Movie Trailer

Released: October 1994

Director: Roland Emmerich

Run Time: 121 Minutes(Theatrical), 130 Minutes(Extended Cut)

Rated PG-13

Kurt Russell: Colonel Jack O’Neill
James Spader: Dr. Daniel Jackson
Jaye Davidson: Ra
Erik Avari: Kasuf
Mili Avital: Sha’uri
French Stewart: Ferretti
Alexis Cruz: Skaara
Djimon Hondsou: Horus

In one of my previous reviews, I mentioned that the 90s had some fantastic movies.  Movies like Alien 3, Independence Day, Terminator 2, Jurassic Park, and Men In Black among many, many others.  Independence Day was directed by Roland Emmerich who would go onto do more disaster movies including the ill-advised Godzilla 1998 debacle, as well The Day After Tomorrow, and 2012.  So, disaster movies are the name of his game.  He’s great at destroying the world, if nothing else.  But before he did Independence Day, he directed two of the most interesting action and science fiction films to date: Universal Soldier and Stargate.  Universal Soldier had an interesting premise in which dead soldiers could be revived into super-soldiers.  The film was an absolute blast with Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren leading the way.  But the film that really came in under the radar and got people’s attention was Stargate.  Released to audiences in October 1994, Stargate would go on to be one of the most unique and interesting movies of the decade.  In a year that had some of the biggest movies of the decade, including a Star Trek movie and Disney’s The Lion KingStargate basically came out of nowhere and surprised a lot of people.  The film got mixed reviews, but that didn’t stop people from talking about it.  Personally, I loved the hell out of it.

The film begins in 1928, in which an archaeologist has discovered an interesting find on the Gaza plateau: A mysterious ring-shaped object.  66 years later, Dr. Daniel Jackson is essentially laughed out of a lecture for his theories that the Pharaohs of the 14th Dynasty didn’t build the Great Pyramids.  Offered a chance to prove his correct by a mysterious old woman, Dr. Jackson is brought to a secret military installation where he begins to translate the hieroglyphs on an ancient cover stone.  After successfully determining that some of the symbols on the stone were actually star constellations and basically a map of some sort, Jackson gets to see the Stargate.  Discovering a seventh symbol that the original team had been trying to locate, they succeed in activating the Stargate.  After sending a probe through, it turns out the gate leads to planet on the other side of the known universe.  A decision is made to send a team through the gate to discover what’s on the other side.  Leading the team is Colonel Jack O’Neill, a tough-as-nails Air Force Special Forces soldier with an awesome flat-top.  Dr. Jackson joins them so he can decipher the symbols on the other gate.  After going through the gate, Jackson reveals that he can’t get them back home because he needs an order of alignment of symbols to open the Stargate.  This leads to O’Neill, Jackson, and a couple of other soldiers heading out to the desert to search for some traces of civilization, which they find in people that speak ancient Egyptian.  They learn that these people are descendants of people who were nabbed from Earth thousands of years before by a tyrannical being known as Ra.

I have to say that this story is one of the most interesting and unique I’ve ever seen in a science fiction movie before.  I like it because they take actual Egyptian history and give it a science fiction twist.  It shouldn’t work, but it does.  While a majority of the characters aren’t really given much of a back-story, Dr. Jackson and Colonel O’Neill are very compelling.  Jackson gets laughed out of a lecture only to find that he’s been evicted from his apartment and basically homeless.  O’Neill is suffering from the tragic death of his son who accidentally shot himself, and left O’Neill despondent until he was reactivated by the Air Force.  These stories help give us an insight into the characters and how they deal with certain situations.  The rest of the military outfit aren’t as compelling.  Ferretti is pretty irritating.  I guess that comes from the fact that I don’t particularly like French Stewart as an actor.  Things get pretty amusing when they encounter the primitive tribe that’s mining a bizarre mineral.  Leading the tribe is Kasuf and his son, Skaara.  As you would expect from a situation with a serious language barrier, things get a little bizarre.  The humor works and the writing is pretty exceptional.  The way that the characters interact with each other feels very genuine, especially when Jackson is learning to speak their language, and develops a relationship with Sha’uri, Kasuf’s daughter.  Our villain is the Egyptian Sun God, Ra, who is actually an alien in human form.  This is an interesting take on Egyptian history and mythology.  If the ancient civilizations witnessed aliens landing among us, they would certainly be regarded as gods, so having the Egyptian Gods as aliens makes an unusual kind of sense, especially when you consider how the pyramids were built and you look at their particular alignment.  That’s not entirely far-fetched.  A portal that leads across the universe?  Because, you know, science fiction.  Anyways, Ra is a tyrant and he has enslaved the population of the desert planet, making him the Big Bad.

The acting is actually really good.  Kurt Russell brings the bravado and machismo that is required of an armed soldier.  He also has that awesome flat-top that says, “Don’t f**k with me!”  James Spader is one of the most underrated and intense actors that I’ve ever seen.  He gives the role an awkardness that you would expect from somebody who is almost out of his element.  As the film goes on, the character starts falling in love with Sha’uri and the tribe as a general, as if he’s found what he’s been looking for.  That leads to him being to step and help defend the people against Ra and his cronies.  French Stewart’s character is irritating and I was hoping he would die.  Painfully.  Erik Avari, who plays, Kasuf, brings humility and caution to a character that’s trying to look out for his own people, and is understandably cautious when these strangers show up speaking a strange language.  These tribesmen are innocent because they know nothing of warfare, or why they do what they do, because writing has been outlawed by Ra.  All the actors do a really good job at making their characters….human.  Jaye Davidson plays Ra, and aside from the glowing eyes bit is particularly menacing, even though he looks pretty feminine at times.  Davidson played a transgender person in The Crying Game and was nominated for an Academy Award for it, but after Stargate, he dropped off the map, and pretty much hasn’t been seen since.  Ra was a character that he could have overplayed hilariously, but he really gives the character a very elegant and menacing demeanor that made the character memorable.

One of the things that really stand out in the film are the costume designs.  Look at Ra’s outfit and mask as well his henchmen, and it’s extraordinarily detailed.  The masks for Horus and Anubis are amazing and pretty freaky.  And this where some special effects come in, when these guys retract their helmets revealing the actual people underneath.  Likewise, the sets are absolutely phenomenal.  Most of the film was filmed on location in Arizona and California.  The huge dunes that you see in the film are in Yuma, Arizona.  There were a lot of sets that were built out in the desert.  The pyramid entrance that the soldiers come out of, was an actual set with the pyramid and moons that were put in post-production.  The interior of Ra’s pyramid ship is extraordinary.  It’s a combination of advanced technology and ancient Egyptian architecture.  It’s really quite spectacular.  As far as special effects go, outside of some CG, most of it’s done either in front of the camera or miniatures.  This is one of my favorite aspects of Stargate, it doesn’t really heavily on visual effects to sell the story or action.  This is a very human-driven story.  Don’t get me wrong, the visual effects that are there are spectacular given the film’s budget.  The opening of the Stargate is awesome as well when Jackson steps through it.  That is one of the most spectacular sequences in the film.  The action is intense especially towards the end.  O’Neill’s fist-fight with Anubis is awesome.  It’s one of the best fist-fights I’ve seen in a movie and it ends with an awesome one-liner.

As of this writing, there are two different versions of the film available.  There’s a Blu-Ray release that has an  extended cut which is 9 minutes longer than the theatrical release and has a very different opening to the film.  There are also extended scenes.  While it’s cool to see the extra stuff, it’s superfluous in the long run.  There’s not enough extra stuff put in to recommend it over the theatrical version.  I have an opinion on extended versions of movies, but that is a post for a different day.  In fact, that may be my next post.  Stargate, regardless of the version you choose to watch is an extraordinary film.  It’s well written, acted, and has some of the most incredible sequences I’ve seen.  The music by David Arnold is iconic in the same way that the music from Star Wars is iconic.  It gives the film it’s epic flair, emotion and grand sense of adventure beyond the stars.  It’s wonderful.  If you can find it, I definitely recommend picking up the soundtrack.  It’s not very often that single film can spawn an entire universe.  Star Trek did it first, but it started out as a TV series first.  Star Wars did it, as did Alien.  Stargate, which could have benefitted from maybe one more movie sequel, actually ended up getting several TV series.  SG-1 saw Richard Dean Anderson in the role of Jack O’Neill, and while he was different, he did a great job with it.  Atlantis itself was a spin-off of SG-1.  Universe was a spin-off of Atlantis.  While the original series lasted 10 seasons, Atlantis saw only five, and Universe only lasted two.  From what I’ve been reading, they plan on redoing Stargate from the ground-up as a trilogy of films that bypass the TV shows.  I’m morbidly curious.  Overall, I can’t recommend Stargate enough.  It’s an incredible action-adventure sci-fi romp that is thrilling, funny and spectacular all at once.  With some minor quibbles, I’m giving Stargate a 9.5/10.  It’s an awesome movie, and I wish Roland Emmerich would return to this kind of film-making instead of finding different ways to destroy the world.

Independence Day

Released: July 4, 1996

Director: Roland Emmerich

Run Time: 145 minutes

Rated PG-13

Will Smith: Captain Steven Hiller
Bill Pullman: President Thomas J. Whitmore
Jeff Goldblum: David Levinson
Robert Loggia: General Grey
Vivica A. Fox: Jasmine
Margaret Colin: Constance Spano
Mary McDonnell: Marilyn Whitmore
Randy Quaid: Russell Casse
Adam Baldwin: Major Mitchell
Brent Spiner: Dr. Brakish Okun
Judd Hirsch: Julius Levinson

Aliens have been a main staple of science fiction films for the better part of six decades.  Movies such as The Day The Earth Stood Still, War of the Worlds(the original), and Invasion of the Saucer Men just to name a few.  These are some of the classic films in the genre.  While we have seen a lot of them over the past 30 years, we’ve only really seen a resurgence in the genre in the past decade.  With movies like Skyline, Battle: Los Angeles, Pacific Rim, and Edge of Tomorrow, the genre has garnered more interest.  Obviously, the quality of the films I mentioned have ranged from excellent, like The War of the Worlds, to absolute crap films like Skyline.  I did enjoy Skyline for the slick visuals, but that movie was not very good.  Some are beyond reproach like the original The Day The Earth Stood Still.  During the 90s, we saw a lot of excellent movies from every genre in the world.  But there was one blockbuster film that came out in 1996 which became one of the biggest movies of the decade.  The title of that movie is the same as the day it was released: Independence Day.

The film opens at S.E.T.I(Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence, it’s a real organization, look it up), where one of the workers begins to hear an unusual signal that seems to be originating from the moon.  The military assumes that it might be a meteor when one of the officers says its slowing down.  After President Whitmore is informed of the situation, the object splits into 12 or more separate pieces, that are smaller than the main object, but over 15 miles in width themselves.  After witnessing some mysterious cloud formations, the actual alien vessels emerge over several major cities across the globe.  A cable repairman in New York, David Levinson, stumbles on a signal that is actually a countdown.  Rushing with his father Julius to Washington DC, he informs the President that the visitors are about to attack.  After the White House is evacuated, mostly, the ships begin their assault, firing a main beam of energy which sends a wall of fire in every direction, destroying everything in its blast radius.  Afterwards, the people of Earth decide to fight back.

Story-wise, this is nothing new under the sun.  In fact, it’s pretty similar to the main plot of War of the Worlds.  More to the point, there’s a lot of stuff in Independence Day that feels very familiar to people who seen those older sci-fi movies.  The Day The Earth Stood Still, is directly referenced in one of the scenes in the movie.  It was awesome.  In many ways, Independence Day feels pretty old-fashioned.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  The film knows exactly what it is, and goes full throttle.  It takes a little while for things to get going, but when they do, it’s spectacular.  During the 90s, we got a lot of high-profile movies that really pushed the envelope in terms of visual effects.  Terminator 2 pushed what we could with CGI when Cameron created the T-1000, Jurassic Park showed how realistic dinosaurs can be portrayed using both CGI and practical effects.  Independence Day doesn’t actually push the envelope in terms of visual effects, but what it does do is use a combination of several different techniques, including CG, miniatures, and actual props.  It’s extraordinarily well done.  When the cities are blown all to hell, that is one of the big action pieces of the film.  It was incredible.  But then, we also have the incredible air battles.  So, the film not only takes its cues from the older sci-fi classics, it borrows a bit from Star Wars, and it feels that way during the air combat scenes.  The film is incredibly fast-paced as well.

All the visual effects in the world can’t prop up a movie by itself, so you have to actors who are willing to act against a green-screen and use their imaginations, and most of the actors in this film are fantastic.  This is Will Smith’s show, through and through.  While Bad Boys put Smith on the map, it was Independence Day that really made him a superstar.  Jeff Goldblum is fantastic as David Levinson.  His deadpan delivery is absolutely hilarious at times.  Bill Pullman plays the President and is pretty reliable as a fighter pilot-turned-politician.  Judd Hirsch almost steals the show as Julius Levinson.  A lot of what works here is the interactions between the characters, and it’s fun to watch.  Getting to see Brent Spiner play an actual human being is fantastic.  He’s really good at it.  Randy Quaid plays the resident drunken pilot.  It’s Randy Quaid, so not much can be said for that.  Vivica A. Fox plays Steven Hiller’s stripper wife-to-be.  Margaret Colin plays David Levinson’s ex-wife that left him for her career.  The music by David Arnold helps give the film its life.  It’s very grand and bombastic, and when the good guys start winning, we get some really great stuff.  Some of it comes across as a little over-the-top, but considering the nature of the movie, it’s to be expected.

Yeah, there’s a lot of patriotic stuff flying around with awesomely cheesy pep talks and otherwise terrible dialogue.  Will Smith can take some of the worst dialogue in the movie and make it hilarious, he’s good at that.  As I said before, this is a movie that knows what it is.  It proudly wears all those cliches on its sleeves.  Roland Emmerich has definitely crafted a pretty memorable action film that really doesn’t overstay its welcome unlike some of his later movies….(I’m looking at you 2012).  He had previously directed the magnificent Stargateand the awesome action flick, Universal Soldier.  He definitely knows his way around grand scale action sequences and explosions.  For a movie that’s nearly 20 years old, Independence Day holds up surprisingly well.  Sure, it’s cheesy, but it’s the kind of cheese that doesn’t get moldy.  Make no mistake, this is mindless entertainment, and it would be very wise to shut your brain off for 2.5 hours.

One of the reasons why I wrote this, is because Roland Emmerich is going to be doing another 2 Independence Day films.  Only a handful of cast-members have been announced.  Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, and Vivica A. Fox are the only members of the original film confirmed to be on board at this point.  Truth be told, I’m not entirely sure how Emmerich’s going to pull this off, because the first movie ended pretty definitely.  Yeah, there were books that took place right after.  I’ve read them, and they weren’t really that good.  So, Emmerich needs to have something up his sleeve to make this work.  I had heard rumors that they were going to attempt to make at least one sequel, and those rumors had persisted over the years.  It seems now that the project is gaining steam, with a projected release date sometime in July of 2016.  I’ve honestly enjoyed Emmerich’s work over the years, so I’m kind of interested where he goes from here.  That being said, I’m giving Independence Day a solid 9/10.  Yeah, it’s cliched, but damn if it ain’t fun.

The Hobbit

An Unexpected Journey: December 2012
The Desolation of Smaug: December 2013
The Battle of the Five Armies: December 2014

Director: Peter Jackson

Rated PG-13

Run Time: 474 Minutes

Ian McKellan: Gandalf
Martin Freeman: Bilbo Baggins
Richard Armitage: Thorin Oakinshield
Ken Stott: Balin
Graham McTavish: Dwalin
Aidan Turner: Kili
Dean O’Gorman: Fili
Hugo Weaving: Elrond
Cate Blanchett: Galadriel
Christopher Lee: Saruman
Lee Pace: Thranduil
Orlando Bloom: Legolas
Evangeline Lilly: Tauriel
Benedict Cumberbatch: Smaug/Necromancer
Luke Evans: Bard

When The Lord of the Rings movies were announced people were very excited, especially the folks who had read the books by J.R.R Tolkien.  The first film in the series: The Fellowship of the Ring launched in December of 2001, with The Two Towers in 2002, and The Return of the King in 2003.  The Lord of the Rings Trilogy became one of the most successful movie trilogies to date with the third film winning 4 Academy Awards.  I haven’t heard of any other fantasy film that has achieved that kind of success, and it’s mostly because of Peter Jackson who directed the films.  All the movies were filmed together.  It was a massive risk by New Line Cinema, but it clearly payed off in the end.  So, with The Lord of the Rings done, what about the story that preceded them: The Hobbit?  As luck would have it, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were two stories that the Tolkien estate allowed to be made into movies.  For a while it was assumed that Guillermo Del Toro would be helming The Hobbit films with Peter Jackson producing, but circumstances changed switching the roles.  Honestly, while I have a lot of respect for Guillermo Del Toro, Peter Jackson was probably the better choice for The Hobbit.  Why?  Because he has experience with fantasy epics, obviously.  The initial reporting was the The Hobbit was going to be split into two movies.  That made sense.  There’s a lot of stuff in there that probably wouldn’t have fit into one movie.  Now, remember: Each of the LOTR films was based on each book, but they had to remove and change certain elements so they could be released for a reasonable run-time: 3 hours.  But they left the real important stuff in so they wouldn’t split each book into two movies.  The Hobbit I could see with two movies.  Turns out that someone decided it would be best to split the book into THREE movies.  I’ll get into that later.

The Hobbit begins with Bilbo Baggins sitting on his bench when he’s approached by a mysterious stranger with a pointy hat: Gandalf The Grey.  After being offered the chance to partake in an adventure, Bilbo refuses.  That night his house is basically invaded by a company of 13 dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield.  These dwarves are on a quest to reclaim their homeland of Erebor from the clutches of the evil dragon Smaug who had laid waste to the region years before.  While initially refusing to join them on their quest, Bilbo eventually catches up to them and agrees to help them retake their home.  Along the way, the group encounters trolls, orcs, elves and the aforementioned dragon.  I supposed I could have reviewed each Hobbit movie individually, but these three movies are still ONE story and it just makes more sense for me to review The Hobbit films as such.  The first film introduces us to our main characters, namely Gandalf and Bilbo.  The introduction for the dwarves is pretty amusing.  While it takes a little time to really get going, the film takes us from The Shire to The Misty Mountains with some incredible visual effects including the Rock Giants which is absolutely crazy.  The encounter with the goblins is also pretty cool, which leads us to one of the most pivotal moments in both trilogies: Bilbo’s encounter with Gollum.  The film also features a cool battle with orcs riding wargs with the lead orc, Azog being Thorin’s arch-enemy.  The second film begins where the first one ends, with the merry band of dwarves, Hobbit and Wizard making their way to the Lonely Mountain.  On the way, they encounter a man who can change into a bear.  He lets them borrow some horses which they ride to the edge of Mirkwood, a sickly forest that stretches for miles.  Gandalf leaves the group because he fears that there is something at an abandoned Elven fortress that needs investigating.  Making their way through the forest, they encounter spiders, and are rescued by Bilbo.  Afterwards they are captured by elves.  This second movie introduces us to Legolas, Tauriel, Bard and Smaug himself.  Legolas doesn’t actually appear in the book, and Tauriel is a completely new character.  The second film seems to be a little more focused.  It’s certainly has more action in it, especially when the dwarves reach Erebor and encounter the dragon.  This leads to one of the most spectacular scenes in the trilogy, and….wait, what?  The movie’s over?!  Damn you, Peter Jackson!

The third and final Hobbit movie picks right up where Desolation of Smaug decided leave its audiences hanging.  After the dwarves battle Smaug, he flies to Lake Town and burns it to the ground, or water.  During the ensuing chaos, Bard successfully kills Smaug and the movie can finally begin.  After retaking Erebor, Thorin begins to act strangely.  Word has spread of Smaug’s destruction, so The Lonely Mountain’s treasure is basically up for grabs at this point.  Gandalf has been taken prisoner by a mysterious Necromancer and Thranduil has come to mountain to claim what is his.  Thing is, the elves aren’t the only army that have come for the mountain.  Dwarves, orcs, and goblins would soon descend upon the mountain.  The Battle of the Five Armies is about as straight-forward as you can get.  We get to see Elrond, Saruman and Galadriel rescue Gandalf and battle what would become the ringwraiths.  It’s actually pretty cool to see these guys in action.  We also get to see how truly powerful Galadriel really is when she banishes Sauron back to Mordor.  This also leads up to the main confrontation in the story, which is the name of the movie.  I have to tell you, WOW!  That is something to see.  This is the most action-packed of the three movies.  The last hour of the film is straight action.  It’s epic and absolutely thrilling.

All is not sunshine and rainbows in the land of Middle-Earth however.  Believe it or not, the addition of Legolas and Tauriel aren’t an issue for me.  In fact, I’m glad they’re a part of it, even if they aren’t in the book.  Some of the issues I have with The Hobbit films stems from the fact that there are three movies instead of just two.  Two movies, I could understand, but three?  That’s really stretching it, especially when you consider that each film is not even 3 hours long.  The Battle of the Five Armies is the shortest of the bunch at 144 minutes.  When I heard that they were going to make three movies, I had to question how they were going to do that.  Basically, they lifted several elements from the appendices from the Return of the King book.  A lot of these elements were present in all three films.  They wanted to tie in with LOTR, so they made Sauron a behind-the-scenes villain of sorts, much like he was in LOTR.  One of the elements lifted from the appendices was Sauron’s presence at Dol Goldur, where had set up shop so he could search for the One Ring.  It was certainly interesting.  But that was never a part of The Hobbit.  There was also a plot line where Sauron had sent his armies to aquire the Lonely Mountain, because to the north was the ancient kingdom of Angmar.  I don’t seem to recall that Sauron had ever wanted to bring Angmar back from the dead, even though the kingdom’s leader, was the greatest of the 9 ringwraiths.  Some of these elements make sense, but others really shouldn’t be here.  The romantic triangle between Tauriel, Legolas and Kili was awkward at best.  It just seemed really out of place.  It all ties in with the LOTR Trilogy, but I don’t think it needed to.  The Hobbit was a simple adventure story.

Stretching The Hobbit over three movies means they had to pad certain parts just so they could flow properly, and that’s just not how you really want to tell a story.  That being said,  The Hobbit films are still a fantastic set of films set in Middle-Earth.  The characters are unique and interesting, and there’s plenty of humor.  It’s also visually exciting as the movies are filmed in New Zealand.  So, we have some very pretty pictures.  The acting is spot on, and it’s definitely awesome to see Orlando Bloom as Legolas.  He was always fantastic in that role.  Evangeline Lilly is stunning as Tauriel, but she can certainly hold her own with the rest of them.  Lee Pace is interesting as Thranduil, who came to The Lonely Mountain for his own reasons, but ends up allying with the men and dwarves.  Luke Evans really gets into his role as Bard The Bowman.  One of the main reasons why The Lord of the Rings trilogy resonated with me was because of the interactions between the characters.  You got to know them quite well, and by the end of the story you really didn’t want to see them go.  The same kind of sentimentality is applied here.  These are characters you get to know and love over the course of three movies, so when the final battle hits, the stakes are incredibly high.  The only character I really didn’t care about was Albirt.  He was a weasel, and I didn’t care for him one bit.

At the end of the day, The Hobbit is nothing more than a simple adventure story, but it’s one that has a lot of heart behind it with some amazing action sequences and great acting.  Yeah, I think they could have done with a little less CG, but Smaug was brilliant.  Sadly, not everyone feels the way I do about these movies, and honestly, I don’t think they stand up as well as The Lord of the Rings.  But these are not bad movies.  On the contrary, I love them.  However, there are issues which stem from the fact that The Hobbit wasn’t adapted THAT well.  It was only ONE book.  My final verdict on The Hobbit films is a respectable 8/10.  While certain issues bring these movies down a bit, the final package is still very impressive and I definitely recommend them.



Mortal Kombat: Legacy

Mortal Kombat Legacy Season 1

Released: 2011(9 Episodes)

Director: Kevin Tancharoen

Total Run Time: 104 Minutes

Rated: TV-MA

Michael Jai White: Major Jackson “Jax” Briggs
Jeri Ryan: Sonya Blade
Matt Mullins: Johnny Cage
Ian Anthony Dale: Hanzo Hasashi/Scorpion
Kevan Ohtsji: Bi Han/Sub-Zero
Darren Shahlavi: Kano
Samantha Tjhia: Kitana
Jolene Tran: Mileena
Shane Warren Jones: Cyrax
Peter Shinkoda: Sektor
Johnson Phan: Shang Tsung
Ryan Robbins: Raiden

The general rule of thumb that people should follow when making movies based on video games is don’t do it.  Why?  I can count on one hand how many movies based on games are any good.  There are dozens of those movies out there.  Some of the worst ones include Super Mario Bros, Street Fighter, Postal, Alone in the Dark, and Mortal Kombat: Annihilation among others.  So, why do these movies fail so spectacularly?  Simply put, it’s the complete lack of respect for the source material and the fans of that material.  Infamous director Uwe Boll is notorious for butchering movies based on video games.  His most notorious effort was House of the Dead in which he had the audacity to splice in actual game footage with the movie.  It was hilariously awful.  The only video game movies I consider to be ANY good are the first Mortal Kombat film and Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children.  The first Mortal Kombat movie was pretty fun with some pretty decent acting and solid fight sequences.  Granted it wasn’t very bloody, like the game was, but it still managed to adhere to the spirit of the game and be somewhat enjoyable.  The sequel?  Not so much.

The video game of Mortal Kombat was first released to arcades back in 1992.  It was a smash hit, featuring digitally captured actors in a 2D tournament style fighting game.  Fans world-wide ate it up.  It was also one of the most controversial games released because it featured some pretty bloody fatalities at the time.  One of the fatalities had a blue-clad ninja named Sub-Zero ripping off his opponent’s head with the spine attached.  Needless to say, parents got up in arms and contacted their local legislators to deal with the game.  Parents really hated it.  So much so, that when the game was released to the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and the Sega Genesis, the makers of the game were forced to censor the violence.  The most violent fatalities were taken out completely in the SNES version, while the Genesis version was sneaky.  See, when you entered a certain code on the Genesis version of the game, it gave you all the fatalities in all their bloody glory.  Mortal Kombat eventually led to the creation of the ESRB(Entertainment Software Rating Board).  Did I play the game?  Oh, hell yes I did.  I loved every second of it.  It was great.  I still play the original game from time to time.  The game’s popularity led to multiple sequels and spin offs as well as short lived animated shows and a bizarre live-action show that lasted 13 episodes.  Back in 2010, there was a nifty little fan-fiction called Mortal Kombat: Rebirth that was released to the internet.  The Internet went wild because of Kevin Tancharoen’s spectacular little video.  In fact, it got the attention of Warner Bros. who had bought New Line Cinema and owned the film rights to Mortal Kombat.  While a feature film wasn’t necessarily in the cards, they allowed Kevin to create a “mini” tv show called Mortal Kombat: Legacy.

The first season of Mortal Kombat: Legacy featured 9 episodes running between 8 and 12 minutes per episode.  This first season showed the origins of some of the characters that were featured in the video game.  The first two episodes feature Jackson Briggs and Sonya Blade as they take on the Black Dragon crime cartel led by Kano.  After Sonya is captured by Kano, Jax leads a team to get her back and bring down Kano.  These episodes featured some really fantastic gun play and awesome hand-to-hand combat.  It allowed Jax and Kano to go head to head.  There is some very strong fight choreography featured here.  The violence is bloody and brutal and earns its TV-MA rating.  THIS is how you do a live-action Mortal Kombat film.  You have to make it violent, respect the source material, and Kevin Tancharoen does exactly that.  The third episode of the series features Johnny Cage as his career is on a downward spiral and he’s trying to get back on top.  This is a very interesting look at the character who is basically mocked and disrespected at every turn, despite his martial arts talents.  The action is pretty satisfying, especially when Cage loses it and beats the hell out of his manager and several security guards.  You see these execs just basically throw cage under the bus and you really feel that he deserves a second chance but doesn’t get it.  Not by these guys anyway.

The next two episodes are fairly unique in that they combine live-action footage with some pretty interesting animation.  Featuring Kitana and Mileena, these episodes explore the realm of Edenia as it’s being invaded by Outworld emperor Shao Kahn.  Adopting Kitana as his own daughter and cloning her in secret to create Mileena, the two are trained to become lethal assassins.  During one of their missions, Kitana discovers that Shao Kahn is actually not her real father.  Episode 6 focuses on Raiden.  This episode is pretty gritty as its a kind of an alternate take on Raiden.  He ends up at a mental hospital trying to convince people that he is the God of Thunder.  I like this episode because it showcases a fairly gritty kind of reality, but there are also hints through the show that Raiden may actually be who he says he is.  This might actually be my favorite episode of the bunch, because it’s so unusual, even for Mortal Kombat.  The next two episodes follow the famous yellow and blue-clad ninjas from the games: Scorpion and Sub-Zero.  Scorpion is revealed as a husband and father who is a member of a legendary clan on ninjas.  Sub-Zero is a member of a rival clan called the Lin Kuei.  Deceived into thinking that the Shogun has arrived early, Scorpion goes to meet him, not realizing that his family is in serious jeopardy.  Sure enough, the two foes engage in a spectacular fight when Scorpion realizes that his family is defenseless.  There was some backstory in some the earlier games about Scorpion having a family, but it was never explored until now.  It was very interesting.  The final episode of the season feature two Lin Kuei warriors being drafted in a cybernetics program in which they are transformed into robotic assassins.  This episode has some pretty decent CGI for what it is, but the whole origin thing just feels somewhat tacky.  It’s got some great choreography and stunt-work, though.

Overall, the whole package is surprisingly very well made.  They managed to get Michael Jai White who also played Jax in the Rebirth video.  Jeri Ryan from Star Trek: Voyager manages to impress as Sonya Blade.  She’s gorgeous, but she can also handle herself very well.  The acting seems a little over-the-top all across the board, but then again, Mortal Kombat has always been over-the-top, especially in its use of violence.  The fact that Warner Bros. allowed Kevin Tancharoen to make a very gritty and brutal series shows that they still have an interest in making a possible R-rated movie.  In fact, Mortal Kombat: Legacy did so well on the Internet, that a second was commissioned.  What really made Mortal Kombat: Legacy as successful as it is, was the fact that respect was paid to the source material and it shows in nearly every aspect of the show.  It doesn’t pull any punches and the fights are hard-hitting, thanks to fight choreographer Larnell Stovall.  The reception to the show has been mostly positive.  In fact, Season 3 is currently in production as is a new film, apparently.  One major contributing factor to the success of Mortal Kombat: Legacy is the fact that you can watch it for free on YouTube.  Both seasons, actually.  This kind of format seems to be the best kind of format for live-action entertainment based on video games.  Street Fighter has a similarly styled show on YouTube as well called Assassin’s Fist.  Apparently, that one is also really good.  So, it’s obvious that one can adapt a video game into a live-action feature, be it a tv show or movie and it can be really good.  Overall, I really dug Mortal Kombat: Legacy.  It’s a lot of fun, it’s spectacular and it doesn’t overstay its welcome.  If you’re really curious about the short film that started all this, you can check it out here: Mortal Kombat: Rebirth.  Be warned, some of it is really violent and a little gory, but if you’re a fan of Mortal Kombat, you will definitely appreciate it.  I give Mortal Kombat: Legacy a 9.5/10.  It’s fantastic.