I remember when the Prince of Persia movie came out in 2010, and what struck me as really strange was that it was heralded as the first “good” video game to movie adaptation. It was strange to me as everyone seemingly forgot that Mortal Kombat came out 15 years previous and is my pick for that title.
I’ll get to specifics in a bit, however when looking at the wikipedia entry List of Films Based on Video Games, i was a bit surprised to realise that Super Mario Bros. was the first of its kind; and what a horrendously bad first step that was to make. It was an adaptation of a seminal business and cultural event that it manages to look like it was made by clueless howler monkeys. According to the Metacritic ratings*, the entire genre peaked in ’95 with the release of the aforementioned Mortal Kombat and has been struggling since.
While this article doesn’t really say too much interesting on the issue, it does pose an interesting question: “Can video game based movies not be shit?”
Well, my answer is one that Moviebob brought up and that is you can make a good movie about anything all it takes is the right people behind the wheel, and it having the luck of being released at the right time. Like Mortal Kombat for instance!
3 Mortals have been chosen to represent and defend the realm of earth… In a tournament… Called… … … MORTAL KOMBAT!
This movie’s single best feature is easily summed up by saying: Cheese.
Good cheese. The type of cheese that melts on whatever you put it on, doesn’t smell nasty, and adds a layer of deliciousness to whatever it gets draped on. All the actor’s are having fun, the production knows to present the ridiculous material with a straight face to highlight how silly it all is, and the visual design of the movie looks just polished enough to seem like someone somewhere cared about what they were doing but didn’t want to spend too much money in doing so.
The movie does nothing surprising in its genre and functions as a fairly standard martial arts film. Its various fights (and there are plenty here) are decently choreographed (perhaps a bit too choreographed), well executed by the actors (with some exceptions), and shot/edited with a surprising degree of competence. With the film reaching its zenith during the Johnny Cage/Scorpion fight:
Lastly it must be noted that the movie bears a striking resemblance to the video game it’s based on. It might be a bizarre point to make, but given that the two biggest profile video game to movie projects (Super Mario Bros. and Street Fighter) changed so many things they alienated their audiences (and they’re shitty movies). It honestly feels like Paul W.S. Anderson actually played the games, and liked them even.
The biggest let down for everyone at the time was that the movie just wasn’t violent enough. Where’s the spine pulling? The explosions of bone? The controversy?
While it’s inarguable that those elements helped differentiate the Mortal Kombat series from Street Fighter II, i think this movie did the right thing in trying to capture the campy spirit of the games instead of focusing on the violence. Indeed this campy attitude has kept the older entries of the series (1-3) enjoyable, and the film’s absence of extreme violence allowed younger audiences (that formed the majority of Mortal Kombat’s players) to enjoy a big screen adaptation.
Also it’s not like the film is a saturday morning cartoon show; there’s plenty of violence to be had here. Scorpion blows up and his flaming entrails are scattered around, Sub Zero is impaled and frozen by a giant icicle, and Shang Tsung rots away after he is disposed of. All it’s missing is the gallons of paint, and honestly i don’t even notice.
There’s the other usual complaints of course: the acting and dialog are fucking horrible, the movie looks cheap, and the whole movie has a tone stuck in adolescence.
So is Mortal Kombat a good movie? Well that depends, if you’re expecting Requiem for a Dream or Magnolia like levels of genuine drama you’re going to be bitterly disappointed. The same goes for if you’re expecting something like Fearless’ or the The Matrix’s level of polish. But if you set the bar low enough you might get a laugh and have some fun, kind of like if you were playing an actual Mortal Kombat game.
OUT OF FIVE
The same cannot be said of the movie’s sequel Mortal Kombat: Annihilation… Which is dog shit any way you cut it.
*These are always to be taken with a grain of salt, however it is a good litmus test. Rotten Tomatoes lists Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within as the best of the bunch and frankly i’m inclined to agree.