Sunday, August 30, 2015

Mortal Kombat

A couple of weeks ago I stumbled upon an excellent article from The Hollywood Reporter commemorating the 20th anniversary of 1995’s film based on the controversial hit fighting videogame of the same name, Mortal Kombat (trailer. I upgraded to the BluRay release of Mortal Kombat as soon as it hit stores in 2009. I remember this because it came with a code for an exclusive costume download for the PS3 version of Mortal Kombat that just came out a little earlier in 2009. I watched my old DVD copy of the film many times, but unfortunately the BluRay has remained in the backlog box since I picked it up six years ago. Seeing that awesome write up on the 20th anniversary of the movie however inspired me to rewatch what many still consider to be one of the few quality videogame films among a sea of terrible videogame movies.

Before we get going, I just have to disclose how much of an MK nut I was way back when this came out in 1995 when I was 12. At the time Mortal Kombat 3 was tearing up the arcades and about to hit release on the 16-bit systems. Our family could not afford a SNES/Genesis even that late in their lifecycles, but I did put in ample time in the arcades and at my friends who owned the game. While I did not own the 16-bit versions, I did get the first two MK games on GameBoy for Christmas. So while everyone was enjoying their quality console versions of the game complete with gore and a full roster of characters with all their vintage moves and bloody fatalities, I somehow convinced myself that the watered down GameBoy version with no blood, T-rating friendly fatalities and missing characters was almost on par with the arcade/console experience. I also picked up all and devoured all the MK comics put out by Malibu in the mid-90s and got crazy into the lore and cannon of the MK universe. I still love the story for the MK games, and I am a big fan with what Neatherrealm/WB Games have done with the amazing story modes in the last couple of MK games that came out.

I vividly recall being so psyched for the film that was about to come out. I also remember digging the Street Fighter film that hit in late 1994, and while I like me some Street Fighter, I have always preferred MK and convinced myself that the MK film was going to be vastly superior. I knew of no other friends or family that wanted to see this with me at the theaters, but thankfully I managed to get my dad to drop me off at the Columbia 4 it was playing at on its opening weekend. I emerged from the film in high spirits, and with that catchy theme song stuck in my head for what seemed like an eternity afterwards.

The film focuses primarily on the cast of the first game, with a couple of cameos from the sequel. The three primary protagonists are Liu Kang (Robin Shou), Johnny Cage (Linden Ashby) and Sonya Blade (Bridgette Wilson). They all have been chosen to compete in the Mortal Kombat tournament headed up by the treacherous sorcerer, Shang Tsung (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa). They have the thunder god, Lord Raiden (Christopher Lamber) at their side to guide them into the right direction and prevent Shang Tsung’s forces from emerging victorious in the tournament where what else but the very fate of Earth is at stake.

I thought the film did a tremendous job at remaining loyal to most of the settings, cast and lore from the videogame. I also want to give props to whoever was in charge of the set design, because even all these years later I still love all the different sets of the various temples, arenas and sandy beaches where the tournament bouts transpire. Outworld is the name of the realm where the final act of the film takes place, and the folks at New Line did a bang up job making it look like a dastardly place with countless skulls, corpses and other evil looking artifacts littered about that combine to make a sinister-looking set piece to wage war in.

The setup is very simple and straightforward, and it avoids the pitfalls that hit other films based on fighting videogames like The Legend of Chun-Li, Tekken 2 and The King of Fighters that try to make it into one grand big soap opera that is too ambitious for its own good. Stay faithful to the lore of the franchise, and have a tournament with a ton of fights for me to eat up and I will most likely be along for a good ride as I was here and with other films that got the formula right like the first Tekken film and Dead or Alive. After a few scenes laying the groundwork for the tournament and introducing you to everyone, you are in for a treat as it is nearly nonstop fight after fight for the film’s second act. There is a little bit of breathing room to set up the final Liu Kang/Shang Tsung showdown.

With the MK film coming just only two years after the disastrous Super Mario Bros. film that was very loosely connected to the landmark videogame franchise it was much appreciated to see the filmmakers treat the franchise with respect and with a faithful adaptation of the film’s cast and lore. Props to director Paul W.S. Anderson for helping throw as many little nods to fans of the game as possible whether it be trying to cram in as many vintage moves and powers the characters are famous for in the games to getting in as many fatalities and even sneaking in a friendship finishing move into the film. Yes, that is right, I completely forgot that before he became known as the man responsible for writing all and directing most of the Resident Evil films, that Mr. Anderson got his first videogame film notoriety with this adaptation of Mortal Kombat.

I mentioned earlier the film has a catchy theme song, and as a matter of fact the whole score is well crafted. If you read that article from the Hollywood Reporter, you will discover the filmmakers wanted to go against the grain of a recommended metal soundtrack and instead dominated it with electronica/trance music that comprises most of the score. It turned out to be the perfect fit, and I could not help but enthusiastically bop my head along to it whenever it kicked in for another fight scene. This is only one of several movies I went out and got the soundtrack for, and there has been countless fan remixes made in tribute to it over the years.

One thing that has not aged well for this film is the special effects. In 1995 New Line tried their best to showcase their latest and greatest CG, and I recall being petrified way back when witnessing Scorpion’s wicked looking harpoon he shoots out of his hand and other special power’s like Sub-Zero’s freeze attacks that looked impressive for 1995. Now almost all of the CG featured in MK is laughable at best, with it not holding a candle to what modern network television shows are capable of. Seriously, some of it is ridiculous looking nowadays with Raiden’s teleporting and Shang Tsung’s soul sucking abilities standing out as even more dated-looking in glorious BluRay HD.

I remember the only extra on the original DVD release was just a theatrical trailer. That trailer is still here, along with a trailer for the 2009 reboot videogame, but there is one other bonus feature we get that is exclusive to the BluRay and that is The Journey Begins, a 40 minute animated tie-in to the film. It is a bizarre beast that came out alongside the film when animation was in a transition at the time from the traditional hand drawn cartoons that dominated Saturday mornings to CG animation that is commonplace in animated films and cartoons today. The Journey Begins tries its best to hybrid poorly drawn 2D characters against CG backdrops, and transitions into very rough looking 3D animated fight scenes peppered throughout its duration. It looks quite awful all these years later, and it is maybe worth watching it for a couple of minutes just to witness this abomination of animation. It is too bad there is no commentary or behind-the-scenes feature catching up with the cast and crew all these years later, so instead I will once again point you to that awesome Hollywood Reporter piece that interviews a majority of the cast and crew and is as close to an extensive behind-the-scenes piece we are going to get on the film and it is filled with a ton of facts and insight on what it took to pull off and other crazy antics that happened off camera.

As you can see I am still crazy nostalgic and biased for this film. Laughably outdated CG aside, Mortal Kombat is still one of my favorite videogame films of all time. I know that is faint praise considering its competition, but I am still as much of a MK fan all these years later, and it was a blast reliving all these fight scenes and bopping along to the soundtrack all over again. If you have not seen this before, it most likely will be a little hard to watch for the first time compared to 2015 theatrical standards, but if you have fond memories of it like I did then you cannot go wrong busting this one out again.

Other Random Backlog Movie Blogs

12 Angry Men (1957)
21 Jump Street
Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie
Atari: Game Over
The Avengers: Age of Ultron
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Bounty Hunters
Cabin in the Woods
Captain America: The First Avenger
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Clash of the Titans (1981)
Clint Eastwood 11-pack Special
Dirty Work
Field of Dreams
Fight Club
The Fighter
For Love of the Game
Good Will Hunting
Hercules: Reborn
Man of Steel
Marine 3 & 4
Mortal Kombat
The Replacements
Rocky I-VI
Running Films Part 1
Running Films Part 2
ScoobyDoo Wrestlemania Mystery
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Source Code
Star Trek I-XII
Take Me Home Tonight
The Tooth Fairy 1 & 2
Veronica Mars
The Wrestler (2008)

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