Director Paul W.S Anderson and star Milla Jovovich speak with STACK about their new big screen blockbuster, Monster Hunter, based on the popular Capcom video game.

Paul W.S. Anderson is perhaps best known for his adaptations of popular video games; a peculiar reputation considering that Mortal Kombat and the Resident Evil series are the only game-based films he has directed. And regardless of him churning out movies like Event Horizon, Death Race, Alien vs. Predator and The Three Musketeers, it will be those gaming flicks that define his career for years to come.

And yet it’s a reputation he happily embraces, and one he is poised to reaffirm with his latest extravagant dose of eye-candy, Monster Hunter, starring his real-life wife Milla Jovovich. Based on the popular Capcom video game series of the same name, Monster Hunter has been a passion project for Anderson over the past 12 years.

“90 per cent of the movie is in the Monster Hunter world,” says Anderson, “and we went to great lengths to get the world as accurate as we possibly could. We worked very closely with Ryozo Tsujimoto and Kaname Fujioka – the producer and director of the video game – to get the monsters 100 per cent accurate, the landscapes, the costumes and the weaponry. Fans of the game will recognise a lot of the game in the movie.”

Described as a military sci-fi monster movie, Monster Hunter‘s plot has a team of elite soldiers falling through a portal into a world full of giant monsters. Teaming up with a hunter (Tony Jaa) within that realm, they seek a way home while fending off hordes of the colossal beasts.

When asked about American soldiers being featured in the recent teaser trailer, Anderson explains, “The frustrating thing about trailers, obviously, is that you make a movie that is two hours but you can only show two minutes of it. The idea of using a modern day character to be the entry point into the world was really something that was suggested by the video game itself when Monster Hunter did a crossover with Metal Gear Solid. That had characters from our world going across into the Monster Hunter world, and I felt that having already been done, it was organic to the Monster Hunter world. And also by having a character that is fresh to that world, it allows you to see the world through new eyes.”

With gleeful enthusiasm, he adds, “In many ways this creates the sense of wonder that I had, or any new player has, when they play Monster Hunter for the first time.”

Of course when it comes to action movies, Jovovich is no stranger to the physicality of being a lead heroine. As well as playing Alice in all live-action instalments of Resident Evil, her onscreen dominance has seen her kicking ass in movies like The Fifth Element and Hellboy. And when it comes to maintaining her action status throughout the years, she reflects on her life and what helped prepare her for this new role.

“Every child you have definitely makes life more challenging in so many ways, and by the time I made this movie I had two babies and was definitely intimidated by the process. But after meeting with people from the US military and going to Fort Irwin, which is a military base outside of Los Angeles, working with the soldiers, doing different types of real life simulations, and meeting one of the few female army rangers really helped me to immerse myself in this character.”

Jovovich’s co-star in Monster Hunter is the legendary Tony Jaa, whose physicality rivals none. Having wowed a global audience with his gravity-defying martial arts skills in Ong Bak (2003), here he assumes the role of the highly skilled hunter.

In order to keep up with Jaa onscreen, Jovovich found herself challenged like never before. “It was very intimidating,” she admits. “Obviously Tony is the closet thing you’ll find to a real life superhero. But I was ready to be inspired and I was ready to learn, and ready to be impressed. Tony is so full of energy and ideas and I can’t tell you how incredible it was to work with him, and I really hope that it’s not the last time I get a chance to be on screen with him.”

When it comes to making movies, Anderson is famous for getting bang for buck, and his films always maintain modest budgets in comparison to other similarly themed movies. While films like Pacific Rim and Godzilla cost close to $200-million to produce, Monster Hunter arrives with a reduced price tag of $60-million, which is nothing less than impressive given its ambition and the big scope presented in the trailer.

“It’s a very, very, big looking movie and my personal feeling is that a lot of movies made in Hollywood have these incredible price tags attached to them, which is not the way I’ve ever liked to work,” he says. “I think that having $350-million to spend to make a movie is a big burden to put on yourself as a filmmaker. I felt that we could actively capture the world of the game really, really, well and the world that I wanted to portray by going into real landscapes. And in doing that, half of the job is already done and it would actually make the movie look better.”

By rejecting the typical studio backlot production and overwhelming CGI work that comes with it – including the creation of all landscapes – Anderson says he’s proud to have avoided the synthetic look of so many other big movies, adding, “I’m really happy with the approach we took because I think it gives the film a pretty unique look, especially with these landscapes that no one else has really been to and they haven’t been put on film before.”

Tony Jaa, Milla Jovovich and Paul. W.S. Anderson on location

As for the stigma attached to Hollywood video game adaptations, Anderson finds it amusing.

“My first Hollywood movie was Mortal Kombat, which was number one in American for three weeks. We then went on to make Resident Evil, which is the most successful video game adaptation ever made. So you know, after $1.3-billion in business for Resident Evil, it’s very hard for me to take seriously a phrase like ‘the video game curse’. It’s absolutely possible to make very successful movies out of video games. I think it’s hard adapting them, and it’s hard to get it right, but then most movie adaptations are hard. It’s funny that video games get a lot of attention, but I’m sure if you did the math and worked out how many movies have been adapted from young adult novels, I’m sure the success to failure ratio is pretty stark.”

While it remains to be seen if Anderson and Jovovich can replicate the phenomenal success of their Resident Evil series, one thing is crystal clear – Monster Hunter comes from a place of pure adulation for its source material, and a fervent desire to please long-serving fans, all while simultaneously introducing a whole new audience to Capcom’s highly celebrated video game universe.

Monster Hunter is in cinemas on January 1, 2021