THE TEAM BEHIND THE Mortal Kombat reboot had only one condition: they must be allowed to show a guy ripping the heart out of another guy’s chest. “We wanted to push the [blood, gore and fatalities] right to the limit,” says director Simon McQuoid. “Obviously, there’s a point where the film becomes unreleasable if you push it too far, and that would be a very unwise return on investment for the studio, but from day one it’s been, ‘Okay, we’re doing this and we’re going to do it properly’.”
“It was the very first thing I asked the studio,” agrees producer Todd Garner. “I said ‘Is this going to be R-rated?’ and they said, ‘There’s no other way’. And that was that. That was the first thing they agreed to when I signed on. Because you know, it’s in the title! It’s not Guy Who Got Kinda Bruised Kombat. This is Mortal Kombat!”
Released first in arcades in 1992 and then on home consoles in 1993, Mortal Kombat was once considered one of the most controversial video games ever made. Like Street Fighter, it was a 2D fighting game set against the backdrop of a fantastical martial arts tournament. Unlike Street Fighter, though, it caused media outrage thanks to its penchant for absurdly ultraviolent finishing moves called fatalities, in which a player could – among many other things – tear another player’s head off, their spinal cord still attached.
This led to US Congress hearings on videogame violence and its “corruption of society”. It led to the establishment of the Entertainment Software Ratings Board in the US, and a whole new ratings system for videogames. It led to Mortal Kombat becoming a multimillion-dollar franchise, spawning numerous games, two live-action movies, two TV shows and even a hit album.
And yet, for many hardcore Mortal Kombat fans, the hope of an authentically violent and brutal movie adaptation has proved elusive. Paul Anderson’s 1995 version, for instance, is praised for being one of the better entries into videogame movie canon. But it was also criticised at the time for toning down the game’s gore for a more child-friendly US PG-13/UK 15 rating. 1997 sequel Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, meanwhile, was merely criticised for being one of the worst movies ever made.
There have however been rumblings of an 18-rated Mortal Kombat reboot for years. Filmmaker Kevin Tancharoen, creator of the gritty web-series Mortal Kombat: Legacy, was touted to direct a movie that would primarily be set in a city. But instead the job passed to Garner and McQuoid, who were brought in by New Line Cinema (a subsidiary of Warner Bros.) after the success of 2015 game Mortal Kombat X.
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