We got a sneak peek of the new Mortal Kombat movie
The challenge that came with the original adaptation of Mortal Kombat was two-fold: How does one transpose a fighting game without much in the way of a set narrative to film, and how does one convey the visuals using the kind of special effects available in 1995? The first Mortal Kombat film (and, to a lesser degree, its sequel Mortal Kombat: Annihilation) is considered a milestone in video game adaptation history, coming as it did at a time when few video games made the leap to the silver screen, but the resources and audience for a Mortal Kombat movie are much richer than they were 25 years ago.
That’s the context in which journalists were presented with the first 13 minutes of McQuoid’s Mortal Kombat, which hits theatres on April 21. The beginning of the film serves as a prologue set in feudal Japan which sets the table for immortal characters Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada) and Sub-Zero (Joe Haslim) to wage a pan-universal competition known as Mortal Kombat.
Director Simon McQuoid makes his feature debut with the film after a long and storied career directing advertisements — many of which were already in the world of videogames, including one very popular Playstation 3 ad that gathers several iconic characters from the gaming world.
“A couple of things about that helped the film,” says McQuoid. “The first was that it was a lot of characters, characters people really cared about. Not only did the fans care about the characters, but each of the gaming companies really cared about their characters. They were really nervous about it. I’m not sure why they did it. Someone at Sony must’ve been very convincing and convinced them to hand over their beloved characters and let them be brought to life — in many instances, for the first time. That was a really major part of that production, aside from the filmmaking part of it. How do we make sure that we revere and care for these characters? That really did help me.”
Nevertheless, McQuoid didn’t board the project as a die-hard fan of the Mortal Kombat franchise. “I never really played it that much,” he says. “I did a little bit, but I wouldn’t have called myself a Mortal Kombat fan. I wouldn’t even call myself a videogame fan, though I played a little bit — but that’s not why I came onto this project. I came onto this film because I could see that I could bring about these characters and this world in a really authentic, powerful, huge cinematic way. That’s why I did it, because there was so much potential. I had been through this experience before and I thought, ‘I know where the traps are’ — some of them. But then I discovered there were 20,000 other traps I hadn’t thought of.”
Producer Todd Garner, on the other hand, had more of a direct relationship with the game. “I’d played it as a kid growing up in the San Fernando Valley,” says Garner. “I’ve been doing this a long time. When you are tagged to come aboard to a project, you have all these expectations. And when I first heard about this project, I got very excited. I worked at Disney for 10 years, so we’re always looking for franchises, for IP, for worlds, you know? I worked for Michael Eisener and Jeffrey Katzenberg and so, Bob Iger, after I left, went out and bought a bunch of worlds! And I was like, ‘Oh, man, you’re so lucky! (laughs)
“When given the opportunity to come and start to build this world, I was so excited. I read the script and it was still kind of a throwback to the Kevin Tancharoen series — I love Kevin, and it was great for what it was, but it was a little limiting, it was a little interior. He made it for nothing. So I was a bit worried that it would be just that — we’d make one and that would be it. I was looking at things like John Wick, which created this whole thing with this hotel and everything.”
Building Mortal Kombat meant making some choices that may ruffle feathers in the fandom. One somewhat controversial aspect of the film is the absence of fan-favourite Johnny Cage.
“So we thought, ‘How do we do this? How do we create this universe?’” says Garner. “We went back to the drawing board. What if you didn’t know anything about this world? What if you weren’t one of the crazy fans who screams at me on Twitter all day and you didn’t know every single thing about every single character? I also realized that, unlike Marvel, you play these characters. You become Scorpion, you become Sub-Zero. There was no way we were gonna satisfy everybody. You look at the characters and you think, ‘We’re going to have to make some hard choices.’ So we decided to go back to the beginning and show people the emotional story. Let’s get people invested in these characters. But once you have that, where do you go from there? At the end of the day, we realized we had no guide — we had no narrator. A lot of people were like ‘Johnny Cage! Johnny Cage!’ And, look, he’s a very intense guy, very egotistical. He’s wackadoodle, love him to death, but he’s not the guy! He’s not the narrator. He’s not the guy who’s gonna sit passively. So we made a choice that, godwilling, we’ll be able to give him his due.”
Mortal Kombat, of course, is not the most grounded or true-to-life source material, with its supernatural characters and gravity-defying fight moves. But for McQuoid, it was necessary to build upon a tangible, authentic foundation.
“There’s a few different types of authenticity going on in the film,” says McQuoid. “I talk about authenticity simply because I want people to believe. I want the experience to be powerful. How do you make it powerful? You make a world that you believe. That’s kind of the ultimate theory behind it. Scorpion’s costume is an example of authenticity. I wanted it to come from ancient Japan. We did a lot of work looking through historical Japanese armor and weapons and all sorts of stuff. I wanted it to be from that period, to be born out of that. (…) There’s a real level of detail and respect and reverence given to a lot of this armor and the way the costumes were in that time. I wanted to bring that authentic, historical idea across to the way these characters were. There was this woman called Blitz, who was the propmaster. She was unbelievable. She just went on to Matrix 4. She’s one of the best people in the world! The amount of weapons she built and r&d’d was just extraordinary… just wall-to-wall. Incredible, incredible woman.”
The question, of course, is whether or not there are already plans for sequels drawn up.
“Alex, I’m a 55-year-old independent movie producer,” says Garner. “Yes! I gotta pay for all this stuff! I want 100 of ‘em! (laughs) My dream, if someone told me to wave a magic wand, I would love to sit in a room with the writers, the executives and Simon and say, ‘Okay, we have all the characters now. Let’s do what Kevin did — let’s map out the universe and let’s map out the phases.’ I watch WandaVision, man, like religion. Just to see what these guys are doing with that universe. Like I said, I used to work at that company — not Marvel, but Disney — what Bob Iger, Kevin and everyone else have done with that, it’s beautiful.” ■Mortal Kombat opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, April 21. Watch the PG and R-rated versions of the trailer here.
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