Many consider the Super Mario Bros. movie the urtext of lousy video game film adaptations. Or, at least, that’s how the narrative goes. Released in 1993 to piss poor reviews and disappointed 8-year-olds hoping to see an actual goddamn goomba running around like a little mushroom freak, Super Mario Bros. is also something of a technical and creative achievement. Directed by Max Headroom creators Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel and co-written by Bill & Ted creator Ed Solomon, the movie is the exact type of thing that we don’t have enough of today: A sci-fi movie with real sets, strong artistic license, and Dennis Hopper (that last one really stings). Finally, after years of languishing as kind of a cult curiosity, a “maybe it’s actually good” flop in the vein of Speed Racer, a new version of Super Mario Bros. is here (though, sans Waluigi. Sorry, freaks).
Discovered by the official Super Mario Bros: The Movie Archive, this 125-minute extended cut, which the team refers to as “The Morton Jankel Cut” after the film’s directors, re-introduces some excised plot points and adds a lot more Dennis Hopper as Koopa. The cut comes from a VHS tape that initially belonged to producer Rolland Joffé, who likely lost it in a warp tunnel or got hit by a shell or, I don’t know, posted it on DeviantArt or something. Either way, the restoration comes courtesy of Garrett Gilchrist, best known for his work on The Thief And The Cobbler: “The Recobbled Cut.” Gilchrist has seemingly been working on cleaning up this VHS copy for the last two years, adjusting the 60 frames per second (fps) framerate to 24 fps, performing color grading and noise reduction, and Photoshopping out any dirt and damage frame by frame, in many cases.
As The A.V. Club noted in a re-appraisal of the film in 2018, the movie’s problems aren’t the lack of red caps, friendly-looking Yoshi dinosaurs, or Waluigi. “It’s not the movie’s blatant unfaithfulness to the games that undoes it; it’s the inability to pick a tone,” writes Matt Gerardi. That certainly matches the stories of the film’s shoot from star John Leguizamo, who plays Luigi. “It’s eight-year-olds who play the game, and that’s where the movie needed to be aimed,” Leguizamo said. “But [the directors] kept trying to insert new material. They shot scenes with strippers and with other sexually explicit content, which all got edited out anyway.” Well, now, apparently, those strippers are back—just as the artists intended. The lack of strippers definitely hampered the movie’s artistic prospects. Still, watching the film, it’s easy to see that the directors’ cyberpunk vision for the Mushroom Kingdom clashed with commercial sensibilities, and it’s nice that fans can finally see a more fully realized version of their work.
A lot of labor went into this, essentially, bootleg version of the film that no one will see any money on. Even Mario got a cake for saving Peach from a fucking dinosaur. But the Super Mario Bros: The Movie Archive is more interested in keeping the artistry of the original Mario Bros. movie alive than it is in profit, apparently. They made the film available to everyone on Archive.org. Gilcrest even put together a 35-minute presentation about the restoration last year, if you’re just interested in checking out what the process was like or want a rundown of the film’s additions. And who wouldn’t? Did we mention there was more Dennis Hopper? Still, would it kill Gilcrest to add some Waluigi to the movie? C’mon, release the Wa-cut.