On 25th January 2019, Netflix released “Polar”, a major motion picture co produced by Netflix and Constantin Films starring action star Mads Mikkelsen. World famous DJ Deadmau5 has given the score for the film making it a big event for action films
The movie is based on a graphic novel (of the same name) created and written by Victor Santos, a leading artist and comic book creator based in Spain. Film/TV Blogger and Entertainment Journalist Rahul Gupta caught up with Victor Santos on the release of “Polar” which also released in India a few days ago. Santos delves into the creation of “Polar”, the comic book and the evolution into a major global film. He also answers questions on his love for comics, his inspiration and the ongoing controversy of the Indian mention in “Polar” film about how Indians still practice “Sati”. Victor also likes to watch Indian action films starring John Abraham. The interview is as follows.
What is the world of "Polar" comics? What was the inspiration behind the content?
The story comes from my love to crime and noir works from different medium. From movies like Le Samurai (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1967), Tokyo Drifter (Seijun Suzuki, 1965) or Point Blank (John Boorman, 1967) and writers like Trevanian, Richard Stark, James Ellroy or Dashiell Hammet. It’s also a tribute to black and white artists like Jim Steranko, Jose Muñoz, Alberto Breccia, Alex Toth and Frank Miller.
Polar title comes from the French crime literature. They call the genre “Polar”, and their characters use to be cold, hieratic lonely criminals. This is a joke lost in translation for American readers.
Why do you use only 3 odd colors in the comic book? Is there a specific reason for that?
Initially it was because of practical reasons. I made this comic on internet in my free time, so I need a quick style. It was more important to think of the composition and storytelling than the execution.
I love black and white comic-books, but adding a color was a very effective to “driving” the reader and play with the page like a jigsaw puzzle. Where I will focus the eye´s reader? What element of the composition is important? That was part of the fun.
How much does the film resemble your vision of the comic book story? How much were you involved in the development?
Polar comic born with the idea to expand the storytelling resources make comics so fun to read and work on. I didn’t want the movie to be a literal translation, I wanted Jonas make the same with the cinematographic tools. And I think he really did it. He plays a lot with pacing and different styles. So even the story has necessary changes, the spirit of the book stills. And the Polar readers will recognize a lot of scenes from the books.
I understand movies are a different, different structure, different tools.
I was more involved at the beginning with the first drafts of the script and casting options. Dark Horse Entertainment took my feedback on the script, and some of my suggestions were implemented, so I’m thankful for it.
When filming started, I was working on other projects, like the new Polar books, so I didn’t have the opportunity to visit the set. Recently, I've been collaborating with Netflix US and Netflix Spain in the film’s promotion.
Tell our viewers about the uniqueness of the character of Dominic Vizla/ The Black Kaiser? How is he different from other leading men in similar stories?
I wanted to work with an archetypal character, a kind of dark semi-god or legendary presence. Like the “Man without name”, the legendary ronin from some Japanese movies. Black Kaiser is a man from another age who needs to face a changing world with new breed of agents and assassins. He’s retired and wants to be alone with his own demons. He has a special kind of morality, because he’s a violent guy and he has a monster he doesn’t want to release. So he’s aware of what he is. But he doesn’t feel guilty for this, he simply wants to close that stage of his life.
Does Mads Mikkelssen fit the bill perfectly for playing "The Black Kaiser"?
My biggest fear was the story would be turned into a conventional action hero story. But when you read or listen to Mads Mikkelsen interviews, you see he understood the character really well. The Black Kaiser isn’t a good or bad person, he’s twisted and violent. Black Kaiser exists on the edge, and Mads understands that.
Why does so much violence seep into the narrative of the film?
Well, the comic is really violent and the movie reflects this. I think it is interesting how Jonas uses violence because when the movie begins, it’s almost comical. Dark humor but comical, with Johnny Knoxville scene and the later deaths, these guys think they are in a party. But when their world crashes with the Duncan´s world, things change. Then we have the cabin, the torture scene and the Duncan´s scene on the tunnel. When Duncan uses violence, he´s efficient and brutal. It turns to something really gritty.
I understand maybe it’s a bit extreme and all the audience will not enjoy it, but I think it’s is a brave movie, playing with the limits. I´m very thankful Netflix didn´t want to do something soft. I think we live an age of mild blockbusters movies for everybody, and it’s healthy to have alternatives.
Was the laser controlled machine gun created in the comic book or was it Director Jonas Ankerlund's idea?
The idea was in the book, but a little different. Black Kaiser uses a cellphone with a little laser to point the enemies and Jason Rothwell, the writer, replaced the phone for the high tech gloves.
When I read it in the script I was not very committed because I thought it was difficult to make it work visually. But I love the final result, I think it is the iconic moment of the movie, people will remember it for this moment.
The music of Deadmau5 in "Polar" is making headlines. Kindly elaborate in detail about the impact of having his music in the movie?
I love his score. I never have been a big fan of electronic music (I’m more a heavy metal guy) but the last year I went into it thanks to movie soundtracks. People like Daft Punk or Cliff Martinez, and I knew the Deadmau5 work, specially “Where´s the drop” disc. So when they told me he would do the score I felt really happy. He has a special sensibility and part of the mood of the story is thanks to his talent. The Camille and Duncan relationship works really well with his score.
What are you working on currently? Tell us about your future projects?
Now a couple of books in the Polar universe will appear in USA. Polar volume 0: The Black Kaiser (the first apparition of the character) and Polar volume 4: The Kaiser falls, the last story, a kind of Oldman Logan, Unforgiven, Gran Torino final story of the character.
I´m also working on a graphic novel based on a webcomic I made after Polar, titled Guts. I´m drawing new pages and writing dialogues and it will be a completely new graphic novel. It’s about an Afro-american girl who fights a gang of neo-Nazis in the 80s.
There is a mention in the movie of the way how Indians bury the dead and it refers to the “Sati” practice. India has banned that practice in 1829 and is just a myth in today’s India. Why was that done? Was it part of the comic book or the movie?
It’s a little different to the movie (that Indian quote and others don´t appear, it was a creation for the movie). The film takes a lot of elements like characters, Damocles Agency and action scenes like the cabin and the corridor fight. But others are news, like the Camille/Duncan relationship.
About the Indian reference, I´ll try to explain it the best I can. Of course, I consider it a sensitive subject and I don’t want to make things worse. I understood when I read the script and later watched the movie- Duncan mixes the memories of his own damaged mind with the explanation he’s giving to the kids and the image the kids have of the world. When he says: In Africa clothes are white and red, of course he´s watching the red of the blood. And people in Turkey can eat turkey and not only brochette and people from England talk a lot. I think they used the "burning" as a storytelling resource to show his state of mind. He killed and burned people there, so the memories filter to the explanation and "contaminate" it. And as I said, we´re watching the vision of the kids too, every scene of the world seems a stereotyped image (including the music) the kids surely have of every place.
I mean, during all the scenes we see Duncan doing a lot of questionable things, like showing corpse photos to the kids and explaining how to stab. It’s a broken man, partially destroyed by his memories and his interactions with normal people are a disaster. "I used to have a dog" he’s not telling the "true". We really can’t trust his memories.
This is how I understood it and I respect if people from India interpret differently and feel offended. But I really think there was no intention of hurting and nobody in the production thinks that is a regular practice right now.
Have you watched any Indian films lately? Do you follow them? Any message for Indian fans?
I must admit I haven’t seen very much of Indian films. Now thanks to Netflix I can watch more, I only need time. I only have seem some action movies of John Abraham, but I think they are not representative (laughs). But definitely watching more Indian movies are in my “to do list”.
I hope Indian fans enjoy the movie, I always tried to create universal characters everybody could enjoy.
- Rahul Gupta, an avid movie and TV buff who learnt movie production at New York Film Academy and worked as a talent manager at The Gotham Group in Hollywood. In addition he runs a kids brand outfit and a start up fundraising practice in New Delhi.