“It-a-me … Chris Pratt?”
Nintendo’s iconic video game character Mario returned yesterday to dominate the game developer’s presentation – but not as you might expect.
Instead of announcing a new console rate, they instead said “Let’s gooo” to a new large-screen animated adaptation in which Chris Pratt will lead an all-star cast as the moustached Italian plumber.
These include Charlie Day as Mario’s brother Luigi, Anya Taylor-Joy from The Queen’s Gambit as Princess Peach, Jack Black as super villain Bowser and Seth Rogen as Donkey Kong.
It follows the recent success of Pokémon spin-off Detective Pikachu, as well as Sonic the Hedgehog from 2020 (after those terrible teeth were sorted out). The nostalgic value of the Mario franchise was emphasized by Chris Pratt, who said “dreams come true” and remembered playing the original game as a kid.
But the Universal Studios project, which is due to appear in 2022, is also entering dangerous territory.
Pop culture is filled with an eventful history of game-to-film adaptations – nothing more than the worldwide first attempt to get Mario in front of the camera in 1993. And then there was the time when Kylie Minogue signed up with Jean-Claude Van Damme for Street Fighter in 1994, which, perhaps unsurprisingly, has not been mentioned since then.
What makes video games for the big screen so difficult to master?
On paper, video games appear as a mature material to turn into blockbuster films. Games like Mario and Sonic offer fantasy worlds full of entertaining, lively characters that have family appeal, while titles like Tomb Raider, led by the empowered Lara Croft, produce perfect popcorn action potential.
However, the reality is a little different. Heritage titles like Mario come from a gaming era that only offered basic character development due to technical limitations – instead, it relied on player participation.
In the 1993 case of Mario, this created scripting tension, with studios clashing with writers over artistic visions.
The film’s producer and original director Roland Joffe, fresh from filming The Killing Fields, envisioned a darker tone. He told Nintendo he wasn’t doing a “cute little love story” but instead trying to make the world more attractive to the screen.
“Joffe wanted to do with Super Mario Bros what Burton did with Batman for superheroes,” Steven Applebaum of the 2018 film’s fan website told The Guardian. “He wanted to redefine characters for young adults.”
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Four game-to-film adaptations
Resident Evil (2002-2016)
Capcom’s long-running survival horror series received its best big screen treatment from the six Paul WS Anderson films. Milla Jovovich played Alice, a character created for the film, who, however, fits into the gloomy horror setting of the game world of zombies and cruel creatures from nuclear fallout. Think about steroids 28 days later.
Street Fighter (1994)
Based on the hugely successful hunting game franchise that dominated the 1990s, the action film drew audiences with Van Damme starring as Colonel Guile and a certain Kylie Minogue as the fearless revolutionary Cammy. The audience flocked in droves and the money rolled in, but critics derided the over-the-top tone and clumsy portrayal of the characters. It hasn’t aged well.
Tomb Raider (2018)
After Angelina Jolie’s portrayal of Lara Croft, Alicia Vikander took over the reins at the restart in 2018, which, like her reissued gaming counterpart, gave Lara more courage and personality and far less 90s magazine about sexualization.
Detective Pikachu (2019)
When Tim Goodman tries to find his missing private detective father Henry, he teams up with Pikachu … who, it turns out, is now a detective who can speak? Better still, he’s voiced by Ryan Reynolds in the family-friendly Deadpool mode. It shouldn’t work, but it really, really does.
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Attempts at scripting similarly fluctuated between multiple writers, some of whom introduced a gum universe while Joffe endorsed a cyberpunk aesthetic instead. The last directors of the film, Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton, ended with a mish-mash: dark, elaborate sets, the cartoon-like shots of Bob Hoskins a