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Mortal Kombat: Conquest - The Complete Series
In "Conquest", Mortal Kombat is a tournament in which a person from each realm is brought to the Outerworld, where they will participate in a one-on-one battle to determine the fate of their home. If they lose, Shao Kahn (Jeffrey Meek) is free to add their realm to his collection known as Outworld. For centuries, he has triumphed with a single warrior, Shang Tsung (Bruce Locke), who sucks the souls out of his opponents. Things change when young monk Kung Lao (Paolo Montalban) faces off against Shang, and with the teachings of Thunder God Raiden (also Meek) under his belt, is able to defeat him, keeping Earth from Shao Kahn's grasp. Although his victory is meant to ensure the safety of Earth for some time, Shang plots his revenge from inside Kahn's cobalt mines, while Kung discovers the pressures of being Mortal Kombat champion from Raiden. Teaming up with former thief Taja (Kristanna Loken) and former bodyguard Siro (Daniel Bernhardt), Kung Lao does his best against attackers from all sides, preparing for the day that Shang re-engages him in Mortal Kombat.
1998 was the tail end of an era when "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys" and "Xena: Warrior Princess" were on the air, and "Mortal Kombat" feels like a show fit into that model. Ostensibly, the program was aimed at teenagers, and I'm hard-pressed to think of any other TV shows for that demographic that are quite so involved. Of course, in 1998, the internet was still in its infancy, so the concept of shortening attention spans has risen astronomically since then, but this is 22 episodes of a program that was an hour long on television. Watching it in 2015 makes me feel like I'm watching multiple seasons, given how many new villains and threats the gang fights, yet this long-form, room-to-breathe format is at odds with the more episodic nature of the program. A show like "Falling Skies", for example, feels as if it's always moving an overall story forward in every episode with little per-episode arcs for structure. Here, the individual episode's stories take precedence, with the need to move the overall story forward relegated to the background. A viewer could watch the first five episodes and the last five episodes and still basically figure things out, because the show's not focused on the bigger picture.
I mentioned upfront that I'm not familiar with the video game, so I'm surprised at the sheer number of characters the viewer is expected to become acquainted with. Perhaps these are all cameos from the video game intended to blow fans' minds as recognition settles in, but I'd be lying if several of the supporting roles didn't start to blend together into a colorful paste. In the two-part pilot, Kung Lao is excommunicated from his village over a misunderstanding with one of the village's most prominent businessman over marrying his daughter. When the daughter betrays her father for Kung Lao, it'd be easy to expect she factors into the rest of the season, but she's dead within an episode or two, and the show moves onto another plot. Other than the core trio and the constant threat of Shang Tsung, the show doesn't develop very many threads over miniature arcs, and as a result, the program starts to feel tedious as it either treads water on the bigger story (most of the alternative villains that Kung Lao ends up fighting feel like time-wasters while the show builds up to a Shang Tsung showdown) or sets up further characters as temporary distractions instead of really developing them over the long haul (keep an eye out for future star Eva Mendes in one of these roles).
Other than the expansion of the game's mythology, the main draw here is probably the fight sequences, which are decent. Still, much like everything else on the program, they lose their luster when spread out over 970 minutes, with not enough opportunities for the characters to really shake it up in terms of how they fight. It's very rare that the show stages anything more than a one-on-one fight, and even when it does, it generally has one villain going against multiple heroes, and the villain engages the heroes one by one. Anyone in the mood for some thrilling stunt sequences is going to get more of a buzz off a given Jackie Chan movie than this. The show's primary asset is its core cast, which is decent across the board, particularly the main trio of Montalban, Loken and Bernhardt. The three characters don't have a really strong personality between the three of them, but create the illusion of one by sticking together. Meek is also clearly having fun as Raiden, popping in to play the goofy father figure when the occasion calls for it.
"Mortal Kombat: Conquest" arrives in a single-width four-disc case with a double flap tray housing all four discs. The cover art features the classic logo behind Kung Lao, with three of the villains floating above it. Inside the case, there is a leaflet with summaries of all the episodes, and the discs on which the episodes are housed.
The Video and Audio
Presented in 1.33:1 full frame video and Dolby Digital 2.0, this looks slightly above-average for a late-'90s show resurrected for DVD. There's a softness and sort of baked-in limit to how bright the image is (it's as if a gray filter is always present, unaffected by any tweaks to TV contrast / brightness), but the softness actually looks like film rather than old analog video. Detail is generally decent for the show's age, and colors appear generally lively (if not slightly boosted). Frankly, it's not hard to imagine the show actually suffering from a better transfer, one which would perhaps reveal too many of the program's budgetary limitations. The sound, comparatively, is a bit less interesting, with the stereo presentation generally lacking the dynamic range of a newer track (even one still presented in stereo). Fight scenes, dialogue scenes, and music all sound decidedly okay, without much pop or zest. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing are included.
On one hand, I don't think "Mortal Kombat: Conquest" has aged very well over the years (for reasons that have less to do with problems with the show and more with the way television has changed since 1998). In addition to the reasons outlined above, there is the occasional touch of sexism, although the show avoids it far more than one might expect for something aimed at teenage boys. On the other, this DVD feels less like an attempt to engage new fans as opposed to satisfy those who have probably been hoping to see a show they enjoyed released on home video. In that regard, it's decent. Any other Mortal Kombat fans: rent it first.
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