One of the latest things to light the Internet on fire is the recent “concept trailer” for the prospective Mortal Kombat cinematic reboot. It is a masterpiece of dark, psychotic violence, and was made to convince Warner Brothers to give the as yet unrevealed director a chance to do his spin on the franchise. Should this bid succeed, it has huge implications for the future of Mortal Kombat.
We’ll start with what exactly the trailer has to offer. If you haven’t seen it, check it out first. I assure you, you’ll get far more out of this bloody little gem if you let it unravel itself to you before reading the details. As always, I promise not to say anything interesting until you finish watching. … Paint drying … Grass growing … A cricket riding a tumbleweed … Okay, you done? Good. As you now know, Mortal Kombat, already not the brightest or cheeriest series, has been given the “Dark Knight” treatment. This primarily means ratcheting up the realism. Reptile, rather than a lizardman/ninja, is a psychopatic cannibal with a birth defect that has left him inside-out eyes and scales, much like Killer Croc (except for the eyes). Baraka is now a surgeon who, driven mad when he lost his first patient, mutilated himself and installed blades in his arms to better facilitate his subsequent killing spree. Jax becomes Captain Jackson Briggs, who along with his associate Sonya Blade, is a part of a conventional police department. Notably absent are the cybernetic arms. He is hoping to take down the Mortal Kombat tournament, which has this time been spun as a sort of serial killer fight club. Johnny Cage, Sub Zero, Scorpion, and Shang Tsung all at least warrant a mention. Efforts have been made to give every character and event a grounding in reality, albeit a reality where top assassins kill their targets by throwing a grappling hook through the back of their necks. Suspension of disbelief is stretched a little bit, but flat out science fiction and the occult are at this point nowhere to be seen. In my opinion the shift works well, and will be much more palatable to the average movie goer than the original storyline.
Playing fast and loose with the setting and plot of a game to make it a movie is nothing new. The requirements for a game plot and those of a movie plot are very different. Specifically, a game doesn’t necessarily NEED a plot. It is perfectly fine to include completely unexplained elements, or elements that make no sense. Since you the player provide the motivation and motion, in many cases attempting to characterize the player character will either cause problems when the player chooses to do something out of character, or limit the play options available. Thus, a few changes can be forgiven, but they have to be done correctly. Let’s look at Super Mario Brothers The Movie. Technically, all of the elements are there. There are plumbers, there are mushrooms (well, fungus) , there’s a princess. The villain’s name is Koopa, his henchmen are Goombas, and there is a Bob-Omb. Somehow, though, a colorful, whimsical game for the kiddies ended up set in a Blade Runner/Mad Max hybrid world with jury-rigged electric cars, evolution machines and a sci-fi action plot. It just didn’t fit. Mortal Kombat was fortunate enough to have a broad plot suitable to build a beat’em up action movie upon, and they did so, producing a pair of films reasonably close to the game. While it was an excellent delivery vector for over the top fight scenes, its outlandishness made it more of a niche franchise than it could have been. The new take on the plot and characters will almost certainly appeal to a large swath of the potential audiences.
Making a new, grittier MK film has other consequences as well. Film adapted games occasionally produce a sort of recursive loop, where the game mutates into a movie, then the movie mutates into a game OF the movie. It was this meta-adaptation that gave us Street Fighter The Movie The Game and… Let’s just say the general consensus is that we wish it hadn’t. The movie had nothing to offer the game, besides Raul Julia, who died before he could reprise his role. (Death was probably the better career move.) Mortal Kombat’s new cinematic direction, on the other hand, has the potential to drastically alter the MK game series. The realistic turn would probably produce a game closer to Tekken or Soul Caliber than traditional Mortal Kombat installments. Martial arts would be emphasized, and mystic attacks like fireballs and freeze blasts would be eliminated, or at least scaled back and delivered via more conventional means. Fatalities would shift from the surreal to the grotesque. These aren’t necessarily bad things. Like the proposed film, such a game has the potential to be deeply entertaining and innovative while still honoring the spirit of the series. As always, this is dependent on the makers doing it right.
Naturally, none of this matters if Warner Brothers doesn’t decide to make the film, but this, at least, you and I can help with. Honestly, the Internet’s giddy reaction to a proposed film with the name “Snakes on a Plane” is likely the only reason it made it to the screen. All we need to do is stir up the same level of frenzy for what I think we can all agree already has shown enormous potential. So tweet, blog, email, and comment as much as you can. Make a lot of noise, and maybe we’ll get a chance to see if the impossible can happen: A good game inspiring a good movie, and in turn inspiring a good game. This is the best opportunity we’ve seen to illustrate the potential of games and films to constructively collaborate, improving both in the process. The director deserves a shot, and I say we do our best to give it to him.