Released by Turner Home Video and produced by Threshold Entertainment, "Mortal Kombat: The Journey Begins" is a very peculiar 90's relic made to cash in on the video-rental market craze and the ever-growing popularity of its video-game source material. And while I will admit it does have a certain nostalgic "so bad, it's kinda good" charm for me as a man who actually rented the the VHS tape repeatedly from my local Video King as a kid... it's a pretty sad and obvious gimmick release looking back. Essentially an overlong commercial made to promote a massive media franchise.
1995 was very much the year of "Mortal Kombat"- not only ushering in the release of the third game in the series, but also seeing the launch of various merchandise and tie-in media, including toys, a live-tour based on the games and the incredibly popular theatrical film adaptation by Paul W.S. Anderson. "The Journey Begins" is essentially a very crafty, trendy cash-in on the "Mortal Kombat" tidal-wave, produced as more of a marketing piece to promote the live-action feature than as an honest film in itself. Methodically pieced together to have as much appeal as possible without actually making much effort.
The short film (accompanied on the original tape by some other franchise-related content to pad out the runtime) is presented as an "official prequel" to the feature film adaptation. It revolves around the characters of Liu Kang, Sonya Blade and Johnny Cage as they board a rickety old ship on their way to the Mortal Kombat tournament, in addition to some early adventures they encounter upon arrival. On their adventure, they learn the fundamentals of the tournament and what it represents, and we are also given a bit of backstory on several characters that the film adaptation had to leave under- developed due to the plethora of characters featured. So we finally learn more about fan-favorites like Scorpion, Sub-Zero and even Goro.
Problem is... the short doesn't work as either a prequel or as a standalone project, and it's reliant solely on trendy, dated effects to snag a quick buck from kids. It's a wholly cynical affair. Despite billing itself as a "prequel" to the movie, it's barely connected. Characters not only look, sound and act differently... but even the story itself is radially altered at times. What makes it all the more confusing is that this is supposed to take place BEFORE the events of the film. (It's a "prequel" after all...) And yet, it portrays the same basic events we see in the first act of the movie. Huh? OK, so maybe it's better viewed as a sort-of child-friendly remake of the film? ...Nah! It doesn't work that way either, because it's only presenting part of the story and lacks resolution. (And that's not spoiling anything at all... they advertise it as such.) So on one hand... it fails as a prequel to the film. And on the other... it fails at being its own thing. Whose the target audience supposed to be, again? And I say that knowing I rented this at least two or three times growing up. But looking back... I can't see why I did that.
A big part of the push of this release was also the then cutting- edge combination of classic 2D and modern 3D animation techniques. This was one of the first releases to really push the fact that the filmmakers used motion-capture technology- a technique that allowed real-world movement from actors and stuntmen to be mapped directly onto digital models. And, yeah... I guess it was kinda cool seeing a direct-to- video movie that incorporated about 10 minutes or so of purely- digital fight scenes, in addition to mapping 2D hand-drawn characters over 3D backgrounds. But the problem is... that's all the short really has going for it. The writing is incredibly shoddy, and characters are all pretty unlikable as presented here, with some of the lamest gags thrown in for cheap laughs and a lot of really cringe-worthy moments. A far-cry from the excellent casting and good humor of the movie this is supposed to precede. So the animation is to the service of really sub-par material, and thus feels flat and pointless. There's also the fact that the film came out at a time where digital effects were still in their infancy, so within a year of release, they looked instantly dated.
This is also a very cheap experience despite the motion-capture and 3D animation technology being presented. Outside of sequences involving those techniques... the rest of the film looks rushed and patched together. Animations are often repeated 2, 3, 4 or more times. There's a lot of lazy padding with artificial slow-motion that's created by repeating frames and adding a vague blur-effect. And any time more than a few characters on screen, you'll notice that the majority of them won't move, or that they'll only move one at a time.
Still... for fans of the overall media franchise titan that is "Mortal Kombat", I'd say it's worth watching once for laughs. Don't get me wrong... "The Journey Begins" is terrible from any conceivable standpoint. But it's still a piece of "Mortal Kombat" history, and it's got a certain kitschy charm to it, especially if you grew up watching it or the other movies and cartoons associated with it. Also, it has the wonderful Jim Cummings providing several of the voices. So there's also that.
I give it a terrible but very mildly entertaining 2 out of 10.