Spherical Panavision - 1.85:1
1.78:1 - 1.37:1
Written by: Kevin Droney
Directed by: Paul Anderson
Starring: Linden Ashby, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Robin Shou, Bridgette Wilson, Talisa Soto, Christopher Lambert
Mortal Kombat is the full-length feature film version of the video game that most parents were condemning a few years back. You know the game...that's the one where your characters use various martial arts techniques to defeat their opponents, and thereafter rip out their spinal cords in some sort of bloody victorious ending to the match. Well, those parents will be pleased to know that while the film features the same characters and storyline, none of the bloodletting makes any appearance.
But if you are expecting to give your mind a good workout, think again. The bare-bones plot has ex-monk/warrior Liu Kang (Robin Shou), martial arts film actor Johnny Cage (Linden Ashby) and policewoman Sonya Blade (Bridgette Wilson) travelling to a weird, remote island to attend a martial arts tournament known as - you guessed it - Mortal Kombat. The God of Lightning, Lord Rayden (Christopher Lambert, in what seems like a reprisal of his Highlander roles), accompanies Liu Kang, Johnny and Sonya and represents the side of good. Shang Tsung (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, you might remember him from Rising Sun) represents the evil Outland empire. The rules of Mortal Kombat are simple...Outland has won the last nine tournaments, and if they win this tenth, they get to invade the Realm of Earth and trash the entire planet. Doesn't sound like much fun, so I suppose good will have to triumph over evil otherwise we're all in trouble, eh? Other Mortal Kombat favorites include Goro, Scorpion and Sub-Zero. From what I've seen, the plot's simple framework is solely there to bind together some fabulous set designs and special effects. The movie itself is dreadful, but the cinematography is stunning, and again, some of the set designs have to be seen to be believed. There was one set in particular I really liked, an apparently endless room filled with rotting ropes, ladders and bridges heading off in all directions - it was so intricate that I feel sorry for whomever had to build it. Aside from a few cheesy cloud effects, the remaining effects were quite good, especially the Goro sequences. In case you don't know, Goro is this 7-foot tall, topknoted, four-armed creature, and he interacts quite often with his human counterparts. Goro is apparently a combination of computer and live-action effects, and all his movements are extremely fluid. Again, the effects were the main thrust behind this film - in fact, this 101m film has an end credits sequence running almost 10m, most of which list the various effects houses and personnel used in the production.
Whatever flaws the film itself has, the DVD is a sight for the eyes. Released by New Line Home Video, Mortal Kombat is presented in both widescreen and standard versions (one on each side of the disc). Filmed in 1.85:1 Spherical Panavision, the widescreen version is letterboxed with an approx. 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The standard version is essentially a full-frame version, and is shown with the mattes removed - while the top of the frame is the same and you definitely see more picture information along the bottom, the sides have been chopped off a little. Although I prefer the letterboxed version myself, the standard version is an adequate presentation for those who still haven't made the widescreen leap. The film has a very colorful scheme - extreme blues and reds light up nearly every indoor sequence, which you would expect to cause havok with the transfer. Nothing like that pops up its ugly head here, folks! The imagery is very sharply defined, and the colors are very solid with no bleeding and no color noise. Some of the clouds effect sequences, such as those appearing in the opening segment, are a bit grainy (the rare face is the smallest bit grainy as well), but that's a problem with the original effects photography and composition, not with the transfer.
Both versions of the film feature an English-language Dolby Digital Surround soundtrack, as well as a standard French-language Dolby Surround stereo soundtrack. The sound mix is in excellent condition and is very energetic, to say the least, but the really annoying rap-pop-disco-like music (or whatever the hell you'd call it) irritated me beyond your imagination. I constantly wanted to shut the audio off because of it. If this is your type of thing, crank the sound up...but for me, forget it. The English and French soundtracks can be switched via your remote.
Subtitles in English, French and Spanish also accompany both versions of the film, and all three carry the film fine. Again, these three subtitle tracks can be instantly changed via your remote. In addition, standard English closed-captions are also encoded onto the disc (you'll need an external decoder to view them).
Following both versions of Mortal Kombat are identical interactive menus offering you a choice of either playing the movie, changing your subtitling or language option, reading production notes, viewing the theatrical trailer, or jumping to a selected scene. The production notes aren't production notes per se, but are basically two-frame character profiles for The Kombatants - profiles are featured for Lui Kang, Goro, Johnny Cage, Sonya Blade, Rayden, Scorpion and Sub-Zero. In case it matters to you, some of the character background information that is given doesn't actually mesh with what is present in the actual film. The 1m54s theatrical trailer is in excellent condition, and appears letterboxed at about 1.75:1 on the widescreen version and cropped on the standard version (the trailer is in English only, no subtitles). The "Jump to Scene" section shows 9 main scenes, all with still images and descriptions.
The Mortal Kombat DVD is encoded for Region 1 players only (U.S., U.S. Territories, Canada), and comes in the plastic and cardboard "keep case" packaging. The inside flap contains a full listing of all 27 chapters.
Review by Jeff Krispow
Original Review: 05/02/97
Last Updated: 08/22/97