Inspired by the cult 1980’s video game, the nostalgic tribute to creature features from the 1950's, IT CAME FROM THE DESERT will make its Texas premiere on Wednesday, May 23 at Flix Brewhouse. It features rival motocross heroes and heroines, kegger parties in the desert, secret underground military bases, romantic insecurities... and of course giant ants.
As we count down the days until the special screening of IT CAME FROM THE DESERT, some of the Other Worlds staff will present their favorite films based on an original video game. Next up is Programmer & Screenplay Supervisor Eric Harrelson, who waxes poetic on MORTAL KOMBAT!
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It will surprise absolutely none of you to know that I am a fan of video games. I am not above spending a few hours of my leisure time tromping through Winderhold or liberating Columbia from The Prophet. Some modern games like BIOSHOCK INFINITE or SPEC OPS: THE LINE have interesting and creative plots that outshine a lot of what is coming out of Hollywood these days. Video games can be a place for clever and poignant storytelling that is on par with existentialist films of Kubrick or Tarkovsky. But this? This is not one of those places. This is MORTAL KOMBAT!
I don’t feel as if I need to introduce MORTAL KOMBAT to any of you. If you have even a cursory knowledge of video games in the past 25 years you know MORTAL KOMBAT. Back in the early-mid 90’s it did cause quite a splash. The extreme violence drew the attention of the establishment back in those days. Particularly the fatalities, which were both insanely over-the-top things, like ripping an opponent's head off and holding it aloft while blood dripped from the dangling spine, and also way too complicated to actually pull off in game. I remember Janet Reno had a particular distaste for the game, claiming the violence damaged children and blah-di-blah-di-blah. Which, of course, solidified the game as a pop culture phenomenon. It spawned numerous sequels and imitators, popped up as parodies and references on television, and of course, was turned into a movie franchise. Because if there’s one thing Hollywood loves, it’s an already successful property with a built-in fan base.
If you’ve never played MORTAL KOMBAT, then who are you and how did you find us? (Seriously, leave a comment and explain yourself.) But if it’s been a while, MORTAL KOMBAT is a basically a supernatural Kumite with weird fighters, like a fireball throwing Bruce Lee and that lightning guy with the big hat from BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA. It’s even got a Jean Claude Van Damme pastiche in there named Johnny Cage, who does the splits-to-nut-punch as one of his special moves, if there were any doubt:
The game evidently started its life as a licensed UNIVERSAL SOLDIER property, which would contain a digitized Van Damme, but that fell through. The developers changed it around a bit, kept the Van Damme angle, threw in a healthy portion of BLOODSPORT and viola!
When 1995 rolled around and it was time to make a movie out of it, it must’ve been a pretty quick meeting:
“Hey we wanna make a MORTAL KOMBAT movie. Since we are old and rich, we don’t know what MORTAL KOMBAT actually is, please explain.”
“So it’s ostensibly BLOODSPORT with spooky ninjas and a four-armed Hulk with a ponytail called Goro.”
“Great! Do that. Can we get Van Damme?”
In the irony of all ironies, Van Damme had just starred alongside Raul Julia in STREET FIGHTER a year earlier, which made absolutely no sense. STREET FIGHTER was the pioneer of the 2D fighters, the main competition for MORTAL KOMBAT, and in my opinion the far stronger of the two (HADOKEN!) Since the STREET FIGHTER movie was pretty much shit (though Reid may disagree), I assume Van Damme didn’t want to star in yet another fighting video game movie project. That or they weren’t willing to pay him enough. Either way, MORTAL KOMBAT went forward with no Van Damme.
Surprisingly, it worked. MORTAL KOMBAT is fine. The fights are action packed and fun, there’s enough of the goofy supernatural nonsense and dumb video game quotes to keep the fans happy, and Scorpion yells “GET OVER HERE!” What else do you need? It’s also got that bitchin’ earworm of a 90’s techno pop theme song, which will forever be screamed at sporting events until the sun explodes and we are all just dust on a charred cinder floating aimlessly through the universe.
MORTAL KOMBAT didn’t receive much critical acclaim, but it’s generally liked by fans of both the game and the genre. It’s exactly what it sets out to be: a watchable, fun, albeit corny, darkly magical punch-fighting film. As long as video games continue to be a place where clever and creative storytelling can flourish, and an industry that continues to generate revenue, there will continue to be movie adaptations. Considering abject failures such as WING COMMANDER and the numerous Uwe Boll *ahem* missteps, studios can look to MORTAL KOMBAT as an example of how to make a video game movie work.