McGinnis: What’s the story behind the ‘Mortal Kombat’ YouTube video?Written by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
On June 9, a video was uploaded to YouTube under the name “Mortal Kombat: Rebirth.” No text of explanation accompanied the eight-minute short, only a recommendation to watch it in HD and turn up the computer volume.
“Mortal Kombat” has been a somewhat troubled franchise in recent years. In the early ’90s, “MK” was practically the center of the video game universe, beloved by fans and derided by detractors. Known for its cartoonishly over-the-top gore, the series inspired a critically panned but popular film, followed by a flop of a sequel.
The franchise proved amazingly successful until interest waned late in the decade. Since then, several attempted reboots and changes have yet to return “Mortal Kombat” to its earlier glory.
But this YouTube video was something new entirely. It depicted the universe of the video game in a way never seen before. The characters were presented semi-realistically, or as realistic as a man with blades implanted in his forearms can be. The setting and tone were gritty and downbeat. It felt like a darker version of Chris Nolan’s “Batman” universe, with elements of “Saw” thrown in for good measure. It even featured name actors like Michael Jai White and Jeri “Seven of Nine” Ryan.
Word about the video spread like wildfire. Excited fans wrote on Facebook and Twitter urging each other to check it out.
The end result: In just four days, the video gained more than 3 million views on YouTube, to say nothing of the scores of copies streaming on rival video sites.
With the popularity came the rampant speculation. What was it? A teaser for an upcoming movie? The announcement of a new game? Early scenes from a television series? As fans guessed at the origins of the short and what it meant, more excitement built around the “Mortal Kombat” franchise than had been seen in a decade or longer.
So, what is it? The answer, intriguingly, is none of the above.
The short is the brainchild of director Kevin Tancharoen, whose previous project was the recent remake of “Fame.”
Yes, believe it or not, the same man who made that film made “MK: Rebirth.” It isn’t hyping a game, a show, not even a movie — though if Tancharoen has his way, what you see will eventually become the latter.
The video, it turns out, is essentially an advanced movie pitch. Tancharoen has apparently wanted to make a movie based upon his take of “Mortal Kombat” for a while now, but has been frustrated in his efforts to get the project off the ground at Warner Bros. So, he took matters into his own hands and with a mere $7,500, made a film to show what his idea would look like. Actors like White signed up for what was essentially a labor of love.
The end result is pretty astonishing. For fans of the series, every mention of a beloved character’s name naturally brings a smile, but there is so much more to the piece than that. It is a captivating film, featuring a genuinely thrilling fight sequence and inventive visuals. I’ve yet to talk to a person who has not been excited about the prospective film this vision of the franchise would inspire.
If, indeed, the film ever comes to pass. That’s still the biggest question mark, and no word has come from Warner Bros. to resolve it.
No matter what happens, the phenomenon surrounding “MK: Rebirth” teaches us a few things. One, it reminds us that it can be possible to turn unlikely source material like a video game into an interesting and entertaining film project.
As Roger Ebert has long pointed out, it’s not what a film is about, but how it is about it.
And two, this film demonstrates all the ways the Internet has changed pop culture. Hollywood has long used the Web to hype existing projects. But this is different. Tancharoen wasn’t making headway with studio executives. So, he took his pitch directly to the fans themselves.
If the excitement demonstrated by the audience is any indication, his vision has already been embraced by millions.
And if that vision becomes reality, his success will hopefully illuminate a new path for other filmmakers to follow.
E-mail Jeff at PopGoesJeff@gmail.com.