Redbrick Gaming and Film’s Writers and Editors come together to discuss the ‘best’ and the worst of films adapted from or influenced by video games
Super Mario Bros. (1993) – Ben Vasquez
To describe the 1993 film ‘Super Mario Bros’ it’s best put into context by its 30-year newer counterpart; 2023’s ‘The Super Mario Bros Movie’. Both have their differences but also share a lot in common, the new movie evidently taking inspiration from its older predecessor. The biggest difference is the fact that the older Mario movie is live action while the newer one is animated but apart from this they share a lot of the same world building; New York and ‘The Mushroom Kingdom’ (called the dinosaur Kingdom in the older film) being linked by their underground piping system and both merging together to form either movie’s third act for example. The older movie is a fun watch for anyone wanting a different approach to a very familiar franchise. If the newer movie was for the kids, the 1993 interpretation is for the men.
The 1993 Mario is a result of an exec asking his son what the rough premise of the Mario was and just running with that for 105 minutes, in fact Nintendo had no creative input on the film, they licensed it out to Hollywood and that was it. The film’s director Rocky Morton recalls having one ‘polite’ meeting with Miyamoto before production began and the two have not talked to each other since. As a result of this lack of communication Mario’s fantasy elements are unfaithfully transformed into a gritty sci-fi world, more of a blade runner type cityscape, perhaps to make the movie appeal to an older demographic but more likely due to restrictions both in technology and budget; the movie is very restricted in both these senses, the acting is subpar often feeling either stilted or way to comical and the practical/visual effects have lost sight of what par was even meant to be, on the bright side the film uses them sparingly; all the characters are acted rather than animated, for example King Koopa is a blond haired suited executive played by Dennis Hopper, and toad is a hippy street performer played by Mojo Dixon.
It’s a fun novelty but one which overstays its welcome. Although most of these changes have been retconned, as Miyamoto turns a blind eye pretending this movie never existed, not all of them were bad, Mario and Luigi’s brotherly bond, the heart of the film, is the most convincing its been in any piece of Mario media I dare say ever, Mario taking more of a caretaker role looking after his younger brother with Luigi being more of the carefree dreamer out of the two, far more appealing than the coward he’s so often depicted as. At least he’s present in the majority of this movie, something a certain newer version forgot to do… The Mario brothers being called the ‘Mario Brothers’ as a result of their surname being Mario, is also a fun quip that lives on as a niche little piece of fandom trivia, Mario being referred to as Mario Mario and Luigi being referred to as Luigi Mario throughout certain parts of the film.
The movie is a relic from a past before Mario got sanitised and for that very reason it’s a fun curiosity for any fan of the franchise to watch, it’s fun to watch Mario crack double-entendres and to see an actual romance between characters that at least develops into a kiss. Although it could have done with a lot more polish and has aged terribly, the movie is a fun one to watch, ok, maybe not in a serious sense but in more of a take a shot every time a classic beloved Mario character gets remade into a Brooklyn mobster and see how far you get kind of way. 1993 Mario walked so that 2023 Mario could run, putting a lot of the newer film’s building question blocks in place.
Pokémon The Rise of Darkrai – Louis Wright
No other video game franchise has had as many attempts at a film adaptation as Pokémon. With a whopping 23-theatrical releases and 3 more movie length specials, there have been many attempts for the series to get a film right. While some, like Mewtwo Strikes Back get it right, and others, such as Kyurem vs The Swords of Justice, are flatout miserable experiences. Pokémon The Rise of Darkrai is by far and away the most interesting of these films to consider.
The tenth movie in the series, The Rise of Darkrai centres around the titular Darkrai, a master of nightmares, and its relationship with its hometown of Alamos. Set to the backdrop of the war between the literal deities of time and space, the film explores the prejudice that one can hold based solely on appearance and misconceptions, and the impact that said prejudice can have on an individual.
Darkrai is the victim of people’s beliefs of its nature based on its abilities, when in reality any confrontation it does have is the cause of being unjustly antagonised. When kindness is shown however, its true nature appears, being a respect and love for not just the town it inhabits but the people and Pokémon that reside alongside it.
The film presents this same idea of prejudice to its audience in a meta-commentary. Based solely upon the character’s appearance, the title of the movie suggests Darkrai acts in a villainous role, rising to power. ‘The rise of Darkrai’ is rather a rise to the light. In defending its home from the gods of its world, Darkrai’s true nature is shown to both the people of Alamos but also the audience, subverting the preconceived bias towards it in both the film’s narrative and the real world.
Featuring surprisingly clever writing, a genuinely phenomenal soundtrack, and one of the most touching stories in the long running franchise, Pokémon The Rise of Darkrai stands out as a superb adaptation of gaming to cinema.
Bandersnatch – Jess Parker
Although not necessarily a conventional choice for a video game movie, the TV series Black Mirror ventured into the genre with their interactive 90-minute feature Bandersnatch in 2018, integrating a ‘decision’ format into the beloved cinematic universe. The show builds off of ‘pick-your-path’ adventure games and novels, as young programmer Stefan (Fionn Whitehead) works to bring his favourite fantasy text to life in a similarly ‘decision’ based format. With guidance from fellow tech-bro Colin (Will Poulter) and while cohabitating with the looming presence of his father Peter (Craig Parkinson), Stefan slowly becomes permanently intertwined with his own sinister pick-your-path narrative.
Bandersnatch is aggressively existential, focussing its narrative on the very premise of its interactive format. Black Mirror’s tech-heavy themes are not only apparent through Stefan’s technological prowess, but also through the medium with which viewers consume the media itself. The individual player has their own (fairly) unique cinematic experience, following one of Bandersnatch’s many paths before (usually) reaching one of five main ending sequences. Hence, the live-action interactive experience is easily rewatchable/re-playable, with audiences able to enjoy its plotlines in a multitude of different ways.
Bandersnatch is certainly not one of Black Mirror’s most hard-hitting and thought-provoking entries, however, it is one of its most creative and interesting to experience. Through the interactive film, Black Mirror successfully reimagines the 1980s ‘pick-your-path’ trend for the streaming age, cementing it as one of the show’s most talked-about ventures, and a worthy entry into the Black Mirror canon.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 – Tom Green
Having had little experience with the Sonic the Hedgehog video game franchise, the prospect of a live action adaptation hardly inspired enthusiasm. I expected the standard cash-grab quip-laden affair that dominates the box office for a couple of weeks before disappearing into obscurity. And well, that’s exactly what I got. That being said, Sonic 2 isn’t without charm; hell or highwater, you can always rely on Jim Carrey to deliver a suitably deranged performance, plus the film casts it net wide humour-wise. Granted, if you’re over the age of 12 the chances are Sonic’s comedic quality comes more from complete bemusement than clever jokes.
The unhinged plot beats- an undercover FBI agent’s plot to marrying with the goal of spying on Sonic the Hedgehog and a dance-off in Siberia after which Sonic wakes up suspiciously close to an elderly lady- are head scratching to say the least, but at least they’re impressively brought to life by an eye-watering $100 million budget. The madness somehow helps rather than hinders, it certainly makes better entertainment than the easter-egg-filled overstimulation gauntlet of the Super Mario Bros Movie (2023).
Die-hard Sonic fans will doubtless be pleased by the sheer volume of references, most of which went completely over my head. As far as fidelity to the games is concerned, there’s plenty of ring-snatching, explosions, and emeralds, but the bafflingly long sections of the film dedicated to exploring Sonic’s foster parents (James Marsden and Tika Sumpter) in order to tick the ‘inoffensive moral message’ box is sure to frustrate any video-game purists. While it wouldn’t make my end-of-year list, being thrown around the 4D cinema while Jim Carrey flosses is something I won’t forget anytime soon.
The Angry Birds Movie – Alex Taylor
Ever since The Angry Birds Movie catapulted to our screens (from our slightly smaller screens), it would be easy to think that the film industry was running out of ideas. However, progressive thinking flies like an… Angry Bird throughout this film. Not only in the refreshingly progressive cast of straight, white men, but in its unique visual style and storytelling. It’s easy to critique the Angry Birds Movie as a thoughtless, unnecessary addition to cinema that has no chance of breaking the curse of game-movie adaptations, but at times it is annoyingly good. The performances of the cast, by the likes of Jason Sudeikis, Peter Dinklage, Bill Hader, and Josh Gad ensures that the demographic of the film is surprisingly not just younger children.
The protagonist Red, who is surprisingly an especially angry bird, becomes suspicious of the pigs that have integrated into bird society, which unavoidably presents the protagonist as somewhat instinctively xenophobic. This allows him to form an unlikely bond with his fellow anger-management patients, allowing them to become unlikely heroes that validate the moral of the story. You are right to fear those that are different to you.
Evidently the screenwriter, John Vitti, is aware of the thinness of his source material, but as opposed to depicting an empty movie thrown at children, he has provided genuinely witty dialogue, aided by a stellar cast, helmed by a red, angry, cancellable bird. Angry Birds the game has always belonged in the bathroom, unlike the film, which undoubtedly belongs in the toilet.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World – Alice Weltermann
Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is a wacky watch that dips in and out of various mediums seamlessly; the fights are Punch Out! as directed by Tarantino, the cuts flicking back and forth at break-neck speed like the pages of a graphic novel. Indeed, originally adapted from Bryan Lee O’Mallay’s graphic series of the same name, the film has many forms to live up to. Surprisingly, it does. Micheal Cera as the titular Scott brings his trademark confusion and awkwardness to the role, his un-proactive nature failing to drive the film. This allows the video game form to take the reins instead, the viewer stepping into the protagonist role that Scott, reluctant player, leaves room for. In pursuit of infamous manic-pixie-dream-girl Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) he must battle her Seven Deadly Exes, the fights structuring the film as they build up to the Bowser of it all: Gideon (Jason Schwartzman).
The graphic novel form also carries its weight in this multi-medium hybrid; most notably, Julie’s (Aubrey Plaza’s) censor square that bleeps her swearing. Antagonists toward Scott’s pursuit of Ramona have these video game/ comic/ graphic novel shticks tacked onto them, making them seem all-powerful and surreal in face of Scott’s aggressive normalcy. It seems as though Scott, a bottom of the barrel kind of guy who doesn’t really care about a job, money or his underage girlfriend Knives (Ellen Wong), lacks insight into an adult world that is characterised by these ‘upgrades’.
His childishness means that his view of the world is restricted to a stereotypically immature lens; his enemies are video game villains to defeat, his acquaintance Julie (who, unlike him, has multiple jobs) is someone whose words he fails to understand. Scott is stuck at Level Zero, trying to make sense of the world he inhabits through arcade logic. Different forms function effectively in this film to create an electric, entertaining 90-minute movie that, although predictable, ensures some laughs and some skilful cinematography (Bill Pope). It promises to leave you with a craving to play Super Mario, or Wii Tennis at the very least.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie – Halima Ahad
The Super Mario Bros Movie was an instant hit this summer. Not to mention the fantastic soundtrack which added flair and excitement to the film. Although the source material of The Super Mario Bros. game does not exactly translate to the film, there are some well-known aspects within the film which avid gamers can easily recognise. The expansion of Mushroom Kingdom (into a fantastical, immersive land where the Toads live) rather than keeping it as a background place for Mario and Luigi to explore really stood out to me. The producers really did a great job of making it seem like there was some exciting background to Toad’s life rather than being a sidekick to Mario. Mario Kart is another game which was used in relation to the plot of the film. I loved this, as I used to play the game constantly on my Nintendo DS when I was little, as it really brought out the fun of the game and made it seem as if the film was similarly mesmerising.
The feminist approach of Princess Peach’s character was also impressive. She takes a stand for what she wants and leads the Toads. Compared to the game layout, where she is the typical ‘damsel in distress’, her character takes an interesting, modern turn which makes me admire her largely. As well as this, she acts as a mentor for Mario in the film and teaches him how to dodge relevant obstacles in the way, including the notorious Bowser.
Overall, I adored the film’s adaptation of The Super Mario Bros and it definitely did not disappoint. The in-depth exploration of things which otherwise would have been missed in gameplay adds something fantastic and refreshing to the film.
Uncharted – James Richards
I am not a gamer. I have played roughly five video games, one of which was Minion Rush. I do, however, enjoy films. I have seen roughly five films that were based on video games. Uncharted (2022) is my favourite of the five. I know very little about the Uncharted games.
In Uncharted, Tom Holland plays Nathan Drake, the swashbuckling hero of the piece. I am told that Holland is far too young to play Drake. I wouldn’t know. I do not own an Xbox. I never have. I don’t think that Tom Holland has either.
Mark Wahlberg also stars as Victor “Sully” Sullivan. Sully has never lost a fight. Sully has never lost anything. I am told that Sully ought to have a moustache. For most of the film, Wahlberg does not have a moustache. He acquires one at its very end. This is a formative moment for the character.
When I first saw Uncharted at the cinema, I decided to try a box of licorice allsorts. I was unable to finish the box. I watched most of the film feeling mildly unwell. Despite this, I still have positive memories of Uncharted, which is a testament to the film’s quality. The sickness (awesomeness) of the film was able to overcome the sickness (nausea) that I was feeling in my belly at the time.
Yes, Uncharted is perfectly adequate. Uncharted was directed by Ruben Fleischer. Fleischer is the man behind Venom (2018), a noticeably worse film. In Venom, character motivation is gnomic and action is near-impossible to follow: neither of these statements apply to Uncharted. In Uncharted, Nathan Drake falls out of a plane; as he presumably does in the games. Fleischer also directed Zombieland (2009). Zombieland is not based on a video game, although it feels like something that might have been.
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