Starring: Bob Hoskins, John Leguizamo, Dennis Hopper, Fiona Shaw
Director: Annabel Jankel, Rocky Morton
When this big screen outing for Nintendo’s famous video game was first released in 1993, it was treated by critics like something obnoxious that was blocking up the system and needed to be flushed out. Now it’s back on Blu-ray and it’s hard to see why everyone had such a downer on it. Yes, it has a totally random plot about dinosaurs being blasted by the shockwave from a meteor into an alternate dimension where they have evolved into humanoids, lead by the evil Dennis Hopper and Fiona Shaw, who now want to merge the dimensions into one with the aid of a fragment of the meteor which happens to belong to Luigi’s girlfriend, cute palaeontologist Daisy (Samantha Mathis), who is duly kidnapped and dragged into this mammal-free world, with the brothers who are plumbers in hot pursuit. But you also have to acknowledge the scale and energy of the film and the amount of moolah that was put on screen. They really don’t make them like this any more.
Although it also contains some very good early CGI, Super Mario Bros belongs to the last generation of movies shot in the old school Hollywood manner with full-scale sets and practical FX. In this case, a huge, 5-storey abandoned cement plant was turned into Dino-Manhattan by the design team of David L. Snyder, most famous for his work on Blade Runner. Brushed up on Blu-ray, these big, flashy environments and props exert an irresistible fascination, as do the rowdy, elaborately choreographed stunts, and the wonderful animatronic Goombas, lizard goons with tiny pea-heads and brains to match. With so much going on in the periphery, it’s perhaps not surprising that Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo tend to be overwhelmed, but on the other hand Dennis Hopper punches through with one of his best villainous turns (T-Rex little hands and all), and Fiona Shaw looks stunning in a stripy bodycon gown.
The HD transfer is first class. The early scenes in Brooklyn come up crisply and without grain despite overcast skies, the dark sequences in the tunnels under Manhattan have a richness and sharp contrast to them, and as you would expect, all of the dino-dimension stuff pops very nicely. Also adding much to the enjoyment is an excellent 55-minute documentary. Here the participants talk honestly about how the project started with good intentions but “de-evolved” in the worlds of co-director Rocky Morton, with a new script appearing ten days before principle photography began. After that, it was a free-for-all, with some of the actors writing their own scenes, Bob Hoskins breaking his hand and Hopper apparently having one particularly fearsome rant. In addition, there’s a contemporary 17-minute featurette with some interesting behind-the-scenes footage.