The recent video game film, Wreck-It Ralph (2012), earned the title “the best video game movie ever made” from most. On the surface, such a title sounds like a huge endorsement, but if you dig deeper, such a title doesn’t carry much weight when you look at the rest of the sample in question.
In short, it is almost like calling Rambo III (1988) “the best Rambo-goes-to-Afghanistan movie ever.”
OK, that’s an exaggeration, but not far from the mark.
The original Tron (1982) is perhaps the only other video game film worthy of battling Wreck-It Ralph for the title of “best video game ever,” because let’s be honest — most video game movies ain’t too good.
One would think, with plenty of captivating stories played out on home consoles every day, making a great video game movie would be easy. Not really.
Why? I don’t know, maybe, unlike Wreck-It Ralph, most video game films don’t embrace their video-gameness. Wreck-It Ralph doesn’t try to be something it is not, which is the Achilles’ heel of most video game films. Resident Evil (2002)? How do you screw up a special forces team fighting zombies in a spooky mansion?
Street Fighter (1994)? Worthy of its own article. Man, I waited in line on opening night to see that turkey.
And then we have the gold standard of failed video game films: Super Mario Bros. (1993).
I confess to a) seeing Super Mario Bros. in the theater on opening weekend and b) owning the DVD.
Yes, years later, as an adult, I made the conscious decision to own the film.
Is Super Mario Bros. “good”? It depends on what one considers good. Story-wise, no, not really. It’s just strange. Entertainment-wise, yes, because it is so ridiculous. Get a few beers, call over your friends, and put on Super Mario Bros. — there is no way you don’t enjoy yourselves.
Plus, singer-song writer Mojo Nixon has a cameo.
Why is Super Mario Bros. so strange? Because it didn’t embrace its video-gameness. The film tries to explain the hows and whys of the Super Mario Bros. universe, which is its biggest mistake — but it is also the reason it is so hilarious.
Let’s look at the film in a vacuum. If the screenwriters had the task of “try to explain how this universe with King Koopa and mushroom people could really happen,” they made a solid effort: An asteroid knocking dinosaurs into a parallel dimension, where they evolved into humanoids? OK.
We don’t need realistic explanations for plumbers growing into giants or shooting fireballs at angry turtles as they try to save a princess. People accept The Wizard of Oz or Alice in Wonderland for what it is: fantasy.
And this is how Wreck-It Ralph earned its many praises: it ups the fantasy and doesn’t try to be something it is not. There isn’t any screen time devoted to why the video game characters are “alive.”
They just are, and that is good enough for me.
Deep down, I am glad Super Mario Bros. is as serious as it is — otherwise, I may not have one of my favorite bad movies to watch with friends.
Further reading: Well in this case, listening. Check out the Super Mario Bros. episode of How Did This Get Made?
(NOTE: I originally wrote this post for The Idler, which came to an end, so I’m backing it up here with a few new edits.)