BR: Mortal Kombat – Legacy (2011)

December 6, 2011 | By

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Film: Very Good/ BR Transfer: Excellent/ BR Extras: Excellent

Label: Warner Home Video/ Region: All / Released: November 8, 2011

Genre: Action / Video Game / Web Series

Synopsis: The origins of Mortal Kombat’s lead characters are retold in this alternate universe-styled narrative, originally broadcast online in 9 parts.

Special Features: 5 Making-of Featurettes: “Fight” (15:33) + “Fan Made” (5:09) + “Expanding the Netherrealm” (10:03) + “Mysticism” (5:17) + “Gear” (4:12)

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Review:

After the last episode of TV’s Mortal Kombat: Konquest aired in 1999, the MK franchise, as far as TV and motion pictures were concerned, had been exhausted, grinding down a perfectly viable franchise begun in 1995 [M].

Part of the problem may have resided with the videogame’s creators, who were justly protective of their creation, and wanted the mythos to remain intact as MK weaved its way through sequels, specials, and a TV series, but the problems was very simple: realized by hack filmmakers and struggling with lower budgets and weaker talent, the franchise was doomed to wither.

Perhaps that’s why filmmaker Kevin Tancharoen (Fame, Glee: The 3D Concert Movie) was compelled to take a crack himself, and as the legend goes, with the aide of friends, knocked out an unauthorized film which he had planned to show Warner Bros. in the hope of generating approval for a re-imagined version of the MK mythos. The short, called Mortal Kombat: Rebirth, was sneaked on YouTube in 2010, and the studio was impressed with his ‘alternate universe’ approach to a prequel where key characters are brought together prior to the grand tournament, albeit in more contemporary surroundings with an emphasis on realism than supernatural.

The premise of Rebirth has Det. Jackson Briggs (Michael Jai White) enticing Hanzo Hasashi / aka Scorpion (Ian Anthony Dale) to aide him and the police in wiping out the menacing serial killers / fighters being rounded up by Shang Tsung for a deadly underground martial arts tournament. Hanzo seems uninterested at first, but after Sonya Blade (Jeri Ryan) enters the interrogation room and explains part of his job would be to kill Sub-Zero, the murderer of his brother, there’s an agreement between rival parties, and the short ends.

Warner Bros. weren’t interested in a feature film but were amenable to funding a 9-part web series to coincide with the launch of a revised MK videogame, but MK’s creators felt the creative drift too great from their precious mythos (not to mention Johnny Cage getting killed off), so the revamped series proposal was designed to shed light on the backstories of each major contestant prior to being recruited for the supernatural / martial arts tournament – essentially what transpires in the first few minutes of the 1995 feature film.

Whereas Rebirth emphasized more realistic martial arts and gore – villain Reptile is shown tearing off a human head from its cadaver and later taking a bite out of its slimy remains – the web series, renamed Legacy and broadcast on Machinima.com’s YouTube channel over April, May, and July of 2011, functions as mini-vignettes. The resulting series is very uneven because one can sense a conflict between Tancharoen’s realist desires – evident in the early episodes – and the flashbacks to ancient Japan and the cyber warfare finale involving the reconditioning of human killers into mechanized monsters.

With the exception of the first two episodes that introduce Jacks and Sonya Blade (with White and Ryan reprising their roles), those unfamiliar with the MK mythos and its characters will find the whole effort confusing, because there’s no continuity between the diverse characters, and the tournament is never defined in the few episodes where it’s directly proposed to the characters.

Whereas the appearance and deceptiveness of Shang Tsung towards Johnny Cage (Matt Mullins) was simpler in the 1995 film, in Part 3 of Tancharoen’s webisode, instead of being offered a slot in a martial arts competition, Cage is simply offered ‘a way out’ of his situation as a frustrated actor who just lost his series pitch to a pair of slimy Hollywood producers.

In Parts 1 and 2, Jacks rescues Sonya from the clutches of scummy Kano (Darren Shahlavi), and while Sonya recuperates from her serious wounds, Kano’s lost eye is replaced with a red cyber-eye in an unusually graphic sequence. The action-packed, two-part arc introduces the loathing characters, and sets them up for an inevitable confrontation, but none of the subsequent parts have share any continuity; the Jacks / Blade / Kano segments feel like the pilot for a wholly independent series.

The rest of the episodes are interesting but are limited by budget and severe running times. Parts 4 and 5 shows the history of Princess Kitana (Samantha Jo), but neither the combination of graphic animation nor martial arts auger the weak acting and hammy dialogue. The rivalry between Scorpion (Ian Anthony Dale) and Sub-Zero (Kevan Ohtsji) is nicely set-up in feudal Japan, but like the Kitana and Jacks / Blade / Kano segments, valuable running time is taken over by prior episode recaps, leaving far less time to flesh out the backstories. The finale, Part 9, introduces cyber-warriors Cyrax (Shane Warren Jones) and Sektor (Peter Shinkoda), but one can’t help feel the battle scenes are sleek CGI renditions of rock ‘em, sock ‘em toys.

Only Raiden’s (Ryan Robbins) intro in Part 6 maintains a geuinely engaging mood. A fusion between a comic book and The X-Files (and aided by similar Vancouver locations and moist climate), Raiden’s origins are retold as a humanoid meteor man who crashes inside the fenced enclosure of an asylum. His claims of world domination by an evil warlord are rewarded with brain-numbing sedatives and a lobotomy by sadistic doctors, until he manages an escape.

Tancharoen’s series did prick enough interest among fans, and he showed the possibilities of how a franchise can be reinvented without harming its integrity, so while the web series wasn’t a full creative success, Tancharoen’s realist approach – which emphasized physical human combat techniques over CGI killers – was tantalizing, and Warner Bros. has reportedly greenlit a re-imagined feature film. If he can find a balance between Rebirth and Legacy, it might be the right formula to kick-start a viable film franchise. Perhaps a key ingredient to the webisode’s success is Tancharoen’s own personal taste for more classical camera moves and less reliance on psychotic editing, which can jumble the beauty of dynamic martial arts choreography.

WHV’s Blu-ray includes five making-of featurettes which delve into the standard production aspects (informative, but sometimes over-tracked with the same handful of score cuts), but perhaps the real star of the disc – besides the episodes – is the Red camera cinematography which is amazingly sharp. Colours are rich and varied, and many fine details include peeling paint in the opening warehouse setting, and the pores and emerging stubble on actors faces (not to mention wig seam lines). This is a really gorgeous BR, and the sound mix features dynamic sound effects and an appropriately pulsing electronic score.

Only qualms: Tancharoen’s original Rebirth short isn’t included, and there’s no way to bypass the prior episode recaps and credits, mandating unnecessary repetition of content.

As a potential portent of things to come, Mortal Kombat: Legacy bodes well for the reinvigorated franchise.

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© 2011 Mark R. Hasan

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External References:

IMDB — Wikipedia Entries: Mortal Kombat – Legacy / Mortal Kombat – RebirthYouTube Channel — Composer Filmography

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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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