Gerry And-A-Son Have A Great Weekend

Rather appropriately for a weekend which celebrated new life and resurrection, with the release of not one but three new series, this Easter saw something of a comeback for Gerry Anderson. Unlike his resurgence in the early nineties which came courtesy of his classics being given repeat broadcasts (Space Precinct notwithstanding), this years is more impressive for the fact that the series being released are all original(ish) productions, and that this is all happening posthumously.

Jamie and Gerry Anderson

Gerry Anderson, with son Jamie

Having been diagnosed with dementia in the form of Alzheimer’s disease, Anderson sadly passed away on Boxing Day 2012. Never one for retirement however, he continued to create and develop new ideas for as long as he was physically and mentally able, even dictating them to others after the ability to read and write had left him.

The last project he was working on was also the first to have been released, when last Thursday saw Black Horizon become available to the general public. With plenty of notes and outlines left behind, Gerry’s younger son Jamie Anderson recruited the services of author M.G. Harris and brought Gemini Force One to the attention of crowdfunding site Kickstarter; the result of which was raising over £33,000 to bring this this new idea to life.

Black Horizon

From the co-creator of Thunderbirds….

Looking at the fantastical concept of Thunderbirds, Anderson delved deeper into the idea of how such a rescue organisation could conceivably be created and operate. These range from basic ideas that include bland uniforms specifically designed to blend in to any situation, to their secret underwater base (Gemini Force One itself) being hidden from view by revolutionary lightbending technology.

The release of Black Horizon, the first in a planned trilogy of novels, is also something that I personally have a number of connections with. Firstly, as one of the 614 backers, I can say that I helped GF1 became the reality it is today; something confirmed by the fact that my name is printed in black and white in the book itself.

Having received my kickstarter copy of the book last year, I was also able to write a review for it at WhatCulture before its general release. As I guess is often the case when you write a favourable piece about something people have spent so much time and energy on, both Jamie and M.G. shared my review on social media. Gratifying enough on its own, but the fact that this review is also being quoted on the book’s page at Amazon is something that I have to admit I’m also rather chuffed with. (The review itself, along with a more in-depth description of GF1 can be found here.)

In the week since its release, extra deleted chapters have also been made available, and can be downloaded from the official website, geminiforce1.com.

The second, and much more anticipated release, was Thunderbirds Are Go, a new TV series which combines traditional model making techniques with computer generated characters. Although obviously based on the most famous series created by Anderson (alongside his then wife Sylvia), this incarnation is a joint production between ITV Studios, Pukeko Pictures, and Weta Workshops. Officially announced by Gerry Anderson himself back in 2011, just how much he was involved in the production of the series is hard to say; presumably very little but, unlike the 2004 Hollywood effort, we can be assured that Thunderbirds Are Go at least had his blessing.

Thunderbirds are still going!

Thunderbirds are still going!

Jamie has also been involved of sorts, acting again as Anderson’s successor/figurehead when doing interviews to promote the series. These have included The One Show, but perhaps the most interesting was on Sky News where the interviewer that seemed to imply the series was created solely to make use of tax loopholes.

Rather than sing its praises indiscriminately however, he has been promoting it in terms of celebrating its classic origins, allowing the new footage to speak for itself. One way in which he did make his opinions about the new series well-known however, was by writing a piece published by the Telegraph, about how CGI can never replace strings.

Although Jamie may be siding with those of earlier generations, it has to be said that Anderson Sr. himself wasn’t dismissive of the CGI revolution’s ability to update his series’ visuals, as the last to be produced before his death, 2005’s New Captain Scarlet, was produced in full CGI “Hypermarionation”.

I want to believe

How I summed up my trepidation

Eagerly scouring pictures and information that was released in the run up to the show’s broadcast, it was with great curiosity that I watched Reggie Yates’ preview documentary Thunderbirds Are Go: No Strings Attached. Despite the reassurance of not just the names of those involved (from actor David Graham returning to the role of Parker, and a script by David Baddiel), but the passion of those involved, my fears about CGI and modernisation weren’t quenched.

So it was that not having been convinced by the clips of what I had seen, but still with an open mind, I sat down and watched the pilot episode, “Ring Of Fire.” CGI aside, the main changes have come from the show’s narrative, the most obvious being the fact that dad Jeff Tracy is now missing. Several allusions are made to a mysterious crash in which he disappeared, explaining his absence but also adding a sense of mystery that will presumably be a recurring arc over the run of the series. ‘Tin Tin’ has also been given a more prominent role, as well as the new name of Kayo, presumably so as not to upset anyone associated with the latest adventures of Herge’s finest, given her now more involved and adventurous role.

And in the end, I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised. It is hardly perfect as the CGI and practical models don’t always mesh well, particularly during the heavy action sequences, and it is not something that will ever replace (although I highly doubt this was the intention) or surpass (you’d have to ask them) the original series. That said, it was something which appealed to me as both someone who cannot help but pick apart and analyse TV, and as a fan of Anderson’s previous work. Of all the things that they did get right, luckily the iconic Thunderbird lauch sequences, complete with bending trees, was one of them, and brought the biggest smile to my face.

TERRA0102_deadlydeparted_1417Following on from these was also the release of a new Terrahawks box set from Big Finish, a series of 8 audio episodes, one of which can be downloaded for free. Admittedly a series of which I initially knew less than Big Finish itself (a company established to continue Doctor Who after the original TV was cancelled, and which has since expanded to produce material for other sci-fi series including Stargate and Blake’s 7).

Something obviously aimed at an existing audience rather than a new one, the medium of audio adventures seems something at odds with the rest of Anderson’s back catalogue, given that his name has become synonymous with brightly coloured vehicles and giant explosions. Whilst even the written word of Gemini Force One can describe the detailed visuals, audio Terrahawks doesn’t actually seem that out-of-place, and is probably the most suited to this new (for Anderson) medium. Populated by characters with caricatured accents, these new adventures make the most of what audio has to offer; the sound of spring like motions rather than footsteps is a great way to establish the robotic nature of the series, and never has the idea of a room being so silent been so cleverly (and funnily) portrayed). The fact that Jamie was involved in terms of both writing and directing episodes also adds the desired amount of authenticity.

Despite the vastly different media, and varying degrees of publicity, all three of the latest Gerry Anderson projects may not have been met with universal praise (I guess you can’t please everybody), but at least with a favourable response that bodes well for the fact this is still just the beginning.

Black Horizon is the first in a trilogy, Thunderbirds Are Go has already been confirmed for a second season, and the current Terrahawks box set is merely volume 1. Add to this that there is even more on the way (Jamie’s latest kickstarter project, Firestorm, was funded back in November), stand by for action indeed!!!

‘Thunderbirds’ are still Go!

After my usual morning routine of checking my email, social networks, and sfx.co.uk, today I came across some great news. Three months after the sad death of Gerry Anderson, not only is his legacy is still alive as ever, but the shows that he was working on seem to still be in development.

Despite growing up thirty years after they were first made, Thunderbirds, Stingray, and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons were highlights of my childhood. They captured my imagination, were undoubtedly an inspiration for me pursuing a career in film/television, and are a treasured part of my nostalgic VHS collection.

Anderson was still creating new shows well into the '90s and beyond.

Anderson was still creating new shows well into the ’90s and beyond.

Although I’m afraid to say I’ve seen less than half the shows he produced, there hasn’t been one I’ve seen and not enjoyed (Space Precinct was also a personal favourite), and this just helps to point out how prolific and imaginative a creator he was.

Not one to rest on his laurels however, it seems that he continued to work as long as his Alzheimer’s would let him, and today Anderson Entertainment have announced that there is still more to come, as they are “actively pursuing a number of new Gerry Anderson projects“.

As much as this prospect delighted me, there was also part of me that was sad as well.

On one hand for Anderson himself, and the simple fact that he won’t be there throughout the production of whatever these projects may be. But also because no matter how good film and TV projects that don’t involve their original creator are, they also have the potential to be so much more.

I know it’s a comparison I always seem to use, but to be fair, there’s not much else that has had such a lengthy and celebrated-auteur-centric history as Star Trek.

Although it continued going from strength to strength after the death of Gene Roddenberry in 1991, and with new producers came new ideas such as the stationary Deep Space Nine, none of his sucssesors have explored sexual equality in the same way Roddenberry did with race and gender in the 60’s.

Despite giving interviews in which he stated that Season 5 of The Next Generation would feature gay characters, even today, 21 televisual seasons and five feature films later, we are still waiting to see if J.J. Abrams will live up to the fact that it “should happen and I would love to be able to be a part of that” with Star Trek: Into Darkness.

In many ways Roddenberry and Anderson were more similar than I think they’re generaly given credit for, both being influential figures who played their part in the ‘Golden Era’ that revolutionised TV on both sides of the Atlantic. Another possible unlikely comparison however, is James Cameron. Or at least their creations.

When it comes to his films, James Cameron created not just memorable characters in The Terminator and T2:Judgement Day, but an iconic and unique family situation that even the Tracys can’t outdo. Both written and directed by Cameron, they each give different insights into what is an intriguing relationship between lovers, mother and son, and son and absent & adopted father figures, but which the following film Rise of the Machines overlooks.

With Hollywood still seeing the money potential, even after Cameron reportedly announced that T2 finished the story he wanted to tell, the further cinematic adventures were perhaps even more inevitable than 2004’s Thunderbirds. Made by “an American company who didn’t know anything” it is not surprising that the film was a failure with both the box-office and critics. As Anderson was not even hired to be creative consultant, he can only be respected for turning down a six-figure offer to endorse the film by attending its premiere.

TV spin-off 'The Sarah Connor Chronicles' continued 'The Terminator's focus on family.

TV spin-off ‘The Sarah Connor Chronicles’ continued ‘The Terminator’s focus on family.

Although two Supermarionation Thunderbrids films were previously released in ’66 and ’68, Anderson’s genius is something which has fared much better on the small screen. Like the later Terminator series The Sarah Connor Chronicles which, as its title suggests, focused on the family rather than machines, Anderson was able to frame his shows’ legendary special effects around stories that focused on equally captivating characters.

This is something that his fans all over the world can be reassured by, as back in January 2011 Anderson himself announced he was working on a new Thunderbirds TV series. This was confirmed by ITV and Weta last month, and is no doubt be one of the new projects still being worked on. 

In addition to this, the head of production at Anderson Entertainment is none other than Anderson’s own son Jamie. Whilst his media credentials may be somewhat untested as of yet, surely the son of one of the most iconic, and principled, TV producers of his generation is a good bet to ensure the fruition of these new projects will be as close to Anderson’s original vision as possible.

Why ‘Firefly’ shouldn’t be given a kickstarter back onto our screens.

One of the most talked about things that happened in Geek/Film/Internet news this past week, is that a Veronica Mars spin-off film has been greenlit, based on fan reactions (and donations) to a crowd-sourcing project started by the TV show’s creator Rob Thomas.

Although hardly the first film to get started this way, it is by far the most well known, which is probably the most important factor for it breaking the record to be the fastest $1m dollar earner, which it achieved in less than five hours. Because of this, it is not unexpected that people have started to look at it with some suspicion, if not doubt. Will the fans get anything extra in return for their investment, or is their devotion just being exploited?

The feature film 'Serenity' was unprecedented in its creation from a cancelled TV series.

The feature film ‘Serenity’ was unprecedented in its creation from a cancelled TV series.

It is also hardly surprising that fans of other cancelled TV series and movie franchises are also wondering what it could mean for the objects of their own affection, none more so than the so called ‘Browncoats’: Fans of the TV series Firefly, who have taken their name from the Independents of the series, a passionate army fighting against the all powerful Alliance.

As I have mentioned in a previous post, Firefly was an extremely short series which, thanks to the tenacity of creator Joss Whedon and the devotion of fans, was picked up by Universal Studios, and the feature film Serenity was born.

Somehow Firefly had done the impossible. There are whole numbers of long lived series that can only dream of making it to the big screen, and Firefly had done it after just fourteen episodes? Fourteen episodes that FOX hadn’t even broadcast in the right order, three not even at all during its initial run. Serenity was a massive success in just getting made, but was only less than mildly successful at the box office.

Whilst fans went to see it in their droves, the general audience went there only generally. Despite the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) being just one of the many awards it received, not to mention reaching the #2 spot at its opening weekend at the box office, the film wasn’t all that Universal had been hoping for.

Like the series that preceded it, it was DVD sales that would be its economic lifeline, but they were still not enough to greenlight even a TV movie, let alone the two cinematic sequels to complete the “Big Damn Trilogy” fans were hoping for. Serenity was made back in 2005, Firefly was first (partially) broadcast and cancelled in December ’02, and only the small number of comic book mini-series and one-shots that have been published is all that the Browncoats have heard from the Firefly ‘verse in all this time.

Needless to say, Veronica Mars‘ latest news has reignited the spark of hope in fans’ hearts (if it ever went out to begin with), and Whedon has already been interviewed for his take on what it means for the future of the ‘verse:

“I’ve said repeatedly that I would love to make another movie with these guys, and that remains the case. It also remains the case that I’m booked up by Marvel for the next three years, and that I haven’t even been able to get Dr. Horrible 2 off the ground because of that. So I don’t even entertain the notion of entertaining the notion of doing this, and won’t. Couple years from now, when Nathan [Fillion]’s no longer [on] Castle and I’m no longer the Tom Hagen of the Marvel Universe and making a giant movie, we might look and see where the market is then.”

As one fan put it, “Drat. More “maybe eventually”s.”

Needless to say, fans’ hopes and expectations are a constant up and down, hanging on to anything Whedon and the rest of the cast and crew have to say on the matter. Speaking as a fan myself, I have to say that, in my opinion at least, Firefly is dead. And it should stay that way.

For those of you who haven’t left in disgust, I’ll explain why.

As I mentioned, the series was cancelled ten years ago. I don’t know if anyone else has ever seen a film based on a series that’s been gone for ten years, but I have, and I didn’t find Star Trek: The Motion Picture that interesting.

[Dammit, Twitter has just directed me to Jane Nelson’s blog on SFX.co.uk, where she’s saying exactly the same thing. Whilst she’s talking about a variety of shows though, allow me to carry on with Firefly in more detail].

Looking at this properly (and in more detail than Nelson), Whedon is busy for at least the next three years, and even then it seems as though Dr. Horrible 2 gets first dibs on his constantly busy schedule. In her blog Nelson says many fans think Whedon should hand over the reigns to someone else, but a Whedon-less project also has the potential to anger as many fans as the initial cancellation. Assuming fans would compromise with someone else producing and directing a Whedon written script, he still wouldn’t have time to do even that.

Also, there was speculation of the sequel to Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, Whedon’s online project during the Film & TV writers’ strike, being a feature film even before Whedon was attached to the Avengers. There were also reports of the story outline and even songs, had already been written. If we were to assume the already in the works Avengers 2 makes it to screens in the Summer of 2015 (which is pushing it), and the Doctor Horrible 2 script already to go, the very earliest it could be released is Christmas ’15.

Bear in mind this is taking Whedon’s ability to juggle projects to max, and assuming there are no other problems in Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion, (and Felicia Day?) finding room in their busy schedules. Very (very very) vaguely possible, but still highly unlikely. If (again, very big if) this happened, the earliest we could expect Serenity 2 is Christmas 2016. With his own passion for the project it is not something that Whedon would allow to be rushed, just the knowledge of knowing it was being made would placate fans enough for it to be given the time it would need, and I doubt Universal would give it priority in their summer blockbuster schedule anyway.

So, Christmas 2016 it is. (Very big if.)

Remember how I said Firefly was cancelled in December ’02? That’s fourteen years difference. As Nelson (damn you and your being paid to write!) points out, that’s a big difference. Too much of a difference to pick up where they last left off, and no-one wants to see them still in the same place. When you consider the character of River Tam was 17 years old, she’d now be 31. Hardly the crazy and mischievous teenager she once was, the fact that actress Jewel Staite was even younger only complicates things further.

'Star Trek: The Motion Picture' was released ten years after 'Star Trek' was cancelled.

‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ was released ten years after ‘Star Trek’ was cancelled.

But rather than carrying on the hypothetical situations, lets go back to that comparable TV/Film series, Star Trek. Like Firefly, Star Trek was unappreciated in it’s own time, and much like Serenity, a fan campaign was needed for season 3 to be commissioned, when NBC cancelled it after only two. It was during syndication that it achieved the major popularity it is recognised for today, but with people finding it only after it had been cancelled, again the only ‘official’ stories were hand drawn, with Star Trek: The Animated Series producing 22 episodes in 1973-74. The Motion Picture was finally released in ’79, ten years after season 3 originally aired. What started as the pilot episode to what would have been Star Trek: Phase II, it was a massive hit with fans, but only mildly popular with the critics.

Looking back it isn’t exactly seen as one of the best Trek films, and it’s sequel The Wrath of Khan performed so well thanks in part to the replacement of Gene Roddenberry with a newer, and more objective creative team. Headed by producer Harvey Bennett, together they had the insight to acknowledge the character’s age, putting fearless Captain (now Admiral) Kirk in the middle of a mid-life crisis. Whilst fans would find this a not only plausible but also hilarious situation for Captain Malcolm Reynolds, by now he would surely have been pushed beyond the raggedy edge, and his crew scattered to all corners of the ‘verse. And it’s not as though it could have an emotional/unexpected Spock style death to end on a (dramatic) high with either, thanks to both Book and Wash having already suffered that fate. Yet another obstacle for new Firefly projects to overcome.

This ousting of Roddenberry to the role of “consultant” in the first place wouldn’t have been sacrilegious to the fans, even if it was disappointing. Despite being the shows creator, Roddenberry himself jumped ship during the show’s third season and remained executive producer in name only. As a TV show its three seasons were crafted by a range of extra writers brought in, Whedon’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel also worked this way like nearly all US shows, but Firefly was never given the chance. The creative team was kept to a core of only a few members, and as mentioned before, any Whedonless project could split fandom wide open in a manner not seen since The Phantom Menace. A film which itself is a warning to leave the long gone, well alone.

Actors and characters aside, it’s also the audience who have grown. Whilst I was aware of it when it was released, I didn’t see Serenity until a screening at my University’s Students Union. This would have been around the time of the DVD’s European release, and I got into Firefly from that. I’ll admit I was late to the party (sorry!), but there is now a whole generation younger than me who are even later. Despite DVD and now Blu-ray keeping the series alive for new audiences to find all the time, it’s fair to say that the majority of people younger than me are too young to remember it first time round, even if it isn’t their fault.

Even as a film student, Serenity is the best example that I can think of, of exposition aimed at audience members that are both new, through to those with encyclopedic levels of knowledgeable, simultaneously. In today’s climate of ever increasing, and attention seeking, media, relying only on word of mouth (and blogs) will never be enough to keep up, and many of today’s teenagers simply won’t be interested in something that’s ten years old. I can’t even imagine 2016’s teenagers being even remotely interested in something that would be older than they are. Between many older fans’ incessant expectations, and newer audiences’ ambivalence, the stakes just seem to high to live up to.

So what about Serenity: The Next Generation? Despite featuring only one solar system compared to Star Trek‘s entire galaxy, there is still a whole host of other ships and crews out there, many in similar situations. What about a fresh start for the ‘verse  featuring one of those?

For a start, the actual Next Generation is more than just what Phase II would have been, and Decker/Riker & Ilia/Troi aside, the differences outweigh the similarities. Not only is the whole show is set in the next century, there’s even a Klingon on the starboard bridge console! While retaining the same exploratory spirit of the original, it’s more than just another crew on another ship, because it needed to be something different. Although Data is not so far removed from Spock (the two of whom finally meet in Unification part II, a conversation which doesn’t disappoint), there is a difference between the same roles and same characters. Picard may hold the same rank as Kirk, but has a far more diplomatic way of going about it.

The fan-film 'Browncoats: Redemption' "Project has ended & the DVD/Bluray is no longer available."

The fan-film ‘Browncoats: Redemption’ “Project has ended & the DVD/Bluray is no longer available.”

This different crew approach was when the 2010 crowd sourced fan-film Browncoats: Redemption was released, which featured a cameo from Adam Baldwin and reportedly received a “blessing” from Whedon himself. Although the project has raised money for many different charities and is given respect for the undertaking involved, it hardly filled the gap many fans still felt was missing in their lives.

Unlike in any Star Trek, the mercenary crew of Serenity are so much more than a militaristic unit, and it is the characters and relationships that made Firefly what it is. Just as any ‘reunion’ movie wouldn’t likely work for the reasons outlined above, Redemption was criticised by some fans for trying too hard and following the original too closely. This is an obstacle that even a new Whedon created crew would also have to tackle, and anything too different seems almost beyond waiting for.

By 2016 I’m sure Whedon’s clout in Hollywood would be enough for those writing the cheques to greenlight anything he wants. As much as passion is needed to create a film that works, rather than creating a film because “If I don’t, it’s the only thing I’m ever going to be asked ever by anyone“, I believe fans should instead be asking for original stories in new universes. Whilst I’m sure the above quote was said with the zany sarcasm present in most of Joss Whedon’s interviews, he has a very real point.

Yes I would have loved Firefly to have continued rather than be cancelled, and by all means please do give us more comics. But by now the on-screen adventures of Serenity and her crew are long gone, and any continued efforts to bring them back just seem like flogging a horse that is dead as Browncoats’ hope should be. Like so many others, as a huge fan of Whedon’s, I continually can’t wait for his next projects. The general release of Much Ado About Nothing can’t come soon enough, I’m sure The Avengers 2 will be just as breathtaking as the first, and I can’t wait to see Doctor Horrible again, but original or not, these are all projects that Whedon and co. have already started working on.

While too many Browncoats are waiting impatiently for the box office success of Veronica Mars: The Movie to bring their dream that one step closer, my time will be better spent specualting on something else.

Whedon is not just a writer, he is a creator. Thanks to the fruits of his creative genius, a teenage girl not only saved the world several times over, but reshaped the landscape of American TV while she was doing it. A crew of mercenaries instilled so much passion in fans that they actually achieved their goal of getting a feature film produced from a TV series cancelled during its first season.

 These are feats that are unprecedented, and cannot be overstated enough. And I for one am eager to know what game changing universe Joss Whedon will create next.

20 years on: The ‘”Maybe not super, but still better than average” Mario Bros.’

For some reason, 2013 has been one of those years that’s reminding me I’m getting older. As an avid film fan, it’s probably something to do with the fact that 1993, a great year of films for seven year olds, was 20 years ago.

Yep, I’m afraid to remind you that as of this year Mrs Doubtfire, Cool Runnings, and Robin Hood: Men in Tights to name but a few, are all 20 years old.

Theatrical poster for 'Super Mario Bros', Rocky Marton & Annabel Jankel, 1993.

Theatrical poster for ‘Super Mario Bros’, Rocky Marton & Annabel Jankel, 1993.

With so much time having passed since their production, these films are all viewed in different ways. Jurassic Park is set for a re-release in eye-popping/hurting 3D, whereas Bob Hoskins is most likely still of the opinion that: “The worst thing I ever did? Super Mario Brothers. It was a fuckin’ nightmare.

Credit where credit is due though, in 1993 Jurassic Park set the record for highest grossing film. I’ve never quite agreed with measuring a film’s (or anything’s) success with money, but considering it’s ground-breaking physical effects are still better than many modern CGI efforts, the forthcoming Jurassic Park 4 notwithstanding, it’s not hard to see why they’re giving it the 3D treatment.

Super Mario Bros. on the other hand didn’t exactly wow many critics or cinema-goers, but in the spirit of fair play, it was the first of a whole wave of  Hollywood Video Game adaptations that haven’t exactly fared much better. The very next year Japanese and Western audiences were each given their own Street Fighter film, which the last 19 years have given both the time to be seen worldwide. The resulting opinions seem to suggest that Hollywood’s Jean Claude Van Damme offering was K.O’ed by it’s anime counterpart.

As the years came and went, so did films such as Mortal Kombat, House of the Dead, and Alone in the Dark. Don’t worry, I haven’t seen them either.

But this is not to say that all video game films are worth avoiding, or haven’t at least contributed something to modern cinema. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within might not have been what audiences were expecting, but the sophistication of its photo-realistic animation garners nothing but respect. Likewise I can think of much worse summer action movies than Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Even with a last minute sci-fi time travel twist, it still received much less flack than the aliens of Razzie winning Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

With so many films receiving so many mixed reviews it’s hard to say which has fared the best, though perhaps one that stands out the most is 2002’s Resident Evil. Where others have been faulted for either staying too close or straying too far from their playable counterparts, writer/producer/director Paul W.S. Anderson instead decided to take it in another direction. From a game famous for it’s suspenseful horror and nerve shredding atmosphere, the film places emphasis on action instead, and even does so without the need for running ‘zombies’. The result is a film which not only keeps in plenty of the game that the audience love, but gives it enough of a twist to keep it fresh.

'Tekken', Dwight H. Little, 2010, wasn't even released theatrically in the U.S.

‘Tekken’ was never given a theatrical release in the U.S.

Between its failures and moderate success’s though, it doesn’t seem as though Hollywood has learnt much over the past two decades. Resident Evil has since jumped the shark with four (so far, more on the way) sequels, Street Fighter‘s player two, The Legend of Chun-Li, barely even pressed the start button to join in, and the only U.S. screening of 2010’s Tekken was to prospective distributors. Needless to say, none felt that entering the Iron Fist Tournament was worth their effort.

Despite this however, Hollywood’s films keep on coming, with Assassin’s Creed and Metal Gear Solid reportedly in development. But given its reputation, it’s not surprising that the Japanese games makers themselves are increasingly producing CGI films themselves. Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children and Resident Evil: Damnation are aimed almost exclusively at gamers, fit into the games’ continuity transmedia style rather than rebooting, and were released straight to DVD. It seems to me as though they’ve found the right way to go about it.

Taking all this into consideration then, from a general perspective if not Bob Hoskins’, does Super Mario Bros. really deserve the bad reputation its been chained to all these years?

First things first, the Mario games were more than likely chosen for being a well known name than having an adaptable storyline. The basic premise of ‘hero rescuing princess trapped in a castle’ isn’t exactly the most original, even if Mario is the first plumber to do so. Also using this age old fairy tale however, is the other still long running Nintendo franchise, The Legend of Zelda. 1993 saw the release of the series’ fourth title Link’s Awakening, and by nature of being an RPG as opposed to a run and jump platformer, each offered much more in terms of quests, adventure, and more importantly, characters that were only two dimensional in terms of pixels.

And here is perhaps the first misconception. Looking back it is easy to assume that a simpler backstory to adapt naturally gave the film-makers the attractive prospect of more freedom to explore the Mushroom Kingdom; but with such an assumption comes the wonder where Dinohatten and even dinosaurs came from? With The Princess Bride made six years previously, it’s not as though such a fantastical medieval film, turtles included, wouldn’t have been practical. But when you consider this point is backed up by the all too similar Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, a film released just two months before Super Mario Bros., in which the titular turtles travel to feudal Japan, you can’t really blame the film-makers too much for going in another direction. Even if that direction wasn’t Zelda.

As mentioned before though, Mario video games are simply more popular, and therefore a bigger name to draw in the crowds. But they are still video games. Unlike the books and TV series which were also being adapted, adapting a film from games was always going to be aiming at a niche audience, something which still holds true today.

I’m not saying they’re mutually exclusive so forgive me for generalising them, but gamers are going to be less concerned that a film is adapted from a book, than readers towards a film from a game. In terms of storytelling at least, books have a centuries old reputation of being grown-up, even cultured, and moving. Video games on the other hand were looked down upon just for being what they are, games. Not only this, but generally speaking, the less sophisticated the game (ie: mere running and jumping), the younger the audience they are seen to be aiming for. Whether this is the case or not, its fair to say its how they are perceived.

Added to this is the fact that the more an audience enjoys something the more critical they will be of its film. After watching one of their adaptations you can instantly tell who’s read a Harry Potter book, simply because the first thing they’ll say about it is everything that was missed out. Mario’s job of pleasing audience members is an uphill struggle even before the outline becomes the screenplay.

A screenplay with which you also have to acknowledge the compromises made to contemporary Hollywood. Between a choice of Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo, it was always going to be Leguizamo taking the romantic lead in a film aimed at the kids to twentysomethings demographic, so I’m afraid the switch of Peach for Daisy is somewhat justified. The dinosaur being called ‘Toad’ on the other hand, isn’t.

And that’s where the next problem comes, Bob Hoskins and Dennis Hopper. Obviously I’m not saying I have a problem with Hoskins and Hopper, far from it, just that I’m agreeing with them when they say they regret having done it. Kids watching the film in cinemas, may have recognised Bob Hoskins as Smee from 1991’s Hook, Dennis Hopper probably not at all, but their accompanying parent’s would obviously recognise them a lot more. The Long Good Friday, Blue Velvet, Easy Rider, all are respected films that bestow upon their actors a sense of class, which in turn give audiences expectations. Expectations that this film was never going to live up to.

Script and cast aside though, lets look at the production values. Not the worst certainly, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Mario’s Dinohatten was actually a hand-me-down Mars from Total Recall. As for the CGI, it’s no surprise that co-directors Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton’s only other recognisable creation (then, and even now) was Max Headroom, which would explain their being chosen to attract the MTV generation. Gripes notwithstanding, its two Saturn Award nominations for best costume and make up were well founded.

Like the games that preceeded it, Dead or Alive focused heavily on the visuals.

Like the games that preceded it, ‘Dead or Alive’ focused heavily on the visuals.

Weighing up the pros and cons, it’s fair to say that twenty years later, Super Mario Bros. is still a bad film, but that doesn’t matter. And even if it did, that’s precisely the reason why it’s brilliant.

Yes, the fact it makes me feel old does add to it’s nostalgia factor, simply by reminding me of being a kid, but more than that you have to remember it’s primarily a kids film. Adaptation or otherwise, kids films are always going to stand the test of time better, not just because they’re silly, but because they’re meant to be silly. Script and casting are always going to be hard hurdles to jump, and that’s where the majority of video game films fall down. But if you can look past those, the dated effects only add to its charm, and while it may not have had D.O.A.: Dead or Alive‘s forethought to not take itself seriously (disclaimer: not a kids film), when looked at in the same vein I don’t think you can deny that Super Mario Bros. is pop corn munchingly, brain meltingly, silly.

And that’s why I love it.