RES: Once he made Mortal Kombat (1995), he became associated with video games, which was just considered trash.
DK: No more serious consideration necessary, the guy makes video game movies. And heís still making cheesy video game moviesÖ
RES: But excellent ones!
DK: Yeah. And heís seen a lot of movies. Who he reminds me of is Fritz Lang. Iím pretty sure I asked him about that, and he said, ďoh yeah, love him.Ē
RES: The connection with Lang is with his use of geometric figures?
DK: All the underground stuff, worlds within worlds, imagined conspiracies. In particular the space used in Resident Evil: Retribution (2012), the geometry and symmetry.
RES: Also similar is the puppet-master, a Mabuse-like figure.
K: He never gives you the sense that heís faking it. The stunt choreography is really good. He clearly has a personal interest in that stuff. Getting to Budd Boetticher Ė the way people fight each other in Paul Anderson movies, itís that kind of psych-out thing that Boetticher does. Through dialogue, through intimidation. Itís like a chess game, theyíre anticipating each otherís moves. The fun is in seeing the twist at the end Ė how Milla Jovovich really out-thought the other person.
RES: Like in the opening of Retribution, Milla grabs a chain and lock, and works a number of variations on how she uses it in attacks. I did read that interview you did with him, and I remember he mentioned that he comes from a family of coal miners, explaining his fascination with claustrophobic spaces.
DK: Even when there are exteriors in his films, they turn out to be interiors. [In Retribution what looks like Tokyo, NYC and Moscow turn out to be an underground testing facility built by the evil Umbrella Corporation.]
RES: Each entry in the Resident Evil series has a very specific sense of place. The first was an underground labyrinth, the second an urban hellscape, the third a version of the West, and the fourth is the Western coast of the U.S. In Retribution, Anderson devises a plot where he can jump between these differing spaces.
RES: What did you think of the use of 3D in this one?
DK: Great. It never seemed arbitrary, it always worked. I like all that stuff in the white prison cell, the geometrical form, the Umbrella design, it looks flat until something pops out. It just has stuff you donít see in other movies, including the lighting, backlit scenes with one or two lights. He doesnít fill the frame the way Cameron does. Cameron has to have something going on in every corner of the frame. Anderson seems to be aware that, 3D isnít just putting everything in one frame, itís directing like as you would a normal film. Anderson knows how to put those shots together so it doesnít feel disruptive, isnít jarring. You need good solid old-fashioned match-shots on action. Where a lot of 3D directors get hung up is, theyíre just framing every shot for what it is, and not thinking about what comes after it. It gets irritating after a while, with depth-of-field changing left and right.
RES: Thatís what causes people to get headachesÖ
DK: It does for me. It pains me watching that stuff. I canít help trying to put it together in my head.
RES: You saw The Avengers (2012).
DK: Every shot is just a guy shooting, with no sense of who heís shooting at or chasing after. Thereís just no relationship between this action and that action. Itís either complete in itself or itís forgotten by the next shot. So itís not about the logic of how you fight an army of 12 invincible zombies and get out alive, which has a certain amount of plausibility in the Anderson because the strategy is there, the athletic abilities are there, the ballet-like quality of moving through the airÖ It feels kind of serene in a way. Itís always so cool, she just knows how to execute it.
RES: You can see people thinking in Resident Evil: RetributionÖ
DK: Yeah, sheís thinking down the line Ė look at this person, whatís he going to do, how am I going to react.
RES: Itís interesting that they shot real locations and in the movie they made them into virtual places. Usually that works in the reverse direction. What are your pantheon Paul W.S. Anderson films?
DK: Theyíre all pretty good. He keeps getting better. Retribution is the smoothest and most satisfying. It does not feel monotonously fast. And itís really tight. Every scene flows. And thatís exactly what Joss Whedon canít seem to do. ďAlright, that numberís over. We have two to three minutes of sarcastic banter between thinly sketched characters before itís time for the next number to start.Ē
DK: Itís not like that audience is going to respond, ďhey, this got a great review in the Times! Letís go see Resident Evil 5!Ē Itís funny how people get that label of being schlock directors. I donít know what he did to deserve that.
RES: Itís just received wisdom. His name has become shorthand for schlock.
DK: Yeah, but is he Uwe Boll or something?
RES: Itís the subject matter.
DK: But Christopher Nolan became an international star directing comic book movies.
RES: Yeah, but Anderson does video game adaptations, there is a difference. Comic books have risen in cultural capital the last couple of decades. Not so for video games. Roger Ebert says video games are not art, so Paul W.S. Anderson is out. Heís out. People always forget how Hawks and Hitchcock were regarded as vulgar entertainers in their day.
DK: It seems like that lesson never gets learned. Each generation of critics blows it in their own way.
RES: Not that Iím saying Paul W.S. Anderson should be compared to HitchcockÖ
DK: Well, heís at least Far Side of Paradise at this point. [laughs] Maybe heís Gordon Douglas. Anderson is not able to make the number of films Douglas was Ė Douglas could make five movies in a year, and Anderson makes one every two years, and heís incredibly prolific for today. He has a little studio system set up now. He has a star, a franchiseÖ
RES: Any final thoughts?
DK: Well, itís just such a pleasurable, kinetic experience to be moved through that. You donít feel assaulted, irritated and beat up by a movie. Itís a movie that respects your intelligence, and has put some thought into how itís going to work. Itís not one damn thing hitting you in the face after another. Thatís just stimulation, lights flashing, sound going off, CGI crap falling on top of everything. If you get people hopped up and stimulated then maybe theyíll think itís entertainment, but itís not. Iím a grumpy old man.
RES: Justifiably so. What does that make me then?
DK: Well, I was a grumpy young man too.