Sunday, May 31, 2009

Super Mario Bros. - The Unused 1991 Script

This post may be a little unorthodox. But these kind are the most interesting, anyway. As many video game fans know, back in '93 a "Super Mario Bros." movie adaptation was made based on the '93 script by Parker Bennett, Terry Runte and Ed Solomon, but it cheated the fans in such an epic manner that it seemed more like "The Crow" than "Super Mario". But very few video game fans know of the fact that there was one more, unused script for the film, written by Tom S. Parker and Jim Jennewein in 1991. Thanks to the website run by Ryan Hoss,, people have been able to download the original script and actually read it - and no doubt about it, I was one among them. The original screenplay is so different from the '93 film that one can't even begin to compare them and wonder "What if?". Would the 1991 script have made a better film than we got in the end? That was the same thing I asked myself so I decided to make a special review of it to compare them back to back.

For one, this script is so much more true to the "Super Mario" world, blending fantasy and comedy, incorporating many characters from the game into the story, having the two heroes both have a moustache and overalls all the time, yet it has some 'rough' edges. For starters, the opening is almost identical to the film, except that the baby isn't actually an egg but a baby, and that it is carried by an old man, not by a woman. There is a slightly cynical, but good joke that gives this script opening a plus point over the film opening: namely, just as the old man managed to bring the baby safely to Brooklyn and run away, he is confronted by Koopa and his henchman. Koopa shouts in a very threatening manner: "Where is the baby, old man? Tell me or you will feel pain!", which scares the man so much that he dies from a heart attack. Koopa is then surprised and adds: "...I hope it wasn't something I said". The opening for Mario and Luigi starts off nicely, with Luigi messing up an apartment bathroom and Mario coming outside telling: "I leave you alone for 10 minutes and you make a 1 hour job into a 3 hour job!". But that's where the plus points for the script end for a while. Namely, for some reason, Mario comes across as a total jerk. He is always grumpy, has a grouch against his brother all the time and is a near total pessimist. The worst idea was having him owe some money to the mafia - that's pretty much the low point of the story. It's completely inappropriate. What's more, there is no sense of any comradeship between Mario and Luigi. Mario treats him like a third wheel in the majority of the story and it's wrong. So, the plus point for the opening Brooklyn segment goes to the film which was much more fun and good natured: despite some differences between Mario and Luigi, you could always feel their bound and mutual loyalty. Bob Hoskins' Mario was charming, and one could hardly imagine him to be such a grouch like in the script.

After the two heroes enter a pipe to save Hildy, the princess in the story and Luigi's love interest, they come to a new dimension, in a world where Koopa wants to crown himself as the new king. Interestingly, though, Koopa picks up Hildy in Brooklyn disguised as a human, but his fellow magician Beedleman transforms him back into a giant lizard. In a dialogue between Beedleman and Koopa, it is discovered that the giant reptile’s motivation for all this is because his “father allowed their land to be seized”, which is why he aims to marry the princess and become king, so that no one will dare to take anything from him again. The character of princess isn’t especially well written, but she has her moments, like when she says this to Koopa: “You’re not my type…You’re not even my species!” Many jokes backfire, though, like when a toadstool sprouts on Toad’s head, which he then eats, or the dumb idea that Hildy slowly transforms into a lizard when she eats Beedleman's magic chocolates that will make her love Koopa.

In a twist of faith, Mario, Luigi and Toad are sent by Wizard Woltan on a mission to go to the "cave of no return" and prove themselves to be the chosen ones who will get the land rid of Koopa. In one especially elaborated scene that many would have loved to see get made, a camp where Toadstoolian slave workers throw shovels full of dragon fruit, Mario, Luigi and Toad jump into a cart hooked to a rope and descend down the mountain. When the Hammer bros. follow them in another cart and slice the rope with their axe, there’s a neat chase where they continue racing on the road, but the Hammer’s cart gets crashed into a tree, while the trio’s cart gets crashed to a stump, from which a hag shows up and hides them from the Koopa’s henchmen, but gives Mario the “juiciest kiss in movie history”, as it says in the script, in exchange. Along their way they stumble rather arbitrarily on a dinosaur egg where Yoshi hatches and they enter the "pit of no return", get some magic items and continue to go to stop the wedding.

The script is somehow ambiguous. On one hand, it offers some very interesting moments, yet on the other hand it seems some of those moments were only half-explored (the special powers actually show up in the story, but only once when Luigi gets a leaf and gains the ability to fly in order to save Toad from falling into the pit, yet it all remains just on that. What a missed opportunity: imagine just if Mario and Luigi had gotten all the powers at their disposal?). The producers were probably worried that the whole budget might explode, which is why they abandoned this script. The '93 film had a 42.000.000 $ budget and I instantly remembered Jim Henson's '86 fantasy film "The Labyrinth" where the authors created a fascinating little world that bared such a resemblance to the Super Mario world that it was astonishing, down right to some Yoshi looking dinosaurs in some scenes. It's even more surprising that "Labyrinth's" budget was only 25.000.000 $, almost half of the "Mario's".

The '93 film had many things going against it, but at least it had two going for it: it was a 'guilty pleasure' and it was fun, which is why it got a 5/10 from me. This script is heavy handed, but as a whole it's better and would have probably made a 6/10 film, maybe even a 7/10 if it was directed the right way. If they ever decide to remake the Mario film, this 115 page script would be a good starting point.


Unknown said...

So, What's the grade of this critic?


Marin Mandir said...

Read the last line: I gave it a grade somewhere between good and very good, 7/10, provided it can be transmited to the big screen in the right way. I was quite surprised by this script - despite a "rough start", I truly enjoyed it on several levels once Mario and Luigi enter the Mushroom kingdom.

Unknown said...

I read it, I thought it was awesome. Why wasn't that the Mario Movie. I mean, when I read Beedleman (which I assume was a Magikoopa, predating Kamek) saying "Sorry Mario, but the princess is in another castle", I was happy and appalled at the same time. Happy, because of how this script really got the references, and appalled because it never became a movie... I just wish someone can make it with Source Filmmaker.

Marin Mandir said...

It certainly would have been more faithful to the source material. So many good little jokes and lines throughout, it would have been really interesting to see the movie this could have been.