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  • Super Mario Bros.: The Movie. The first movie ever made based on a video game property, we widely

  • consider it the worst, the one that ruined video game cinema forever.

  • But what if we didn’t? What if we had liked Super Mario Bros: The Movie?

  • Never in the history of the Polygon Interdimensional Study Society has a proposed alteration to

  • the time stream been so contentious. You see, my co-PISSers insist this episode

  • of Versus should be about correcting the Super Mario Bros. movie. That I should timeline hop

  • until I find the universe in which this movie is good, and trace back what changes made it so.

  • But I believe the Super Mario Bros movie IS good. And that we're already IN that universe.

  • And with a few minor tweaks to our cultural

  • subconscious that change absolutely nothing about the movie itself, we could be living

  • in an alternate reality where Charlize Theron makes her action debut as Samus, where Luigi is

  • a gay icon, and where nobody gives a f*ck about comic book movies.

  • (dramatic, hopeful music)

  • So how do we arrive at the so-called Luigiverse? Well this movie needs an advocate, one person

  • to engage earnestly and argue for its positive qualities. You might say, Jenna, you bodacious

  • interdimensional science genius, that’s not how cultural opinion works. If something's

  • good, it rises to the surface! If it stinks, it sinks!

  • Except that the scenario I’m describing is exactly what happened to Halloween. One

  • review, written by critic and monk Tom Allen, put the movie in conversation with well-respected

  • horror icons like George Romero, Hitchcock, and Meet me in St. Louis.

  • - “I killed him!”

  • - This piece is considered instrumental in

  • convincing audiences and critics that there was something worthwhile about Halloween.

  • And the rest is history. In our universe, Super Mario Bros.: The Movie

  • had but one paltry week of sales before another dino-based blockbuster smashed box office records.

  • (loud t-rex roar)

  • - But in the Luigiverse, long before these movies were made, our reality-warping change

  • occurs. In fall 1987, Gene Siskel, of Siskel and Ebert, eats some bad chowder. Suffering

  • from food poisoning, he is kept company by episodes of Max Headroom, a cyberpunk TV show

  • directed by duo Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton. He forcefully forgets this experience until

  • 1993, when Super Mario Bros.: The Movie premieres.

  • Siskel: ...best video game turned into a movie

  • that I’ve seen. These are minor rewards, but they're important I’m sure to the filmmakers.

  • -These memories resurface, and Siskel decides that SMB reflects directors Jankel and Morton’s

  • work on Max Headroom. He describes SMB as a more earnest take on the genre, hybridized

  • with fantasy elements without relying on the cynical dystopian tropes. He doesn’t convince

  • everybodyespecially not Ebertbut he does spark a conversation about whether

  • or not cyberpunk, a firmly 80s genre, is indeed dead.

  • So instead of sinking in the wake of Jurassic Park, Super Mario Bros. proves to be more buoyant. When

  • it finally leaves theaters, it’s in the black: profitable, if not a hit. Some savvy

  • theater operators even package Jurassic Park and Super Mario Bros., selling discounted tickets

  • to a night of dino-based fantasy family fun. In our universe, Super Mario Bros almost immediately

  • became a laughing stock, largely because of the video game association and poor box office

  • showings. Its failure burdened every video game movie that came after it.

  • In the Luigiverse, the absence of this perceived curse has huge ramifications on the

  • movie industry, but before we dig into that, I want to see how fame changes Mario and Luigi.

  • In our universe, Luigi is a second-stringer,

  • the cowardly shadow to Mario’s vapid heroism. But the movie is clearly about Luigi and Daisy,

  • and in the aftermath of its success, Nintendo finally gives them the respect they deserve.

  • Luigi takes center stage in a Super Nintendo game entitled LUIGI CENTER STAGE. Riffing

  • on the haunted house concept, the player must help Luigi overcome his stage fright and also

  • his ghost fright. And by the end of the game, Luigi has transformed into the movie version

  • of himself:

  • A himbo.

  • After the success of LUIGI CENTER STAGE, the franchise continues to be named Super Mario Bros.

  • Mario being, of course, their last name:

  • - “Name!” - “Mario

  • - “ Last name? - “Mario!”

  • - But now when the character selection screen pops up, Luigi is your default choice. And

  • Nintendo realizes he needs an arch rival all his own. Somebody to represent the shadow

  • ego, the instinctive cruelty at the heart of every man, the unhimbo.

  • Yes, with the rise of Luigi so too do we see the rise………….. of Tuigi. Beautiful

  • but vainglorious, pessimistic and cruel, Tuigi is the Regina George of the Nintendo universe.

  • He becomes exponentially more popular with the releases of TuigiTap, Inc.: TipTop Competition!

  • on the Game Boy Advance in 2002 and the Nintendo DS game, TouchTuigiTouch, in 2004.

  • Wario recedes in the Mario mythos, his spot taken over by the more symmetrically appropriate

  • Tumariooften referred to by fans as Tumatillo for his bulbous green shape.

  • And Waluigi? Well, he never exists. There is simply no need for him.

  • Daisy likewise becomes the preeminent Princess in the Luigiverse. But neither she nor Peach

  • have much agency in either universe so this doesn’t make much difference….

  • In our universe, Super Princess Peach was

  • a puzzle platformer where you grant Peach super powers by... controlling her emotions.

  • It’s a little icky, but it was fun, and despite being one of the best-selling DS games,

  • for reasons unknown, it never got a sequel. In the Luigiverse, the developers treat Daisy

  • the same as Peach, so they make the exact same game. By this point, Daisy has become

  • a beloved icon not only for young women that got into gaming because of the movie, but

  • also for queer gaming communities who interpret Luigi and Daisy as gay-lesbian solidarity.

  • These fans deride the sexist and generic concept as perplexing for this beloved sporty icon,

  • and as such meme it into the ground.

  • - (robotic voice) “My wife!”

  • - Super Princess Daisy likewise sells well, and likewise no sequel is ever made. After

  • a few years, an editorial about Nintendo’s “Daisy problemsuggests that we never

  • got a sequel because Nintendo didn’t want to alienate its fanbase or risk backlash.

  • Although this is just speculation, it’s repeated as though it’s fact, and used to justify

  • Nintendo’s lack of dame-led games. Back on the cinematic side of our universe,

  • Nintendo didn’t really care one way or another how the Super Mario Bros. movie did; they

  • believed, correctly, that the Mario brand would hold up regardless how the film performed.

  • So they sold the license for a relatively cheap $2 million dollars and sent the producers

  • on their merry way. In the Luigiverse, Nintendo continues to be pretty

  • hands-off with media in the 90s – although they do start charging more for licenses.

  • What really changes is Hollywood’s belief that there’s money in them there properties.

  • The following decade sees the release of Jim Henson’s Star Fox series, a Legend of Zelda

  • movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio at his peak teen heart-throbbiness, and an Earthbound movie

  • from DreamWorks. The success of the latter encourages Nintendo to officially localize

  • Mother 3 for an English-speaking audience. Also, 1998’s Mighty Donkey Kong is a technically

  • profitable, unfortunately extending that weird 90’s era of ape-centric media.

  • Luigiverse-Nintendo looks at sales on games that were licensed out and sees a positive

  • trend. However, we, as dimension-shamblers, can compare alternate universe sale numbers

  • and see that in fact, there is little to no difference. What Nintendo sees as a cross-media

  • boost is actually just the result of a number of inseparable cultural and market forces.

  • In our universe, Nintendo became more hesitant about licensing under Gail Tilden, Vice President

  • of Brand Management. Tilden understood that in the rapidly globalizing world of the internet,

  • licensed media in one market could effect other markets. She still rises to this rank

  • in the Luigiverse, but by then this licensing model is making Nintendo a gross amount of money,

  • so there’s no reason to change. At least…. Until John Woo’s Metroid is

  • released in 2008. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

  • In our universe, it’s taken a long time for video game movies to shake off the SMB

  • curse. In the Luigiverse, that noxious reputation never exists. At first, this change

  • is minimal. Street Fighter (1994) and Mortal Kombat (1995) arrive as they did in our universe:

  • with big box office returns and mixed reviews. But instead of being perceived as exceptions

  • to the curse, producers believe the success represents what audiences want: more video

  • game movies. Both are immediately greenlit for sequels.

  • In our universe, the success of the movie Street Fighter, based on the video game Street

  • Fighter, results in Street Fighter: The Movie, an arcade machine based on the movie based

  • on the video game. In the Luigiverse, somebody anybody sayshey

  • wait, let's not do that.” So instead, Capcom collaborates with director Steven E.

  • de Souza for Street Fighter 2: The World Warrior, the movie, and Street Fighter EX, the game.

  • EX uses the actorslikenesses for the characters, and the two production teams work together

  • to create special moves that appear in both properties.

  • In our universe, Mortal Kombat director Paul W. S. Anderson was invited to direct the sequel,

  • but opted to go make Hellraiserin spaaaaaaace! Buuuut he regretted not coming back toshepherd

  • the series further. Our version of MK2 was financially successful but critically panned

  • considered, like so many other video game movies, to be theworst movie ever made.”

  • In the Luigiverse, Anderson sticks with the franchise.

  • MK2 and SF2 are released, head-to-head, in June 1996. Both are established as fully blown franchises,

  • ironically turning the box office into a battleground for these cinema rivals. We skip thepirates

  • vs ninjasperiod in history because in the Luigiverse, youre either a fighter or a kombatant.

  • It is equally inane. Because Anderson directs Mortal Kombat 2,

  • he isn’t free to launch Resident Evil in 2002. He never meets his future wife Milla

  • Jovovich, and he never becomes Hollywood’s most prolific wife-guy. Instead, Capcom goes

  • for their first choice for the Resident Evil movie: George A. Romero. And the title of Hollywood’s

  • most prolific wife-guy goes to Len Wiseman. In our universe, Romero did write a script

  • for the first Resident Evil movie, one that stuck closely to the game’s plotitself

  • basically a rip-off of Romero’s own work. But Capcom passed

  • on the script, saying it, quote, “wasn’t good," so Romero was fired. In the Luigiverse,

  • it's a safer bet to stick to your sources, so Capcom keeps on Romero to direct his script

  • after a few rewrites. Plus, Capcom decides to push the collaborative

  • strategy theyve been using for the Street Fighter movies and games even further. The

  • Luigiverse version of Resident Evil, the movie, follows Chris Redfield, while the 2002

  • Gamecube remake only lets you play as Jill Valentine. The stories are divergent but intersect

  • at key moments. To keep the experience consistent, the remake has extensive FMV cutscenes directed

  • by Romero. A low budget affair, the movie has no problem

  • recouping its costs. The game does unexpectedly well, luring in horror movie fans who have

  • no idea Resident Evil is about to become an action franchise.

  • In 1998, director Rob Cohen reads an article in Vibe about illegal NYC street racing, and

  • it just makes sense to meld it with hit PlayStation game Gran Turismo. Starring Vin Diesel and

  • Paul Walker, the Gran Turismo movie is praised for its first-person driving sequences – a

  • stylistic choice that remains consistent in the *many* sequels that follow. As part of this

  • ongoing franchise, Sony produces a series of hugely popular arcade versions of the movie,

  • which revitalize the mostly dead arcade industry. Gran Turismo: The Movie, the arcade game,

  • helps popularize the concept of the bar-backed arcade by giving adults a place to safely drink and drive.

  • All of this causes another curse from our universe to begin disintegrating. Much like

  • video game movies, movie video games have a dire reputation as uninspired cash-ins.

  • This is mostly because of Atari’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, itself the Super Mario

  • Bros: The Movie of video games. It has been cited as one of the main causes of the video

  • game crash of 1983. But in both universes, it’s still standard

  • practice to make game tie-ins for any big blockbuster, so both Jurassic Park and The

  • Lost World have plenty. Among the best received was an action game called The Lost World:

  • Jurassic Park (1997) by DreamWorks Interactive. In the Luigiverse, Universal Studios is keenly

  • aware of the increasing overlap of the game-movie industry. So they purchase DreamWorks Interactive

  • in 1999. The production cycle for Jurassic Park III (2001), the movie and game, are synced up,

  • to allow for a deeply collaborative experience. This includes script and cutscene direction

  • by Steven Spielberg and FMV performances by the main cast.

  • This strategy becomes known asdual productionordupro.” Because Jurassic Park III

  • is the most successful dupro to date, it’s hailed as the innovator. Of course

  • we dimension-straddling wizards have seen the slow build-up of this kind of production

  • for years, and know that many studios contributed. In our universe, The Wachowski Sisters did

  • something very near to this for The Matrix (2003); they filmed cutscenes for Enter the

  • Matrix on set, with the actors from the movies. They still do this in the Luigiverse, but by then,

  • it's just standard procedure. In the Luigiverse, DreamWorks Interactive releases

  • Jurassic Park 3: InGen Force (2001) alongside the movie. It roughly follows the same story arc,

  • but extends the ending by including an additional action-packed chapter. There is

  • hearty debate among fans about whether this is canon;

  • - “Ah, ah ah, you didn’t say the magic word!”

  • - Regardless, they buy the game in droves. But this does nothing at all to correct the screenplay

  • issues that delayed Jurassic Park 4’s production by 15 years in our universe. In fact, it takes

  • even longer in the Luigiverse. But DreamWorks Interactive continues to produce Jurassic

  • Park games, loyally waiting for the day the films return from war.

  • JP3: Squads (2003) sees the franchise morph into a Counter-strike-alike, where InGen security faces off against Biosyn

  • invaders, and also there are dinosaurs. It sells in the millions.

  • By the time HBO prestige drama and video game experience The Last of Us premieres in 2013,

  • the majority of triple-A games are produced in the dupro strategy. Some of the biggest directors

  • have lent their talents to the FMVs of some of the biggest games. And they have the power

  • to stop what they see as unlicensed streaming of their movies on a relatively

  • new platform known as Twitch.mv. Streamers argue that fair use applies to video games because

  • the act of playing is interpretive and transformative, as it is in our universe. But in 2012, the

  • courts decide that a significant portion of most games is in fact movie-based cutscenes, and therefore

  • streaming is copyright infringement. The streaming industry dries up almost over night, and many

  • YouTube gaming channels we know and love are never created at all.

  • Back in our universe, action genius John Woo was set to direct a Metroid movie, but it

  • collapsed because Nintendo wouldn’t let Woo make decisions about Samusbackstory.

  • In the Luigiverse, Nintendo still doesn’t care what licensed movies do with their characters.

  • So Woo goes wild. The movie cuts out the Alien-themed horror and goes full-throated bullet opera.

  • Charlize Theron, star of Mighty Donkey Kong, captures Samuswarm but stoic independence

  • while turning out some truly captivating stunts. Metroid smashes the box office record set

  • by Kathryn Bigelow’s Fallout. But in the Luigiverse, Nintendoas always,

  • 10 years behind any trendstill isn’t doing dupro, so when Metroid: Other M is released

  • two years later, it’s entirely unrelated to John Woo’s masterpiece. Critical and fan reaction

  • is largely positiveexcept for the writing, acting, characterization, and cutscenes, which

  • fall flat compared to Woo’s pert direction. Not to mention that other games pull in some

  • of the biggest directors of the era, while Metroid: Other M still sounds like this.

  • (extremely flat robotic voice) - Code name: Baby’s Cry A common SOS with the urgency of a baby crying

  • (robot continues) The nickname comes from the fact the the purpose of the signal is to draw attention.

  • - In both universes, Reggie Fils-Aimé stated that Nintendo’s bar for success on Metroid

  • was around $1.5 to $2 million. In the Luigiverse, it falls shy of that. Executives at Nintendo

  • believe it’s because of the Metroid movie, and fans believe it’s because of the Daisy Curse.

  • Except that you and I know that Metroid: Other M received similar criticisms in our

  • universe, even without the comparisons to Woo’s work. The game is by no means a failure in

  • either reality, but it develops a reputation in both as a franchise-killer.

  • In the aftermath of Other M, Nintendo cancels all pending licensing deals and goes dark

  • on cross-media production for three years. Until 2011, when Nintendo announces "Mario Brothers,"

  • a grounded, heartwarming story of two estranged brothers forced together on

  • a cross country road trip to their childhood friend Toad’s

  • funeral.

  • But of greater interest to the media industry is the launching of Nintendo Studios, an entirely in-house production company.

  • After the success of Mario Brothers, Nintendo Studios plans an ambitious slate

  • of origin flicks for their main franchises. The once-disparate Nintendo media landscape

  • is rebooted with one unified canon. And who should appear in the after credits

  • scene for Kirby’s Dreamland but Masahiro Sakurai himself, saying

  • "What if I told you we were putting a team together?”

  • (Kirby shrieks gleefully)

  • Super Smash Brothers (2014) is heralded as

  • the most ambitious crossover event in history. Fans clamor to play the dupro Super Smash

  • Brothers 4, causing sales of the Wii U to nearly double. Nintendo Studios starts planning

  • the next phase of its moviesonly to realize its backlog of recognizable characters is