Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Movie Preview: MORTAL KOMBAT

When I first heard buzz about a trailer for a new Mortal Kombat movie, I was appropriately excited. The original 1995 version was pretty great (confirmed by Charge-Shot!!! many moons ago). How can you beat watching the Highlander shoot bolts of lightning out of his eyes? Veronica Vaughn from Billy Madison breaks someone's neck between her thighs. And then the fatalities: "Your soul is mine!" Classic!

The sequel, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, was as lousy as the first one was fun. The camp was gone. Many of the main actors were replaced. The plot was completely muddled with the addition of new characters and the tweaking of traditional relationships from the video games. The effects were laughable. It's no matter the franchise hasn't been revisited for close to 13 years.

But then all of a sudden there's an imdb page for a new Mortal Kombat, set for release in 2013. The link to the trailer sends curious web browsers to an 8-minute "teaser" that looks to be at least semi-professionally put together. It sets the whole thing in modern times and emphasizes the brutality of one-on-one fights to the death.

Does this mean that our old favorites Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Sonya Blade, Johnny Cage, and others will soon be gracing the silver screen once again? Jump on through to find out.

The funny thing about this video that's all over the interwebs, is that nobody seems to know exactly what it is or in what capacity it was made. Some sources say it's an OFFICIAL TRIALEIR!!!1OMG for the 2013 movie, some sites have it labeled 2010, some describe it as a pitch to attain funding for a potential new movie, and some even curiously think it might have something to do with a new video game.

Of all these, I think the pitch idea is the most likely. It's clearly meant as a reboot (or a "Rebirth" as some websites have titled the video), which ignores the events of the first two movies. In fact, it seems to ignore the events of the first two video games, even while drawing selectively from them. Fans of the games will recognize the characters of Reptile and Baraka, but not as they're framed in the new footage: as a genetically deformed serial killer and a self-mutilating failed surgeon, respectively.

There are familiar elements: Jax and Sonya as members of an overtasked police force, Scorpion as a master assassin who feuds with Sub-Zero, and Shang Tsung as the organizer of an underground tournament for the world's deadliest warriors. The new twist: Jax and Sonya attempt to use Scorpion (who somehow found himself in police custody) as an undercover weapon to KILL ALL THE PARTICIPANTS IN THE TOURNAMENT.

Nowhere was there mention of an extra-dimensional realm using the tournament to try and gain control of the earth realm. Nor are any kind of supernatural powers - the lifeblood of the gameplay - featured or hinted at (i.e. fireballs, lightning blasts, freezing ice rays).

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for reimagining one of the coolest, most recognizable, and most lucrative gaming franchises out there. I thoroughly enjoyed playing the first four games, then unsuccessfully tried to keep up with the franchise as it moved into the nextgen systems. Everything started to look like a souped-up version of Tekken, what with the 3-D fighting space and excessively polygonal character models.

(On a side note, a new Mortal Kombat game was announced at E3, and it appears they're returning to their roots. Looks alright to me! Go back to side-scrolling, take out the silly adventure mode (or at least limit it in the way Mario Galaxy 2 limited the hub world), and drastically weed out the roster of unnecessary and uninteresting characters, and I'm sold!)

But if you're going to set something in the Mortal Kombat universe, you have to at least retain some of the elements that make it unique. Focusing on gritty realism and replacing all references to Outworlds and Thunder Gods with task forces and serial killers might make for a more relatable background, but then it's not Mortal Kombat - it's like some deranged cross between Seven and Enter the Dragon, but without the Bible or the opium ring. If you want to make a faithful adaptation of some material, you can't just pick a few characters from the original concepts, change their relationships around, and remove all the context.

The first adaptation perfectly captured the otherworldly feel and sense of wonder/confusion that accompanies fighting with a rag-tag band for the purpose of defending one's world from an army of extra-dimensional invaders. This new version looks to translate the whole enterprise into real-world intensity and shine an extreme closeup on each punch and kick.

Until we get a movie that combines both of these elements flawlessly, then we won't truly have a movie version of Mortal Kombat.