Judge Patrick Naugle has come for your soul!
Making a video game into a full length movie has become a cottage industry in Hollywood. Cinematic history is now littered with failed films based on classic video games: Super Mario Bros., Street Fighter, Double Dragon, House of the Dead, Doom, Alone in the Dark, Silent Hill, Hitman, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time…need I go on? Unless your movie had the words "Resident" and "Evil" in the title, odds are your film was going to sink faster than Charlie Sheen's eyeballs after a three-night bender. In 1995 director Paul W.S. Anderson (who would later go on to successfully helm the first and fourth Resident Evil films) had moderate success with Midway Game's Mortal Kombat, now available on Blu-ray care of New Line Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
Here's the best synopsis I can give you from what I gleamed from the movie…
An international martial arts tournament called "Mortal Kombat" (natch) is taking place between various universes (or planets, or whatever). If the Emperor (bad guy) from the Outworld (bad place) wins ten times (bad news), the Emperor and his homeland will be able to invade and conquer Earth (bad…everything). Considering the Outworld has nine wins under its belt, humanity's future isn't looking promising.
Enter martial arts warrior Liu Kang (Robin Shou, Death Race), Hollywood action star Johnny Cage (Linden Ashby, Wyatt Earp) and tough-as-nails U.S. soldier Sonya Blade (Bridgette Wilson, Billy Madison), three upstanding combatants chosen exclusively by the mysterious Lord Raiden (Christopher Lambert, Highlander) to defend the earth against the evil soul-sucking clutches of Shang Tsung (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, The Phantom). Can these three heroes defeat the four-armed mammoth Prince Goro, the icy Sub-Zero and the slimy Reptile in a battle to the death? Or will our world fall into darkness under Shang Tsung and the Emperor's vile command?
I just barely missed out on the 1990s video game craze that peaked with button mashing fighting games like the original "Mortal Kombat." Released in 1992, the original "Mortal Kombat" arcade hit its stride just as I was midway into high school and busy with friends, theater and school work (and mostly in that order). I just didn't have the time to get into video games featuring characters that shot acid from their mouths or razor wire from their wrists. Had this game come along only a few short years earlier, I'm sure I would have been in 8-bit heaven. Alas, this was not a fad I was destined to enjoy. So, you see where I stand with a movie like Mortal Kombat. I can see why people in their early 30s find it to be an endearing bit of nostalgia (as many online reviews have noted about this new Blu-ray release); certain movies adhere to you during your childhood and never let go no matter how terrible they are. There are a lot of movies I've come to love because they were a part of my formative years…and 1995's Mortal Kombat is not one of them.
This is truly an all-around cruddy movie for anyone coming late to the party. The entire production feels like a straight-to-video undertaking of the highest order, starting with the absolutely atrocious screenplay by Kevin Droney (who would go on to write the equally terrible video game-to-film adaptation Wing Commander). There isn't a moment of dialogue that feels authentic or original. The entire script is a cobbled mess of clichés ("I only trust one person, and you're looking at her!") and characters quoting the original game ("Flawless!" "Finish him!" "Come here!"). I could literally feel my brain turning to mush with each passing moment. Any attempts at depth or levity are squashed under line readings so stiff they could be used to prop up whole skyscrapers.
The mind-numbing dialogue could be overlooked if the story was interesting. Alas, Mortal Kombat is based on a video game which automatically means it was pre-ordained to be a complete failure. Characters fight in weird environments not because they serve the story but because the filmmakers thought they'd look cool (which, by the way, they really don't). Wormholes or portals open and suck in fighters, dropping them off in another world because…well, that's what wormholes do, I suppose. The overall acting is on par with the best local car dealership TV ads. Bridgette Wilson spends most of the time looking angry and pouting (she's hot, I'll give her that…look faint praise!). Robin Shou and Linden Ashby—the movie's two blandly ineffective leading men—don't create characters as much as mechanical one-liner robots. The only person who looks like he knows he's in a terrible video game adaptation is Christopher Lambert as the electrified Lord Raiden, complete with a white wig that makes him look like a really hip Bea Arthur. Lambert's asides feel as if they'd work better in a Zucker brother's movie than a serious marital arts film.
Then there are the special effects. Oh, the horrible, HORRIBLE special effects. Before I rip into the effects work, please keep in mind that Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park had already hit theaters years before Mortal Kombat, so really…there's no plausible excuse to make the effects this bad. Almost every special effects shot looks rendered by a teenager from his parent's home computer…circa 1991. When Scorpion opens his palm and a tentacle emerges, I could almost see the desktop icon hovering above the screen. Nothing in Mortal Kombat looks even remotely real—it's as if the filmmakers weren't even trying (or were working with a budget in cents, not dollars). Some may find this endearing, but I find it to be distracting from the story.
Mortal Kombat is a movie that has not aged well and will most likely continue to diminish in value as the years go on. I just can't imagine this movie amassing a following down the line. Apparently there was a sequel made a few years later that is considered far worse than this mess. So on some level, I should be thankful I had to sit through the original Mortal Kombat and not a sub-par sequel. I'm thankful, though it feels like the difference between drinking two week old sour milk and four week old sour milk—any way you slice it, you're still getting sour milk.
Mortal Kombat is presented in a decent AVC MPEG-4 1.78:1 transfer (1080p). Overall this isn't a bad transfer, but it isn't all that great, either. Some of the shots in the film look very good while others appear dated and out of focus. Because the effects work just doesn't hold up, the movie comes off as a flat, extremely lifeless affair that never rises above mediocrity. The colors are often times good, but the black levels are spotty especially during the night time sequences. Even with its flaws this is frankly a much better transfer than this film deserves.
The soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and sports many of the same problems as the video transfer; mainly that this feels like a very dated and boring technical transfer. There are some moments when the surround sound speakers kick in (as when the announcer yells out "MORTAL KOMBAT!!!"), though those moments are few and far between. Overall this is a serviceable sound mix, and nothing more. Also included on this disc are English, Spanish and French subtitles, as well as 2.0 audio mixes in both Spanish and French.
Surprisingly, there are a few extra features included on this edition of Mortal Kombat. The longest and worst is "Mortal Kombat: The Journey Begins," a nearly 40 minute feature that looks like it crawled out from Hanna-Barbera's bunghole. This animated 'special' features terribly rendered visuals with both computers and hand drawn cel work. Also included on this disc are trailers for both the original film and the upcoming video game, plus a digital copy of the film and a code to get a 'classic Jade' outfit in the new PS3 video game of the same name.
Mortal Kombat is a movie that caters to a specific audience, and I am not that audience. For those who love it, God bless ya 'cause I'm just not setting up a tent in your camp. This Blu-ray release is average—considering how many great movies have yet to see light of day in hi-definition, fans should feel lucky New Line saw fit to release this movie and its follow-up, 1997's Mortal Kombat: Annihilation.
Mortal Kombat deserves its own finishing movie…laying dormant inside Walmart's five dollar bin.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
• Animated Special
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