Midway took the arcades by storm in 1993 with the release of their phenomenally sinister game Mortal Kombat. Reviewers of the time, drunk on bias towards Streetfighter II gave it par to sub-par reviews but the reality was the game was an absolute beast and managed to make a huge dent in the seemingly impenetrable armour of Capcom's flagship game. Fast forward two years later and the game to film craze was well under way.....and also well loaded with a reputation of producing utter bangers! Yes just about every film to game translation had been either dire or 'so bad it's fun' so another entry was expectedly met with a sigh and a bracing of the self.
Special mention of the film must go to the production itself. Director Paul W.S. Anderson (Event Horoizon, AvP) could have handled the project like a lazy paycheque but he puts real effort into making an exceptionally solid film and his eye for stylish visuals really shines through. The sets are absolutely magnificent! Really they are, with creaky, ancient looking rooms plus the lighting and general cinematography is great as well with moody tones everywhere and just the right amount of dust in the air at all times. The centrepiece of the effects is a life sized animatronic Goro which has a genuinely surprising talent of not being shite! The Goro model is charismatic and is even in some fight scenes which given the fact that it broke a few records in puppet terms is pretty cool. If I had one complaint about how the film looked it would be that a mixing of orange and blue colours give it a slight post-Burton Batman feel but it's nothing to worry about. For the time the effects were really top notch and even today, although they may be a little ropey and TVish, they still hold up quite well and do their job. The only chink in the armour being the Reptile CGI model which, even for 1995, was atrocious.
As expected the film stars a whole bunch of first timers, advert monkeys, potential porn stars and general unknowns playing the various characters from the game with the noted exception of Highlander's Christopher Lambert and serious actor Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa as Raiden (yes Raiden not Rayden!) and Shang-Tsung respectively. Hiroyuki-Tagawa plays the role of Shang-Tsung with absolute seriousness and it makes a HUGE difference having someone of his experience in role like this. He is sinister, conniving and everything you would expect or hope from a villain of this sort although I don't think a set of Fu-Mancu whiskers would have hurt to bring him a little closer to the game character. Lambert switches from gruff overseer to complete cheese machine throughout and a good chunk of the films goofy humour comes from his performance as he dafts it up just to the point where cringe is about to set in and then pulls back to draw out a hearty laugh from the viewer.
Now to the controversial subject of the action. Mortal Kombat was known for a few things but most of all the gore! The glorious buckets and buckets of gore that caused an international outrage from do-gooders, God squads and general fun-busters who believe we should all be sitting in playing tiddlywinks and reading the bible every Saturday night. The film, even while receiving a 15 certificate here in the UK, sadly had to drop the insane bloodlet of the game as there is really no way to convey that amount of lovely horribleness on screen without being really nasty about it and so the fatalities and general blood globs have been left out bar a sneaky attempt by Scorpion in one scene. The surprising part is that it doesn't really affect the film at all and this is largely thanks to the aforementioned atmospheric look but also some well crafted action scenes. The fight and general martial arts action in Mortal Kombat, although not quite Hong Kong standard are extremely well choreographed and stylishly shot. There are shitloads of energy in the scraps and much more style than the usual one hit close up garbage of the more kiddie friendly films and this once again raises the movie above the sea of shit that it has the unfortunate task of swimming through. If I had one really huge moan about the film it's that the 90's techno title music is used FAR too much to the point where it grates on your very soul and nowadays somewhat dates the film even more than the effects.
Thoroughly recommended for general viewings, drunken gatherings or romantic nights in!