By ROCCO THOMPSON
After concluding his box-office breaking series of Resident Evil films with 2016’s The Final Chapter, writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson saw an opportunity to move forward with a longtime passion project inspired by another beloved video game property. MONSTER HUNTER, based upon Capcom’s fantasy-themed roleplaying franchise recasts the Resident Evil series’ star Milla Jovovich as Captain Artemis, who, along with her military unit (including T.I., Meagan Good, and Diego Bonita) winds up swept away to a dangerous land populated by gigantic beasts. With their backs against the wall, the group encounters the mysterious Hunter (Tony Jaa), a denizen of the strange land, who will have to impart his wisdom if Artemis and her cohorts want to survive. Also featuring Ron Perlman, MONSTER HUNTER is a big and brash creature spectacle that seeks to thrill and delight longtime fans of the series and newcomers alike. Rue Morgue sat down with Anderson to discuss his longtime love of the series, the challenges posed by shooting in the South African desert, and how Capcom and the legendary Toho studios helped ensure that the film would be a crowd-pleasing monster mash worthy of the biggest screen imaginable.
So, you’ve been playing with the idea of adapting MONSTER HUNTER for quite a while. What made it the right fit as your follow up to Resident Evil: The Final Chapter?
I first discovered Monster Hunter twelve years ago. A friend of mine turned me onto it in Tokyo, and at that point, it was very much a kind of Japanese-only phenomenon – very well known in Japan but relatively unknown outside of Japan. Obviously, in the intervening years, that has changed, but I immediately fell in love with it. I thought its mix of giant creatures that were beautifully designed and these epic landscapes through which they roamed…it was very very cinematic and I really felt that if I could turn [it] into a movie [it] would really be a beautiful world that the audience would love to immerse themselves in for two hours. I thought an audience would love to discover the world in the same way that I had discovered it.
Like Resident Evil, MONSTER HUNTER is also based on a video game property, but was adapting it sort of liberating, being that the source material is a lot less plot-heavy?
I think, in one way, it was very helpful because when you play Tomb Raider, for example, Laura Croft is Laura Croft. She is who she is, she looks a certain way, she has a backstory, she has a history, she has a character firmly established. When you play Monster Hunter, you create your own character, so you go into the world a “newbie” as it were. And that was good because it suggested to me that that’s what Milla’s character should be. She should be kind of the fresh character going into the world for the first time, just like you [are] when you play the game for the first time.
For non-gamers, she becomes their way into the world. She becomes their avatar whose adventures you can follow, and it doesn’t really matter if you don’t know anything about Monster Hunter. You don’t feel excluded because – guess what – the central character doesn’t know anything about that world either…although she’s gonna come up to speed very fast. And then to please the gamers, of course, everybody that Milla meets is taken from the game, whether it’s Ron Perlman’s character [or] Tony Jaa’s character, all of the characters she meets are directly from the game. The creatures are exactly as they are in the game, the landscapes are the same, the costumes, the weapons – it’s all one hundred percent accurate. Which, if you’re a gamer, I would hope it’s a delight, and if you’re a non-gamer, it doesn’t matter, it just looks damn cool!
I know Milla was initially unsure about MONSTER HUNTER, but what would you say really got her on board?
I think she liked the idea of playing a military character, to be honest. I felt that it had to be someone from our world slipping into this world. It could have been a painter and decorator, but she needed some skills to survive in the monster world, so, being a warrior I thought was appropriate. And I think that’s something that Milla has always wanted to play. You know, she’s got a military background on both sides of her family and it’s something she’s always been fascinated by, [so] she really immersed herself in it.
She really wanted to rise to the occasion and be in the best shape of her life, which she was. She started training nine months before we started shooting and she continued that training even while we were shooting. Even while we were living in tents in the middle of Africa, she was getting up at three in the morning to go work out for an hour and a half before going into hair and makeup, and then doing a full day’s work with the cast and crew. She was committed and it was wonderful to have an actress like that at the heart of the movie because we were shooting quite challenging situations. As I said, we were living in tents hundreds of miles away from the nearest habitation, during the day the temperatures would be like 120 or 130 Fahrenheit and then during the night, it would drop below zero. And big sand storms would come up, the tents would blow away, [there were] snakes and spiders and scorpions. It was challenging filmmaking and Milla was really the team leader. She kept everyone’s spirits up and she kept the team together.
“…we’re living in pretty bleak times and it’s a fun movie to lose yourself in for a couple of hours.”
She’s always a badass but it feels as if she gets to play a lot more comedy and lighter moments in this film. Was that a conscious decision on your part?
Absolutely. You know, this is not an R-rated movie and I wanted it to have more comedy than people normally associate with my work. I was also excited to work with Tony Jaa, who’s a great warrior but also a very underrated comedian. He’s got a great sense of humor and he and Milla had terrific chemistry and the way they build the relationship, even a non-verbal relationship in a lot of ways, I thought was just terrific. So, we did want to kind of lean into the comedy and lean into the fun, which I think makes it a perfect movie for right now because we’re living in pretty bleak times and it’s a fun movie to lose yourself in for a couple of hours.
Toho and Capcom, two companies who know a thing or two about giant monsters, were involved with the production. Can you tell us a bit about that collaboration?
It’s always fun to go and visit Toho at their offices in Tokyo because they have a big statue of Godzilla outside. They’re the gatekeepers for Godzilla, and Capcom, obviously, are the gatekeepers for the monsters in the Monster Hunter world. They both have an appreciation for these kind of outsized creatures, [and] we really wanted to treat the creatures with the respect that I felt they deserved. The kind of respect that Toho insists that Godzilla is treated with. So, I had lots of trips to Tokyo to talk to the producer and director of the video game to run the look of the creatures by them, the way the creatures moved, the way the creatures sounded. They really gave us their seal of approval, which was very important because I felt if we could please the creators of the game we could also please the fans.
Would you say that Capcom’s involvement on MONSTER HUNTER was heavier than on your Resident Evil films?
I feel [it was] probably the heaviest that I’ve ever had, and it was something that I totally welcomed. I wanted them to really, not only love what I was doing, but also, for me to really deliver to the fans, I needed their expertise and I needed their sign off on exactly what the Diablos’ fingernails looked like and the right pitch of the voice of the Palico. You know, if you’re a non-gamer it won’t make any difference as I said – these are just cool things. They look cool, They sound cool. But, if you’re a gamer, you’ll really appreciate the attention to detail that’s in the movie.
You’re a big deal to horror fans not just for the Resident Evil series but also for Event Horizon, and AVP: Alien vs. Predator. Despite it obviously being a different beast, what about MONSTER HUNTER will appeal to your longtime fans?
I think there are definitely scary moments in it, I mean, everything associated with the Nerscylla. When we were choosing the creatures we were very careful to choose creatures that had different attributes so that they would provide different kinds of scenes so that every scene of Milla and Tony battling giant creatures didn’t become repetitive. We put a lot of fan-favorite monsters in the movie but the Nerscylla was what I brought to the movie, that was my favorite, and I think probably plays more to the kind of scariness that people would normally associate with my work. But, above and beyond anything else, I just think it’s a really fun film.
MONSTER HUNTER opens in theaters this Friday, December 18th, 2020 from Screen Gems and Constantin Films.