Mortal Kombat Blu Ray Round-Up

Updated March 5, 2014

As a huge fan of the long-running video game series, I have a soft spot for the the original Mortal Kombat movie released way back in 1995. I think it's a lot better than most people give it credit for. Its hastily-thrown-together sequel "Mortal Kombat Annihilation" (1997) was instantly forgettable, but I still looked forward to a third installment tentatively entitled "Mortal Kombat Devastation". After 15 years of false starts, legal wranglings, natural disasters, and other calamities, the project remains in indefinite limbo.

At the current rate of progress a new Mortal Kombat film should open in early 2037 to coincide with the release of Mortal Kombat 19. It's a shame when you consider the enduring popularity of the franchise and the richness of its mythology. Even a lukewarm big-screen effort would undoubtedly generate big bucks for any studio willing to take it on. Hell, I'd settle for a straight-to-DVD release at this point!

In the meantime fans will just have to settle for the three Mortal Kombat videos recently released on Blu Ray (at bargain prices no less). The original film looks fantastic in high definition, but I'm afraid the sharper visuals only tend to highlight the glaring flaws of the second film. The third Blu Ray, Mortal Kombat Legacy, is a compilation of short videos that originally appeared on the Internet as the "Mortal Kombat Rebirth" series. Below I examine each in further detail.


Mortal Kombat (1995)

I don't quite get it when I hear people call for a "reboot" of the original Mortal Kombat movie. This 1995 film is really a perfect PG-13 adaptation of the video game. It lacks the gore, but let's face it, that kind of over-the-top violence would just come across as silly on the big screen. This well-produced film features all the elements of the games: mystical realms, fantastic eye candy, likeable characters, and some absolutely kick-ass martial arts action. And it's aged quite well thank you.

All the major characters have been incorporated, yet it never feels like there are "too many cooks in the kitchen". Wisely not taking itself too seriously, the tone of the movie is tongue-in-cheek all the way, with funny one-liners sprinkled throughout. Visually stunning, the movie looks like a million bucks thanks to dazzling special effects and otherworldly sets. The film even effectively incorporates the popular techno soundtrack.

Granted, no movie is perfect, and the computer-generated "reptile" looks downright cartoony. Fortunately he doesn't get much screen time, and when it comes time to fight he possesses a human body. The hulking, four-armed Goro may look top-heavy, but he's still an ominous presence. You'll probably enjoy the entire film without even noticing it lacks the gratuitous gore of the arcade game. And the fact that you won't even miss it is a credit to the director. Mortal Kombat is a good-natured, highly-underrated popcorn flick that even non-fans will enjoy.



Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997)

I'll vouch for the first Mortal Kombat movie any day of the week, but I'm afraid Annihilation is pretty much indefensible. For starters, the story makes absolutely no sense. So let me get this straight: The key to closing the portal to Outworld is reuniting Katana with her long-lost mother?! Somebody actually signed-off on that idiotic premise?! Wow. Don't do drugs, kids.

Annihilation tries to shoehorn in way too many characters from the first three games, leading to a carousel of faces that make an obligatory appearance before quickly exiting stage left. Several key cast members have been replaced, and there's no chemistry between the main characters. Some great villains are wasted even before they can see any action. The four-armed Shiva unceremoniously dies by walking under a falling cage. (Spoiler alert - whoops, too late! My bad.)

The production values are bargain-basement. The blue-screen special effects are horrible. The pathetic "claymation" monster climax is sure to have Ray Harryhausen spinning in his grave. Even the costumes look fake, and the guy playing Baraka is wearing a cheap rubber mask from the party store.

Fighters seem incapable of moving from one spot to the next without performing a cartwheel, flip, or triple lutz. Apparently the proper form is to begin by performing a swan dive, tuck your legs into your body, and proceed to spin 50 feet through the air before landing flat on your feet. The fight sequences look awfully fake. There's too much wire-work, with combatants that routinely ignore gravity and abruptly change direction in mid-air. Whenever someone gets punched there always seems to be a wall of loose bricks behind them. And in high definition it's embarrassingly obvious that Ray Park is standing in for Raiden during the fights.

But the worst aspect of the film by far is the horrendous dialog, which is usually mindless and often incomprehensible. The entire script is a joke but here are a few choice quotes I found to be exceptionally vapid and/or just plain stupid:

Kitana: "Mother! You're alive!"
Sindel: "Too bad YOU... will die!"

Shao Khan's Father (in monotone voice): "Do not underestimate the power of the human spirit!"

Shao Khan: "Rain, this will NEVER happen again"
Rain: "It will NEVER happen again"
[Shao Khan kills Rain]
Shao Khan: "It is true this will NEVER happen again"

Nighthawk: "Pretty cool huh? It's my animality!"

Nighthawk: "Feel your animality!"

Lui Kang: "This seems almost too good too be true."
Jade: "The same could be said about you."

Lui Kang: "This was just another one of Nightwolf's crazy tests? We could have KILLED each other!"
Jane: "But we'll live!"

Raiden: "*NEVER* give up hope. At least not so early in the fight."

Raiden: "What's the deal with your arms?"
Jax: "You've known me one minute, and you dissin' me already?"
Raiden: "I mean no disrespect. You have real skills."

Raiden: "Faith in yourself is all you need, and I say that to all of you."

Raiden: "Only your love can reunite her body and soul, Kitana. You love can break the hold Khan has over your mother, and close his portals to earth."

Sindel: "Oh Kitana..."
Kitana: "I've prayed... for the day... when our love can bring us together again..."
Sindel: "LOVE? I had NEVER loved you. You were such a PATHETIC child; what reason was there to love?"

Lui: "Jade, how could you do this to us?!"
Jade: "...it was soooooooooooo easy!"

Sonya: "Wait a second - that tattoo - I've seen it before on a robot and a woman. They both tried to kill me."

Sonya: "You're father's an elder god? Funny how you failed to mention that before!"

Sindel: "But you said Raiden was no longer to be feared."
Khan: "I AM TO BE FEARED!!"

Lui: "So... what do we do?"
Raiden: "You will do you best. It is all that can be expected."

Lui: "I want to fight Khan, but I don't know if I'm ready."
Kitana: "You must believe in yourself Lui. We believe in you."

Sonya: "There is so little time left."
Kitana: "Whatever time we have, we must use well."

Sindel: "Is that any way to treat your mother?"
Kitana: "My mother is dead."
Sindel: "As soon will be her daughter!"

Reading these cringeworthy lines only tells half the story; it's the delivery from the cue-card reading actors that really hammers home the absurdity of it all. Much of the blame has to go on the director, who somehow managed to keep a straight face while filming this trainwreck. Apparently he was adamant about keeping the film on schedule because each scene was clearly shot in a single take.

Mortal Kombat Annihilation is pretty good except for the acting, directing, dialogue, script, casting, special effects, costumes, and catering. Annihilation can only be enjoyed if you somehow convince yourself that you're watching a parody of the franchise. Also, drinking helps.



Mortal Kombat Legacy (2012)

In 2010 director Kevin Tancharoen made a case to Warner Bros. for assuming artistic control of the third Mortal Kombat movie. He expressed his vision via a series of Internet shorts entitled "Mortal Kombat Rebirth". Many welcomed his novel approach, but it also riled up many of the Mortal Kombat faithful.

Kevin's vision of the franchise, in his words, incorporates "gritty realism with a hint of mysticism". Each short film explores the origins of a popular Mortal Kombat character. The stories take place in the present day and real-world explanations are supplied for some of their mystical powers. The scenes have the realistic look of a crime drama, and make heavy use of a green-tinted lens (reminiscent of the movie Seven).

This approach worked for Batman, but it's not a good fit for Mortal Kombat. First, the tone of is not at all consistent with the games. These videos are dead serious, completely devoid of humor, and frankly quite depressing. Scenes of Raiden stuck in a mental hospital are grim, but watching Kano get his eye punched out is just plain ugly. The video games were dark, but they never took themselves too seriously and even interjected humor (babalities, animalities, friendships, etc). Worst of all, the effort made in these videos to explain away special powers (like Scorpion's spear) has the effect of demystifying the characters and making them seem a heck of a lot less interesting.

That said, I will give the director credit for producing some nice, professional-quality footage. The actors include some big names like Michael Jai White and Jeri Ryan. The performances are decent (if not a little stiff), and the fight sequences are impressive. The production values are high, and some of the sets look very cool. Tancharoen has talent, but in this case I think those talents are misplaced.

The Legacy Blu Ray basically packages up all the Internet shorts and the running time is pretty meager. Certain videos are continuations of others, but in general they don't fit together very well and some appear out of sequence. Credits roll after each, which are a pain to skip. A few animated sequences are mixed into the live action, and I suspect these were inserted to fill in for unshot scenes. Legacy is basically just the remnants of an unfinished project, and in my opinion, an unsuccessful project.