The Mortal Kombat Effect: How A Private Fan Video Turned into a High Profile Web Series

By Anthony Marcusa Comment

Last June, a mysterious but heavily produced video surfaced on YouTube, capturing the attention of masses of gamers and action movie fans. It was eight minutes of heaven for admirers of the renowned video game franchise Mortal Kombat, as it seemed to be a preview of a rejuvenated story that failed to translate to cinemas years ago. While it was later learned that this was not part of a secret movie, fans have gotten something that may be far more entertaining.

Darren Shahlavi as Kano, and Jeri Ryan as Sonya Blade in the Web Series, Mortal Kombat: Legacy

Initial dismay that the short video was not in fact a trailer or scene from a forthcoming movie has been displaced with excitement of what was revealed to be a web serial. The early video was just a preview of the gritty texture and grisly violence to come. The trailer alludes to such legendary characters as Reptile, Scorpion, Sub-Zero, and Johnny Cage, with Jeri Ryan (of Star Trek: Voyager fame) as Sonya Blade and Michael Jai White (a martial arts maven with an extensive acting record) as Jackson ‘Jax’ Briggs. Mortal Kombat: Rebirth, as the video became known, was viewed over 10 million times and evolved into the series Mortal Kombat: Legacy.

The series is the vision of Kevin Tancharoen, a young director from Los Angeles who is, of course, a big fan of the franchise. The initial video, however, was meant as more of pet project and not intended to be viewed by the public. According to the New York Times, he showed it to Warner Brothers in hopes of persuading them to realize a full length feature film. As it tends to happen, though, the video was not kept private for long online. Still, Tancharoen and fans may yet see a motion picture, but in the meantime, it is an officially-sanctioned serial.

A particularly amazing feat of this enterprise is the speed by which it has been turned around, as well as the amount of money used to make it all happen. Tancharoen and company shot over the nine parts over one month back in February, and an editing company in Vancouver, Goldtooth Creative, finished up post-production in short work. The total cost of the project is estimated to be around $2 million, an incredibly small price for what is an action-heavy, stylized 90-minute movie with a cast of more than 70, including stars such as Ryan and White.

While ‘Legacy’ will certainly be a boost for the franchise and may in fact lead to a movie (after one week, the first episode has nearly 6 million views), the series also has far-reaching effects in the web video world. ‘Legacy,’ has already proved not only what can be done in a short time on a tight budget with dedicated people, but also that there is an audience out there that will embrace whatever media is telling a story. If it hasn’t happened already, then the retelling of this violent and supernatural game is proving the realism and legitimacy of the web videos.

Michael Jai White is Jax in the dark reimagining of the famed video game franchise

While using YouTube to showcase new and original content is not new, the length and level of action that ‘Legacy’ is featuring is rather unparalleled. Only a few years ago were big name actors and actresses taking their talents to the web—most recently Billy Crystal et alia did a Funny or Die piece, making the rounds on the late night talks shows to promote it. ‘Legacy’ has taken the next step, or maybe several, with a movie-style story that is not based around comedy, but action and peril.

The serial can be found online at the Machinima YouTube Page. A new episode will premiere every Tuesday, with episodes one and two already available. If you missed the ‘Rebirth’ trailer, check it out here. Fans may not get the motion picture that they initially hoped for, but the vision of a dark and dystopic Mortal Kombat world seen a video last year has been fulfilled this Spring.