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Monster Hunter director Paul W.S. Anderson on video game movies, sequels, and... Duke Nukem?!
Perhaps it’s apt that Monster Hunter, one of the year’s few big-budget theatrical releases, made its way to the big screen after clawing its way off of video game consoles. In a year that hasn’t given movie blockbusters many chances to draw a crowd, there’s something almost fitting about enjoying a movie spectacle that has its roots in gaming.
Games, after all, have been one of entertainment’s lone bright spots in 2020, surging in sales and siphoning thousands of hours of screen time away from other media as players have increasingly turned to home-based fun during long months of COVID-19 lockdowns. And all that extra game time has no doubt served to introduce new fans to titles like Capcom’s long-running Monster Hunter action-RPG series, which itself has amassed an enormous fan following since the original first game debuted for the PlayStation 2 all the way back in 2004.
Director Paul W.S. Anderson knows more than just a thing or two about adapting iconic video games for film, having helmed movies based on both the Mortal Kombat and Resident Evil games. The Resident Evil movies were especially successful, spawning a six-film collaboration that follows the big-screen adventures of star Milla Jovovich (Anderson’s spouse), who plays new-to-the-franchise character Alice in the RE movies. As luck would have it, Jovovich also plays Captain Artemis — the newly-introduced main character in Anderson’s new Monster Hunter adaptation.
SYFY WIRE recently spoke with Anderson (and also with Jovovich) about bringing Monster Hunter to life for movie fans, as well as the challenges and rewards that go along with tapping video games’ big-screen crossover potential. In the Q&A below, it’s easy to see that Anderson loves the storytelling power locked away inside some of gaming’s most well-known franchises… and that the games he’s already brought to theaters aren’t the only ones he thinks would make for spectacular, popcorn-munching romps.
What is it about any particular game franchise that hooks you on adapting it for film?
I’ve done three video game adaptations — Mortal Kombat, which is my first American movie, then Resident Evil, then Monster Hunter. And the thing they’ve all had in common is my passion for those games… otherwise, there’ve been different things within them that has really appealed to me.
You know, Mortal Kombat, I wanted to mack a kickass, action, fight movie with great martial arts. I’d seen all these Hong Kong fight movies, and I wanted to make something like that; I hadn’t seen that in western cinema. And Mortal Kombat was just the most amazing fight game. So that really provided the basis for that.
Resident Evil I responded to because I was a huge fan of the kind of movies that the game itself was based upon. You know, the early work of George Romero, and John Carpenter. I loved the movies that then were kind of turned into that video game, that I felt like I could then turn the video game back into one of those kinds of movies.
And then with Monster Hunter again, it was something completely different. I played the game 12 years ago in Japan, and I was just blown away by this world — these epic landscapes and these incredible giant creatures that roamed the landscapes. You know, I really felt this was an incredible new, fresh world... that if I could bring onto the screen, this would be a world that people would love to immerse themselves in.
Are there any unique challenges in adapting a blank-canvas world like Monster Hunter, versus a more lore-specific world like Resident Evil?
In some ways it’s a blank canvas, because a lot of the game is fighting giant creatures. And also it’s very interesting in that, when you play the game, you are creating your own character… it’s not like Tomb Raider where you’re playing Lara Croft. Where she already has a backstory; you know, how she looks. You’re playing a fresh creation, and you’re going into this world as a newbie, essentially.
And that was interesting, because I felt that gave me the opportunity to recreate the feeling that I had when I first played the game: this kind of sense of wonder that I had, seeing the world for the first time. And obviously, if you’re going to recreate that sense of wonder, you can only do it through fresh eyes — which kind of suggested to me that the central character, Milla’s character, should be somebody who hasn’t seen this world before.
So she becomes kind of your avatar, your way into the world of the game, into the world of the movie; and you follow in her footsteps. Which is satisfying for a game player — because that is what you do when you play the game — but also it’s satisfying for people who don’t know anything about the video game. Because you don’t feel excluded from the movie, just because you don’t know what the video game’s about… because neither does the central character. You’re essentially seeing the movie through her eyes.
But then of course, once Milla’s character gets to the Monster Hunter world, every creature she encounters, every location she goes to, every other character she meets is taken directly from the video game, and is as close to the video game as we could get.
You’ve had more success than most when it comes to adapting video games for film, so you’re definitely the person to ask: Is there some secret formula for getting it right?
I think for me, I mean, having done it three times now — or eight times, if you count all of the individual Resident Evil movies — you have to walk a fine line as the filmmaker because you are trying to please two audiences… you’re trying to kind of please the hardcore fans who, in Monster Hunter’s case, maybe have been playing the game for 15 years and know everything about the game. But then you also want to please people who don’t know anything about the game — people who just want to go see a fun action-adventure movie with a cool-looking woman battling giant monsters. That should be fun, and you shouldn’t feel excluded because you’re not bringing existing knowledge to the film.
And sometimes, to please both those audiences at the same time is... it’s a challenge. And that’s the fine line you walk as a filmmaker. It’s what I’ve tried to deliver on all the movies that I’ve done.
Pie-in-the-sky video game question: In a perfect world, is there still a game franchise or two out there that you’d love to adapt for film?
[Laughs.] I don’t know! I mean, gosh, I’ve played so many games over the years. I feel like I’m always discovering fresh and new and exciting things.
You know, there are some old classics that I’ve always, always had a hankering or a love for. I love Duke Nukem, for example. What a fun title that is! I think, if I were gonna go back, it would have to be something that has some kind of pop culture relevance like that — where, even if you’ve never played the game, you kind of know the title, right? And you have a certain assumption about what it’s gonna be.
Have you already thought about Monster Hunter spawning a sequel?
I think obviously when you work on something that has a 15-year history — as Monster Hunter does, and there are so many iterations of the game — it’s a broad world. And the first movie can only tap into a small portion of that. So it’s a huge world that I would certainly love to explore more, and there’s lots more to explore.
But the reality is, without a successful first movie, you don’t do any more exploring. So I’ve always poured all my energies into the first film. Because without that, it is all pie in the sky. And I think a lot of potential would-be franchises are kind of tripped up by the filmmakers thinking what the second and third movie’s gonna be, and forgetting: Unless you deliver a really quality first movie, there’s no point. And so you know, my efforts right now... have been to try and bring a great [first] Monster Hunter movie to screen.
Monster Hunter is now playing in theaters nationwide, starring Jovovich as Captain Artemis alongside costars Tony Jaa (The Hunter), Clifford "T.I." Harris (Link), Meagan Good (Dash), Diego Boneta (Marshall), and Ron Perlman (The Admiral).