I doubt Ed Boon and John Tobias would have thought, back in 1992, that their arcade fighting game would have become this huge. Three numbered sequels, three more non-numbered games in the Xbox/Playstation 2 gaming era, a DC Universe crossover, countless spin-off and remake games, both cartoon and live action television adaptations, comic books, cards, a live action movie or two...yeah, I'd call that a pretty damn successful career, especially due to the very humble career beginnings of the two. Mortal Kombat was to be the next big thing after Street Fighter 2, a more realistic counterpart that would appeal to the more adult fighting gamers, with bloody, highly stylized "finishing" maneuvers that would see one player or another get their spine ripped out, head chopped off or eaten, or their body disintegrated by any number of fashions.
Following in the footsteps of 'Street Fighter,' once again, the gory game series was adapted to the big screen...and this is where the fun trivia begins. No actor died immediately after the film was made, so no one could say 'Mortal Kombat' was so bad that it killed someone...unlike that other film. There also was a distinct lack of Jean-Claude Van Damme in 'MK,' despite the fact that he was supposedly the inspiration for the game series. Hell, there was a distinct lack of any A-list talent...and if you want to tell me that a possibly inebriated Christopher Lambert is or was A-list, then I'll definitely not kill you with kindness (also known as a "friendship" finisher).
The 1995 film takes the story of the original game, for the most part, and adapts it to screen. Now, I know what you're thinking...what story?! To be fair, in the early '90's, these beat 'em up 2D grapplers were incredibly low on plot, and while there was a story written in, I don't think anyone playing really gave a rat's ass about it. They cared that the blue dude froze shit, the Asian dude clucked like a turkey as he kicked across the screen, and that the four armed guy got his ass handed to him like a punk bitch.
Like many other fighting movies, there's a tournament on a remote island, where only the world's best are invited to compete. The difference? Shang Tsung (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), the host, is stealing the souls of the defeated warriors, and if no Earthly competitor can win, defeating both the evil sorcerer and the four armed Goro, our world will be taken over by the Emperor (not Palpatine) and his Outworldly fiends. Lord Rayden (Lambert) has three chances to save the world, as he mentors action movie star Johnny Cage (Linden Ashby), policewoman Sonya Blade (Bridgette Wilson) and monk Liu Kang (Robin Shou) in the ways of the tournament and the ways to defeat their extraordinary foes.
'Mortal Kombat' is not a great movie, but it may very well be one of the best fighting game-turn-movie movies made, and there is a fairly large list of competition for that "coveted" title these days. The story is very straight forward, where we have time to grow to like or feel for the three main characters, and get plenty of time to ooh and aah at the powers of the villains in the show. The fighting isn't bad, by any means, while the plot progresses poorly at times, with numerous odd twists in the path. In the end, we know who is going to win, but getting there is the fun part.
It's hard to not like Cage, Sonya, and Liu Kang. Growing up at just the right time to always be a member of the Mortal Kombat target demographic, you learn these characters, and their depictions here are pretty damn good. It's not cartoony, although some of their fighting moves translate poorly to real life. They actually feel three dimensional. Thrown opposite the mystical Sub-Zero and Scorpion, or Princess Kitana (Talisa Soto), or the villainous Kano (Trevor Goddard), they give us something to root for, to care about, much more than that "other" fighting game movie. The plot here makes sense, even when it doesn't make a lick of sense.
This is a film where the awful line readings make it more fun, rather than painful. A film where awful special effects seem fun and silly, rather than a big turn off, where a lizard can hop into a rotting corpse, repossess it, and somehow have an announcer call out its name, or a demon-like fighter can only muster phrases concerning geographic location. It's also hard to hate on a film where a character is killed by a bucket of water, or, if you close your eyes, you think Bob Hoskins is in the film, as Goddard seriously sounds like the rotund star. This film knows it's a stinker, and it straddles that distinct line that helps make even the bad moments seem good, with its self-aware atmosphere. Director Paul W.S. Anderson (who went on to do the 'Resident Evil' game movie franchise) made the best of a bad situation, and created a film that has camp appeal written all over it, a guilty pleasure that ages wonderfully, even if its effects are more brutal than the bloodiest execution found in the game.
The Disc: Vital Stats
Just in time for the new game in the series, 'Mortal Kombat' arrives on Blu-ray on a Region A/B/C BD25 disc that features no pre-menu content. The menu itself is static with no audio, not even the "them song," which is a bummer. It's also a bummer that the Techno Syndrome song is nowhere to be found as an extra in any fashion, or as a separate audio option for the film that just loops over the film. Now that right there would make this a five star film, I kid you not.
So, I wanted to "test" this Blu-ray's "might," as it were. Is 'Mortal Kombat' "excellent" on Blu-ray? Does it score a "flawless victory"?
Sorry, that damn song is stuck in my head. Anyways, the AVC MPEG-4 1.78:1 framed 1080p transfer for the first film in the series isn't half bad, but it also isn't all that great. There is a very small smattering of tiny dirt blips and small hairs, a fairly large amount of mosquito noise, and some problems in the video that are inherent in the source, the very dated, second (probably third) rate special effects that just don't hold up. However, textures are enjoyable (especially on clothing in the early half of the film), while edges are superb, and colors are strong throughout, especially, though, when Kang returns home. Facial hair and stubble pop, while stray hairs quite literally leap. Picture depth is here again, gone again, as deep meets flat to do battle many times through the runtime. Clarity is also a back and forth battle, though it never gets bad enough to see one score a fatality over the other. Skin tones are sometimes a tad warm, but all in all, this is an enjoyable presentation of a film that can never look top notch. Those effects, especially for Reptile, will make sure of it.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix given to 'Mortal Kombat' is passable, but laughable, as it is inconsistent and lacking the power to propel the film and its action past the point of "hey, that's an old action film!" Sure, we get bass in the fan favorite, ridiculous theme song, and it is fairly strong, and impacts in fights are heavily accented with a low roar, but the bass doesn't decide to show up for elements where it would have also fit. The same can be said about rear activity, as the film starts strong, fades to the fronts, gets rears again, and watches them fade away. Soundtrack elements are too soft, aside from the film's theme music, while dialogue is often too low, too quiet, even at elevated volume levels. Bottom line, when you hear the scream of "Mortal Kombat!!!!!!!!", you know you're in for the best part of the sound. The rest of it is pretty damn uninspired.
'Mortal Kombat' will never die. Simply put, the music is too awesome, the film is too damn goofy, and the characters are, at this point, a bit too iconic in their genre. The acting stinks, but anyone entering this guilty pleasure looking for quality acting is barking up the wrong tree. The Blu-ray release of this film isn't half bad, and actually was much better than I was anticipating. The extras? Oh man, you just have to see 'The Journey Begins' to believe it. This one is worth a look for nostalgic reasons.