For decades now Mortal Kombat fans have been clamoring for an r-rated film adaptation that does the video game justice. That’s no easy feat and even producer Todd Garner is quick to admit that there’s no way the MPAA would allow the full brutality of those video games on movie screens across the country. Mortal Kombat is known for it’s brutality and unrelenting hand-to-hand combat, and the recent Red Band trailer for Simon McQuoid’s upcoming Mortal Kombat (2021) is a pretty clear indication that this is the live-action adaptation we’ve all been waiting for.
I recently had the opportunity to watch the opening 13 minutes of Mortal Kombat (2021) which features some rad fight choreography and a whole lot of blood. And that’s what we’re all here for, right? Heck, the trailer alone teases some pretty eye-opening gore including hearts ripped out of chests, arms torn off bodies, and blood that’s been frozen into a knife by Sub-Zero mid-fight!
Making a successful Mortal Kombat movie is no easy feat but director Simon McQuoid and producer Todd Garner know exactly what fans want to see. Earlier this week, I sat down with each of them individually to discuss re-imagining such an iconic property, the potential future benefits of bringing a fully established universe to the big screen, and (the one thing on every horror kid’s mind) all the gory details of the fatalities that await us in Mortal Kombat (2021).
“In the first 13 minutes someone gets speered in the head, someone gets turned to ice […] a guy gets cut in half, a guy gets stabbed in the heart, turned to dust, and disappears…” -Todd Garner
Jonathan Dehaan for Nightmare on Film Street: For people like myself who don’t know every little detail about the Mortal Kombat universe, what do you need to know about the franchise before sitting down to watch Mortal Kombat (2021).
Todd Garner: Nothing. That’s what we expected. I’ve been in the movie business for 30 years. I’ve made- as an executive or as a producer- a couple hundred movies. You don’t want to have to do a bunch of research to be entertained, you know? You want to just go to a movie and sit down and [say], ‘okay, I know nothing. Go’. That’s how we had to begin and that’s what’s driving some of the fans crazy because they’re so far ahead, they’re literally 30 years ahead of this movie going ‘We got it. Let’s go. Give me that character, that character-‘. There’s all this lore and I want to get to it all, I really do but where do you begin?
Even in Kevin Feige’s MCU, he didn’t start it. There was tons of movies- Spiderman and all kinds of other movies. There was Howard The Duck, by the way [laughs], so many other Marvel movies that weren’t cohesive and kind of all over the place and X-Men had a different tone than Spiderman. What it took was someone to kind of gather it all up say “Wait, wait, wait, wait. Let’s reset. Let’s start with Iron Man, and let’s move out’. And, you know, there’s Johnny Cage but we didn’t have a character that we felt strong enough to go ‘Here’s the Mortal Kombat movie’.
The thing about the Marvel Universe which is different than Mortal Kombat is the Marvel Universe can say ; Here’s an Iron Man movie, here’s a Thor movie-‘. Mortal Kombat is sort of known for all of the characters existing in the same universe, which is a bit of a challenge, so you couldn’t just start with ‘Here’s a Johnny Cage movie’. That’s not Mortal Kombat, that’s a Johnny Cage movie.
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So, in a weird way we had to kind of start with Avengers, and therefore you go, ‘How do you bring people in, like yourself who’s never seen it, how do you bring them in intelligently so that people aren’t going, “what the fuck? who is that? what’s happening? Oh, I’m so lost. Who is this guy? What’s going on?”. [Instead], you can just go ‘Come on in. We’re going to slowly show you the backstory, we’re going to show you these characters, we’re going to show you the rules, we’re going to show you the universe and by the end of it you’re going to see all of the stuff that we, as fans and filmmakers, believe was important to set-up this opportunity to now go make a Johnny Cage movie, a Kabal movie, a Liu Kang movie, a monks movie, whatever. Hopefully, we hit it. I mean, look- we’re filmmakers and this is a moment in time and we were the people charged to do it, and we hope we hit it on the head.
“In terms of the laws and restrictions of the Motion Picture Association of America, I feel like I’ve gone right up to the edge. In fact, I’ve probably peered over it.” -Todd Garner
NOFS: Do you have a favorite Mortal Kombat character that you would always play with when you were younger?
TG: Dude, I played in San Fernando in the Mortal Kombat [cabinet], and we put our quarters down and drink our Slurpees and just get high on sugar and, “Accckkkk I’m gonna play Scorpion!” you know? The first move you learn is leg sweep, leg sweep, leg sweep. Now, this game is so incredible in terms of the Fatalities and in terms of the lore and in terms of the way you can- like, we have the thing where Sub-Zero freezes his ice and he stabs you with it. There’s so much you can do and that was never in the ’95 game!
My favorite character- I was so jacked up when Kabal walked on set. I lost my mind, man. It was like seeing Elvis, it was crazy. I loved that character just because if I had to pick one Halloween, oh man, it’s so cool. So yeah, everybody has their favorites and, you know….death (hopefully) is only a portal [laughs]. Hopefully, we can make more of these and I can bring these suckers back to life.
NOFS: Is it safe to say that the Fatalities we’re going to see this Mortal Kombat are perfect for every horror-loving gorehound out there?
TG: I don’t know about every horror-loving gorehound. There are certain horror-loving gorehounds you’ll never be able to satisfy but, in terms of the laws and restrictions of the Motion Picture Association of America, I feel like I’ve gone right up to the edge. In fact, I’ve probably peered over it. You know, within the first 13 minutes of the movei you have romance, you have a love affair, you have a guy who loves his family and his wife dearly [but] in the first 13 minutes someone gets speered in the head, someone gets turned to ice, a bunch of people get stabbed, a guy gets cut in half, a guy gets stabbed in the heart, turned to dust, and disappears so I think the first 13 minutes gives you a little bit of a pastiche, an amuse-bouche (if you will) of what’s going to come [laughs].
A lot happens in those first 13 minutes and the next scene you see is a guy with his face smashed-in in an MMA fight. We’re trying to show you that, yeah, there’s going to be violence [but] Simon isn’t a guy that will just do violence for violence’ sake. He is an intelligent, thoughtful, incredibly great filmmaker who would never just say ‘Let’s just cut some people up for fun,’ it’s not Saw.
“The DNA of Mortal Kombat is sort of made up of several key ingredients and the brutality of it is one of those.” -Simon McQuaid
Simon McQuoid: The DNA of Mortal Kombat is sort of made up of several key ingredients and the brutality of it is one of those. What I liked about that was not because I’m a particularly- well, I’m a lover not a fighter, right?- but what I loved about it was that it allowed us to bring an authenticity to the way the fights were played out. It meant we didn’t have to hold things back and it made things feel more real, more powerful, and more brutal. Having that part of the ingredient mixed with a sort of elegance and cinematic scale and beauty- something that was really important to me- I really felt that those ingredients could mix well together.
My pursuit was to make something feel quite unique in that those things don’t tend to get housed together a lot. You know, Korena film, they do that sort of stuff really well. They’ll have brutal, violent, really nasty films but the characters are beautifully done, and the cinematography is beautiful, and it’s elegant, and it’s smart, and I’ve always loved that about the way they go about things. Not to say that this feels like a Korean film, it doesn’t at all, but I think that smart, cinematic, beautiful, and epic can fit with brutality. You just do them in an authentic way and I think it all adds up to a singular point of view, was my hope. And now that you guys have seen the first 12 minutes, that’s a pretty good example of what I’m talking about, and the mixture is within there. There are some things in there that no one has seen yet that you’re going to love [laughs]. One, in particular, I’d love to get a camera on your face, Jonathan, when you see it cause it’s gonna be great.
NOFS: Mortal Kombat was shot, largely, in Australia. Is that because it’s where you’re most comfortable or was it important to you that you bring such a large budget feature to your homeland?
SM: Well, both of those reasons are true but also it just made sense on lots of different levels. When you’re searching to work out where to make something you take into account a lot of different things. You’re looking at financial reasons, you’re looking at ease of production, you’re looking at what’s in the script and what locations we need and how we’re going to go about doing it, and how much is going to be on stage, and how much is real so all of those things come into play- and James Wan’s Australian, I’m Australian. We knew we hire some good Australians (Kano is Australian) so there was enough there for us to go ‘Alright, let’s really look into that’. We shot it specifically in South Australia and what was great about South Australia was that a lot of films have been shot there but nothing of this scale.
I wanted to do as much in-camera as possible and we certainly had sound stage space but a lot of it was all on location and we got to go to some amazing locations that have never really been shot in the way we’ve shot them before. Part of Outworld, we go there, and we shot that at the bottom of a disused coal mine in the middle of South Australia, so there were all these opportunities at rose pretty quickly. That forest that you’ve seen in the opening 12 minutes, forests like that are hard to come by in Australia so that was actually the trickiest thing, I thought, coming into this. We ticked enough boxes that Australia made sense but you never get everything. No place gives you everything, so I was like ‘Where are we going to find an old-growth pine forest in Australia?’ because there’s a lot of native forest but there’s not much pine forest. It’s not like Europe or North America but South Australia had it. They had this sort of old, wild forest with these beautiful granite boulders and so, because 100 years ago or whatever they’d started these pine plantations and this part of the pine forest had sort of gone a bit rouge and they’d just left and so it’s not all lined up.
It becomes a multi-needs process and that’s really how we came about shooting it there. It was great. Put to that, that you need a great crew [and] one of the best fight choreographers in the world happens to live in Adelaide, South Australia- Chan Griffin. I said to Chan, “You are the reason the film should have come here,” but it happened later that I found that out. Kyle Gardiner, the stunt coordinator and second unit director, he’s Australian, the DP’s Australian. It was a really lovely sort of global mix but a lot of really good Australian crew on it who all went off to do the new Thor movie and Elvis so I felt very lucky to work with some pretty amazing people.
“…more real, more powerful, and more brutal.” -Simon McQuaid
Mortal Kombat hits theatres across Canada on April 16 and will release in the United States in theaters and on HBO Max the same day. Be sure to let us know if you’re as excited to see those r-rated Fatalities as we are and, of course, tell us all about your favourite Mortal Kombat characters over on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and in the official Nightmare on Film Street Discord. Not a social media fan? Get more horror delivered straight to your inbox by joining the Neighbourhood Watch Newsletter.