Two years ago, a mysterious trailer hit the web entitled Mortal Kombat: Rebirth. The video featured characters from the popular video game series Mortal Kombat in a real-world setting, stripping away the mysticism and dialling up the realism. The video became instantly popular, and fans everywhere wondered what the trailer was really for. It turns out, the video was actually a pitch by director Kevin Tancharoen, in hopes of securing funding for a feature length film. Tancharoen did not receive the backing he was looking for entirely, but he was able to secure funding to make a Web series called Mortal Kombat: Legacy. The series proved to be successful, as it was announced soon after that Warner Brothers would give Tancharoen their blessing after all, and a feature length MK movie was greenlit.
Bloody-Disgusting now reports to have a plot synopsis of the film, which has been written by Oren Uziel. According to their source, the film will follow a “lowly supermarket employee who discovers that he has out of this world powers and must decide between good and evil, even though the evil side has helped him discover his true potential and who he really is.” There’s no word as to whether this supermarket employee is named Liu Kang, and there haven’t been many other reports to corroborate this information. Still, this plot synopsis makes one wonder if a new protagonist is the best-case scenario for an MK film. The two live-action films from 1995 and 1997 were disappointing, to say the least, so what chance does a reboot have? I believe if Tancharoen takes the following steps, he can create not just a great MK film, but a legitimately good movie.
Don’t Marry the Video Game: I’ll just come right out and say it: Mortal Kombat is a nightmare for a screenwriter. Many characters rely on attacks that would seriously maim people in the real world (i.e. acid, a buzzsaw, spears, etc.). In the games, a player can have a knife shoved through his or her head and walk away from it with some minor health loss. Keeping this blasé approach to injuries in a film would certainly make it hard for any viewer to suspend disbelief enough to enjoy it. Also, the games play kind of fast and loose with the rules of the tournament. As a screenwriter, you need to make sure you have the rules set in place and clear to the audience. This way, if the rules are broken, the audience will actually worry about the consequences.
Choosing the Right Protagonist: Part two of the screenwriter’s nightmare is figuring out which character to follow. Even if you just use the first game as your basis, there are at least seven characters, each with his or her own extensive and unique storyline, and each one must be featured in the film in some way. You will never get away with making an MK film and not have it include Liu Kang, Raiden, Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Kano, Sonya Blade, and Johnny Cage. It’s like making a Superman film and not including Superman. This is why I feel having an original protagonist is the best course of action. No matter whom you choose of the existing characters, you will be disappointing some fans in some way. With a completely new character, you can still include all those existing characters but in supporting roles, which would allow all the fanboys to see their favorite characters but also allow the screenwriter to flex his creative muscle. Having the new character be a lowly supermarket worker implies a great deal of relatability, which gives me hope that Uziel has been working on a good story of self-discovery and not just blood and guts.
Don’t Stray Too Far from the Source: Allow me to contradict myself a little bit by saying that while you don’t want to become too attached to the games, you really shouldn’t move that far away from them. The tone of MK games is a huge reason they are successful. The games don’t pretend to be horror-themed and, in fact, are quite playful about their violence. Tancharoen’s pitch trailer was impressive but only as a short video. The tone of video was excessively dark and gritty, and it took itself really, really seriously. It removed all the fantasy from the games and turned Reptile into some guy with a skin disease and a taste for human flesh. That concept is cool, but how effective do you think that guy would be at fighting master assassins? It just doesn’t work for a feature film. Tancharoen needs to be absolutely certain that he balances fantasy with reality in a mildly believable way, and don’t forget to laugh once in a while!
In the Name of the Elder Gods, Make it R-Rated: I can’t stress this enough. Make this movie R-rated. Don’t tone down the violence to make the film accessible to a PG-13 audience. But do not misunderstand me: I do not want the screen to be dripping with blood, and I don’t want the film to be in 3D so Kano’s spleen can be thrown at my face. Tasteful R-rated violence can exist, if you put the effort into it. I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but tone down the fatalities a bit. It seems like blasphemy to say that MK should ever go soft on its fatalities, but if you get to be too over the top, your movie won’t be taken seriously by anyone but the fans. Don’t pander to the audience you expect; strive to capture the audience you don’t.
It’s a long shot, but this could actually work. Film adaptations of video games usually get too hung up on keeping their content similar to the source material, and that’s why they fail time after time. Filmmakers need to start learning to use video games as a general basis for a film and not look to just transfer the exact same material from one medium to the other. Be creative, and don’t be afraid to make the material your own.