Yesterday, I got a particular treat: the Blu-Ray release of 1995's action flick Mortal Kombat, coinciding with the debut of a new entry in the classic video game franchise. How does the movie transfer over to Blu? Here's my review of the high-def home edition.
I've always found Mortal Kombat to be criminally underrated. It was one of my favorite films as a kid (I nearly wore out my VHS copy) and my enjoyment of it hasn't dulled over the years. Not to mention that it's that rare movie based on a video game that was actually good. This and the first Tomb Raider film are the only ones based on a gaming franchise that I haven't utterly loathed. (Double Dragon and Street Fighter, I'm looking at you.)
If for some reason you haven't seen the film and aren't familiar with the video games (where have you been for the last decade-plus?), the gist is that, to quote main character Sonya Blade, "a handful of people on a leaky boat are gonna save the world" by beating some nasty types in a fighting tournament for control of the Earth. What makes it work is that the cast, although mostly unknown at the time, was so darn good. (Several of them were also talented martial artists.) Any time I've seen them in anything since, I always associate them with this movie. In particular, my least favorite character in the game series, Johnny Cage, was my favorite character in the flick thanks to a great performance from Linden Ashby, who became one of my heroes growing up.
This is an action flick from the days before Michael Bay explosions and our over-reliance on special effects. While there are some cool effects, there's a real film underneath all the shiny things, one that is faithful to the franchise on which it was based, unlike others in the genre. (Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, I'm looking at you.) And it has an amazing soundtrack, starting with the theme tune that you've probably heard at a sporting event or pep rally. This is an enjoyable, action-packed ride that holds up over repeated viewings.
One word of warning: as great as this film was, the sequel (Mortal Kombat: Annihilation) managed to ruin the entire thing. Enjoy this one, but the second isn't worth your time.
The Blu-Ray Discs
Since this is a Blu-Ray release, I don't have any packaging issues to talk about. In fact, there's not a lot of packaging, period. Aside from some ad inserts - like how you can download a Jade costume for the new Mortal Kombat video game now that you've bought this - there's nothing to speak of. No booklet or insert for the scene selection, nothing.
The menus look neat (there's the traditional Mortal Kombat dragon logo) but leave a little to be desired. The scene selection is one of the ones that uses pictures only (no titles/descriptions) so you'll have to have a decent knowledge of the movie to know where you want to go. Thankfully, they've put chapters in for all of the major sequences, so if you remember the movie well enough you'll be able to skip easily to your favorite part.
Here's the important part: the presentation is a definite improvement. Mortal Kombat made the transition to widescreen high-def very well. The darker scenes are easier to see now than they were before, and the lighter scenes (such as the outdoor daytime fight sequences) really benefit from the upgrade, with vibrant color that makes them look fantastic. It's 1080p HD widescreen (1:85:1, 16x9) really taking an older film to a new level. There's a Dolby Digital 5.1 main audio track that does well by the soundtrack. Most of you reading this review probably already own the movie on DVD and are wondering if it's worth the $13 upgrade - yes, it completely is.
There are English, French and Spanish subtitles, as well as English, French and Spanish audio.
The Special Features
Since this is an older film, there's not much in the way of special features. That's completely understandable at the same time that it's disappointing; I'd have been overjoyed to see something new just because I enjoy the movie so much.
You get the standard theatrical trailer, and one for the new Mortal Kombat video game, of course. But the only substantial special feature is the animated film Mortal Kombat: The Journey Begins, which came out on VHS before the feature and has been out of circulation for awhile. It's a neat little animated prequel, and probably some fans of the film won't have seen it yet. (Be advised that for obvious reasons, it's presented in fullscreen and standard-def.)
There was a "making of" that was included on the same VHS tape with The Journey Begins, but that hasn't made its way over to this release. Neither have the biographies that were on the original DVD release. I'm always disappointed when special features are dropped in a title upgrade - I've double-dipped for the allegedly best release, but I've still got to hold on to my older versions. The cuts aren't too major here, but it's still a shame.
The Bottom Line
This is a great flick, and though the BR is lacking in special features, the higher quality of the film itself makes it worth the double-dip. I can wholeheartedly recommend it.
Purchase your copy of Mortal Kombat!