The ‘Mortal Kombat’ Video Goes Too Far – Mixing Realism with Fantasy
This week a new viral video took the movie and video-game blogging worlds by storm, as the director of last year’s terrible remake Fame unleashed a multimillion-dollar proof of concept on the world, hoping to drum up fan support to get Warner Bros. behind him and his team to direct a full-on Mortal Kombat remake. The result was astoundingly terrible — a cheesy, over-the-top send-up that I hope to God is tongue-in-cheek, because if it isn’t, well, let’s just say it’s no Dark Knight. More interesting than its wooden acting and worse dialog, however, is the fact that one of the short film’s subplots involves describing a character, Reptile, as suffering from Harlequin syndrome, a very real and very deadly disease that kills children in infancy. During the exposition for this character, we are treated to a number of still photos that eagle eyed Cinematical writer John Gholson noticed were actual photos of suffering infant children.
You see where this is going? I’m not going to go off on director Kevin Tancharoen, because I think Gholson says it all quite eloquently. What I’m curious about is where we, the audience, should draw the line at this sort of behavior. In the ’70s, it was common for horror filmmakers, especially foreign-financed genre pictures, to include brutal animal mutilations to cement the reality of their films. But we put a stop to that nonsense pretty quickly (no animals were harmed in the making of this editorial).
A few years ago, MGM shelved a terrible film titled The Poughkeepsie Tapes, which the studio had already started advertising, because of a number of bad reviews streaming out of a single screening (after a rather successful Tribeca Film Festival premiere, where it was acquired). The movie itself was quite awful, but worse than the film’s quality was its content. The Poughkeepsie Tapes is a mockumentary, presenting itself to be authentic (to capture the whole Blair Witch vibe) but uses audiences’ weak memories of a very real series of murders in Poughkeepsie, New York, between 1996 and 1998 to convince them that they had heard about this story somewhere on the news. The result? Google “Poughkeepsie Murders.” One result from the front page is an actual news story; the rest is movie promotion…for a movie rotting on a shelf somewhere.
When is it okay for studios to cash in on very real death and suffering to get a cheap emotion out of an audience? Is it all right for us to enjoy being repulsed by images of dying infants? Is it acceptable to set your sleazy horror movie in the time and place of a real series of brutal murders to scare people? If it really happened is it fair game? And what about a film like Remember Me, which pulls out the mother of all emotional cheap shots in the final moments in order to give an ending to a film that otherwise didn’t have one? Are the studios justified in using real tragedy to drop coin in their coffers?
As a writer, I find this to be the lowest form of storytelling. When you have to derive emotional power from someone else’s pain, you’ve failed. One of the things we love about the movies is that, for better or for worse, it’s not real. It’s all a show. And no matter what happens to the people on screen, they get to get up, wash off the fake blood and go home. Showing pictures or muddying the memory of those that didn’t? It’s as low as it gets.