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Blu-ray Review: Mortal Kombat

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Isn’t the effect of rose-colored glasses when remembering movies an interesting one? I remember Mortal Kombat vividly, I remember seeing it in the theatre, I remember the epic battles, pitch perfect characters and amazing effects. Watching Mortal Kombat with a more critical eye (and 16 years later) I see mostly faithful characters, hit and miss fight scenes, a story that is incomprehensible, effects that have not aged too badly and Liu Kang’s (Robin Shou) amazingly feathered hair.

The Film

click to view larger imageMortal Kombat, for those living under a rock, was based on an ultra violent videogame that first debuted in arcades in 1992. The videogame Mortal Kombat had a loose storyline involving the god Raiden gathering earth’s mightiest warriors to battle in a tournament. If they lost the evil Shao Khan would invade Earth, killing everyone. The story is as basic as can be and it receives no deeper examination in the big screen version of the game.

The movie still centers on the god Rayden (note that the movie spells it this way instead of Raiden), played surprisingly well by Christopher Lambert of Highlander fame, gathering a group of fighters to engage in Mortal Kombat. The main hero in this movie (as well as the game) is Liu Kang (Robin Shou), who is a self exiled shaolin monk. Liu Kang is hunting down the wizard Shang Tsung (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) who killed his brother in a previous Mortal Kombat tournament. Oh, I may have forgotten to mention that the Earth needs to lose Mortal Kombat 10 times in order for Shao Khan to break the seal and invade Earth. Rayden convinces Liu that the only way to get to Shang Tsung is to join the tournament.

click to view larger imageThe other main heroes are generally faithful to the source material. Special Agent Sonya Blade (Bridgette Wilson), heads to and is embroiled in the tournament as she follows her nemesis Kano (Trevor Goddard) to the Island it is held on. The Hollywood actor Johnny Cage, played perfectly by Linden Ashby, joins the tournament to prove he actually can fight as most of his movie audience thinks his moves are fake. All of them are convinced by Rayden, somewhat reluctantly, once they arrive that they need to fight in the Tournament in order to save the world.

The villains really have no screen time or motivations outside of being punching bags for the heroes. In the games the ninjas Sub-Zero (Francois Petit) and Scorpion (Chris Casamassa) are deadliest of enemies, but they fight together against the heroes. Goro, the four armed giant is portayed by an animatronic creature, that actually holds up pretty well, and is the current Mortal Kombat champion. The last major character is Princess Kitana (Talisa Soto) who is trying to help Liu Kang and his new friends defeat her cruel adopted father Shao Khan.

click to view larger imageThe movie does not even try to be coherent or add more to the mythos of Mortal Kombat. Fights happen randomly and out of the blue so areas pulled from the game can be used as arenas. There is no cohesive tournament structure yet Liu Kang ends up fighting Goro in the end (even though Johnny Cage and Sonya also won all their fights). The fighting in the film is thankfully pretty solid for the most part, Robin Shou and Linden Ashby are both accomplished martial artists, but Bridgette Wilson definitely is not. When the scenes involve Liu Kang and Johnny Cage the fighting is well done and satisfying, when the non martial artists are center stage it is stilted and falls completely flat.

In the end Mortal Kombat is a silly film that does not stray terribly far from the source material. The characters are mostly what you expect if you played the games. The fight scenes get the job done and the effects are surprisingly well done and hold up decently well after so many years. It is not an excellent film, nor even a terribly good one, but it does have some of the best feathered hair I have ever seen on a man.

The Video

click to view larger imageIt is actually amazing how uneven this 1080p/AVC-encoded video transfer of Mortal Kombat is, at times it is crisp, err, krisp, with sharp textures, deep colors and black levels. Other times the blacks look like a bleeding marker and textures flow together into a fuzzy mess. When the encoding is right it is very, very good, Liu Kangs feathered hair looks real enough to touch, Kitana’s outfit is shiny and small details are noticeable in a particular great looking outdoor shot. Other times, like in an interior cave fighting scene, the black levels approach a grey sludge look and feel and the characters are fuzzy with colors muted and bleeding. I am not sure what the issues where when creating this transfer, but the end result is a flawed transfer that is better than previous DVD releases but is still disappointing.

The Audio

Presented as a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack the audio in Mortal Kombat is as uneven as the video transfer. At times the sound clicks and the excellent soundtrack is booming the kicks and punches woosh through the air and you are brought into the film. Then you are pulled back out with bad audio balancing, quiet moments, the occasional hiss and generic and overused sound effects. Once again the work done on this aspect of the Blu-ray is faulty and uneven. Great audio can make a marginal movie much better, bad uneven audio like this only serves to drag Mortal Kombat further into mediocrity.

The Extras

click to view larger imageWell at least I can say I got an alternate costume for Jade to use in the Mortal Kombat videogame that just came out, that was the best extra I could find with this Blu-ray release.

  • Mortal Kombat: The Journey Begins (SD, 39 minutes): This animated tie-in has some of the worst animation I have ever seen and now anyone who has this blu-ray can experience my pain.
  • Mortal Kombat Videogame Trailer (HD, 1 minute): A trailer for the new, and very good, Mortal Kombat game.
  • Jade Classic Character Costume: An unlock code that allows PS3 gamers to unlock Jade’s classic costume in the new Mortal Kombat game, notice a trend yet?
  • Mortal Kombat Theatrical Trailer (SD, 2 minutes)
  • BD-Live Functionality

The Final Word:

Despite all the things wrong with the film such as the shoddy audio and video transfers, weak plot and hit or miss fight scenes I found I enjoyed Mortal Kombat as a guilty pleasure. Unless you are a diehard fan though I find it hard to recommend this release as there are simply too many mishandled aspects on this Blu-ray. Diehard fans should get this, but I recommend waiting until it hits the bargain bins at your local retailer of choice.

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About Michael Prince

Looking at all things Geek - news, rants and updates from the worlds of gaming, tech, blu-ray, novels, and music.