Wednesday, July 7, 2010

EmailThe 7 Most What The??? Origins of Iconic Pop Culture Franchises

Every one of us has, at some point, watched a weird-ass movie or simply looked back over an insanely original idea and said, "How the hell did they even come up with that?"
The answer is often less original, and way stranger than you could have possibly imagined.
Super Mario Bros, Alice In Wonderland and Hallucinogenic Mushrooms

The Story You Know:

Mario is such a staple of the video game landscape that we become blind to how weird the whole thing really is. Why is it all about mushrooms? Why would mushrooms give Mario superpowers (including the ability to change size)?

Well, it's because there are in fact mushrooms in the real world that will give you superpowers. Or rather, they'll make you think you have them, right up until the cops wrestle you to the ground.
What Inspired It:
According to Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto himself, it came from one hell of a predicament. In early runs, the developers found that Mario was too large, so in order to make Mario grow and shrink throughout the game they decided to add "magic mushrooms" for him to snack on like the titular character in Alice in Wonderland.

Why would anyone--from Lewis Carroll to Nintendo--associate mushrooms with getting smaller or bigger? It's because of hallucinogenic toadstools like Amanita Muscaria, as folks who have ingested them know, screw with your perception of size.
Of course, Nintendo was probably just basing their mushrooms off of the idea forwarded by Carrol. It's not like they designed the ones in the game to look exactly like the psychotropic that would make a plumber think he was shrinking and turning into a giant in the real world.

Except they totally did... Amanita Muscaria bear a striking resemblance to Super Mushrooms from Mario. Nintendo insists that these similarities are purely coincidental, presumably because they don't want to get sued by the parents of whose kids find these mushrooms and assume they bestow the power to break bricks with their fists.
Either way, it really puts the bizarre world of Mario's "Mushroom Kingdom" in a whole new light.

That must have been some really good shit.
A Nightmare on Elm Street - A True Story

The Story You Know:
A Nightmare on Elm Street boasted a plot that was two parts Halloween, one part Jason and a dash of Christopher Nolan psycho-noir. It introduced a whole generation of children to insomnia in the form of Freddy Krueger, and is arguably the only decent movie Wes Craven ever made.

What Inspired It:
A true freaking story.
While Freddy Krueger is the amalgamation of a bully from Craven's youth and a homeless person, the concept of people actually dying from their nightmares is a reality all too horrific for Southeast Asian men.

Wes Craven apparently got the idea for A Nightmare on Elm Street after coming across a string of articles in the LA Times from the 1970s and 80s about an alarming number of young, able-bodied, mentally-sound men from Southeast Asia who died in their sleep the most horrifically way possible: via nightmares.
It would all start with a bad dream so distressing that they would spend days trying to stave off sleep. Once they eventually succumbed to Mr. Sandman, they let out a bloodcurdling scream, and died hard.

It is a condition known as SUDS, one of those medical acronyms doctors use to hide the unsettling damned-if-we-know nature of the real name: Sudden Unexpected Death Syndrome. Contrary to what the films told us, it typically attacks healthy adolescent men regardless of sexual promiscuity. Between 1982 and 1990 alone, 230 Thai men died from this condition. It is known throughout Southeast Asia as bangungot, dab tsog, laitai, hukuri and other names that you will dread for the rest of your life if you are even just a fraction Southeast Asian.
Only some quick defibrillation has proved effective against this monster, but for real... how many people have ready access to a defibrillator? In fact, SUDS nearly makes Freddy Kruger seem less threatening in comparison. At least we know that the Freddy can be killed.

The Sixth Sense - A Kids' Show on Nickelodeon

The Story You Know:
Haley Joel Osment sees dead people, then it is revealed that *SPOILERS* Bruce Willis has been dead the whole time and somehow never notices that other people aren't talking to him. *END SPOILERS*

After a few years he started seeing M. Night Shyamalan's career, and then his own.
It became one of the highest grossing films of all time and would be nominated for six Oscars, all seemingly on the strength of that one mind-blowing twist. This baffled some critics; after all, wasn't the whole thing just a two hour-long Twilight Zone episode, complete with the gimmicky revelation at the end?
What Inspired It:
The truth is quite a bit stupider than that. This Academy Award-nominated classic was inspired by something off of the same children's television network that introduced the world to Rugrats, Clarissa Explains It All and Doug. Yup, Nickelodeon.

Technically, SNICK.
It turns out that Shyamalan was one hell of an unofficial member of the Midnight Society in the 90s, since his magnum opus was inspired by an episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark?.
The episode in particular, "The Tale of the Dream Girl", is basically the same story as The Sixth Sense except it was written for the same audience that followed Salute Your Shorts.

Just like The Sixth Sense, "The Tale of the Dream Girl" tells the story of a kid who is able to eerily and unwillingly communicate with the dead. In this case, his name is Johnny Angelli, and he's portrayed by the same pretty-boy who played Scott Hope on Buffy. At first it appears that Johnny is being stalked by a girl who is clearly way out of his league, but not only does Johnny think that she's dead, there's something strange going on with Johnny. You see, he has this ring which he can't get off his finger, nobody seems to recognize him at work and his mother is so pissed that you would think he wrecked the car, or something.

Only Johnny's sister believes in him. In fact, she's the only person who has really been speaking to him. Oh, and there's this dramatic scene with the ring, and a totally unexpected--because it was original--twist where... well...

Five years later, Shyamalan gets nominated for an Academy Award for Best "Original" Screenplay.
Hell, considering the work he's done since then, it might pay for him to get some more Are You Afraid of the Dark episodes on DVD (it had a nice run of seven seasons) and see what else he can dig up.

There's enough cinematic gold in this season alone to keep Shyamalan busy for decades.
Also, it's worth noting that "The Tale of the Dream Girl" aired on March 26 1994, which means Shyamalan had to be at least 23-years old during that life-changing Saturday night he was at home watching SNICK.
Predator - A Rocky Sequel

The Story You Know:
It was a B-movie about commandos mated with a B-movie about an alien which resulted in a B+ movie about a commando-hunting alien. The film starred two future-governors, Apollo Creed, a bromantic Bill Duke and even features Jean-Claude Van Damme in a cameo as... you guessed it, the Predator.

Come to think of it, he does look like a predator.

What Inspired It:
Rocky V, or at least a joke from the 80s about how bad it would be should it ever get made. It was funny as hell until Stallone had to go and spoil everyone's fun by actually filming it.

As far as Hollywood was concerned, the Rocky Balboa Universe reached an insurmountable apex on Christmas Day, 1985. In Rocky IV the dude defeated Ivan Drago, avenged Apollo and won the hearts and minds of the Soviet people to end the Cold War. Yes, it was a good moment to be Rocky and/or Stallone, but once Drago tumbled out of the ring, it was widely believed that there was absolutely nothing left for the Italian Stallion to do but collapse under his own weight. With Drago smote, who else remained on Earth for the Stallion to challenge? No one, that's who.

This gave birth to a running joke around Hollywood that Rocky "would have to fight an alien in Rocky V." But screenwriters Jim and John Thomas eventually found this meme and were smart enough to realize that the idea of Stallone fighting an alien in Rocky V would be freaking brilliant 80s-perfection.

The duo "took the joke very seriously and turned out a marvelous screenplay," with the working title Hunter. After producer Joel Silver coaxed Hunter into spending a wild weekend with Commando... the classic science-fiction action film Predator was born.

Hell, they even got Apollo Creed to come get killed by the bad guy again in a key scene. You've got to stop getting yourself into these situations, man.