Mortal Kombat knows its ridiculous. Raiden (Christopher Lambert) introduces himself to our three leads, maniacally laughing before nearly winking at the camera and apologizing. He’s the god of lightning, and within the fantasy martial arts saga that is Mortal Kombat, he’s actually one of the normal ones.
The video game was ridiculous, a brazen display of now passe violence, digitized graphics, and hokey backstory that found a blood thirsty audience. Gaming audiences would leave the movie parched, seeking a little bit more in terms of head ripping, limb shredding, and heart tearing. New Line was well aware of the audience though, slapping Mortal Kombat into the realm of the PG-13 actioner, giving it a familiar feel.
There’s a lot in common here with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle live action films, including a well realized creature in the four-armed Goro, dimly lit sets, and overly extravagant fight sequences. Maybe it’s a mood thing, those dank locations and slightly off-kilter comedy aiming at a similar audience. Whatever the case, it’s perfect for the colorful charm of Mortal Kombat, a video game adaptation that wins the battle of ’90s attempts almost by default. When your competition is Street Fighter and Mario Bros., you don’t have a lot to prove.
Dated as its effects may be (the lizard form of Reptile wholly laughable), Mortal Kombat salvages itself with competent, aggressive stunt work, even implementing those popularized special moves. It may seem over the top to see Johnny Cage (Linden Ashbey) drop to punch the 10-foot tall Goro in the groin, but it makes sense. It wouldn’t be Mortal Kombat without it.
Kevin Droney’s script mostly meanders between fights once the set up is taken care of. What else can it do? We’re here for the fights and the film provides them en masse, all of the babble about alternate dimensions and soul crushing domination secondary. At the least, it’s far more developed than its sequel, a rare film deserving of its tepid reputation.
Warner’s AVC encode for Mortal Kombat suffers from “wedidntwanttoremasterit-itis,” and for the non-medically inclined, that just means this master is probably from early part of the 2000s. It has all of the hallmarks, beginning with the rather dismal level of sharpness. Those glorious sets that just adore dripping wax are never given the attention they deserve, while the mid-range appears overly filtered and murky. Close-ups are marginally impressive on their best day, the good stuff given mostly to Shang Tsung (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) when the camera imposes on his personal space.
Mortal Kombat is driven by monochromatic lighting choices, singular greens, oranges, reds, and blues dominating a rather large portion of this film. They’re bold, bright, and well saturated, although oppressively tawdry. Outdoor scenes, those on the beach during the tournament mostly, carry with them accurate, clean flesh tones. The rolling mountains of the UK locations are pleasing, and there’s a blazing sunset right before the third act comes into focus that demands attention.
There’s a barely visible layer of grain to go along with this one, much of it smoothed or softened from the frame. Black levels take whatever detail was left after that process, dominating this image within those stark interiors. The print itself shows inconsequential levels of damage, light specks that will be rendered invisible to most.
Finally, there’s a light layer of edge enhancement at work here, giving high contrast edges a visible, distracting halo. The first comes during Johnny Cage’s intro, a small outline surrounding him as he enters the doorway. Even certain scenes in darker environments exhibit the fault, facial edges a little harsh and unnatural.
Like the bombastic sequel, Mortal Kombat doesn’t fall into the subtle category. The opening logo, with flames, booming music, and swirling effects, holds nothing back. Surrounds are engulfed and the music pounds on the low-end, although maybe not with the expected ferocity. If anything, the soundtrack is a bit of a disappointment, especially the familiar, famous “MORTAL KOMBAT!” yell and subsequent techno beat. It’s not the assault that was expected.
Fights feature each punch prominently, connecting with powerful thuds and stupidly strong kicks. Raiden’s electricity is constantly crackling in the surrounds, while the stereos feature a firm, wide split. Shang Tsung’s lackeys get tossed around the stage, crashing through walls and tables, always in the proper channel. There’s some fun audio trickery too, like Scorpion’s spear swirling around during a forest rumble.
Dialogue carries a bit of clarity, occasionally a bit muffled or lacking some finesse, that slight inconsistency hardly worth getting worked up over.
Warner includes the hilariously awful direct-to-video animated feature Mortal Kombat: The Journey Begins as an extra, featuring CGI so dated, it will make you wonder why Tron is more impressive. There are some trailers and BD-Live access as well.