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Not the nipple dilemma.

As the dear reader might already know, there is a Mario (Super Mario Brothers) film in the making. It will be produced by the studio behind the Minions, and therefore likely to be all CG graphics (fitting enough, considering Mario’s usual game appearances).

So far so good. The issues start when you consider what the film will be about. You see, Mario is a borderline radioactive character – hold him for too long and you will get burned. Originally called Jumpman – a man who jumps – he has not changed much since his first appearance. Yes, he did receive an Italian name, voice and heritage, but even that was not something initially intended. For the most part, Mario is a blank slate.

This is problematic, because if you are going to make an hour long film about a character, you will be forced to decide who they really are. What kind of personality do they have? How do they speak when they have actual lines, not only “let’s-a-goes”? And if at all possible, Nintendo would surely like to proceed without deciding on any of that. They have one disaster of a Mario film behind them already, and they have seen other game adaptations stumble.

In games, being vague can work out fine. You can earn goodwill through gameplay, and entice the players to fill in the blanks with headcanon. When Kantai Collection first got an anime adaptation, the reactions were divided as soon as viewers were shown the heroines “ocean-skating” – the anime’s take on how warfare between anthropomorphised warships is supposed to look like. The series did manage to make that interpretation work, mostly, but it did also lead to some of the worst choreographed battle scenes ever, as our heroines have long talks while standing still on the open sea, all while technically being under fire from some particularly miss-happy enemies.

So I have this unfortunate vision of Nintendo trying to eat its cake and have it too – presenting Mario as the film’s protagonist while never allowing him to do anything that would develop his character. It is doable, to an extent. But a protagonist who is constantly just reacting to the actions of others quickly becomes a drag. God forbid they remedy this by inserting a supposed audience-surrogate in the form of a kid joining Mario on his adventure under some flimsy excuse of a plot point.

What would I do in Nintendo’s place? Have the film revolve around Mario not as a character but as a so-called MacGuffin – a goal and victory condition.

The film would open up with a montage of Mario’s adventures in a variety worlds (desert, swamp, snowy peak…) – all still shots from afar and no spoken lines, only as long the opening credits and musical number. The final shot of the montage would freeze and transform into a postcard delivered straight into the hands of Princess Peach, who is going about her duties in the Mushroom Kingdom.

As Peach is showing the postcard to her followers, the film’s protagonist enters the scene. That being either “a Toad” (with some appearance quirk to make him stand out from the crowd) or captain Toad. You get one scene to set this character up – if you want a zero to hero growing up story, have him run in with an urgent message only to trip and fall flat on his face. Whatever you choose, the scene is cut short by the the sudden appearance of none other than Bowser (surprise, surprise).

With a flying fortress and an army of goons, Bowser quickly overwhelms the Kingdom’s defences and kidnaps Princess Peach. Again, you get an opportunity to develop the main character. If they are supposed to start as a coward, they hide and watch powerlessly as the ordeal plays out. If they are to be a more plucky kind, they attempt to interfere… and get swatted away to the same effect. As Bowser’s forces retreat, the torn remains of Mario’s postcard float down right underneath the protagonist’s feet. With Bowser at large, there is only one hero who can make things right again.. and somebody has to find him!

Setting the story up this way has several major advantages:

You play to the setting’s strengths. The world of Mario has plenty of breadth with all its fantastic locations but limited depth with how most Mario games explore different places and only offer a little information on them. The protagonist’s journey in search of Mario can take them through several of those locations.

You use as many characters as you want with no commitments. It would be a terrible waste to have Yoshi, for example, not show up in the film. However, similarly to Mario, giving the characters too much spotlight or allowing for new character interactions might be a risky deal. With the option to confine a given character’s on-screen appearance to a given location, it is a great opportunity to show them off without risking any complications.

You can actually develop the protagonist. With the protagonist being either entirely original (a new Toad) or a minor character (Captain Toad), there is no risk of their character development hurting the franchise in the long run. Conversely, there is full creative freedom in this regard, allowing both for simple and accessible, as well as more nuanced development for the character.

With Bowser’s minions hot on his trail, (Captain) Toad makes it through several worlds. Finally, he is able to pin down Mario’s location… only to get caught just as he is about to deliver the message about Peach and Bowser to Mario. However, even as he is being dragged away to Bowser’s castle, we catch a glimpse of Mario taking note of the commotion.

As the protagonist is thrown before Bowser and all hope seems lost, there are sounds of fighting taking place off-screen. For a moment, silence returns, and then everyone’s eyes move to one point as the door to Bowser’s throne room open, revealing a familiar silhouette clad in red. At this point, some ten minutes before the ending credits start rolling, there is no need for explanations or exchanging threats. The situation is clear enough, and there is only one way things can proceed. As Mario takes a step into the throne room, Bowser orders all his henchman to take out the plumber. Mario wordlessly takes them all on, dodging, jumping, kicking and punching with moves straight out of a Matrix film. Enraged at the sight of his underlings being effortlessly taken out, Bowser spits out a torrent of fire from his jaws as he joins the fray. Mario evades the attacks, and the fire starts spreading throughout Bowser’s castle.

It is then that our protagonist, completely forgotten by the villains, springs to action. He releases Peach and the other prisoners, and he and Peach proceed to guide the others to safety as more and more of the castle becomes covered in flames. In the meanwhile, the clash between Mario and Bowser escalates. The scaled antagonist brings out a Bowser-mech, hoping to crush Mario with its overwhelming weight and power. But he still has no luck catching the agile hero. Every missed blow is a wall or pillar toppled, but Mario continues to elude Bowser even as the castle starts to crumble.

We cut away to a shot of Peach and the Toads making it out of the castle just in time as the structure finally gives in. There is a moment of panic and worry for Mario’s safety, until somebody points high towards the sky. Bowser and Mario emerge from the dust above where the top of the castle was just moments before, Bowser’s mech heavily damaged and Mario covered in dust. Seeing that Mario has nowhere to run, Bowser unleashes one final attack. But Mario brushes past it and lunges forward towards the mech’s exposed weak point. And in that moment, as Mario’s fist is about to connect and draw the curtains on the story, turning the screen black and letting the credits roll, we are treated to the one and only line Mario speaks in the film:

“Here we go!”

This gives us additional advantages:

Despite Mario’s short appearance, he gets to hog the spotlight when it matters. There is no limit to how cool and over the top you can make Mario in his battle scene. This, coupled with Mario’s limited presence in the rest of the film, makes it easy to present Mario as a larger-than-life hero who swoops in and single-handedly solves the biggest problems, albeit appearing a tad late – all exactly as it happens in the games. At the same time, the protagonist gets to protect his friends as he helps them evacuate from the burning castle – showing that there are more ways than one to be a hero, regardless of a person’s strength or ability level.

Mario is kept from talking too much. By making the one line Mario speaks be the cherry-on-top of the film’s climax, you automatically make it memorable, doubly so if it is one of Mario’s already memetic one-liners. Mario’s voice actor, Charles Martinet, has made many such one-liners famous, but many people find his longer speeches as Mario somewhat awkward. The above approach turns all that from an issue into an advantage.

After that, all you have to do is add an appropriate stinger after the credits (the audience is likely to expect one) and rake in the cash. Unless you have any ideas how to make something even better?

(P.S. There is also a Sonic movie. But Sonic already has SatAM and Sonic X to prove that it can work just fine in a variety of styles so it should be fine. Theoretically. Maybe. Do not get me started on Detective Pikachu.)

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