[Welcome back to the Evolution of Video Game Movies series. Every week, I will be moving forward through time, starting with the earliest and ending with the most recent of video game movies. I will be detailing the histories of the games and how the films came about, and both my and fan reaction to the adaptations. Practically all of my background information is either common knowledge or from Wikipedia. So without further ado, let's move on to the next film on the list.]
In 1991, four men began development on an action game originally meant to star Jean-Claude Van Damme. But that fell through. They continued with development, but then had trouble even coming up with a title. Somebody suggested the word 'combat', and as a joke, another changed the C to a K. Soon, Mortal Kombat was born. But one of the early things to separate this game from others was the fact that instead of giving digitized characters, production company Midway came up with a motion capture system so that the fighters would be more lifelike.
The basic story of the games is that there are Elder Gods who have created multiple realms. If any particular realm wanted to conquer another realm, they must first defeat that realm in ten consecutive Mortal Kombat tournaments. One realm, Outworld, has already defeated Earth Realm nine times, and it's time for the tenth tournament. The thunder god Raiden helps form a team of fighters to stop Outworld's Shang Tsung from winning, headed by a monk named Liu Kang. Also on tap are Special Forces agent Sonya Blade, out to take down a killer named Kano. Then there was Hollywood action star Johnny Cage, and finally ninja warriors Scorpion and Sub-Zero. The game included a sub-boss with the four-armed goliath, Goro, and a secret enemy, Reptile.
The game was originally released to arcades in August 1992, with its sequel hitting arcades the following year. The third came out in 95, and over the next couple years, it received a few enhancements, gaining new characters--similar to what happened with Street Fighter II. In 1994, a techno group called The Immortals released a music album based on the first game. The main theme, Techno Syndrome, was taken and used (with some alterations) the following year as the main theme of the film. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
The game was considered one of the most controversial games ever made, and it even won most controversial game of 1993. The game gained such notoriety, it found itself in government hearings and, soon, was almost single-handedly responsible for creating the ESRB--the company which gives ratings to video games (like the MPAA for films).
Such brilliant publicity could not go unnoticed. In 1995, a then-unknown director named Paul W.S. Anderson created a live-action version. While the film did take almost all of its story and characters from the first game, there were a few things here and there taken from the second game in the series. It was a mixed bag for critics, but was well received by fans. It was popular enough to spend three weeks in the #1 spot, and then gain a sequel (I'll get to that next week). And it's still today considered one of the better video game adaptations. So let's see how it fares.
I saw this film in theater, maybe even a couple times, and I owned it on VHS. And of all the films on this list, this was probably the one I watched most recently prior to the start of this project. The plot of the film is pretty identical to that of the first game. Liu Kang (Robin Shou) is out to gain vengeance on evil sorcerer Shang Tsung (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) for killing his little brother in the previous tournament. Lord Rayden (Christopher Lambert) is out to protect him and the others who are coerced into joining--movie star Johnny Cage (Linden Ashby) and special agent Sonya Blade (Bridget Wilson), who is after a criminal named Kano (Trevor Goddard). But Shang Tsung isn't alone. He has two warriors under his command: Sub-Zero (Francois Petit) and Scorpion (Chris Casamassa). It will take everything the good guys have to stay alive, which is why Princess Kitana (Talisa Soto) helps when she can.
The acting isn't anything special. It's not good or bad. Christopher Lambert is fun as Rayden, though, and he really hams it up--as does Cary Tagawa as Shang Tsung ("YOU... will be next!" "Your. Soul. Is. Mine!" "NEVER!"). But I did want to mention the guy who plays Kano. Did you know that the game makers were so impressed with Trevor Goddard's portrayal that they actually changed Kano in the games to make him Australian? Bet that was the first time a film adaptation has actually been so good it's changed the games (and probably the only time).
If this film suffers anywhere, it's in the visual effects department. Goro is alright, and they do make the four arms look decent. But there are other times he just looks silly. The real problems, though, come in with the CGI--particularly Reptile. There are numerous moments throughout the film where the group is being followed by a creature version of Reptile, and it's some of the most painfully bad CGI I've ever seen. I mean, this was so bad that my 9-year-old self knew it was bad even for its time.
But it makes up for practically everything with its action. It's not sparse with it, and it's a lot of fun. The dining hall fight. Johnny Cage vs. Scorpion (ties for best fight in the film). The other best fight is Liu Kang vs. Reptile. Despite just random leaping around for no reason, it has some great moments, all culminating in an epic bicycle kick. And the climax fight between Liu Kang and Shang Tsung is fantastic, if only for the final seconds that build up to the fireball.
This movie has everything you would want from a Mortal Kombat film, at least one from the mid-90s. The action is a lot of fun. The characters are good portrayals. Granted, fan favorites Sub-Zero and Scorpion (though mostly Sub-Zero) are given small roles. It's cheesy, yeah, but it totally works. Overall, There's good humor, good action, and one of the best damn movie themes ever made. Those were $500 sunglasses, asshole!