Video Game Adaptations: Mortal Kombat
I hate you Paul W.S. Anderson.
I really, really hate you. In fact, I wish nothing but bad things for you and I curse your ancestors for inflicting your continued and painful ineptitude on a mostly undeserving world. I also resent a system that has allowed someone with so little obvious talent to rise as high as you have, although I do applaud you for doing so. I was taught to never resent the success of geniuses, hate unjustly rewarded mediocrity, and for me, you are the embodiment of that. Or you would be if you ever made it to the dizzy heights of “passable”.
Everyone else, you may be pleased to hear that I have now got over my persecution complex with the cunt and am just treating him the same way I treat Milton Keynes: nothing good will ever, or has ever, come out of there, and it’s just bad luck that occasionally I have the fucking place inflicted on me.
In the case of 1995’s Mortal Kombat, I don’t particularly give a red fuck about it either way. I’m not especially attached to the game, being just a standard beat ’em up with mildly amusing finishing moves, but looking back at it in hindsight, this is an almost perfect exemplar of everything that can go wrong with a video game adaptation, particularly a fighting game one, and as such is worth little more than absolute contempt.
I’ve talked about this at length before, but when adapting a tournament based fight game, you face certain problems integral to the genre. One in particular, lack of coherent narrative, you can attempt to solve a number of ways. The Streetfighter films just ignore it, with variable results, but others such as Tekken and this, Mortal Kombat, attempt to tie the tournament into a story of some description. At least here the makers of the game actually were nice enough to provide a suitably mythical reason for fighting (it was originally meant to be a Van Damme vehicle) in that the tournament is legendary, takes place regularly and the fate of the world hangs in the balance. Throw in a destined to fight in it character (in this case Liu Kang, played by Robin Shou), some interesting sidekicks (Sonja Blade, played by Brigitte Wilson, Jonny Cage, played by Linden Ashby), some eye candy (Kitana, played, of sorts, by Talisa Soto), a sensei figure (God of Lightening Raiden, improbably played by Christopher Lambert) and some decent villains (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Shang Tsung and “Prince” Goro by Aardman studios, I think) and you should be away to the races.
Unfortunately they aren’t. This film is fucking shit. The problems start with the script- it’s nigh on incomprehensible. The game made life hard with different fucking realms and shit like that, but really, this is an inordinately dumb film. Take, for example, that Liu wants to fight Tsung to get revenge for his brother’s death. This is fair enough, and pretty standard fight motivation (think Kickboxer) but here he goes straight out to Challenge Tsung. Raiden stops him saying something along the lines of “you aren’t ready”. Er…. fair enough, I suppose there is still nearly two hours of this claptrap left. However, because they need to bring events to a head Cage goes out to randomly challenge Goro. Raiden’s reaction: “One of them finally gets it”. Get’s what, you gnomic cunt? Seriously, precisely what does he “get”? The fucker has gone precisely against your instructions. The entire film is full of maddening and contradictory shit like this.
Then there’s the fact that the game, in an attempt to keep things simple, basically had characters only distinguishable by their special moves, and a few iconic characters (Sub Zero and Scorpion) who were basically identical ninjas in different coloured garb. The film, therefore has to include as many of these characters and moves as it can. Which then brings on the sheer monotony of “spot the character” and spot the move. To make things worse, the game also contained a variety of catchphrases: “Finish him”, “Get over here”, and “Flawless victory”. The film, clearly, should have dispensed with these, as it’s fucking laughably stupid when Tsung stops the fight and says “Finish him” or watches the battle end and comes out with “Flawless victory”. As for the fucking music, Jesus tittyfucking Christ, it’s awful. They’ve clearly tried to take the music from the game and adapt it, but it’s some kind of hideous mid 90’s pop-house mash up containing the basic MK theme. Not good.
Against this crap, the actors are clearly doomed. Shou wanders around in a state of perpetual confusion, Lambert attempts to pull some kind of twinkly-eyed nonsense that just comes across as both cheesy and creepy, and the less said about the rest of them, aside from Soto who looks good in leather, the better. I will waste a few words on Tagawa, though, who does his best with the admittedly piss poor material to chew some scenery and do a proper villain bit, but he’s swimming against the tide harder than a salmon with a severe case of blue balls.
This is, ostensibly, a fight movie, so surely the fighting in it is up to snuff? That’ll be another fail then. The, admittedly frequent, fights are boring, repetitive, incomprehensibly shot and just plain fucking horrible. The need to incorporate the moves from the game into the various bouts has, sort of, tied Anderson’s hands and as such you get scenes such as Sub Zero squatting like he’s trying to squeeze one out on a toilet without a seat while waves of blue “freezing” energy flash out from him. He’s then despatched with the greatest of ease. The sole moment of interest in the fighting is when Cage does the splits and punches Goro in the knackers, which did at least make me laugh (and goes a long way to the film ducking the Orangutan of Doom).
Which brings me on to the Special Effects. This was 1995, so CGI should have been totally out of the question. Sadly, it wasn’t. The Reptile effect is honestly one of the worst effects ever put on screen, and were I Anderson, then I would have limited the use of it. Pity he fucking didn’t, really. There’s loads of examples of fucking appalling effects work in this film, and if I had the inclination, I can pick other highly illustrative examples. Luckily, I have no interest in that.
What’s really sad about Mortal Kombat is that they were aiming so obviously low with it. This is a film that aspires to nothing more than dumbhouse and by being an incomprehensible, boring, shoddy and flat-out obnoxious load of wank fails to even make those heights. There is, and I’m nearly sure of this, a way to make a fairly solid dumbhouse fight game movie, and I’m also nearly certain that they were on the right lines here, but the execution is just mired in crap that what we are left with smells roughly the same as the seat of Knowles’ wheelchair.
Overall, this is a horrible, rotten, stinking, festering, rancid arsehole of a film, and one that I truly detest. I’m sure there is something semi-entertaining lurking in here, but I’m equally sure that Anderson and the writers didn’t have the talent to get it out. The game made life almost impossible for anyone attempting to adapt it, but really, the frankly piss-poor effort here does even the flimsy one-on-one concept of the game no justice at all. Needless to say, I don’t recommend Mortal Kombat, it is, frankly, wank.
Sadly, I’ve also recently watched the sequel, which is, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, even worse.
Until next time,