-- Paul W.S. Anderson
Welcome to part two of Cinematical's interview with Paul W. S. Anderson (here's part one)! After 'Shopping' got the attention of Hollywood industry types, Anderson kicked off his mainstream career with 'Mortal Kombat.' From there, his path led him towards bigger and even more sci-fi/action-infused flicks like 'Event Horizon' and, of course, the 'Resident Evil' movies based on the Capcom video games. Here he discusses the evolution of the franchise, 3D versus 2D and his upcoming 3D action period piece, 'The Three Musketeers.'
The 'Resident Evil' movies are interesting because the first one started out as a more straight horror movie like the video games, but the other ones have a different feeling to them. What made you decide to take it in a more science fiction direction?
There have always been a lot of science fiction elements in the original source material, in the Resident Evil games themselves. Even though the first game is set in a decaying gothic mansion, you discover beneath the gothic mansion is this high-tech research laboratory where something terrible has gone wrong, so it was a kind of mix of the science fiction and the gothic elements that really interested me in 'Resident Evil.' Then the games again, they have a lot of kind of high-tech weaponry in them, they have a lot of bio-engineering in them; that's all part of the, these science-fiction ideas are all part of the DNA of the video game so we were kind of staying true to the game in one regard. The reason why the movies changed and continue to change is that I personally believe that if a franchise is to survive and to grow, you can't just deliver the same movie over and over again.
Looking at the history of the films, I'm very influenced by looking at the 'Alien' franchise, where James Cameron delivered a fantastic sequel to Ridley Scott's movie, and Ridley Scott's movie is really, you know, the original 'Alien' is like a flawless film. It's just a work of genius, and forced with following that up, I mean, how do you do that? If you try and make another kind of chamber piece horror movie, you just do the same but to lesser effect. What was genius with the 'Alien' franchise is the way the second movie built upon the first movie... It kept [the] horror, [the] scary elements, but then added more action and opened up the scope of the film and delivered a slightly different kind of film. It was still an alien movie, but it was a different kind of alien movie. And that worked incredibly successfully, and that's really what we've been trying to do all along with the 'Resident Evil' franchise is to kind of keep the original fan base but also keep them engaged and not feel like we're delivering the same kind of horror movie over and over and over again, because people get that tired of that.
I think that's one of the things that the game has done incredibly well. The game has mutated and evolved. It has a lot more action elements than it ever used to, and I think that the fact that, again, the game is changing keeps it fresh and keeps it exciting and keeps its audience, whereas there are other video game franchises that have kind of withered on the wine because they've been too repetitious. Tomb Raider would be a perfect example for me. I used to play those games, and then I got bored with them because it was the same stuff with a slightly different background, and I got bored of it. They never made the conceptual jumps that the 'Resident Evil' video game franchise made and that we have been trying to make with the movie franchise as well.
Video gamers can be a harsh fan base. Do you ever have the desire to make a 'Resident Evil' movie that really closely based on the game, if only to placate them?
I think it's hard to -- how do you make something that's so closely based on the game other than you kind of make an animated movie and you do exactly one of the games? And games are different [than] movies... A lot of it is gameplay and that kind of involvement in it. It's less about story and character and action sequences because you're actually part of it. You get different enjoyment out of a video game than you do out of a movie, and they're both fantastic but they're not the same medium. Sometimes they look like are, but you can't just take a video game and, word for word and set for set and blow by blow, transpose it into a movie. That would not be a good movie. There have been movies that have felt that they should do that.
The last reel of 'Doom' was entirely a first-person point of view; you couldn't get more like the game. It was like someone had filmed the game, right? It didn't make that a good movie, and it didn't make it a successful movie, and it didn't make it a successful franchise, either. We have deviated from the games but also tried to stay true to them as well, and I think, while some fans complain about that, there are plenty of fans who go watch the movies. I mean, the movies are very successful, and I think the proof of the pudding is in the eating, as they say, and the fact that we've made so many and people have paid to go see them and then bought the DVDs show that people really do enjoy them.
You're a proponent in 3D in media, as evidenced by your keynote last year at the 3D Gaming Summit. What have you learned over the years about what works and what doesn't, especially in terms of later transferring it to be watched on your home TV, and how are you using that knowledge for projects like 'The Three Musketeers?'
I think the difference between 3D and 2D is highly overrated. I think a good, entertaining movie that's shot in 3D can pretty much be transposed directly into 2D, and it really don't make much difference, to be honest. The last two movies I've made have been in 3D, but I've watched them both in 2D a lot, and I still think they work great as movies. You know, the action scenes in 'Resident Evil: Afterlife' are still super-cool and super-entertaining and the scary scenes are super-scary in 2D as well as in 3D. I think they're slightly better in 3D, but I don't think a movie that's shot as a movie falls apart when you make it 2D.
I think you have to shoot a 3D movie correctly for it to work in 3D. So I think you can take a 3D movie and make it 2D and it doesn't make it a bad movie. I think you can shoot a 2D movie and try and turn it into a 3D movie, and you absolutely can make a terrible movie, because I think most of these 3D conversions are awful. Because you need to shoot a movie in 3D and know that it's going to be 3D while you're shooting it and make a bunch of creative decisions that help support that. You can't just take a two-dimensional film and make a 3D film and expect it to be good. It's a flawed technology, the conversion process, and also it's like, it's not a two-way street. You can take a 3D movie and then just take the right eye and make it a 2D film and you don't lose any quality. You can't just create 3D out of 2D and expect it to stand up with something that's shot in 3D.
What about 'The Three Musketeers' and that era lends itself to 3D? How are you going to use it different than it's been used before?
Well, it's never really been used in a big period movie before. I mean, 3D has tended to be for animated films and for a lot of science fiction and horror movies. There hasn't really been a movie that's shot in big historic locations with thousands of extras and horses and sword fights, so it's going to be radically different and very, very exciting. And I think where 3D is very strong is that it's a very immersive medium, you know, and that's as a filmmaker what you really want to do, is you want to immerse your audience in a story, and especially if you want to immerse them in a world they've never been in before, whether it's the world of Pandora or whether it's the kind of underground lairs of the Umbrella Corporation in 'Resident Evil' or, indeed, 17th century Paris. I mean, it's an environment you've never been to before, and it's a strange and fascinating environment, and I think 3D really helps immerse the audience in it. So it's very exiting, and the movie looks unbelievably beautiful.
The footage that I saw on Entertainment Tonight of Orlando Bloom -- he looks really wild, and he mentions that he rides in an airship. Is there going to have a little bit of a steampunk influence?
A little bit. I think steampunk you kind of associate with more of a Victorian vibe, but it definitely has a kind of technological influence that is in advance of the period it's set in. But the story is exactly the story of 'The Three Musketeers.' You know, D'Artagnan wanting to go to Paris [to] become a musketeer, accidentally meeting The Three Musketeers, challenging them to a duel; the Richelieu plotting against the King and Queen by having the Queen's diamonds stolen; the Musketeers having to go to London to go and retrieve the diamonds and then return to Paris before the ball, which is being thrown where, you know, the Queen would be embarrassed because she doesn't have the jewelry -- that is the story of our movie, it's just we tell it in a slightly different way. There is this slightly technological aspect to it, but it's not -- airships? It's not that historically inaccurate, to be honest. We're only about a hundred years out.
Andrew Davies has written quite a few BBC movies and series. Does having him onboard lend a certain authenticity to it?
He's a very good adapter of historical material. I couldn't think of anyone better in the world. He's adapted so many literary masterpieces, and so many fun books, as well. His work is always fun, and that's the thing about it. The Three Musketeers was an entertainment, and I think because, especially in Europe, it's something that's taught in schools, I think people forget [Dumas] was writing an entertainment. It was serialized, and you had weekly cliffhangers, and in many ways, I think he would approve of what we've done with the story. We've just contemporized it a little bit.
Having a strong female lead seems like a theme throughout your work. Is that incidental? What as a storyteller and a director attracts you to putting strong women in action films front and center -- and they don't get killed off! They're sexy, but they're not super-sexualized. They're just going in there and kicking ass.
[laughs] Well, listen. I love action, and I love women, so it's a very easy combination I mean, what's not to like about it? It's also, it's a little different, especially when I started making movies, no one wanted to see action movies with a female lead. They just didn't. There was a kind of law that I heard kind of reiterated many times in Hollywood, is that female-led action movies don't work, and I think we've proved that wrong time and time again. Jean-Luc Godard once said, "All you need to make a great movie is a girl and a gun." And that's definitely my approach to filmmaking.
Speaking of Godard, do you see yourself as an auteur? Your movies are totally recognizable as your work in a way that's more obvious than with other blockbuster directors.
I've read a lot of copies of Cahiers du Cinéma or Sight and Sound in England, and I personally don't subscribe to the auteur theory. I mean, I think it's a bit silly to kind of boil down the efforts of 300 people and try and make it all the vision of one man or woman. It's just movies aren't made that way, and I think it's a silly way to regard films and a very elitist way to regard films. Movies are a team effort, and the director obviously has a huge control [over] that, but so does the writer, and sometimes they're the same person and sometimes they're not. I think I definitely have my interests as a filmmaker, though, and you see those reflected in the movies that I make. You know, I like strong female characters; quite often I like contained settings; I like long pullback shots.
I can't remember who it was now, probably some other French filmmaker, said that there two kinds of filmmakers -- there were farmers and miners. Farmers every year would grow different crop in their fields, right? One year it would be wheat; the next, it would be corn, so those are the directors that go make a comedy and they go make a drama and they go make a horror movie. And then there are those who are miners, and all they're interested in is gold. They just dig on one seam, and I guess I'm a miner. I have my bandwidth of interests, and I kind of stick with them. Also, I think if my movies sometimes... are recognizable as being my films, a lot of that is because I tend to work with a cadre of people again and again. The team we made 'Resident Evil' with, we then made 'The Three Musketeers' with. I work with the same DP a lot; I work with the same editor a lot, and I think it's the combination of all those people's work that can sometimes make things have a unity to them.
Will 'The Three Musketeers' feel sort of video game-y?
No, I think it's a swashbuckling, rollicking entertainment. And 'The Musketeers,' it's a classic story of friendship and of romance, and I think it will have a lot of aspects that people aren't that familiar with in my work. It's the first time I've worked from a screenplay that Andrew Davies has been involved in and he definitely has different interests than I do, and that's why we hired him to write the screenplay, was that Andrew, he's got a very kind of romantic edge to him, and that's very much what 'The Musketeers' is about. So it's definitely a modern movie, not in its setting, but in the way it's been shot. It's not your father's 'Three Musketeers,' that's for sure, so it's going to feel very different, but I think it's a little bit of a departure for me, which is exciting.