Extras: Trailers, Interactive Player Cards, Comic Book
Video games, for all of their increasing complexity and entertainment, are notorious for producing really bad movie adaptations. Not bad as in good, but bad as in BAAAD. One of the few games-turned-movies that has managed to build a steady following and even achieve significant praise in some circles is the 1994 anime film, "Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie," based on the popular Capcom game. This is one game that I spent way too much time playing as a kid (and still do, on occasion), and I first came across this movie around that time, roughly 10 years ago. Though I always enjoyed it, I heard rumors of an uncut version that never reached the American market, and I was eager to see it. At long last, Manga Entertainment has made that version available for American audiences.
As films based on video games go, plot is mostly inconsequential. The basic premise surrounds a deadly gun and drug empire known as Shadowloo that is submitting street fighters to a form of mind control and turning them into machine-like terrorists. The only group that can thwart Shadowloo's efforts is the secret agency Interpol, who decide to team up with the American Air Force. Beyond that, there is little storyline or cohesiveness. The movie progresses in episodes involving 16 characters from the original game, though the main protagonists are Japanese martial artist Ryu, his American rival Ken Masters, U.S. Air Force pilot Guile, and Interpol secret agent Chun-Li. Through individual past experiences, they have prepared themselves to take down Shadowloo leader M. Bison…er, Vega (I'll explain later).
With such a large cast of characters, there is little room left for sufficient development, but I doubt that's what viewers are here for. What "Street Fighter" fans want is hardcore action, and that is exactly what they get. The film opens with a dimly lit, bloody fight between Ryu and champion fighter Sagat that perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the movie. The climactic showdown is a satisfactorily drawn-out sequence that simply will not let up. The animation is exceedingly well-done, depicting the characters as hulking piles of muscle that move at lightning speed. There is certainly much to savor here, and although this won't challenge your intelligence, this film stands head and shoulders above the live-action, Jean-Claude Van Damme fiasco.
Manga Entertainment's highly anticipated DVD edition is, alas, a major letdown. Two versions of the movie are included on one flipper disc. Side A contains an English-dubbed print from the U.K. that runs 99 minutes and displays several flaws. First of all, there was apparently no attempt to properly convert the transfer from PAL to NTSC format, resulting in horrible ghosting problems, most evident during the action scenes. Combing is visible in several frames, indicating that this was not progressively transferred, and there is also considerable chroma noise. The print looks washed out, with terrible black levels and muddy colors. The picture is also slightly off-centered, propped too much toward the left side of the screen. This version is also not entirely uncut, though it does contain footage previously unseen in this country.
This version is accompanied by Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 English tracks, though neither sounds particularly strong. Dialogue is a little muted, and the music is often overbearing. Worth noting about the English dub is that the original Japanese score has been entirely replaced by a heavy metal soundtrack, featuring Alice in Chains, KMFDM and Korn, among others. This is the version that I have been familiar with since the mid-1990s, as I would presume most American fans are, but compared to the Japanese score, the metal songs seem highly inappropriate. There are no subtitle options for this version.
On the DVD's B-side is the 101-minute Japanese version of the movie, fully uncut and uncensored as promised. This transfer was taken from an original Japanese master and far outweighs the English version. Colors are bold and rich, with excellent black levels and an overall darker image (perhaps a little too dark). This print, however, is not without its drawbacks, exhibiting a fair amount of grain and much more debris and damage marks than the flipside. Flaws notwithstanding, this is THE version that American fans have been waiting for, with all of the violence and gore intact, and yes, the full-length version of Chun-Li's infamous shower scene.
Audio on this version comes in Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 Japanese tracks, but they are only a slim improvement over their English counterparts. While dialogue and music are more balanced and clearer, they are missing that certain oomph one would expect from an action mix. Optional English subtitles are provided.
There is another difference between the two language dubs that should be pointed out. When the "Street Fighter" game was brought to America, three characters' names were switched around. In the original Japanese, the Shadowloo leader was named Vega, an American boxer was called Mike Bison (an obvious reference to Mike Tyson), and a Spanish fighter was named Balrog. In America, Vega was renamed M. Bison, Bison became Balrog, and Balrog became Vega. It's confusing, I know, but for those unfamiliar, this is why some of the names will differ between the English and Japanese tracks.
The film is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen on both sides of the disc, but neither is anamporphic. While I have no proof, it seems that both images may have been cropped significantly, as objects and people are often cut off on all four sides. This is indeed a disappointment, as the movie is a visual spectacle.
Each side contains one extra feature. A couple of U.K. trailers are included on side A, as well as additional trailers for other Manga releases. Side B includes interactive player cards, with basic information for 10 characters and links to respective action scenes in the movie. A short comic book is included as an insert, though it's not especially interesting. Overall, the special features are nothing to cheer about.
I really wanted to like this DVD, as I have been a fan of this movie for some time. I am glad to finally have the uncut version, and that alone is worth recommending this release to diehard fans, but it is not the souped-up special edition we have been waiting for. Incidentally, the package sports a PG-13 rating, but rest assured that this is not the censored PG-13 version that was released on VHS in the mid-90s. This is without a doubt the uncut edition that fans have been craving for too long. "Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie" is an action-packed feast for video gamers, and in spite of the setbacks of Manga's release, I would certainly encourage them to see this version over the censored one.