"If we start from a place that could be termed as minimalist, but it's real, with real rocks, and real punches, and no green screen, and dust, and we put the actors in that with the dust kicking up and there's no wires..."
Producer Todd Garner is explaining to us how 'Mortal Kombat' made itself as real as possible, and he's not holding back on any of it. He's being just as realistic about it too.
"Being out there in the desert made my job a pain in the ass," Garner grumbles with a good-natured laugh, "because I've got to move 500 people every couple of days and I'm half a world away from my family for five months outta the year. But, as you see in the movie, it's a real world, with uneven terrain, with trees and water, and it makes it feel real, and that's what makes it."
Garner's IMDb profile boasts some well-known and deeply varied movies. He was a producer on both 'Paul Blart: Mall Cop' movies, and the executive producer of '13 Going On 30'. The profile lists eight movies in pre-production, including a documentary on prolific songwriter Diane Warren and a remake of the John Landis horror classic 'An American Werewolf in London'. He's on Zoom in his office, holding court with a group of assembled journalists a few months before the release of 'Mortal Kombat'.
"In stripping away the crutch of effects - first of all, we couldn't afford it - it gave this movie a grounded, visceral experience to it and (Simon McQuoid) achieved that, and this was his first movie and he wanted to do everything in camera. And, look, I worked on 'Black Hawk Down' and Ridley Scott was the same way. Everything was practical in that movie; there are some directors who want to be there, who want to see it happen in front of them, and don't want to rely on a ton of wires."
Simon McQuoid, the director of 'Mortal Kombat', is another veteran of the industry, though this is his first movie. Nevertheless, you've probably seen his work countless times. Like Ridley Scott, McQuoid cut his teeth in the world of advertising. He directed commercials for Volkswagen, Nissan, Smithwicks, Samsung, and countless others. More pointedly, he directed one of the most well-known commercials for a game in 'Halo 3'. Shot like a documentary, it depicts veterans who fought alongside Master Chief in a museum of weapons used in battle. It's done with a quiet intensity, and key to all this, it's leaden with stark realism.
"I wanted it to feel quite beautiful," McQuoid explains, "because at the core of this was respecting the material, and making this feel like a version of something that has often seen as being trivial or cheese. I wanted to add a bit of substance to it." McQuoid, who speaks with a soft Australian accent, freely admits that 'Mortal Kombat', though it's set in a fantastical world of ninjas, sorcerers, outrageous fatalities, the production was surprisingly low-tech. "We shot in a coal mine for one major scene, and we had the VFX team try and enhance it a little bit, we experimented with some matte paintings, and I said it just looks like we filmed on a green screen. It doesn't look real anymore, so I just got rid of it all. It was just counterproductive to what I was trying to achieve."
Indeed, McQuoid points out that the characters in 'Mortal Kombat' themselves carry enough special effects with them. Sub-Zero, who is the movie's big bad, beats people to death with ice swords he produces from thin air. Liu Kang and Kung Lao produce balls of energy from their hands. Kano can shoot a laser beam out of his eye.
"What I found doing stuff in camera, like icicles were practical, when the VFX company saw that, they got the spirit of it. They could draw straight from reality. It then comes together nicely and you're not sure when one ends and the other begins. Sometimes, it's OK to be like, this is fun and weird and you can go nuts, but it's grounded and dark. You can't get too fruity with it."
'Mortal Kombat' is available to own on digital download from June 28th and available on 4K, Blu-Ray and DVD from July 2nd.