Violence, characters, video game adaptations… Director Simon McQuoid and producer Todd Garner evoke the new version of “Mortal Kombat”, visible since May 12 in France.
The fight can finally begin in France! 26 years after the version signed Paul WS Anderson, the Mortal Kombat franchise is relaunched in the cinema with a reboot directed by Simon McQuoid. Alongside producer Todd Garner, the director looks back on this new adaptation, available since May 12 for digital purchase in France.
A video output which, for the moment, does not exclude a possible passage in the rooms even if the line-up promises to be already loaded when they will reopen. But the most impatient can already discover this feature film in which the greatest champions of the Earth are called to fight the enemies of the Other World. With a lot of blood and fatalities.
Is the film accessible to the public who know nothing about the universe?
Simon McQuoid: Of course ! We’ve spent a lot of time making sure we don’t just talk to the fans, and making sure that we serve the fans as well as the newbies. We are really looking to expand the universe, so that more people appreciate it. But there was no question of changing what we had to adapt it to a new audience: it was done a lot in video game films, which were failures.
Rather, we’ve sought to stay true to Mortal Kombat’s DNA within a story we’ve made accessible. Because we are addressing a very large audience. But it’s already very varied among fans of the game, because everyone has their favorite characters. I often told our teams that viewers would come to see the film because it contains a character they love, whether it is Jax. [Mehcad Brooks] or Sonya [Jessica McNamee]… So when it came to bringing them to life, their costume, I knew that people were looking forward to it and that we shouldn’t miss each other. (laughs)
To give you an example: In the opening scene that looks back at the story of Scorpion and Sub-Zero, I sought to present the characters in a way that respects fans, while ensuring that newbies could understand what is going on and the conflict between them. Everyone should be able to connect with what we are saying.
The opening sequence of “Mortal Kombat”:
It’s hard to make a good movie out of a video game. Were you aware of this, and what was important to you in order to successfully overcome this obstacle?
Todd Garner: For me it’s not so much a movie from a video game as it is a martial arts movie. And there are a lot of good ones out there, so it’s easier to find role models to follow in this registry. I think the main problem with video game adaptations is that they don’t focus on the characters enough. We paid attention to that.
The film opens with a scene in which no one speaks English. Everything is subtitled, there is romance, death, tragedy… A lot of things happen in the first thirteen minutes so we wanted to show respect to the characters and the game world right from the start. , but in an atmosphere more reminiscent of an Akira Kurosawa film than a video game. So that the audience understands that we don’t immerse them in crazy action where everyone kills everyone, but that we take our time to install the characters, the story and the conflicts.
So what were your influences among martial arts films?
Todd Garner: Oh my God ! There are so many. The first Kurosawa. Tiger and dragon. The Raid. Even the John Wicks. Dead Pool. Matrix. Kill Bill. We watched everything. But it’s also my job. I’ve been making films for thirty years, and it’s my job to know these things, to be on the same wavelength as Simon and his team when it comes to photography and fight choreography.
But you had to be careful not to copy all these films and to create something that has never been seen before, to avoid the feeling of déjà vu from the public. Achieving differentiation was one of our challenges.
It’s not so much a video game movie as it is a martial arts movie
What do you think makes “Mortal Kombat” games so cinematic?
Simon McQuoid: I think it’s the characters. The great popularity of Mortal Kombat stems from these characters that have been developed over the years and decades. Especially since there have been more and more, which made the story more complex without losing our heart and what Mortal Kombat represents. The games found the basic ingredients that make their DNA early on, and then they built on those foundations.
So much so that when I first received the script, I realized that these ingredients could spawn a massive and epic cinematic experience. I like the richness of the characters but also the brutality, the sense of humor. And I think all of this data put together can work in the cinema.
Who do you think is the most complex character in the film?
Todd Garner: They all are globally. The most tragic is obviously Hanzo Hasashi [alias Scorpion, joué par Hiroyuki Sanada, ndlr], because his clan is eliminated and he is sent to hell where he prepares his revenge. But Bi-Han [Sub-Zero, incarné par Joe Taslim, ndlr] is a complex character as well. He is someone who believes in his mission to eliminate members of other clans on behalf of the Lin Kuei, so that they are the strongest.
But he’s also a cold ninja who produces ice cream, and I imagine it’s not an easy life (laughs) It is for this reason that the story begins with them. Because their relationship is complex, so we wanted to make sure we had enough time to deal with it properly.
Johnny Cage’s absence worries some fans, who fear he lacks the humor he brings. How will the film compensate for this?
Todd Garner: Johnny Cage is a great character. It is important and funny. And he deserves to be treated that way. But looking at the story we wanted to tell, making sure we lay a solid foundation without losing the newbies, we realized that Johnny Cage and Kano [Josh Lawson] had close personalities. And we didn’t want them to step on each other’s toes. But we have big plans for Johnny Cage. He’s not someone you can throw in the middle of a group hoping he shines.
The first games and the 1995 film emphasized the tournament aspect, which here seems to have been replaced by conflicts between the characters. Will there still be room for a tournament?
Todd Garner: We didn’t want to make a movie that was just a tournament, where everyone took turns landing in an arena and starting to fight. I think it wouldn’t have worked, and it was too video game.
So we had to figure out how to get audiences, fans as well as those who don’t know the universe, interested in these stories, so that when the characters fight you know who they are and what conflicts they are. there is between them. These scenes had to have meaning, and that wouldn’t be the case with a simple tournament.
The 1995 film trailer:
Did James Wan’s presence in production add a side of “horror” to the fight scenes?
Simon McQuoid: We had a few discussions, but he was not too present. He let me do what I wanted, without giving me any stylistic directions. But I wanted there to be variations in the fights, to be sure not to tire the spectators, fans included. Each fight had to have a reason for being and allow to build a character and the story. Tell something. Whether it’s in the big story or, in the case of the opening scene, something that will find its culmination later.
I wouldn’t go so far as to talk about horror, because that’s not really my thing. I don’t even watch horror movies. But I tried to bring a little suspense and drama, in order to surprise the spectators. I was looking more for a sensation for the public than a particular register.
The fighting promises to be particularly bloody. How far did you get on set before digital effects took over?
Simon McQuoid: We have sought to respect the soul of the game by offering brutal combat. But what appealed to me and attracted me to this project was not the idea of violence for violence. It is more the conflicts that guide them and make them authentic. I tried to be as realistic as possible while having a cinematic approach, so that it became the tone of the film.
Fatalities were thus not added out of need for a shocking moment or a particular character action. They had to serve the story and the protagonists, while remaining faithful to the games we adapt. That we can include them in the story and not make them executions. It is for this reason that I wanted everything to correspond to the same stylistic approach.
We shot dead people on set, but a lot of stuff was done thanks to the special effects. Thanks in particular to a team based in Melbourne and to whom we owe Goro and a passage that nobody has seen yet but which is quite brutal. What they did on Goro in pre-production was so successful that it encouraged us to call on them more than I thought when committing to the project. The level of realism of what they created is amazing, and allowed us to make adjustments on the violence, so as not to be rated NC-17 (prohibited for under 17 in the United States), as it it’s easy to cross that line.
The main character, Cole Young, was created for the purposes of the film, and he’s sparked a lot of theories among fans. What do you think of all that has been written about him?
Simon McQuoid: I obviously can’t say much about it. But it didn’t seem controversial to us to introduce a new character, since games have regularly done so. In addition, Cole [Lewis Tan] represents the eyes of the public, who discover the universe with him. It is a window to this world. Even for the fans, vis-à-vis the story.
And that was an ingredient for us that allowed us not to fall into the same trap as other video game films. As you obviously know, the narration is not the same in a film and in a game, in terms of structure in particular. And we figured it would help us beat that curse – at least in the idea. Without revealing too much, know that Cole has a reason for being in the story, beyond being a new character.
Interview by Maximilien Pierrette in Paris on March 16, 2021