You would assume it’s always easy to start an article about video game movies with a dig at them and their “success.”
But I think this needs to walk hand-in-hand with admitting that Sony Pictures Resident Evil franchise has proven to be the best of the crop. Spanning 6 films, which all featured Milla Jovovich in the lead as Alice, these went on to gross $1.3b worldwide. And maybe this is thanks to not only Paul W.S Anderson‘s having worked on all of them as writer, but also as the Director for 4 of them. While it may have its detractors, there’s reasons why people still mention it as one of their favourite video games features, even if it may only be the first. And so this dream team reunites again, on another Capcom game, to bring us the world of Monster Hunter.
If you don’t know what Monster Hunter is, then I’m not sure I can help you. BUT! I’ll do my damned best to do so. Imagine, if you will, a gorgeous fantastical world. This world is filled with very large creatures, or “monsters”, which you hunt because there may be a world-ending story attached to them. But it’s also because their corpses give you better weapons and armor. Not only that, but there’s a tonne of other cute things in the franchise, but that’s the gist, publish piece.
While it sounds simple enough to execute, that air which dares to curse it lingers ever so slightly. So when you approach a Director who’s brought more video game movies to life than anyone else, you wonder how they get it right, and how others have struggled with it and the “video game curse”.
“Well you know, my first Hollywood movie was Mortal Kombat.“
That’s right folks. The Resident Evil Director also had hands on another one of your favourite video game films.
“That was the Number One movie in North America for 3 weeks. We then went on to go and make Resident Evil, which is one of the most successful video game adaptations ever. So after that $1.3 billion dollars worth of business for it, it’s very hard for me to kind of take seriously a phrase like the “video game curse”.”
Which is absolutely fair. You would definitely walk around feeling confident about what you’re creating when you’ve had such a solid run with the genre.
“It’s absolutely possible to make very successful movies and video games. I think it gets hard when you’re trying to adapt them, and it’s hard to get that right. But I like to think most movie adaptations are hard, whether it’s a funny video game film which gets a lot of attention or not. I’m sure if you did the math and worked out how many video games were successful compared to young adult novels adapted, the success to failure ratio would be pretty stark.”
After Anderson raised this question, I definitely thought about the YA genre that washed over the movie market and seemingly crashed just as quickly. Whether or not it will come back, comes down to this ratio he spoke of, and the potential return for studios.
“You know, some fail and some succeed. So I think any kind of adaptation is always difficult.”
Humbly thanking him for such a response, I felt it must be a similar experience for Jovovich to not worry about such things. She stands high as an action icon, lauded for her work in The Fifth Element and her Atlas-like shoulders carrying Resident Evil for 6 whole films. So I had to wonder if it was a dream of hers to work with co-star, Tony Jaa.
“I mean, he’s the closest thing to a real life superhero that you could get!”
“Well I mean, I think for any person who’s a fan of action movies, Tony is little less than a GOD. So it was very humbling and a great honor to be able to work with him, to train with him, to learn from him and just to watch him in action.”
“Just to be in the same room with him, let alone practicing stunt sequences with him, it was…it was incredible. It was such an incredible learning experience. And I can only hope that we get a chance to do something else together. I keep telling Tony “You know! If you ever need an American in one of your movies, just give me a call!””
And why wouldn’t you? It is Milla Jovovich after all. But it’s enough to direct one action icon, but TWO! I wondered if that was a different ballgame for Anderson.
“Yeah, he was definitely…I mean, I’m a huge long term fan of Tonys. From Ong Bak and The Protector, there’s quite a few! And you know, we make reference to Ong Bak where he runs on the backs of elephants and so here we have him running on the back of these HUGE, big monsters as this little homage to his earlier work. But it was just really amazing to have him on-board because he’s really, as Milla said, he’s almost superhuman and he revolutionized martial arts cinema by doing things for real rather than relying on wires.”
Which is true. When you think of how Jaa blew onto the screen, with action that people felt they hadn’t seen in years, Hollywood was always going to respond to this. And being so well known for big stunts, I wondered if Jaa had fun with that in Monster Hunter.
“It was difficult for me in the Monster Hunter, to fight against an imaginary monster!”
“To imagine the eyes, think of them in this really big landscape. And to be emotional too! And then also to use the wire! I said earlier [to another interviewer question] it was tricky, to use the wire to jump up things like a big stone and be really high, like whoa! And then to kill the monster! Yeah, it’s interesting to feel I can control me, but not the wire. But you know, they do a great job and we can do amazing things with it. Probably six, take six times to shoot and wow. It’s amazing.”
With all these takes, and Jaa’s ability to adapt to the wirework Monster Hunter required, you can see why Anderson felt good to have him feature in the film.
“I needed someone superhuman to be able to wield the kind of weaponry that we built for this film. It’s a big part of the video game that the movie is based on, which is this oversized weaponry. So I knew we had to build it. But, you know, it’s one thing in a video game where the characters are made out of pixels to be able to wield these weapons.”
“It’s quite another when the actors are made out of flesh and blood and have to obey the laws of gravity.”
If you don’t know how big these are, then you’ll see them in the film. But understand there’s one called the ‘Giant Jawblade’ for good reason within the lore of Monster Hunter.
“The giant sword Tony wields is as big as he is! And it was really heavy, but it was…amazing to see him use it for the first time, because he, within 2 minutes he had mastered it, and was twirling it around his head and shoulders!”
This sounds very much like Tony Jaa to me. I told him that Paul was amazed by his ability to just pick up these weapons and use them, and wondered if this was part of why he was looking forward to working within the world of Monster Hunter.
“I didn’t know of these weapons and Monster Hunter!”
“My agent sent me the script, and wow…this is Monster Hunter. There was also a list of the games and I checked them out and wow. It’s amazing, because the Hunter looked really amazing and cool. So it was just my dream come true, to do this fantasy movie and this character. It’s really, really cool.”
And this is supported by Anderson in how Jaa responded to this role.
“It was wonderful to see him bring that to life.”
“But I have to say, something that I was pleasantly surprised about was the quieter moments. There’s moments in the movie like where it’s just Milla and Tony, and they’re kind of trapped together in this very extreme situation. And they just have this great chemistry together.”
Chemistry can make or break scenes, but so can tone. And I had to wonder if Monster Hunter was solely action, or had more to it than that.
“While it isn’t a comedy, it does have quite a bit of humor in it!”
“And you know, I think Tony is a very underrated comedian. A lot of people talk about him for his physicality, but he’s a man who has a lot of soul and also a lot of humour.”
The kindness of Jaa’s responses, and Jovovich and Anderson’s clear admiration for him, shows a camaraderie which hopefully comes off in the movie itself. And it’s fitting that Anderson has a poignant way to sign us off with that in mind.
“It was those quieter moments in the film, the ones that had nothing to do with the action.”
“That those were, to be honest, some of my favourite bits of the film.”
MONSTER HUNTER is in New Zealand cinemas from JANUARY 1ST, 2021. XENOJAY.COM interviewed the talent via Zoom, thanks to Sony Pictures International.