The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

'Big Game' And Big Movies For Director Jalmari Helander

By Joel Wicklund in Arts & Entertainment on Jun 25, 2015 4:00PM

Samuel L. Jackson and Director Jalmari Helander on set of “Big Game.” (Photo courtesy of EuropaCorp)

Like another director from Finland, Renny Harlin, Jalmari Helander seems made for Hollywood. His new movie opening Friday, Big Game, feels a bit like a mash-up of Harlin's Cliffhanger and Die Hard 2 and the spirit of Steven Spielberg's films from the early ‘80s.

Whether or not Helander makes the move to American studio films, as Harlin did back in the '80s, in a recent conversation with Chicagoist he made it clear that big, action-driven escapism is what runs in his blood.

"If you go to the movies, I always feel like you truly want to see something that you can't see in your everyday life," Helander told us. "I couldn't do a movie about parents having a divorce or something like that...unless maybe it happened somewhere like on the moon or something."

Finnish cinema didn't have much influence on the 38-year-old director as he grew up. His country's smaller scale, realistic movies didn't grab his imagination.

"It [Finnish cinema] has always been something drama-based, something happens in the kitchen kind of movies," he said. "I mainly watched American movies or some things from Hong Kong and other places."

As populist as his tastes are, Helander's breakthrough film, Rare Exports (2010), was a lot quirkier than standard action fare. It took the search for Santa Claus out of gentle, family-friendly lore and turned it into a darkly comic wilderness adventure with a menacing St. Nick.

Big Game takes Helander further into the mainstream, but even though the widescreen movie, shot largely on breathtaking German mountain landscapes (masquerading as Finland), seems like a perfect, made-for-the-multiplex summer movie, it will only play in select theaters, with video-on-demand as its main release platform. Helander accepts this strategy in a crowded and demanding theatrical marketplace.

"Of course it would be nice if everyone would see the film in movie theaters," he said. "But at the same time, I'm also really, really pleased that we even have distribution in the U.S. It hasn't happened so very much for Finnish movies."

Having well-known American and British stars like Samuel L. Jackson, Jim Broadbent and Ray Stevenson in the cast—and having the film shot mainly in English—certainly helped Big Game get a U.S. distribution deal. Working with Jackson, who was used to a certain on-set hierarchy, initially created some hurdles for Helander and his crew.

"There were all kinds of things you have to know [about working with a star]. Like in Finland, it's easier if the D.P. [Director of Photography] wants to say something to an actor. But it took a few days for us to get the hang of it."

While he may be comfortable with American movie genres and styles, Helander isn't sure he's ready to leap into the U.S. industry. Working in Scandinavia and elsewhere in Europe has advantages.

"It's nice to have all the control here in our hands and there's no one to tell you what they want you to do," he said. "Of course, if something really nice was to come [I'd accept it], but all the stuff up to now they have offered for Hollywood movies...I'm not sure I'd be the best guy to do it."

Big Game opens Friday, June 26th at AMC's South Barrington 30 and is also available via iTunes and other video-on-demand services.