In the summer of 1993, Super Mario Bros. was greeted by awful reviews and grossed just $20 million at the box office on a budget of $48 million. Though the film was praised by many critics for its visual flair, the script was almost universally panned. Wrote James Berardinelli: “As everyone knows, arcade-style diversions are not known for strong, original narratives or well-developed characters. In that sense, this film is worthy of its inspiration.” Ouch!
Now, co-director Rocky Morton (who helmed the film alongside his creative partner and future wife Annabel Jankel) has spoken out on the “harrowing” experience of directing the video game adaptation in an interview with SciFiNow (via UPROXX). He's not kidding! Here are a few highlights from the conversation, which you can and should read in full here.
1. They cast Bob Hoskins as Mario because he was “available” (but really wanted Danny De Vito).
“Danny De Vito turned us down. Mario was the main character in the cast, and Bob was available. It was basically about availability. There are all these stories about the way people are cast but it”s normally about availability.”
2. Studios balked at the original script by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, which according to Morton was darker and more “sophisticated” than what ended up on screen.
“It was an independent film and the producers needed more money and a studio behind them, and the studios rejected the script because they thought it was too dark. That threw them into complete panic, and instead of sticking with the script that Annabel and I wrote with Dick and Ian, they threw it out and told us to work with a new writer.”
3. He and Jankel nearly walked off the film after the new script came in.
“The new writer wrote it in about a week and a half and then we were presented with the script [HitFix Ed. Note: the script was credited to a trio of writers: Parker Bennett, Terry Runte and Ed Solomon]. That was about a week before the start of principal photography. We were given a script that was completely different, and Annabel and I almost walked off the film at that point. The problem was that they”d built all the sets and created the prosthetics, and the cast was together and they”d found this great place to shoot it… We really thought we”d end up walking, but we decided to try to make the new script work as we were shooting.”
4. The decision to go with the new script caused “turmoil” on set with the actors.
“Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais” script was the script that Annabel and I wanted to make. It was a different script, and the actors were all brought onboard for that script, and then it was completely changed. I had to stand by with the new script, obviously, and tell them that it was great when I knew it wasn”t. They were all saying, ‘Where”s the original script? Where”s the one we liked?” and we”d have to tell them 'it”s all new, it”s all new and different now.' So everybody was angsty and uppity, and the whole thing was thrown into turmoil because of that one decision.”
5. Budgetary issues became a huge problem during shooting.
“It was a harrowing experience. I mean, we had five units working every day… We had this enormous set that was built with not enough money to light it… I”d ask for a crane to put the camera on, you know, because we”re making a movie, and there wasn”t any money for a crane for a movie that size! [Laughs] Stuff like that was happening all the time. It was hell.”
6. Dennis Hopper, who played the villainous King Koopa, more than lived up to his difficult reputation.
SciFiNow: “Dennis Hopper is quite notorious for being difficult to work with. Did you find that too?”
Morton: “Again, ‘quite”. The word is ‘extremely”. That was really, really hard. Really hard. I don”t think he had a clue what was going on. There was one particular incident; we had to shoot out of sequence because of the script changes, and we had to shoot on one of the sets that wasn”t ready yet, and we had to shoot on a long lens. I had to position Dennis in a certain way because if I shot off, I would be shooting off the set, so I had to change his position and he said, ‘Rocky, that”s a big change!” and I said, ‘All I want you to do is instead of walking here I want you to walk there,” and because of the whole mess he just couldn”t handle it. I said, ‘Yeah, but we”re shooting off the set if you walk that way.” It was stuff like that. On and on. It was mind-blowing.”
7. He and Jankel were locked out of the editing room.
“It”s a messy film. It”s a big mess. You can”t rewrite a script for a film that big and go into production in a week without it being a mess. But we did the best we could with what we had. And then we tried to edit it together at the end to make more sense of the mess, and we were locked out of the edit room. We had to get the Directors” Guild of America to open the edit room for us. We were only in there for a week and then they locked it again, so there wasn”t enough time really to pull it all together. Annabel and I were the only ones that knew the story inside out and we were trying to edit it a certain way, but it wasn”t possible.”