Mortal Kombat (film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Paul W. S. Anderson|
|Produced by||Lauri Apelian
|Written by||Kevin Droney|
|Based on||Mortal Kombat
by Ed Boon and John Tobias
|Music by||George S. Clinton|
|Cinematography||John R. Leonetti|
|Edited by||Martin Hunter|
|Distributed by||New Line Cinema|
|Running time||101 minutes|
Mortal Kombat is a 1995 American fantasy martial arts film written by Kevin Droney, directed by Paul W. S. Anderson, and starring Robin Shou, Linden Ashby, Bridgette Wilson, Christopher Lambert, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa and Talisa Soto. It is a loose adaptation of the early entries in the fighting game series Mortal Kombat.
The plot of the film follows the warrior Liu Kang, the actor Johnny Cage, and the soldier Sonya Blade, all three guided by the god Raiden, on their journey to combat the evil sorcerer Shang Tsung and his forces in a tournament to save Earth. The film's primary source material was 1992's original game of the same title, but it was also inspired by and incorporates elements of 1993's follow-up game Mortal Kombat II.
Mortal Kombat, a co-production between Threshold Entertainment and Midway Games, was filmed primarily in Los Angeles, as well as on location in Thailand, and premiered on August 18, 1995 in the United States. Its tie-in media included hit soundtracks Mortal Kombat: Motion Picture Score and Mortal Kombat: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, and a prequel animated film The Journey Begins.
Despite receiving mixed reviews by critics, Mortal Kombat spent three weeks as the number-one film at the U.S. box office, earning over $122 million worldwide. Due to its commercial success, Threshold Entertainment followed with a 1997 sequel film Mortal Kombat: Annihilation and created two spin-off television series, Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm and Mortal Kombat: Konquest. The Mortal Kombat film reboot was announced by New Line Cinema in 2011, but as of 2014 it remains in development hell.
Once every generation, there is an inter-dimensional martial arts tournament known as Mortal Kombat, designed by the Elder Gods to limit invasions between the realms of the universe. If the realm of Outworld wins Mortal Kombat ten consecutive times, its Emperor Shao Kahn will be able to invade and conquer the realm containing the Earth.
Shaolin warrior Liu Kang and his comrades, movie star Johnny Cage and military officer Sonya Blade, were handpicked by Raiden, the god of lightning and defender of the Earth realm, to overcome their powerful adversaries in order to prevent Outworld from winning their tenth straight Mortal Kombat tournament. Each of the three has his or her own reason for competing: Liu seeks revenge against the tournament host Shang Tsung for killing his brother Chan; Sonya seeks revenge on crime lord Kano; and Cage, having been branded as a fake by the media, seeks to prove otherwise.
At Shang Tsung's island, Liu is attracted to Princess Kitana, Shao Kahn's adopted daughter. Aware that Kitana is a dangerous adversary because she is the rightful heir to Outworld and that she will attempt to ally herself with the Earth warriors, Tsung orders the creature Reptile to spy on her. Liu defeats his first opponent and Sonya gets her revenge on Kano by snapping his neck. Cage encounters and barely beats Scorpion. Liu engages in a brief duel with Kitana, who secretly offers him cryptic advice for his next battle. Liu's next opponent is Sub-Zero, whose defense seems impregnable because of his freezing abilities, until Liu recalls Kitana's advice and uses it to kill Sub-Zero.
Prince Goro enters the tournament and mercilessly crushes every opponent he faces. One of Cage's peers, Art Lean, is defeated by Goro as well and has his soul taken by Shang Tsung. Sonya worries that they may not win against Goro, but Raiden disagrees. He reveals their own fears and egos are preventing them from winning the tournament.
Despite Sonya's warning, Cage comes to Tsung to request a fight with Goro. The sorcerer accepts on the condition that he be allowed to challenge any opponent of his choosing, anytime and anywhere he chooses. Raiden tries to intervene, but the conditions are agreed upon before he can do so. After Shang Tsung leaves, Raiden confronts Cage for what he has done in challenging Goro, but is impressed when Cage shows his awareness of the gravity of the tournament. Cage faces Goro and uses guile and the element of surprise to defeat the defending champion. Now desperate, Tsung takes Sonya hostage and takes her to Outworld, intending to fight her as his opponent. Knowing that his powers are ineffective there and that Sonya cannot defeat Tsung by herself, Raiden sends Liu and Cage into Outworld in order to rescue Sonya and challenge Tsung. In Outworld, Liu is attacked by Reptile, but eventually gains the upper hand and defeats him. Afterward, Kitana meets up with Cage and Liu, revealing to the pair the origins of both herself and Outworld. Kitana allies with them and helps them to infiltrate Tsung's castle.
Inside the castle tower, Shang Tsung challenges Sonya to fight him, knowing full well that her refusal to accept will result in the Earth realm forfeiting Mortal Kombat. All seems lost for Earth realm until Kitana, Liu, and Cage appear. Kitana berates Tsung for his treachery to the Emperor as Sonya is set free. Tsung challenges Cage, but is counter-challenged by Liu. During the lengthy battle, Liu faces not only Tsung, but the souls that Tsung had forcibly taken in past tournaments. In a last-ditch attempt to take advantage, Tsung morphs into Chan. Seeing through the charade, Liu renews his determination and ultimately fires an energy bolt at the sorcerer, knocking him down and impaling him on a row of spikes. Tsung's death releases all of the captive souls, including Chan's. Before ascending to the afterlife, Chan tells Liu that he will remain with him in spirit until they are once again reunited.
The warriors return to Earth realm, where a victory celebration is taking place at the Shaolin temple. The jubilation abruptly stops, however, when Shao Kahn's giant figure suddenly appears in the skies. When the Emperor declares that he has come for everyone's souls, the warriors take up fighting stances.
- Robin Shou as Liu Kang, a former Shaolin monk, who enters the tournament to avenge his brother's death. As in most of the games in the Mortal Kombat series, Liu Kang is the main protagonist.
- Linden Ashby as Johnny Cage, a Hollywood superstar that enters the tournament to prove to the world that his skills are for real. Ashby trained in karate and tae kwon do especially for this film. Despite the intensity of the fight scenes coupled with the actors performing most of their own stunts, on-set injuries were surprisingly minimal; the only notable occurrence was a mildly bruised kidney Ashby suffered while shooting Cage's fight scene with Scorpion.
- Bridgette Wilson as Sonya Blade, a Special Forces officer in hot pursuit of Kano, the criminal who killed her partner. Cameron Diaz was originally set to play Sonya, but she broke her wrist during a martial arts training prior to shooting and was replaced by Bridgette Wilson, who was jokingly nicknamed "RoboBabe" during production by director Paul W. S. Anderson. Wilson performed all her own stunts, including fight scenes.
- Christopher Lambert as Raiden, god of thunder and protector of Earthrealm who guides the warriors on their journey. He desires to aid the heroes in defending Earthrealm, but as he himself is not mortal, he is not permitted to participate in the tournament and may only advise them and act to prevent cheating.
- Trevor Goddard as Kano, a mercenary that joins forces with Shang Tsung.
- Talisa Soto as Princess Kitana, the Outworld emperor's stepdaughter who decides to help the Earth warriors. Soto had previously appeared alongside Tagawa in Licence to Kill (1989).
- Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Shang Tsung, a powerful, sadistic and treacherous sorcerer, he is the film's main antagonist who killed Liu Kang's brother Chan. Tagawa was the filmmakers' first and only choice for the role; he was instantly selected after he came to his audition in costume, and read his lines while standing on a chair.
- François Petit as Sub-Zero, one of Shang Tsung's warriors who, as his name implies, possesses the ability to freeze. The rivalry between Sub-Zero and Scorpion is only briefly mentioned by Shang Tsung at the beginning of the movie.
- Chris Casamassa as Scorpion, one of Shang Tsung's warriors whose trademark spear from the games was changed to a snake-like entity that shot from a slit in his palm. The character was voiced by the Mortal Kombat games' co-creator Ed Boon.
- Keith Cooke as Reptile, a creature who is serving Shang Tsung. Reptile's lizard form was rendered with the use of computer-generated imagery (CGI), while the character's human form was portrayed by Keith Cooke. Reptile's vocal effects were provided by Frank Welker.
- Gregory McKinney as Jax, Sonya's Special Forces partner. Steve James was originally cast to play Jax, but the actor died a year before production on the film began.
- Tom Woodruff, Jr. as Goro
- Kenneth Edwards as Art Lean, a colleague of Johnny Cage who competes, and is killed, in the Mortal Kombat tournament.
- Steven Ho as Liu Kang's younger brother Chan, who is killed by Shang Tsung in the film's opening scene.
- Peter Jason as Johnny Cage's sensei, Master Boyd.
- Hakim Alston as a fighting monk on the beach.
- Frank Welker voices the unnamed Emperor of Outworld (Shao Kahn) who appears at the end of the film. Welker also voiced Reptile and Goro.
Sandy Helberg is briefly seen in the beginning of the film as the director of Cage's latest movie. Originally, this part was to be a cameo appearance by Steven Spielberg, but scheduling conflicts forced him to back out; the "director" character in this scene still resembles Spielberg.
Robin Shou said that in the original script he "was supposed to fall in love with Talisa Soto [Kitana]. I was looking forward to it, but they thought we have so much action, we don't want to add romance to it. They cut it out." Also scripted but not filmed were a short battle between Sonya and Jade, another of Shang Tsung's servants, and a scene where Shang Tsung allowed the heroes a night to mourn the loss of Art Lean and bury him in the Garden of Statues, underneath the statue of Kung Lao. Originally not included in the movie, Reptile was added in response to focus groups being unimpressed with the original fights in the film. Robin Shou and Paul W. S. Anderson noted that neither knew what Reptile's lizard form would look like until after filming, making the pre-fight sequence difficult to shoot.
Although the movie was primarily based on the first game in the series, there are several notable elements that were incorporated from the second game, Mortal Kombat II (MKII). Outworld was seen in the movie, but was never mentioned in the first game (only mentioned in the video game's manual). Similarly, Shao Kahn is seen in the final scene of the movie, but was not even referenced in the first game. Jax and Kitana were introduced in the second game as well. Shang Tsung's ability to steal the souls of fallen victims—seen twice in the film—was first seen in MKII as one of his Fatalities, while his youthful appearance debuted in the second game but is seen throughout the film; according to Tagawa, this was in order to avoid the excessive makeup that would have been required to duplicate Shang Tsung's aged appearance in the first game. In his match with Reptile, Liu Kang uses his "Bicycle Kick" special move, which was first introduced in the second game, as was Reptile's ability to turn invisible. After killing Scorpion, Cage drops an autographed picture of himself near his remains, in a reference to his Friendship move in MKII. When Reptile assumes his human form, the voice of Shao Kahn - sampled directly from the second game - can be heard announcing "Reptile". The Shadow Priests, seen before the final battle, were first seen in the second game as part of two of the backgrounds.
Filming began in August 1994 and ended in December 1994. The Outworld exterior scenes were filmed at the abandoned Kaiser steel mill in Fontana, California; the site is now the Auto Club Speedway. All of Goro's scenes were filmed in Los Angeles. Shooting locations in Thailand were accessible only by boat, so cast, crew and equipment had to be transported on long canoe-like vessels. Producer Gerrit Folsom constructed an outhouse in a secluded area near the set in order to alleviate the problem of repeated trips to and from the mainland. The bows of the boats were fitted with ornamental dragon-head carvings and used in the movie as the fighters' secondary transport to Shang Tsung's island from his junk. The film was originally scheduled for a May 1995 U.S. release, but was pushed back to August. It was released on October 20 in the United Kingdom, and on December 26 in Australia.
The Journey Begins
In 1995, several months before the movie's release, Turner Home Entertainment and Threshold Entertainment released a tie-in animated film on VHS and Laserdisc, Mortal Kombat: The Journey Begins. It features traditional animation, motion capture and CGI to explain the origins behind some of the movie's main characters, as well as a 15-minute behind-the scenes documentary of the theatrical release. The film was included on the Mortal Kombat Blu-ray released in April 2011.
The plot follows Liu Kang, Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade—also the three main characters in the live action movie—traveling on a mysterious boat en route to the Mortal Kombat tournament. On the way they meet Raiden, who provides them with some hints about how to survive the tournament and defeat Shang Tsung and his army of Tarkatan minions. Upon arriving at the island where the battles takes place, Raiden retells the origins of Shang Tsung, Goro, Scorpion, Sub-Zero and the Great Kung Lao in between fight scenes.
Mortal Kombat: A Novel
A novelization of the movie by Martin Delrio was released through Tor Books. It is based on the early version of the film's script and such it includes several deleted or unfilmed scenes, such as a fight between Sonya Blade and Jade.
Mortal Kombat: Motion Picture Score is the instrumental score album with the music by George S. Clinton, released by Rykodisc on October 11, 1995. Mortal Kombat: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is the compilation album released by TVT Records on August 15, 1995. Original Motion Picture Soundtrack won the BMI Film & TV Awards BMI Film Music Award and went platinum in 10 days reaching No. 10 on the Billboard 200, and its popularity inspired the 1996 followup compilation Mortal Kombat: More Kombat.
The hit Mortal Kombat theme was composed by Praga Khan and Oliver Adams. Three songs from Stabbing Westward were included in the film, but were omitted from Original Motion Picture Soundtrack: "Lost", "Lies" and "Can't Happen Here", all of which appear on the album Ungod.
Mortal Kombat opened on August 18, 1995, and cruised into the top box-office spot with $23.2 million, nearly eight times the opening amount of the only other new release that weekend, The Baby-Sitters Club. At the time, it was also the second-highest August opening after 1993's The Fugitive. The film enjoyed a three-week stint at number one, grossed $70 million domestically, and earned an estimated $122 million worldwide. As of April 2014, the film sits as the fourth highest grossing video game adaptation ever released, behind Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, and Pokemon: The First Movie.
The film holds a score of 33% on Rotten Tomatoes, with the consensus "despite an effective otherwordly atmosphere and appropriately cheesy visuals, Mortal Kombat suffers from its poorly constructed plot, laughable dialogue, and subpar acting." As of 2014, the film holds a "mixed or average" rating of 58/100 on Metacritic.
Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave it a "thumbs up" rating on Siskel & Ebert, calling it "the only half-way decent video game movie [he] has ever seen" and "a lot of fun," saying he was positively surprised by its various high quality production values, including the "often sensational" special effects, exotic locations and the cast of characters being "clearly drawn out of appealing types"; Roger Ebert said he was "right in the middle" and noted that the fans might be disappointed by the film's killings being much less brutal than the notoriously violent Mortal Kombat video games. Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly called Mortal Kombat "a contentedly empty-headed extended advertisement for the joy of joypads (filmed in cheesily ornate cinema de Hong Kong style)" and too noted how it "is notably free of blood and gore." According to Stephen Holden of The New York Times, "Mortal Kombat might be described as mythological junk food. Although there is talk of the three kombatants' having to face their deepest fears to prevail, the action is so frenetic and the dialogue so minimal that the allegory is weightless." Kevin Thomas of Los Angeles Times gave the film a much more positive review, writing that "as impressive as the special effects are at every turn, even more crucial is Jonathan Carlson's superb, imaginative production design, which combines Thailand exteriors with vast sets that recall the barbaric grandeur of exotic old movie palaces and campy Maria Montez epics. John R. Leonetti's glorious, shadowy camera work and George S. Clinton's driving, hard-edged score complete the task of bringing alive the perilous Outerworld [sic]."
The sequel Mortal Kombat: Annihilation was released in 1997, directed by John R. Leonetti (cinematographer of the first Mortal Kombat) and starring the returning Robin Shou and Talisa Soto as well as Brian Thompson, Sandra Hess, Lynn "Red" Williams, Irina Pantaeva, Marjean Holden and James Remar. Its storyline is largely an adaptation of Mortal Kombat 3, following a band of warriors as they attempt to save Earth from Shao Kahn himself. Although the story picks up where the last film left off, most of the lead roles were recast.
In contrast to its predecessor, which was a box office success and marginally well received, Annihilation was critically panned and underperformed at the box office. As a result, development of the planned third installment halted and never progressed beyond pre-production.
Spin-off TV series
In September 2011, it was reported that New Line Cinema (Mortal Kombat film rights holders), sister studio to Warner Bros. (current MK franchise holders), had hired Kevin Tancharoen to direct a new feature-length movie based on the franchise. Oren Uziel, who wrote the original short film, Mortal Kombat: Rebirth, but was not involved in Mortal Kombat: Legacy, is returning to pen the story, while no actors, nor other crew have been confirmed. Story details known state that the film will not be an extension of the game, nor of Legacy.
New Line President Toby Emmerich said that the success of the video games combined with Tancharoen's vision means, "You don't have to squint too hard to see how it might make a good movie", while Tancharoen says discussions have only concerned an R-rating, with darker, brutally real martial arts. Tancharoen had discussions at the 2011 Comic Con with Uziel and Mortal Kombat creator Ed Boon and to expect a very big origin story with the sensibility and realism of Rebirth and Legacy as opposed to the traditional Mortal Kombat mythology. He said, "I've always been a fan of properties like Batman where you can expand the universe in different directions. Mortal Kombat is big enough that you can allow for multiple different kinds of storytelling."
But as for its continuity with the web series, Tancharoen said "you won't have to have seen all ten episodes previously - or have played the videogame - to understand the movie." Shooting was expected to begin in March 2012 with a budget of well under $100 million and a release date of 2013, coordinated with the next installment of the video game series being produced by the same studios. It was later delayed due to budget constraints and the director started working on the second season of Legacy until problems with the movie had been sorted out. In late 2012, Warner Bros executive Lance Sloan revealed that the Mortal Kombat movie will have a budget of between $40–50 million. In October 2013, Tancharoen announced that he will not be directing the film.
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