Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Blu Ray Review: Mortal Kombat (1995)

Mortal Kombat
101 minutes
rated PG-13
Available from Warner Home Video on April 19th.

by Scott Mendelson

Mortal Kombat is very much a product of its time and place. It remains a time capsule of the mid-90s era when pre-established properties were slowly becoming the big thing in the wake of the Batman series, but hadn't yet fully taken over as they would after 2001 (there's a LONG essay about that coming soon-ish). It is odd to refer to a violent kung-fu fantasy based on an ultraviolent video game as 'charming', but Mortal Kombat remains, nearly sixteen years later, an amusing and nostalgia-filled trip to our youth. It remains one of the more successful films ever based on a video game, both artistically (for whatever that's worth) and commercially (at $70 million in domestic grosses, it trails only the first animated Pokemon movie, Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time and Tomb Raider in the video game genre). It is not 'good' by most definitions, but by god it felt good to kick back and remember a time when a movie like this was just a B-movie genre entry in late summer, rather than a $200 million tentpole with an entire studio at peril. Like Street Fighter: the Movie, Mortal Kombat is a dumb, fun B-movie back when B-movies weren't being given A+ budgets and expectations.

The plot of Mortal Kombat is... well, it's Enter the Dragon. That's it, really. Take Enter the Dragon and add magic and monsters to the mix and you've got Mortal Kombat. Robin Shou plays Bruce Lee, er, I mean Lui Keng, who enters a mystical martial arts tournament in order to kill Shang Tsung (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) and avenge the death of his sister. Bridgette Wilson is Sonya Blade, a cop who follows the murderous Kano into this mythical realm. Like all-too many films of this sort, Sonya spends most of the movie as a posturing 'bad-ass female warrior' only to spend the climax as a bound and helpless hostage, but I digress. Anyway, Lenden Ashby plays Johnny Cage, a hotshot martial arts movie star (who, in the original game, was supposed to be Jean Claude Van Damme) who enters the tournament in order to provide himself with a new challenge. You can decide which of these two characters is John Saxon and which is Jim Kelly, although if we judge by what happens in the sequel (Mortal Kombat: Annihilation) then Johnny Cage is DEFINITELY Jim Kelly. Anyway, our three heroes are aided in their journey by the mystical Rayden, played with Christopher 'can't hold a straight face' Lambert in a performance so relentlessly and cheerfully goofy that you can't help but giggle every time he shows up.

Unlike Street Fighter: the Movie and Super Mario Bros, which went way overboard with things like plot and character arcs, Mortal Kombat succeeded by just giving the fans what they wanted. While there is plenty of time allotted for set-up and occasional character interaction, the film is filled with the kind of fantastical martial arts combat gee-whiz character kills that made the game so popular. Yes, the film went for the bloodless PG-13 route, but it's tough to argue that the film is not true to the spirit of the original game series. It successfully trades blood and gore for more fantastical death scenes. It's not great art and it's not some classic of the form, but there is an unassuming innocence in Paul Anderson's Mortal Kombat that makes it a guilty pleasure to this day. While I personally prefer Street Fighter for its bright colors, GI Joe vs Cobra narrative, and Raul Julia's completely wacked-out lead performance as M. Bison, Mortal Kombat remains a diamond in the... well, a clean shiny rock in the rough that is video game-to-movie adaptations.

Grade: B-

The Blu Ray: Video: C Audio: D Extras: C

Unlike the barebones DVD release (one of New Line's launch titles back in 1997 if I recall), the Mortal Kombat Blu Ray comes with a few token features. We get the now-classic trailer with that ridiculous rave-dance music and the announcer angrily screaming "MORTAL KOMBAT!" We get a trailer for the new Mortal Kombat video game which streets on the same day as this Blu Ray (as well as the Blu Ray for Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, which Warner did not send me). The only real extra is a 40-minute animated feature that was released as a tie-in with the original movie back in 1995. It's cheap, cheesy, and way too long, but it's worth watching once for morbid curiosity. Oh, speaking of the video game, this Blu Ray apparently comes with 'Free exclusive original Jade Character Costume Download'. I'd be lying if I told you that I cared, but you just might.

As for the film itself, this is not a reference-level Blu Ray in the least. The image is relatively solid, but it's quite grainy and doesn't feel that much of a step up from an up-converted DVD. The sound is a bigger issue. While it's no secret that I don't have surround sound, the audio coming out of my speakers was wildly inconsistent. Like the very first New Line/Warner Bros DVDs back in the day, the dialogue seems to be mixed at a much lower volume than the sound effects and music. Thus, you'll constantly be turning up the volume to hear the dialogue only to wake up your neighbors when Sub-Zero sends a freezing beam across the room. I don't know why this occured, but that's how it played on my Samsung DLP.

Unless you're a hardcore fan, Mortal Kombat is a rental-only. It doesn't have all that much replay value, although your kids may get a kick out of it. The image is just okay, the sound is problematic, and the extras are scant. I do wish that Warner had put a little more effort into the title, but that's an oft-told tale these days, isn't it?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Until Silent Hill, Mortal Kombat was the best video game iteration. Some say the film has not aged well, but, I enjoy it and it holds up there for a 90s era martial arts film.


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