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The Archaeology of Super Mario Bros.

Most game movies are bad, and Super Mario Bros. was especially bad. That hasn't stopped Steven Applebaum and Ryan Hoss from creating an archive. Oh, and producing a sequel.

The last thing one might expect is a sequel to the Super Mario Bros. movie, yet that’s exactly what’s happening with Super Mario Bros. 2: The Comic.

Is it okay to admit that when I saw this movie as a kid, I laughed during the Goomba elevator scene? No? Okay, then.

Super Mario Bros. 2: The Comic is fan fiction in the sense that two hardcore fans are writing it, but it has more interesting roots than that. One of the original screenwriters, Parker Bennett, has directly contributed the project. Pages are rolling out on a weekly basis, and you can even read it now.

Super Mario Bros. arrived in theaters two weeks before Jurassic Park. The only time Nintendo allowed one of its properties to be adapted by Hollywood, Super Mario Bros. was a box office bomb in every respect. It’s a film left to aisles of discarded VHS tapes, only to be unearthed when a group of people have had enough to drink to convince themselves it’s worth watching.

Unless, of course, you’re Steven Applebaum and Ryan Hoss, the longtime maintainers of the website Super Mario Bros: The Movie Archive. Whatever you want, these guys have it. Scripts, storyboards, concept art, interviews with the cast and crew--Applebaum and Hoss have spent years of their lives chronicling a movie that became a footnote to just about everyone else.

“I like the concept,” said Applebaum. “I feel it’s something that hasn’t been done very often. Dinosaurs, parallel dimensions, cyberpunk--all these interesting elements that kind of sort of mesh together but not really. Then, you throw in the Super Mario Bros. and it just gives it so much more appeal. [laughs]”

(You can listen to my entire interview on the Interview Dumptruck, by the way.)

The site has been around since March 2007, though Applebaum didn’t become involved until four years ago. He can’t think of a reason why, but Applebaum had Super Mario Bros. pop into his head, and came across Super Mario Bros: The Movie Archive during a Google search. He reached out to the site’s operator, Hoss, and asked if he needed any help. Applebaum quickly realized the two had mined whatever it could out of what the Internet could currently offer concerning the film, and started scheming to dig up new info on their own.

Applebaum and Hoss admitted to struggling for a way to connect the movie's faux cliffhanger to their imagined sequel.

Applebaum started in the obvious place: IMDB. This would generate enough information for a Google search to pop up contact details for various people involved in making the movie. When that well went dry, the two signed up for an IMDB Pro account, which provides members with access to additional contact information. This proved extremely fruitful for tracking people down.

Of the folks Applebaum and Ross were able to contact, only only person turned them down: cinematographer Dean Semmler.

“He refused to be interviewed because he said he didn’t think it was his film, and he didn’t have the right to be interviewed about it,” said Applebaum.

Others, however, were much more accommodating. Richard Edson (Spike), Mojo Nixon (Toad), a series of background cast, and plenty of the production crew were more than willing to open up about it.

“Most of the people were very happy about it because, at the time, it was a very revolutionary movie,” said Applebaum. “They were introducing a lot of great special effects that hadn’t been done before, and they had these really talented actors, and it was a project they were proud to work on. Of course, it was going to be disappointing that it didn’t do well and that people didn’t like it for the most superficial reasons, so the fact that we were interviewing them, giving them a chance to talk about everything they did, it really helped them to share what they contributed and what they felt was important to the industry.”

But it would be impossible to talk about Super Mario Bros. without acknowledging how much of a circus filming the damn thing was. Grantland ran a phenomenal retrospective piece on the film back in April, in which it combed through a series of reports about Super Mario Bros. that described a production in chaos:

“The cast was basically in revolt," reported Grantland. "The actors would shove each day's new pages aside unread. Hoskins and Leguizamo swilled scotch together between takes, leading to an on-set accident in which Leguizamo drunkenly crashed a truck and Hoskins broke his hand. By the time Stayton got there, the disgruntled performers had abandoned any effort to put on a happy face. When Stayton told Hopper the directors declined to speak to him for the story, the actor responded,‘That's the only intelligent thing I've heard that they've really actually done.’”

Actor John Leguizamo played Luigi in the film, and he dedicated an entire chapter to ripping the film apart in his autobiography, Pimps, Hos, Playas, And the Rest of my Hollywood Friends.

"Oh man that movie sucks,” he said. “And I suck in it."

Of course, that didn’t stop Leguizamo from recording a video for fans who showed up to a 20th anniversary screening of the movie organized by Super Mario Bros: The Movie Archive in May.

Despite the snark surrounding the film, including some from yours truly, it definitely has a fan base, and it’s what kept Applebaum and Hoss going with the site. It’s why it continues to be updated in 2013, and it’s why the two of them are collaborating on producing an unofficial sequel through comics.

“Every time that we came out with some new information, we might end up getting an article or a mention on Twitter, that kind of thing. We always had a positive fan response,” said Applebaum. “There was always someone that said that they liked the movie and they felt they were the only fan. It pushed us forward.”

Applebaum and Hoss started considering a sequel to three years ago. While interviewing screenwriter Parker Bennett, the two asked about a follow-up. In the film, King Koopa is defeated, but Princess Daisy stayed behind to close the portal into Mario and Luigi’s world. In the closing moments, Daisy showed up at Mario and Luigi’s apartment with a flamethrower and asks for their help again. Reportedly, this cliffhanger was a tribute to Back to the Future, and not much consideration was given to where a sequel would go.

“But we asked him [Bennett] what he would have done if given the opportunity, and he gave these broad points about the consequences of the first film and the themes that they would have explored,” he said. “It triggered this huge discussion between me and Ryan Hoss, and we said ‘it’d kind of fun to visit those different ideas, and give something for the fans to appreciate.’ So we re-contacted Parker Bennett, and talked to him in more detail. He gave us a lot of backstory, and built up this whole idea of what could have happened.”

One version of the script would have placed it in line with the fiction of the game series. That might've been even weirder?

In the comic, Daisy has returned to the desert surrounding her city, in hopes of restoring water for her people. She soon discovers an underground machine that links her world to yet another, and a set of enemies flood in. Mario and Luigi are recruited to save Daisy and her people once again.

Applebaum said their sequel draws upon numerous elements that were intended to be included in the film but were cut during its haphazard production, which often included on-the-fly script rewrites and scene changes to accommodate the bloated budget.

Between the two of them, they’ve probably seen the movie well over 50 times. Having obsessed over the film for so long, stepping into the role of creating new fiction in that world was bizarre.

“It was a little strange, but after having seen the film so many times between us, it started to become very comfortable” he said. “We have this understanding of who the characters were, what they were about, and what they would do in a given situation. Over time, the scenes just started to script themselves, and the dialogue came naturally.”

This journey started more than three years ago, and will likely continue for several more. The script is currently more than 100 pages long, and it will take them more than a year to see the current project through. Naturally, the pair have already started to think about what comes next.

“We do have plans, after this comic, to work on a final chapter to the story that ends it on a trilogy note,” said Applebaum. “After that, we are hoping that people would be interested in contributing to a sort of expanded universe stories, which we think would be really interesting, because there’s a lot of different characters and side stories to explore."

(Thanks to Super Mario Bros.: The Movie Archive for the images featured in this story.)

Patrick Klepek on Google+
45 Comments
Edited by mrfluke

awesome work

Edited by elko84

In retrospect, the movie was terrible, but as a kid I loved the shit out of this movie.

Posted by rasko_the_brave

Good read. Thanks Scoops.

Posted by Dooley

Oh no.

Posted by Bocam

My Dad loved watching the movie stoned.

Posted by Monkeyman04

I going to admit that back in the day I loved Super Mario Bros the movie and I'm not ashamed of that. Even though now I would probably not make it through the whole thing.

Edited by Lava

I remember liking this movie when I was a kid. It's super interesting to learn people are still doing something with it! Good story Scoops!

Posted by Pudge

Patrick's negativity towards the movie aside (We get it dude, it's a bad movie!), this was a good article. I kind of like Super Mario Bros. in a B Movie sort of way. It's certainly different.

Posted by Gunrock

Thanks alot Patrick, i haven't thought about this movie in a while, yeah it did suck compared to the games, but i liked it, haven't watched it in a while but this article was pretty interesting keep on the good work.

Posted by Taku128

I would rather watch the Super Mario Bros movie than 99% of other video game movies.

Edited by Benmo316

This article was more interesting than I thought it would've been. Now I want to go back and watch Super Mario Bros.

Posted by ArbitraryWater

The idea that someone would genuinely enjoy The Super Mario Bros Movie is something that continues to baffle me after reading this article.

Posted by DazzHardy

I actually really enjoyed the Super Mario Bros. movie, but I guess I was at just that right age when it came out. Young enough to be "OMG SUPER MARIO MOVIE!" but old enough to understand it was an adaptation, and a little bit on the silly side. Great article Scoops, and I'm now really excited to see where they take this comic quasi-sequel :D

Edited by Patman99

As an archaeologist I feel obligated to comment on anything that has "archaeology" in the title.

In reality, what Applebaum and Hoss are doing is actually quite similar to anthropological archaeology (minus all the academic jargon and theories). They have attempted to scrounge as much information they can about a subject and shared it with the world. Moreover, the idea of interviewing cast and crew members has its anthropological merits too. They are showing us both how the people affected the movie and how that movie has affected people without explicitly telling us that they are doing so.

In saying that, the movie is terrible. But I find it fascinating that the internet has allowed people like Applebaum and Hoss to explore and share their obsession (if you want to call it that).

Posted by Tortoise
Posted by Budwyzer

Loved Super Mario Bros. The Movie. Still love Super Mario Bros. The Movie.

Been looking forward to an actual sequal since the open ending to the movie.

Edited by Draxyle

I had a class in highschool mistakenly without a teacher for several weeks. For some reason, there was a copy of the Super Mario Brothers movie on VHS in that room. My classmates thought it would be funny to ask each substitute to play that same movie over and over again across several days in a row. That was a soul crushing experience.

Looking back, I can see how some would.. "appreciate" that movie, though I still have to wonder how it all even happened in the first place. I know there's not much to work with as far as story, but there were Mario comics in Nintendo Power that you could have at least based a narrative around. What a weird thing.

Edited by Aoi

I adore the hell out of the movie specifically because it's so weird. I showed it to my 10 year old nephew recently and he love it too, and picked out a ton of cameo type things all through it from the games that I missed all these years later.

Edited by chiablo
@aoi said:

I adore the hell out of the movie specifically because it's so weird. I showed it to my 10 year old nephew recently and he love it too, and picked out a ton of cameo type things all through it from the games that I missed all these years later.

Similar thing happened to me. I loved this movie when I was young, I probably watched it two or three times a week while playing Game Boy.

Flash forward several years... I am married and we are bored in our tiny apartment. Looking through my old VHS tapes, I see the familiar Mario Bros. and suggest we watch it. I don't think I've been more embarrassed, I think we threw it away immediately after watching.

That was a good 10 years ago, and I'm lucky to still be married to her after that stunt.

Posted by TheHBK

That movie was terrible. As a kid, you felt insulted.

Posted by LiquidPenguins

Is this an ad?

Edited by Video_Game_King

One of the earlier conceptions of the Super Mario Bros movie was a sort-of animated feature starring Danny DeVito as Mario. I don't see how anybody can think the Super Mario Bros. Movie is good when it isn't this.

Edited by Stubee

That's a coincidence, I'm behind on my bombcasts and just listened to the one where they tear this movie apart today

Posted by sp0rkeh

@liquidpenguins said:

Is this an ad?

Obviously. I don't know about you but I'm pretty tired of all these fatcat Super Mario Bros.: The Movie fanfiction authors coming around and using their deep pockets and powerful political connections to plaster their ads all over.

Posted by Phished0ne

The idea that someone would genuinely enjoy The Super Mario Bros Movie is something that continues to baffle me after reading this article.

If the internet has taught me anything, it's that there is a group of people who genuinely enjoy anything. From The Super Mario Brothers Movie, to having their genitals stepped on.

Edited by bigevil1987

It's an awful movie, even as a kid I didn't like it, but I can appreciate its uniqueness. The Retronauts guys did a pretty good podcast about the movie and I think even an article or two before 1UP was shut down.

Posted by kerikxi

I loved the movie as a kid, but I fully realize it was just because I was a Nintendo obsessed kid. It was the kind of thing where my dad knew he could throw it in, and I would rewind and watch the damn thing for hours on end.

Posted by zeekthegeek

This movie is fun as shit, who cares that it's bad? I could watch it many times over.

Edited by Cold_Wolven

Fascinating article to read as I do have nostalgia for the movie since I enjoyed it as a kid.

Edited by EricSmith

I thought this movie was dope as hell. It was dumb as fuck, and it had a ton of stupid Mario references.

Edited by vikingdeath1

so reading this led me to youtube, and the whole movie is watchable, and I realized I had never seen the whole thing.... and Whooo boy! did I forget alot of things!

Edited by OllyOxenFree

BO-BOMB!!!

Edited by Deusoma

It's a little bit depressing to me that these two seem not to understand that while they receive a positive reaction to their work on the project, all affection fans have towards this movie is ironic in nature. I also have to laugh a little at the line "people didn’t like it for the most superficial reasons", as I would have to say that being the single least faithful adaptation of a videogame property ever made (yes, including Uwe Boll's crimes against film) isn't exactly a 'superficial reason' not to like the movie.

Still, while their affection is bafflingly genuine, their hearts are in the right place, and I look forward to seeing where this project goes. It'll remind me of good times spent with TANG and Ryan Davis, and that's always a plus.

Posted by Kingfalcon

Great article! I only have one suggestion/question, @patrickklepek. Why not call out the specific author of the Grantland piece rather than just the site as a whole? They have tons of writers over there across mediums, so it might be warranted here.

Edited by MormonWarrior

I really enjoyed that Grantland article. The movie is a disaster and really doesn't hold up past my childhood nostalgia. I mean, it's better than the freaking Phantom Menace, but it's kind of a painful movie to watch. It's got some cool style and things I like about it, but maaaaannnn.

A movie from that same time period that totally holds up? Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. That movie is still one of my favorites. Funny, tells a good story, great special effects, has good action...it's a great movie.

Edited by Cronoman66

anyone know who does the art for the comic?

Edited by FunkasaurasRex

Of course, it was going to be disappointing that it didn’t do well and that people didn’t like it for the most superficial reasons

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA

Edited by crithon

i find this fascinating because just this week there's an interview with David S Goyer talking about how poorly written video games are.

Edited by ThunderSlash

Woooow, I wasn't aware of an unofficial comic book sequel.

Posted by Hailinel

Honestly, I would have preferred the script idea that was closer to the actual games. Yes, it would have been odder, in some respects, but also far and away easier to swallow (and likely a million times better) than that pseudo-Blade Runner dinosaur evolution dumbassery that we ended up getting. And I say this as someone that didn't entirely hate the movie as a kid.

Posted by GreggD

I still love it, unapologetically.

Edited by Ravelle

Never seen this movie, I was a fan of the Super Mario Super Show though.

Posted by TheHumanDove

I just realized that someone is holding that camera in the video.

Posted by jakob187

I think anyone who was a little kid when this movie came out and saw it at that time will tell you that they loved the shit out of it. Why?

1. IT WAS FUCKING MARIO BROS...IN A FUCKING MOVIE! That shit was AWESOME, MIND-BLOWING for us as kids. It gave us some level of validation that this medium we loved was finally breaking this barrier. Kids understand that shit.

2. It was Bob Hoskins! He was Smee in muthafuckin' HOOK, one of the bossest movies ever!

3. We were kids and easily entertained at the time. Shit, we loved Jumanji (and that movie is some trash when viewed as a grown-up...Zathura is the shit, though). In turn, something like Super Mario Bros. had all kinds of cool special effects, the Mario Bros., that guy from that movie Mom and Dad loved (referring to Easy Rider...it was a classic in our household, and that's how I knew Dennis Hopper at the time), and we wanted to have some fun at the theatre.

Did I love that movie as a kid? FUCK YES! I also loved Mortal Kombat, Double Dragon, and Street Fighter! I can recognize how terrible they are nowadays, but I also know that they had a chance to be good. Unfortunately, Hollywood loves a good merchandising scheme, and these all fell victim to that.

What these guys are doing is pretty damn rad. They have a love for something, and rather than taking that with a cup of shame, they are pushing forward and doing something with it. Congrats to them. I'll check the comic out...just because I need to know what the fuck happens. My inner child NEEDS TO KNOW!