An X-E reader sent this to me a while back - Mortal Kombat: The Animated Video. You know, when I first got MK-II for my Super Nintendo, I was always taken aback by how well they were able to parlay Jade's nipples into video game technology. I've been curious if they could pull it off the same with a cartoon, but sadly, there's no Jade here. This is basically a teaser video meant to get kids interested in seeing the live action Mortal Kombat movie. The adventure mixes standard toon fare with CGI-enhanced animation, and generally follows the plot of the film. Of course, since the whole point was promoting the film, they don't give away too much here. Just when the action starts getting good, the cartoon ends, and a big graphic suggesting that you 'see the movie' pops up.
The video's running time is mostly composed of ad spots for the movie, ad spots for the stupid Mortal Kombat fan club, ad spots to see Mortal Kombat LIVE (Broadway I presume), ad spots for the MK video games, ad spots for Goro's uncle's auto body shop, ad spots for Sonya Blade's chosen charities, and yes, more ad spots. I'm not sure what to make of it, but I've got this sudden urge to play Mortal Kombat. I've always been a sucker for marketing sublety.
I never got too heavily engaged with any of the Kombat video games, mostly because I could never pull off a 'Fatality,' and if you can't do that, what's the point in playing? I would've settled for a Babality, but even that was beyond my feeble grasp. I loved the movie though. There's something about dressing up Christopher Lambert like a new age jazz musician that's just totally endearing. And even if you don't think so, he shoots lightning out of his eyes just to make sure he's a crowd pleaser on all fronts.
With that, here's my review. Again, if you've seen the movie, you've pretty much seen this tape. Still, there's a few gems here that further explain the origins of some of the characters, and God knows I've been living under a rock - Goro had a brother? Man, after his mother went through the pain of giving birth to a creature with four huge alien arms, you'd think she'd get her tubes tied right then and there. Goro's lucky he had a trampy mom.
The show starts by skipping all the preliminary bullshit found in the live action movie - our heroes are already on that weird boat on their way to Shang Tsung's tournament. There's Liu Kang, some kind of monk from the Wahsboad Shomack Order. There's Sonya Blade, a detective on the trail of elusive criminal Kano, who never appears in the cartoon. Sonya looked great in the movie, but not so much here. Seems someone switched the animator's template picture of Sonya with either a bulldog or a guy who looks like a bulldog.
Rounding out the good guys is Johnny Cage - a Hollywood action star who wants to prove that he's the real deal to his fans by winning a legitimate fighting tournament. Of course, since nobody on Earth has heard of this tournament for the past 900 years, Johnny's master plan is a bit flawed. On the upside, he wears the same kind of sunglasses people do when they go skiing. Can we take this to mean there's an upcoming Mortal Kombat Super Snowball Fight scene on the horizon? I hope so!! Teams! I call first! I get Sub-Zero! No backsies!
Shang Tsung looks like shit in the cartoon. I don't know how they fucked him up since he always looked so great and menacing in the games and in the movie, but here he looks like he should be selling Rand Peltzer a mogwai. He's your main villain, a demon sorcerer who's trying to open the dimensional gates between our world and the Outworld. What happens if the Outworld guys come here? Less available subway seats. It'll be mayhem.
There's two of Shang's minions, Sub-Zero and Scorpion. They're sworn enemies, working together only because they both fear Shang and don't want him to turn them into frogs or something. We'll learn a bit more about these guys later, but here's the basics: Sub-Zero won a death battle against Scorpion sometime back. It's pretty obvious since he's the one who got to keep the cool blue suit. Scorpion returned to life as a specter, and can only rest in peace if he avenges his loss against Sub-Zero. Wow, this story has layers! You won't see that on The Wild Thornberries, kids! Both similarly skilled and sized, Scorpion is just waiting for the right opportunity to rip Sub-Zero's spinal cord out his ass.
Oh yeah, they have super powers, too. Sub-Zero can throw devastating magic snowballs, which either critically injure his adversaries, or flat out turn them into an ice statue. So that's how the cruise liners and wedding caterers get those things! Scorpion's powers are a little stranger - he's got this alien snake hook thing that flies out of his hand. Not exactly the super power I'd personally dream about, but it gets the job done.
Before Sub and Scorp can kill anyone, Rayden materializes and yells at Shang Tsung for breaking the tournament's sacred rules. Rayden is the God of Thunder, and the protector of the Earth realm. His job is to get our heroes safely into the tournament, and to teach them how to believe in themselves. No really, that's his job. Rayden has the incredibly ability to control the weather, and while that usually ends up with a few scattered lightning bolts, he can also create rain. This explains why he turned his head into a giant wacky umbrella.
Liu Kang recognizes Rayden from the teachings of his ancestors, which worked out great because I don't think they'd otherwise trust a guy with no pupils who had the power to create lightning. Rayden explains to our friends that it's up to them to save the world - if they lose the tournament, the Outworld gates will be opened forever, dooming the Earth realm. Liu asks what Shang Tsung's story is, so Rayden cues a flashback and tells us the grim tale:
Errgh. Whenever there's a fight scene or a flashback sequence, things get shitty in a hurry. It's not so much the blocky CGI graphics that's killing me, it's the constant use of slow motion 'shadow moves'. Like, if Shang throws a punch, not only will it take him ten seconds to do it, it'll leave a trail of 35 arm shadows. It wouldn't be so bad if they utilized this trick only in the most crucial of moments, but they're doing it every fifteen seconds. Sonya can go to check her watch, and sure enough, everything goes into slo-mo and you see a trail of shadow hands leading up to her head. Still, I should mention that the video's from 1995, and all those neat animated effects weren't quite mastered yet.
Anyway, Shang is a sorcerer who sold his soul to the Emperor of Outworld. Now he's the master of the Mortal Kombat tournament, with his champion having won nine straight victories. If Shang and friends win the tenth - bad things happen. As a young sprite shown above, Shang became an expert in the fine arts of black magic. He can peer into the souls of his opponents, predicting their moves even before they're thrown at him. Additionally, upon defeating an opponent, Shang can turn their soul into a little glowing green ball. For a second it all looks really whimsical, but then he eats the thing and starts cackling so you know this isn't something you want him doing to you.
They don't show it here, but I'm sure I remember one of Shang's powers being the ability to mimic his opponent, or anyone else for that matter, effectively turning himself into an evil clone. If that's the case, and he can look any way he damn well pleases, why did he insist on choosing the guy from the street market in Chinatown who keeps trying to persuade tourists to buy bottles of wine with the special tiger bone additive? Shang may be a slave to Shao Kahn, be he ain't no slave to fashion.
Finally, the boat reaches Shang's island - it looks like paradise, but Rayden warns them the danger lurks around every turn. Sure enough, I see some gray clouds off to the left. There goes the ol' southern exposure. Oodles of other musclebound crazyheads are preparing themselves for the tournament - the lot looks mostly human, but there's a few guys in there with 5" fangs, lamps growing out of their head, or some other weird non-pretty thing. Shang greets the contestants, feigning appreciation for their arrival when in reality he's just waiting till they're all dead so he can make with the wild dimensional portals. Shang considers out heroes the only true threat to his impending victory, so he has his minions keep a close watch on 'em.
Liu wants to know more. Why is Sub-Zero chasing them? Why is Scorpion chasing Sub-Zero? Who was that weird guy with four arms they thought they saw a minute ago? Why is his head shaped like a hairy strawberry? Why is Rayden wearing a full-body suit in 100 degree weather? Why doesn't Johnny Cage have a middle name? Why is green Sonya's favorite color? What's the real difference between flammable and inflammable? Why do they spell combat with a 'K'? Where's Sagat and Balrog? Rayden throws us back to more flashback scenes to shut Liu the fuck up.
First he explains the secret origins of those guys with the loincloths - Sub-Zero and Scorpion were from different clans, and the clans sometimes had their guys compete in to-the-death battle competitions. I guess when you live as long as these people do, you need to get creative with the population control. Just when Scorpion looked to have Sub-Zero where he wanted him, Subby threw a snowball at him and turned him to ice. Adding insult to injury, he karate chopped the ice statue, shattering Scorpion into a breezy grave.
Scorpion can't go to his stupid version of heaven until he avenges that loss, so not only is planning to kill Sub-Zero, but he'll also attack anyone who tries to do it before him. Now returned to his human form, Scorpion's mission is clear. The movie ends before these guys duke it out, but I can only assume Scorpion will win since I think I remember a fire-breathing skull being under his hood. Can't beat a fire-breathing skull. Now, let's meet Goro!
I've always been partial to the Mortal Kombat series over Street Fighter, even despite the fact that I've played SF a whole lot more. I just think MK has a lot of great elements from mythology that are overlooked for a couple of reasons - number one, because of all the violence, and number two, because it's a dumb video game. Still, I think they created a nice little world to work with. The biggest thing that sets MK ahead of Street Fighter for me? Goro. Hey, I love Bison as much as the next guy, but can Bison open four cans of Coors at once? Nope, only Goro. Also: Bison would throw away the cans when finished. Goro would probably eat them. He's way more fun.
While playing the original game, it was a legitimately scary experience when you got up to Goro. You had just spent a whole lot of time and a whole lot of effort racking up victories against all the other characters, and you were finally drawing closer to winning the entire tournament. Then Goro walks out, and all your hopes are shattered with just one measly little backbreaker. Eight feet tall, a thousand years old, several hundred pounds, four arms, AND A PONYTAIL. You know a guy's tough when you could chop two of his arms off and he could still wail you across the head with an oar. For me, Goro went beyond a simple video game character and became one of my favorite 'monsters' ever. Just behind Frankenstein and those chicks from the Proactiv acne commercials.
As Rayden explains, Goro is a prince who once killed his own brother. Ruthless to the core and almost immeasurably powerful, Goro is Shang Tsung's chosen protege, and the current champion of the Mortal Kombat tournament. He has yet to be defeated, and if our heroes want to save Earth, they're going to have to figure out how to do just that. I always found it insulting in the game - you'd beat Goro, and four seconds later you'd have Shang Tsung hurling black plasma at you. Jeez, let us cherish the victory for a few goddamn seconds, y'know?
Rayden swears that it's not impossible to defeat Goro, and then spews off some bullshit about facing your fears and believing in yourself as being the key to victory. Right, Rayden. I'm sure I'll beat the six-hundred pound alien hydra if I just keep telling myself 'I think I can, I think I can.' Rayden's advice is usually pretty sound, but boy, he really loses his edge when he's trying to convince movie stars and cops that they can beat four-armed zombies from Hell.
It's the day of the tournament! Shang Tsung and Goro make one last attempt to cheat our friends out of their opportunity to participate, this time sending out Goro's army of Guys Who All Look Like Baraka after them. They fare pretty well, but Rayden intervenes one last time and tells Shang to play fair. This was by far the most painful scene to watch, because they repeated the animation of the charging creatures at least forty times in the span of two minutes, and it was done in such a way that I thought this video was intended to be viewed with 3-D glasses. Alas, it was not - they just did made some idiotic editing decisions.
Shang proclaims that 'the tournament has begun,' so Rayden wishes the heroes luck. He can no longer help them now - they'll have to do this themselves. I was finally getting into this tape, but it ends right here and tells the viewer to 'go see the movie.' What a rip! I've never seen any other Mortal Kombat cartoons, and actually, I don't even know if they exist. I'd presume so, since I've seen Mortal Kombat bath towels and Mortal Kombat dinnerware sets. On the whole, this show didn't seem all that bad. I'm a little biased since I was a fan of the storyline before ever watching the video, but if you remove all the horrible 'special effects' and make Shang a little more frightening, what you've got isn't too shabby. 7 out of 10.
As a special bonus, the cassette also featured 'The Making of Mortal Kombat,' an insider's look at what went on behind the scenes during the filming of the live action movie. It's pretty standard stuff - the director drones on and on about Hong Kong cinema's action sequences, the producer drones on and on about how everyone in the film did their own stunts, and so on. They did have interviews with all the stars, so I guess that's a plus...
Okay, say what you will - I thought the movie was well-acted. You ever see the live action versions of Street Fighter or Double Dragon? By comparison, Mortal Kombat was Citizen Kano. Robin Shou made a great Liu Kang, and the only thing I love more than Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa's portrayal of Shang Tsung is making people try to pronounce or spell his name correctly.
Christopher Lambert, something of a cult icon, seemed genuinely interested in the film's story. Now I've done a lot of these movie interviews for UGO, and one thing you learn pretty quick is how to tell when an actor's really into his film or just faking it because he knows he can't admit that it sucked. When I participated in the interviews for Deuces Wild, Stephen Dorpf couldn't even bring himself to say the stupid movie's name. I was happy to see Lambert so into the film; his excitement translated well onscreen. I was mighty sad when they replaced him with Samantha's boyfriend from Sex and the City for the sequel. Then again, the sequel was awful and I'm sorta glad Lambert wasn't involved with it.
Johnny and Sonya didn't have much to say. I think they were stoned. I wish they would've got the guy in the Goro costume out there for a sit-down interview. Come on, imagine Goro sitting there peddling the movie as an exciting family adventure. Actually, if you picture Goro doing anything besides beheading his opponents, it's always funny. Picture him watching football. Funny. Picture him walking a dog. Funny. Picture him eating a dog. God I love Goro.