The Guide #55: After the backlash to Chris Pratt’s Super Mario, why bother making video game movies any more?

Breaking news: the internet is in uproar over something impossibly trivial. Yesterday Universal launched its trailer for The Super Mario Bros. Movie, a first glimpse at the new big-screen rendering of Nintendo’s beloved leak-fixer. For most of the trailer’s two-and-a-bit minute run time, fans were happy enough: there was some cutesy CGI, familiar characters were present and correct, there was some gentle PG-rated attempts at humour.

But then Mario opened his gob and out came Chris Pratt’s voice. Not Chris Pratt’s voice attempting a ropey cod-Italian accent. Just Chris Pratt’s voice. The response was immediate and furious. Right this second, fans across the world are demanding that Mario’s voice be restored to its authentic, Joe Dolce-with-a-concussion tenor.

It’s all eerily similar to the furore over another video game character, Sonic the Hedgehog, when the trailer for his big screen outing dropped a few years back. On that occasion, instead of how he sounded, the outrage was over how Sonic looked – gone was the cutesy Sega sprite, in its place was a taxidermied squirrel with teeth straight out of the Big Book of British Smiles. You’ll remember what happened next: the fan response was so intense that Paramount delayed the release date to give Sonic’s illustrators time to return the spiny little fellow to his original doe-eyed form.

Presumably there are plans afoot for a similar reverse ferret with the Mario movie. No doubt someone at Universal is frantically chivvying Chris Pratt into a recording booth to summon the most culturally insensitive “When’sa your Dolmio day” accent he can muster. But instead of acquiescing to the angry mob, I have a different solution for studio execs: stop making video game movies altogether.

Seriously, is all this worth the hassle? Granted there’s a big wodge of cash at the end of it (Sonic did dispiritingly well at the box office) but wouldn’t you rather be a bit less financially well-off and not shouted-at? Video game adaptations have long been the third rail – the middle Frogger lane, if you will – of moviemaking. There are endless list pieces devoted to cataloguing the many bad ones, and essays speculating on why it is so hard to make a good one. Across decades and continents, great screenwriting minds have laboured over how to capture the kinetic qualities of video games – their playable characters, their endless, open-world settings – and transfer them to the big screen in a way that satisfies gamers and cinemagoers at the same time.

Well guess what: maybe you can’t! Maybe all video game adaptations are destined to feel like static, watered-down versions of the actual thing. Certainly the Mario trailer gave off that sensation. Fully computer-animated and with visuals entirely faithful to the games, it resembled a cut scene from a recent instalment of the series, only at the end of it you couldn’t grab your controller and give a goomba a shoeing.

At least the last effort at bringing Mario to the movies – the historically awful Bob Hoskins-starring Super Mario Bros – attempted to mess with the formula a bit, adapting the source material into a sort of cyberpunky body-horror mob thriller (though far less interesting than that description sounds). Today these adaptations need to be as unfailingly loyal as possible, with even the slightest hint of innovation prompting enraged pile-ons from the fanboys.

So, studio chiefs, how about you don’t give them the satisfaction. Remove all your video game movies from the upcoming slate. Shelve Sonic 3. Cancel the Halo TV show. Delete The Super Mario Bros. Movie history and declare it a tax writeoff like you did with Batgirl. Rid us of this scourge of video game adaptations for good.

But, oh actually, leave the Last of Us TV series alone. That one does look quite good …

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