the century,” but ravenous killing machines from somewhere within the zombie genus spoil the party.

Still from House of the Dead (2003)


WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  Uwe Boll’s weirdest idea is to periodically insert brief, totally unrelated clips from the “House of the Dead” video game into fight scenes in the House of the Dead movie. It’s not enough of a gambit to make this into a truly weird experience, but combined with the film’s transcendental, comic dumbness, it’s enough to make it an interesting curiosity.

COMMENTS: I think the people who have voted House of the Dead into the IMDB bottom 100 movies are too hung up on little things like believable characters, continuity, acting that doesn’t embarrass the performers, and dialogue that respects the intelligence of the target audience. Those are fine qualities in, say, a movie about a poor seamstress who falls in love with a consumptive poet in 19th century England, but they’re just window dressing in a movie about pumping as many bullets into the heads of as many zombies as possible in 90 minutes. Uwe Boll understands this, and, with an honesty that proved too brutally revealing for the 2003 movie watching public to handle, he delivered an experience in House of the Dead that’s the equivalent of sitting in front of a video game screen for an hour and a half, watching blood spatter, without even having to frantically press buttons for the gory payoff. I could say many uncharitable things about the inessential technical qualities of House of the Dead, but I can’t say that I was ever bored watching it, or that it reminded me of any other film in existence. The unbelievable seven minute centerpiece alone should save it from being listed among the worst movies of all time. Set to a relentless rap/metal metronome meant only to pump adrenaline, not generate suspense, it features photogenic, scantily-clad teens grabbing a cache of automatic weapons and slaughtering legions of living dead extras while Boll experiments with Matrix-style “bullet time” effects. Blood spatters; heads explode; college girls in low-cut, skintight American flag jumpsuits reveal ninja-quality melee skills; grenade blasts fling bodies through the air; guns inexplicably change from rifles to pistols in the blink of an eye. All the while, video game footage flashes onscreen, complete with health bars and “free play” notices.

There’s an energy and misplaced love of brain-dead action moviemaking here that’s brilliant, in its own way. It’s as effective a parody of the first-person shooter mentality as will ever be committed to celluloid. Add in shameless gratuitous nudity and pepper with headscratching verbal exchanges (“You did all this to become immortal.  Why?” “To live forever!”) and you have a movie that is unforgettable in its stupidity.

If you gave this exact same material to a competent hack like Michael Bay, he would work it over, smoothing out the rough patches of dialogue and continuity errors and polishing it to a dull, marketable, mediocre sheen. Given a modicum of acceptable storytelling and a surface appearance of competence, audiences wouldn’t feel so insulted—although the joke would be on them, since at bottom the result would be just as dumb. I much prefer the rough-hewn, all-too-human character of Boll’s work, which is at least interesting in its flaws.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…cheese of the purest stripe, bafflingly bad to the point of being oddly charming in its brain-dead naivete.”–Marc Savlov, The Austin Chronicle (contemporaneous)

2. SILENT HILL (2006)

“Je me suis drapé dans ma conception du fantastique, et ce n’est pas celle de tout le monde.” – Christophe Gans

DIRECTED BY: Christophe Gans

FEATURING: Radha Mitchell, Laurie Holden, Jodelle Ferland

PLOT:  After her adopted daughter’s sleepwalking problem turns hazardous, her concerned mother decides to investigate the name of the town that she mutters in her narcoleptic fits: “Silent Hill.”  The pair travel to the titular locale, a modern ghost town that has been abandoned for decades due to a coal fire that continuously burns underground.  Once inside the city limits, mother and daughter are separated, and the mother’s search for her lost child leads her through increasingly bizarre and portentous adventures in the haunted town.

Still from Silent Hill (2006)

BACKGROUND:

  • This film was adapted from the cult/horror Sony Play Station video game, “Silent Hill”.  Movie adaptations of video games were (are) a relatively new phenomenon, and had generally not been well received by either movie critics or fans.  Although these movies debuted with the advantage of a built in fan base, Super Mario Bros. (1993), Wing Commander (1993), and Doom (2005) had all been massive critical and box office flops, and that’s leaving aside the efforts of Uwe Boll.  Although the Lara Croft and Resident Evil franchises became minor hits, by 2006 the entire video game adaption genre had already become a critical punchline, synonymous with diminished expectations.
  • Director Christophe Gans, a French b-movie film-geek turned director, was a fan of the “Silent Hill” game series and convinced that he could fashion the first truly successful game adaptation.  He had previously had a surprise international (and modest stateside) hit with Brotherhood of the Wolf [Le Pacte des loups] (2001), a weird but energetic historical/detective/horror/kung fu hybrid.
  • Screenwriter Roger Avary assisted Quentin Tarantino on the scripts for Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Pulp Fiction (1994),  as well as handling both screenwriting and directing duties on his own projects, such as Killing Zoe (1994).

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  Blankets of ash falling over a deserted town like snow, until the eerie stillness is broken by the shrill wail of a 1950s era air raid siren.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  Gans paints his murky canvas with the expected

Original trailer for Silent Hill

monstrosities from deep inside the id, but it’s the film’s disjointed storytelling that turns it from a mere visual romp through scary-town into something totally disconcerting and off-kilter.

COMMENTS:  The critics agree: Silent Hill is a fantastic looking picture, but the script is Continue reading 2. SILENT HILL (2006)