Believe it or not, back in the “good ole days”, America wasn’t the only country coming out with cartoons based on Nintendo’s iconic Super Mario Bros. In 1986, Grouper Productions (the same people who brought us Hello Kitty and her extended cast) came out with this OVA film which loosely adapts the storyline of the first Super Mario Bros. video game for the NES. Video cassettes of this anime can be rather hard to come by, and those that show up on Japanese auction sites can go for several hundred dollars. But god bless the internet: I watched it for free!
So, how was it?
Well, the premise is the same, though the story diverges in some key ways. Mario and Luigi are two brothers who own and operate a grocery store in (what appears to be) California. One day, while staying up late playing his NES, Mario is surprised when a beautiful Princess named Peach jumps out of his television and begs for his protection. She is immediately followed by the monstrous turtle-dragon, King Koopa, who effortlessly tosses Mario aside and kidnaps the Princess. The next morning, Luigi is skeptical of Mario’s story until a bizarre caterpillar-dog-thing enters their store and steals the locket Peach left behind. The Mario Bros chase it down a pipe and wind up in the strange world of the Mushroom Kingdom. Upon arrival, a mystical Mushroom Hermit charges them with the task of saving the Mushroom Kingdom from King Koopa’s tyranny and rescuing Princess Peach!
While some differences are immediately noticeable, the basic story is for all intents and purposes intact. Some changes are rather wacky, though. For instance, Luigi wears yellow and blue as opposed to his green and blue duds, and rather than act like a craven coward like he does in the games and in the American cartoons, he is instead a greedy sunuvabich. Good thing for him he winds up in a world where all you have to do is smash a rock open and gold coins fall out. Then there’s King Koopa. He’s much less sinister in this anime than in the US cartoons or even the more recent video games. His voice is rather whiney and high pitched (as opposed to the growly dragon voice we’re used to) and he’s kind of annoying. Probably the most perplexing change is that the character known as Toad in the US, along with all the other Mushroom Retainers, are girls. Noodle that one.
As far as the story goes, the OVA is aimed at kids rather unashamedly. It’s cute and funny, but only a little bit so. Some of the gags will have you smiling, but it’s a kid’s flick through and through, so don’t expect any “laugh out loud” moments. It probably could have been dubbed by the Super Mario Bros. Super Show cast and brought over to the US and fit in perfectly. As far as the animation goes, it’s no great shakes. It’s pleasant and not riddled with errors, but it isn’t what I’d call “visually stimulating”. It’s pretty much on par with all of Grouper’s Sanrio/Hello Kitty stuff.
I don’t mind it being a kid’s movie. I like kid’s movies. So that’s not what bugged me. No, what irked me was the over-the-top, “you’ve gotta be kidding me” product placement done throughout the film. At random instances, Mario with hit a block and Super Mario Brand Ramen will pop out and he’ll eat it and talk about how delicious it is. They even interrupt the final battle with King Koopa to hurl in some product placement. It’s rather annoying.
Overall, it’s a fun piece of obscure Mario media that’s worth watching, but not worth the insane prices it goes for online. Just about everything from the first Mario game is represented, from Lakitu and Spiney’s Eggs to the Hammer Bros. There’s even a nice twist ending that kind of breaks your heart (or Mario’s, at least). And fans of Super Mario 64 will instantly recognize the inspiration for the King Koopa boss battle from the climax of this film. But anyway, this OVA is only going to appeal to the hardcore Mario fans out there, and its limited availability doesn’t make it very accessible to a casual audience.
And because I couldn’t find any other place to mention this, there’s a scene where Mario kills a Buzzy Beetle with a fireball. You can’t do that!
The Wizard, made in 1989, was a movie that tried to realize every kid of the era’s wet dream: traveling the open road, free from your parents, doing nothing but playing video games and earning cash. This movie is remembered best for its numerous video game references and blatant product placement and commercialism, but in all honesty, video games only factor into a portion of the actual plot.
Jimmy Woods (Luke Edwards) is a little boy with a strange fixation on “California”. He continuously runs away and gradually withdraws deeper and deeper into himself. Jimmy’s parents want to have him institutionalized, but Jimmy’s older brother, Corey (Fred Savage), won’t stand for it. Corey and Jimmy run away and head for California. Corey’s older brother, Nick (Christian Slater), and their father (Beau Bridges), chase after them across country, but have to contend with a bounty hunter who specializes in catching runaway children. While on the road, Jimmy and Corey meet up with Haley (Jenny Lewis), a streetwise young girl who helps them along their way. While traveling the open road, they discover that Jimmy is a video game prodigy (or as they call him, a “Wizard”) and decide to enter him into the Video Armageddon tournament in Los Angeles, where the prize is $50,000. But Jimmy has a lot of stiff competition, and getting there won’t be easy.
The video game angle is really just a backdrop for all the personal drama and family troubles, giving the impression that this is more than just a Nintendo commercial, as most people think of it. The talent assembled for the flick is really pretty good, to be honest. He may get a lot of jokes hurled his way these days, but in all sincerity, Fred Savage was a genuinely *good* child actor. Christian Slater does his usual “Jack Nicholson-lite” while Beau Bridges plays the determined and caring father nicely. It isn’t until the second half, really, that things start becoming heavily focused on spotlighting video games.
And, of course, that’s the real draw of this movie; the video game nostalgia. There’s Double Dragon, Ninja GaiDAN!!, Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest, Super Mario Bros 2 and plenty more. Also, there’s the one game people remember most from this movie, the world premiere of Super Mario Bros 3. The Super Mario Bros 3 sequence at the end is a little irksome, mostly because they keep getting several facts wrong (this coming from a guy whose played the game about a million times), like calling World 1 Level 3 “World 2”, or Jimmy just somehow knowing exactly where the warp whistle in the fortress was (the only way people found THAT out was by reading Nintendo Power). And speaking of Nintendo Power, there are lots of references to it and the Nintendo Tips hotline.
But who could forget possibly the most dated video game element of the movie, the Power Glove. One of the movie’s “villains”, a rival video game pro named Lucas, uses the Power Glove to demonstrate how badass he is. He even goes so far as to say “I love the Power Glove. It’s so bad.” Oh, it was bad alright. *Real* bad.
The Wizard is a good kid’s movie but with limited appeal. Even with the recent DVD release it still falls below the radar of most sane human beings, only being remembered fondly by the gamer crowd. Still, if you’re a video gamer who was around during the reign of the NES and the existence of actual arcades which didn’t cater solely to the DDR crowd, then you’ll get a kick out of this movie. And even if you weren’t around at the time, if you like retro gaming then you’ll enjoy this.
The Wizard gets a B-. The story is pretty good for a kid’s take on “Rain Man”. The video game references are a great bonus.
Sonic the Hedgehog the Movie
I suppose the first thing that should be noted about Sonic the Hedgehog: “the Movie” is that, in reality, it was two Japanese OVAs (Original Video Animation) that were placed back to back for the American release. I suppose it’s not a “real” movie, but the episodes transition into one-another so seamlessly that you wouldn’t be able to tell.
On the Planet Freedom, home of Sonic the Hedgehog and pals, the evil Dr. Robotnik is in trouble. His headquarters of Robotropolis has been taken over by Metal Robotnik, and to make matters worse, the power-generator is overloading. If it blows up, Planet Freedom will blow up with it. By taking the President and his bratty daughter hostage, Robotnik coaxes Sonic and Tails to go to Robotropolis, defeat Metal Robotnik and stop the generator from going up in flames. However, can they really trust Robotnik? No, not really. As it’s all a ploy for the REAL plot of the movie; the creation of Metal Sonic!
When this movie was released, the only animated version of Sega’s star-hedgehog that American fans had ever been introduced to were the various kid-oriented TV shows produced by DiC. Writing-quality varied between the shows, but one thing remained the same, bland and slow animation.
With Studio Pierott at the helm, the animation in Sonic the Hedgehog: the Movie is quite beautiful. Maybe not theatrical-quality, but excellent all the same. One thing they managed that the American cartoons often failed at: Sonic looks like he’s going fast. Really, REALLY fast. When he first lets out that burst of super speed at the beginning of the movie, and runs along the cliffside, you know you’re in for a real visual treat.
All the early characters are there: Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Robotnik and Metal Sonic. This movie was made around the time of the Sega Genesis and Sega CD Sonic games, so this is old-school Sonic through and through.
The story-telling is a fair mix of intense action and goofy anime clichés. Robotnik is nothing like the American cartoons or the Archie comics interpreted him. He’s less a dark and menacing overlord and more a one-man Team Rocket whom the heroes regard more as an annoyance than a threat. Despite this, his antics are actually quite entertaining and the zany animation just makes him fun to watch.
The voice-acting in the English dub is, well, pretty bad. Sonic has an unidentifiable accent. One second he sounds British, the next he sounds Southern Redneck, then he’s a surfer dude…you can’t tell just WHAT the heck he’s supposed to sound like. I’ve even heard people say he has a South African-accent. The Hell? It’s not good if the voice actor is so bad you’re wishing Jaleel White would come back.
The rest of the cast isn’t so bad. Knuckles isn’t quite as angry-sounding as I’d have liked. He works, though. Tails, on the other hand, sounds like he has a cold through the whole movie. Most-likely, the actor was just holding their nose the whole time. The BEST voice, however, would have to be Dr. Robotnik. He has a great mad scientist-thing going, and to make it even better, he’s voiced by the Hitchhiker from the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Awesome.
The plot is nothing to take seriously, but it moves along quickly and all the scenes transition into one-another very smoothly. Metal Sonic brought to life is a beauty to the eyes, especially if you like Metal Sonic as much as I do, and his fight with Regular Sonic is a treat.
Sonic the Hedgehog: the Movie is really only going to appeal to fans of the video games, and even then, only to OLDER fans of the video games, as most kids today are only acquainted with the Sonic Adventure 3D franchise and the art design and character set that goes with it. However, if you’re a fan of the old school Sonic titles, you’ll love seeing them brought to life with animation worthy of the characters.
It gets a B. The movie is aimed at a specific market, and a specific age group within that market, but if you’re the target audience, this is the movie you’ve always wanted.
A Co-Op Critics Review!
Player 1: One Pumped Ninja
Christophe Gans’ last film, Le Pacte des Loups (The Brotherhood of the Wolf), is a pretty good indicator of what to expect out of his most recent film, Silent Hill. The aforementioned film was shot with a persistent atmosphere and mood that was incredibly rainy, dreary, and starkly despondent. His preference for setting over acting and dialogue will probably be his most enduring quality as a filmmaker as well as his downfall: The Brotherhood of the Wolf is an amazing journey into a fictional historic time of France but it suffers from a weak script and uses an overly typical conspiracy theory to substitute for a plot. In the same vein, Silent Hill reawakens some of these weaknesses but also manages to overcome the remaining few.
Silent Hill is based off the video game of the same title. The general plot of the game involves people who find themselves in the deserted ghost town of Silent Hill, which turns out to be a pseudo-Purgatory on Earth. What you encounter in Silent Hill is a manifestation of your own guilt, taking the form of horrific and hellish monsters out to punish you for your sins (which is why the children in the game don’t seem to notice anything wrong other than that there’s no people in the town). The first game, however, established the reasons as to why the town is like that. It probes the history of Silent Hill for answers. Taking mostly from the first game as source material and picking elements from the other games that could help, Christophe Gans has created the best video game film adaptation of all time as well as a solid movie in its own right.
Rose Da Silva (Radha Mitchell) and her husband (Sean Bean) adopted their daughter, Sharon (Jodelle Ferland) nine years ago. Sharon sleepwalks and speaks of a town called Silent Hill. Concerned with her daughter’s health, Rose decides to take Sharon to Silent Hill even after doing research on the town and finding out about its bizarre history (the town was abandoned in the 70’s due to a coal fire which, supposedly, still burns beneath the surface). An accident on the road leads to Sharon’s disappearance and Rose has to enter the town to find her… as well as a crapload of hellish creatures out for her as well.
The plot follows true to the game and does not rely on prior gaming experience to understand. In fact, it triumphs over its predecessor in that it better explains Sharon’s bizarre history and the question of why Silent Hill is a perpetual Hell on Earth. Some people have complained that the ending monologue is unnecessary and contrived: I’d say that without it, you’d have a bunch of pissed-off mainstream audiences demanding an explanation. There are a handful of illogical plotholes that don’t seem to make any sense, such as why a character would set clues for Rose to follow instead of telling her directly… or why your daughter would just leave you in the car and go off into Creepy Town by herself… or why didn’t they tell us the story behind the guy with a big pyramid on his head who swings a ginormous sword? Then there are the effects. Good gravy, this movie would have been infinitely better if Gans left his actors alone instead of enhancing them with CG bells and whistles. There were moments in the film where I was mentally editting the scene to imagine how it would be without the effects and trust me, it could have been crap-your-pants-a-rific. You don’t need CG demon bugs AND a big dude with a sword five times his size in order to make a scene scary: just keep the guy with the sword. Stuff like that. And the acting? Definitely could have been better. The dialogue is stinted at times, such as when a bunch of people get hacked to death and Rose says “it’s going to be okay” with a straight face. Come on lady, you’re supposed to be saying that while sobbing uncontrollably and shaking in your boots. When this comes out on DVD, I’ll watch the French dub just so that the acting won’t interfere with my enjoyment.
For everything else, the movie does beautifully. The setting is the most thought-out part of the film: it’s truly a creepy environment filled with realistic fog, abandoned buildings, decaying corridors, and ash falling from the sky. The sound is incredible: when the first siren goes off that tells you that bad stuff is about to happen, it’s done in complete darkness and your hair starts to stand up. The music in the film (and the awesome closing song played during the credits) come directly from the game soundtracked composed by Akira Yamaoka. The plot, as I said, does make sense but may require a bit of explaining for those who don’t understand the whole “make-a-deal-with-the-Devil-to-punish-those-people-who-tried-to-burn-me” thing. The film stays consistent from start to finish with a little bit of sluggishness in the middle, but that’s just due to the pseudo-crappy dialogue that gives us a rest from all the demons and weird stuff.
Though I had my reservations grade-wise upon leaving the theater, my mind seems to have diluted it in a way that makes the essence of this film definitely enjoyable as a horror movie, a fantasy, and a faithful adaptation all rolled into one. I know for sure that I’ll be visiting Silent Hill again soon and I hope that others will as well.
Aesthetics & Entertainment: B+
Player 2: DrSpengler
Silent Hill is a success on a number of levels. First, it is a fantastic adaptation of the original video games and easily ranks as one of the best video game-based movies ever made. Second, it is one of the extremely rare movies which takes concepts by author H.P. Lovecraft and translates them to the screen accurately. And third and finally, it is just a damn-good horror movie.
As the story goes, Rose’s adopted daughter, Sharon, keeps speaking of a place called Silent Hill in her dreams. Curious as to what that means, Rose takes Sharon up to the abandoned West Virginia ghost town to see if they can find anything significant. On the way there they have a car accident. When Rose awakens, Sharon is nowhere to be found and there appears to be no way out of the creepy town of Silent Hill. What comes next is a bizarre, surreal, disturbing trip through the town’s grotesque and indescribable horrors, as Rose searches for her lost daughter.
The first 2/3 of the movie are a magnificent treat for the senses and frighteningly faithful to the source-material. The audience is instantly flung into the insane and horrifying world of Silent Hill, where legions of twisted monsters lurk in the dark and reality is completely optional.
The effects of the movie are brilliant, bringing the nerve-wracking surreal world to life. Entire rooms and environments flake-away like ash and the hideous creatures with impossible anatomies are rendered fantastically.
And the monsters are incredible. You’ve got flaming dead babies, acid-bleeding mutilated zombies, hordes of man-faced leeches and, the best of them all, Pyramid-Head.
The down-side is the last 1/3 of the film. It seems the director got so involved scaring the crap out of us he forgot that the audience might appreciate an explanation as to why Silent Hill is so screwed up. What follows is a painfully long exposition from one of the characters that spells everything out in detail for the audience. This yammering monologue could’ve been avoided, or at least had its length cut short, had the director dropped a few more clues through-out the movie or at least given us our explanations in distributed portions.
Also, I felt my favorite “character” in the movie, Pyramid-Head, could’ve used a lot more screen-time. He was just that cool.
Although the ending falls flat to an extent, it isn’t nearly enough to ruin the rest of the film. I’d easily give it a solid B. Were it not for that last 1/3, this might have been the perfect horror movie. As it stands, it comes pretty close.
I know, no “Relative Grading Scale” this week. I’m just not in the mood. So, instead, just sing-along with me. “Silent Hill! Silent Hill! Utai o utauuuuu! Mina de! Mina de! Utaimashouuuuuu!!!”
A more appropriate title should have been “Stay Away”.
A potentially interesting concept, though shamefully stolen from films like The Ring, a group of trendy gamers who buy all their clothing from Hot Topic accidentally happen upon a cursed Playstation 2 survival horror game called “Stay Alive”. The game is based on the murderous Elizabeth Batherly and the players have to uncover the mystery of her killing-spree and “Stay Alive”. But all these kids totally suck and can’t manage to “Stay Alive” for crap. So however they are killed within the game, they are killed the same way in real life. That may sound entertaining, but the PG-13 rating sucks all the gore and suspense right out of it.
Just about the only satisfying portion of the movie, and the only segment that can be considered even remotely “scary”, is the first five minutes where you assume the first person perspective of one of the in-game characters, and wander through the darkly lit corridors of the haunted house, being chased by zombie children hanging off the walls.
However, that’s only the first 5 minutes. The remaining 75 are nothing but the standard cardboard cut-out characters (the bitchy goth chick, the loud-mouthed jackass, the stoic hero, the quiet girl, the hyper active youngster) being bumped-off in all manner of wholesome PG-13 ways while they make all the wrong choices and have you either sleeping, groaning or demanding your money back.
There are no real twists or turns, and characters seem to just “know” certain key bits of information by reading an ancient text for five minutes (the goth chick is the most annoying in this department). All while this is going on, the characters name-drop various video games and related accessories to make the undersexed 1337 gamers of the world squeal because “OMG I get that reference!” This movie is basically what would happen if G4/Tech TV had their own Hollywood production studio.
I can also sum up in two words the major contributing factor which made this movie so irritating: “Frankie Muniz”. His character is one of those annoying hyper-active know-it-all gamers you probably have crawling all over your high school, and you just want to deck him in the face. As a matter of fact, you’ll want to slug most of the cast in the jaw or eye-socket, even the women, because it’s just the typical human reaction to torture.
So on the “Relative Grading Scale of Scary Video Games”, a GOOD movie would rate as a “Silent Hill” or there-abouts. However, this was not just a BAD movie, but a VERY BAD movie, so it can rate no higher than “Dig Dug”.
I just want director William Brent Bell to know that Uwe Boll would be proud.