Before you ask, this is the 1995 Paul Anderson Mortal Kombat, not the new one. With the imminent release of Simon McQuoid’s reboot, I think it’s worth looking at the original and go over why the ’95 version failed as a suitable video game adaptation.
In 1992, I was in Berkeley, California, researching my Master’s thesis. I had three hours to kill, and I killed it watching college students playing the original Mortal Kombat in the student union. I just stood transfixed to the screen that entire time. Mortal Kombat was groundbreaking with its photorealistic characters and over-the-top gory, violent finishing moves. I can still hear “Finish Him” in all its glory.
As an endless stream of video games came to the big screen, with it came a line of disappointed fans. Why? What was Hollywood not getting? It’s almost as if the writers and directors of these horrendous adaptations had never played these games before, which is probably true.
“…a once-in-a-generation tournament fight to the death.”
I’m no authority on the psychology of storytelling, but I love movies, and I love video games. Simply stated, video-game-based films fail because they cannot successfully capture the emotions and feelings that we felt PLAYING THE ORIGINAL GAME! Unlike most stories, you have to be keenly aware of what the fans expect and want in films based on games they continuously play for hours upon hours.
It’s not enough to take our favorite characters like Sub-Zero, Scorpion, and Goro, or our least favorite (Johnny Cage) and give them a backstory. It’s not even enough to replicate their fighting style and those awesome finishing moves. You have to tap into the game’s excitement and trigger in all the dopamine, adrenaline, and “brain chemicals” the game produces, which ultimately leads us to pump more and more quarters at the arcade.
Let’s start with characters. Yes, our cast is fine as a bunch of lookalikes, but that’s not how I imagine these characters, who are fighting for life and death, to look or act. The worst is Linden Ashby as Johnny Cage, the baffoonish Hollywood idol. What a tool! Bridgette Wilson looks good as Sonya Blade, but tough is her only character description. After a few minutes, it’s clear these aren’t the characters from the video game.
"…cannot successfully capture the emotions and feelings that we felt PLAYING THE ORIGINAL GAME!"