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Cheesy? Sure. Surprisingly entertaining? Oh hell yeah. Paul W.S. Anderson’s 1994 “Mortal Kombat” was a surprise hit and spawned a sequel and a TV series before fading back to its original birth place, videogames, where it continued to thrive. It’s 2011, and the franchise seems poised for a comeback. Besides rumors of a franchise reboot, there is a new, studio-backed web series on the way. On the homefront, New Line Home Video is releasing both “Mortal Kombat” and its sequel, “Mortal Kombat: Annihilation” on Blu-ray for the first time on April 19, 2011.
Lord Rayden (Christopher Lambert) has rescued them, but he cannot fight for them. They – a martial artist, an action film star, a soldier – are the chosen three. And while the world’s fate rests on their shoulders, the rest of us can enjoy the thrills as they compete to save us all in the body-slamming, mystical-tinged, full-tilt spectacle of creatures and conflict that is Mortal Kombat. Paul Anderson (Resident Evil: Afterlife) directs this astonishing and trend-setting experience that showed how to turn a smash-hit video game into a movie smash. Cheer these intrepid three Kombatants – they’re fighting for you!
“Mortal Kombat’s” biggest name was (and still is, surprisingly) without a doubt Christopher Lambert, still a major Hollywood star back in 1994. Lambert is surrounded by newcomers, including Linden Ashby as vain movie star Johnny Cage, Bridgette Wilson as persistent cop Sonya Blade, Talisa Soto as the outworldly Princess Kitana, and Robin Shou as Liu Kang, the group’s best fighter.
The plot has a group of disparate human fighters, along with Lambert as the mystical lightning God Rayden, who acts as their guide, mentor, and all-around guardian angel, fighting against the forces of the evil Shang Tsung (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) in a cross-dimensional tournament that, should they lose, will spell doom for the human race. Of course, they don’t realize this at first, but it quickly becomes clear that they’re no longer in Kansas anymore. The film is essentially a series of tournament fights between the humans and their supernatural, and at times monstrous foes. This, of course, is in keeping with the tradition of the games.
With the exception of Lambert, who looks wholly amused by the whole thing (and indeed infuses his Rayden with a wicked sense of humor), the acting is pretty iffy across the board. Watching Bridgette Wilson playing a badass commando back in 1994 was amusing, and it’s still entertainingly awful now. Ashby and Shou are decent in their roles, but it’s Ashby’s self-centered movie star character that provides pretty much all of the film’s highlights. Robin Shou and his impressively puffy, girlish hair are the defacto heroes of “Mortal Kombat”, as it’s Liu Kang who has the film’s best fights, as well as the finale battle with Shang Tsung. It’s a good thing, then, that Shou was probably the movie’s only real martial artist, with everyone pretty much relying on natural athleticism and fight choreography to get through their fight scenes.
For a 1994 martial arts movie, “Mortal Kombat” is very watchable. The fights aren’t going to stand out very much in today’s world, but it was novel back then. Nowadays, though, you could probably pick a dozen direct-to-DVD action movies out at the moment with better fight choreography than the ones found in “Mortal Kombat”. Still, the combination of big budget production values, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa snarling his way through the film as the Big Bad, and that catchy techno soundtrack delivers a surprisingly fun watch.
Visually, the “Mortal Kombat” Blu-ray is excellent, but there are some noticeable issues with the sound. The audio is very low, and I had to turn my sound up way higher than I’ve ever had to before just to hear the dialogue. (And yes, I had to hike the audio up even further whenever Christopher Lambert did his whispering thing, which meant I had to quickly dial it down when the techno music kicked in. Annoying, to be sure.) I also detected obvious syncing issues early on, but the problem clears itself up about the halfway point.
Special features include a 40-minute “adventure tie-in” movie called “Mortal Kombat: The Journey Begins”. It sounds better than it actually is — a CG/animated re-enactment of the Mortal Kombat lore. It’s 1994-level cheesy. There’s your default theatrical trailer for the movie, and another trailer for the latest “Mortal Kombat” game. Speaking of which, the Blu-ray comes with a free Mortal Kombat PS3 game add-on for downloading exclusive content. I got a “Jade Classic Character Costume”. Yay?