Mortal Kombat review by Matt Fuerst


1993 was quite the year of persecution for the video game industry. One of the United States duly elected Senators, Joe Liberman, spearheaded quite the witchhunt on video games, blaming them for everything from teenage truancy to rising costs of walnuts. The major contributors that caused Senator Liberman to roll out of his cushy bed one morning and take notice were two games: Night Trap and Mortal Kombat. Night Trap was a (somewhat crappy) full motion video game for the SegaCD system starring Different Strokes/drug head/softcore actress/bizzaro hottie Dana Plato. In Night Trap you had a third person perspective to an alien invasion on a house. You had to round up the aliens before they got their hands on the houses female scantily clad residents. If you were a little too late some, what Liberman determined to be, extremely nasty things happened to the residents. Night Trap was a pretty small time game for a small time system (in spite of being ported over to the PC and other platforms like 3DO along the way) but Mortal Kombat was a big fish in a big pond. Mortal Kombat was initially released as an arcade game, which didn't garner all that much attention, but was popular enough to merit it's porting to home video game consoles. A huge marketing campaign followed and the well paid bigwigs realized that this gore was being delivered right into the homes of America to destroy the innocent little minds of children sea to shining sea. For the Video Game Industry, not too much came out of the hoopla outside of a self-imposed rating system by the video game industry, but Liberman sure did use the publicity for his own gain without shame (soon to be President Liberman?). Mortal Kombat was a definitive winner in the uproar though, since when you are 13, whatever your parents don't want you to have is the must have item of the season. The original continues to spawn sequels, imitators, comic books, and even three movies (and counting).

1995 brought the release of the aptly titled Mortal Kombat movie. The storyline was tied as closely as possible to the actual video game, and for the target audience of the flick, that is a definitive bonus. A select number of fighters from across the world are invited or tricked into attending an elite fighting tournament by the evil Shang Tsung on his remote, hidden island. Among the group of mortals selected for the event are Liu Kang (Robin Shou), Sonya Blade (Bridgette Wilson) and Johnny Cage (Linden Ashby) who collectively make up "the good guys". Sonya is hunting Kano (Trevor Goddard) who killed her cop partner and Shang has a group of secret ninjas with the names of Scorpion (Chris Casamassa), Sub-Zero (Francois Petit) and Reptile (Keith Cooke). For some reason Shang Tsung has Princess Kitana (Talisa Soto) imprisoned on the island, though after looking at her I can understand why he wanted to lock her up and keep her. Through the course of the story it is revealed that the tournament is not a simple fighting tournament, but of course, a tournament to determine the fate of man. You see, the non-mortal contingent has won the tournament the previous 9 instances, and if they win 10 times in a row, then humans will be eradicated from the earth. Or something.

The list of subplots is pretty small and really only thrown in for the fanboys to enjoy how much the film's storyline can mirror the storyline from the arcade game. As previously mentioned, Sonya is hunting Kano, Liu Kang's brother was killed by Shang Tsung so Liu wants some Barney bad ass revenge, and Johnny Cage wants to get his pee pee wet. Thankfully Shang Tsung has a tremendous number of lackies laying around so that we can see some actual fighting and death, since obviously the heros are going to survive the end in this one. Interspersed throughout the lame subplots the tournament goes on (though it's not really apparent at times, for example Liu fights Princess Kitana at one point, and they just kind of spar in front of Shang Tsung and then it cuts away). After some of the non-heros are disposed of, we are introduced to a rogue Muppet called Goro, who was the previous winner of the tournament. Goro kills the obvious karate fodder in quick order and Johnny Cage decides he needs to step into the ring with Goro, since it's the express first class ticket to getting into Sonya's panties. Through some supernatural loophole, Cage agrees to let Shang Tsung choose his final opponent and the final destination of the fight. After the Cage/Goro matchup, Shang decides to puss out and fight Sonya in his home dimension. Of course, there is another supernatural loophole to fool that sneaky turd, Sonya simply has to refuse to fight! Man, who made these rules?

The final battle goes down and the techno beats start pumping out one last time.

At this point I have successfully summarized the whole movie without mentioning the "star" of the movie, Rayden (Christopher Lambert) (Check off another personal challenge on my To Do list). Rayden is the God of Thunder and basically watches over the "good guys" in the tournament. He doesn't really help, do much or even hang out in the movie much, his screen time is pretty limited. Lambert got top billing since you've never really heard of anyone else. Bridgette Wilson has been hanging out in small budget wide release movies for a while, and she's got that kind of funny-looking-hotness thing going for her.

If "I directed two movies based on video games" is on the top of your Hollywood resume, one would expect that you are a bottom feeder of the directing world, but Paul (W.S.) Anderson (no, not P.T. Anderson) actually is a pretty good director. Event Horizon is absolutely creepy and Resident Evil is better than a kick in the privates. But Mortal Kombat is never going to be the hidden gem in his career. Reflecting upon direction, there was no telling of the abilities of the man behind the camera. There are some well framed and gorgeous shots of exotic locales (Liu and Kitana fighting on the beach) but for every well done shot there are at least 2 that are atrocious.

The success of a film like this financially is not measured in the box office alone, which did a very good $70M in the US on the budget of $20M. Mortal Kombat I and II were in the arcades, the original was on a myriad of home consoles, II was on the way to the consoles, and MK III was on it's way into the arcade. It's hard to measure the impact that the film had on the success of the games (whereas the impact the games had on the movie is easy, about 100%). The producers of the film obviously saw Mortal Kombat as an opportunity to tie in every product known to man with their brand, and they took extra good care of the soundtrack. It's definitely the best part of the movie. We're presented with Traci Lords, Juno Reactor, Gravity Kills, Stabbing Westward, Fear Factory and KMFDM amongst others. All pretty popular bands in techno scene and still hip today to put in your sci-fi/action movies (just ask the Wachkowski brothers).

I watched the film in it's Laserdisc format. The mastering of the disc itself was one of the best I have encountered in my Laserdisc collection. The image is widescreen at 1.85:1. The sound was also THX Certified and includes an AC-3 Dolby Digital track. The Laserdisc also has a commentary track from producer Lawrence Kasanoff along with two of the theatrical trailers for Mortal Kombat (albeit in full screen format). It should be noted that the DVD does not include the commentary track, so what a bonus for us LD owners and Mortal Kombat fans.

Maybe I'm just angry because I'm a Baraka player from Mortal Kombat II. Looking on IMDB, the Mortal Kombat sequel has Baraka in it, and is available on Laserdisc, so it looks like I am off to eBay to squander another $2. Or maybe this is truly just a bad movie. In the end, Mortal Kombat is a movie not created for a purpose; the story has no purpose, per se. The story exists because it can and the marketing machine pushed it out, not because it needed to be told.

3 out of 10 Jackasses
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