Turn Back the Clock
Genre: Action / Martial Arts / Fantasy
Distributed by: New Line Cinema Home Entertainment
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
When I first saw previews for Mortal Kombat in the local theater, I had mixed feelings. The fact that one of my favorite video games had been deemed good enough to warrant a huge theatrical release was cause for joy, yet I had some worries. I wasn’t surprised that someone would be able to create a marketable screenplay from the game as it had an elaborate storyline with an excess of material. However, I couldn’t help but think back to recent failed attempts at bringing video games to theater – Street Fighter and Super Mario Bros. Those horrid films made me wonder whether or not anyone could actually pull it off. Yes, the video game was fun and exciting, with a decent storyline behind it, but would that transform into a sad, silly movie that would translate into box office failure? More importantly, would I be wasting my money watching this film?
Happily, I can honestly say that this seeing this film on the big screen was not a waste of money at all. In fact, as the weeks passed, I saw the movie a total of four times in the theater. As soon as it came out on VHS, I ran to the local video store and purchased it so I could watch it a dozen more times. Then, years later, a family member bought the DVD version of Mortal Kombat for me for Christmas. I couldn’t wait to watch the movie yet again.
Mortal Kombat centers around three warriors chosen to defend the Earth realm against the treacherous forces of Outworld in a series of tournaments. These tournaments are fought by the fiercest warriors of both realms on a mysterious island. If Outworld wins ten such tournaments, its emperor, Shao Kahn, can invade the Earth realm, capturing and enslaving it for his own evil purposes. At the time of this movie, the warriors of Outworld have won nine tournaments. Shao Kahn sends his servant/wizard Shang Tsung to round up the warriors of Earth for what may conceivably be the final battle for Earth. Although many warriors are chosen for the honor, Raiden, Shaolin God of Thunder, believes that only three have the heart to actually make a difference – Sonya Blade, a Special Forces agent; Johnny Cage, a movie star; and Liu Kang, a Shaolin monk who has turned his back on his faith and training. Of these three, Raiden feels that only one will decide the outcome of the tournament.
However, if Mortal Kombat was just a battle between warriors, the movie would be a tad boring. As mentioned before, Shao Kahn is evil and thus, his henchmen are suitably treacherous. Throughout the battles, the warriors of Earth constantly have to watch each other’s backs to avoid the evil underhanded doings of Shang Tsung. Aiding them in their struggle is Shoa Kahn’s adopted daughter, Princess Katana. Can Sonya, Johnny and Liu Kang confront and defeat their inner demons, or will they be destroyed by them, thus sending the realm of Earth into a life of turmoil at the hands of Shao Kahn?
When Mortal Kombat first hit the theater, rumor had it that many scenes were cut in order to have a rating that will allow the majority of gaming fans to attend the movie without supervision. The rumors gained some validity when the novel version of the movie based on the original screenplay contained more fight scenes that were not in the actual theatrical release. However, that didn’t deter gaming fans from loving what the people at New Line Cinema had done with their favorite fighting game. Much of the movie was actually based on two games within the Mortal Kombat series – Mortal Kombat and Mortal Kombat II. The fight scenes were excellently choreographed by a team that included Robin Shou. The knowledge that one of the lead actors of the film had a hand in coordinating the fight scenes lead that much more credibility to the film. Each fight was fast-paced and contained accompanying music that heightened the action and added a rush of adrenaline to the excitement. The music used for each fight combined to make one helluva pumping soundtrack featuring songs by Gravity Kills, KMFDM, Psykosonik, GZR, The Immortals, Utah Saints, Sister Machine Gun, Napalm Death, George Clinton and more!
Each actor should be commended on a job well-done in bringing the characters of a popular video game to life in a believable fashion. The casting department made their choices well. Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa played a perfectly evil Shang Tsung, every word from his mouth double-edged and dripping with venom. Robin Shou was excellent in his portrayal of Liu Kang, the former Shoalin monk who has lost his way and has only entered the competition to exact revenge for the death of his brother. Sonya Blade was masterfully portrayed by Bridgette Wilson, an actress who had very little experience with martial arts and had to basically learn all her moves from scratch. However raw her martial arts skills, Wilson did a terrific job in the no-nonsense badass role. Linden Ashby added comic relief in his portrayal of movie action hero Johnny Cage. I have yet to see another actor who can fill the shoes of the Thunder-God Raiden as perfectly as Christopher Lambert, despite the fact that he was replaced in the sequel to the film by another actor. Not to take anything away from that other actor’s performance, but the mysterious nature of Lambert’s voice as well as his acting skill, made for a top notch portrayal. Even the smaller characters were perfectly cast so as to mirror the look and style of the game characters.
The special effects could be jaunty at times – speeding and slowing cameras to change the action sequence can have a tendency to do that – but you expect that sort of thing when it comes to a movie based on this style of video game. There is just no way to accurately represent Sonya Blade’s leg grab or Liu Kang’s bicycle kick without a little trick photography. However, fans were pleased by the effects that were used to create Scorpion’s fire breathing and bloody spear throwing and Sub-Zero’s freezing powers. The effects used to create Goro, the four-armed Shokan Prince and undefeated Outworld warrior were impressive – the resulting creature perfectly representing that of the Goro found in the video game. The scenes in which reptile blends in with scenery were - to quote the movie and the game – flawless.
Viewing this movie for the first time on DVD, I was excited to note that there were some special features. However, those special features fall flat when compared to other DVDs of the time. There is an interactive menu that allows you to learn about several characters in the film and you also are given the ability to view the theatrical trailer. But, for the most part, the special features on the Mortal Kombat DVD were disappointing. Throw us some deleted scenes! You mean to tell me that there were no outtakes whatsoever?!
However disappointed I was with the special features of this DVD, Mortal Kombat continues to be one of my favorite movies. It was considered the first major success for video-game movie adaptations by critics and game lovers alike. With the invention of new special effects techniques, there is no telling what Mortal Kombat would have evolved into had the movie been made today. But even without the incredible effects found in Resident Evil, Mortal Kombat is still a fan favorite and certainly worth watching…again…and again…and again.