Monster Hunter – From Videogame to Big Screen

During frequent trips to Japan, filmmaker Paul W. S. Anderson became hooked on Capcom’s bestselling video game Monster Hunter which became something of a passion project and resulted in Anderson writing the screenplay, taking a decidedly grounded approach to the wild fantasy elements of monster hunting – in storytelling and design, giving the real-world audience hooks to latch on to.

“I was actually a fan of the ‘Monster Hunter’ game before a lot of people in America and Europe, because I spent a lot of time in Japan,” Anderson explains. “It became one of my favorite countries to visit. Because of that, I started playing ‘Monster Hunter’ in 2008 – and by 2009 I was pitching Capcom on making a movie of the game.”

Over the next nine years, during frequent trips to Japan, Anderson would play the game. “I fell in love with the imagery, landscapes, and magic of the game,” he says.

“As I played, I began to imagine it cinematically. It felt like an amazing opportunity to build a whole world on the movie screen, and there were countless stories to tell within that world. The more I thought about it, the more stories and characters began to take root.”

Anderson reteamed with Resident Evil visual effects supervisor Dennis Berardi, who also serves as producer this time, to design his vision of the monsters. “Dennis has worked on nearly all of our films,” says producer Jeremy Bolt. “He brought considerable experience to developing Monster Hunter, which has a massive VFX component: the monsters. From the beginning, Paul and Dennis’ work proved to everyone that a Monster Hunter adaptation would be a scary, captivating movie.”

For many years, the game was more popular in Asia than in the US and Europe. Then came early 2018 and the release of “Monster Hunter: World,” the franchise’s latest entry – and the worldwide fandom that was always waiting. The game sold so well that it became Capcom’s best-selling game of all time, with over 16.4 million units. The film’s time had come.

Anderson’s screenplay took a decidedly grounded approach to the wild fantasy elements of monster hunting – in storytelling and design, he would give the real-world audience hooks to latch on to. “It was important to us to make a grounded film. If the audience is going to enter the monster world, the characters in the movie should journey with them,” says producer Robert Kulzer.

So, in his story, Anderson focused on a real-world team that becomes trapped in the monster world, and the monster world’s locations would be drawn from some of the real world’s strange and unusual but very real locations.

Behind our world, there is another: a world of dangerous and powerful monsters that rule their domain with deadly ferocity. When an unexpected sandstorm transports Lt. Artemis (Milla Jovovich) and her unit (Tip “T.I.” Harris, Meagan Good, Diego Boneta) to a new world, the soldiers are shocked to discover that this hostile and unknown environment is home to enormous and terrifying monsters immune to their firepower. In their desperate battle for survival, the unit encounters a mysterious Hunter (Tony Jaa), whose unique skills allow him to stay one step ahead of the powerful creatures. As Artemis and the Hunter slowly build trust, she discovers that he is part of a team led by the Admiral (Ron Perlman). Facing a danger so great it could threaten to destroy their world, the brave warriors combine their unique abilities to band together for the ultimate showdown.

“My approach is always to make things as real as possible,” says Anderson. “We were inspired by the amazing landscapes in the game to go to some of the most incredible landscapes of our real world. When we weren’t shooting in the natural world, we were shooting on very, very large sets. Very rarely did we put an actor in front of a green screen to generate an environment. 80% of this movie is real, and the 20% that is not real are the creatures.”

At every turn, though, Anderson and the filmmakers kept hewing close to the original games that inspired them. “The movie pays honor not just to the ‘Monster Hunter: World’ game, but to the entire franchise that I personally have loved for ten years now,” says Anderson. “The game creators have created a richly textured world, and we embraced that.”

From Page To Screen

Nearly 20 years ago, writer-director Paul W. S. Anderson and star Milla Jovovich teamed up with videogame company Capcom and Constantin Film, Germany’s leading independent producer and distributor, to produce Resident Evil, based on the bestselling videogame. Six movies and $1.2 billion in box office later, the franchise stands as the most successful videogame adaptation of all time. The franchise proved popular all over the world, but especially in Asia – and its popularity and success drove several promotional tours in the region, which would lay the groundwork for the team’s next collaboration. Now, the team has reunited for Monster Hunter.

Milla Jovovich stars in Screen Gems and Constantin Films MONSTER HUNTER.

Heading up the cast as veteran army ranger Captain Artemis, the leader of a UN Joint Security Operation, is Milla Jovovich, who reunites with her Resident Evil director – and husband – Paul W.S. Anderson.

When he’d completed the screenplay, Anderson had his first choice of actresses right there at home. Still, Anderson had to do a bit of convincing with Jovovich. “My first thought was, really, from zombies to monsters? You’ve got to be kidding me,” kids the star of Resident Evil. “He said, ‘Just read it,’ and when I did, I felt like it captured everything I love about making action movies, but I really loved the character of Captain Artemis. She just felt real to me. I felt like it would be wonderful to play somebody that disciplined.”

“Who’s better to kick ass and kill monsters than Milla Jovovich?” says Anderson. “Not only is she an action icon; she also brings a lot of character to the role. She’s a soldier. She’s married. Maybe she’s a mother. And Milla did a huge amount of research to make Artemis a real relatable character, training with the U.S. military. Milla hung out with one of only 18 female army rangers in the world and became very good friends with her, and she ended up acting as our military advisor on the film – Milla’s character, Natalie Artemis, borrows the character name from our new friend. The audience can really get under this character’s skin.”

“The rangers are some of the toughest members of the U.S. Military,” Jovovich explains. “The team that I have in place is composed of six highly elite soldiers. They have history together -they’re a very close knit, very well-oiled machine, and tough. So it’s very shocking when they find themselves in another reality, dealing with something that we’ve never dealt with before.”

Hip-hop artist and actor Tip “T.I.” Harris stars as Link, a veteran ranger and Artemis’ right hand. “Artemis and Link have encountered some pretty tough scenarios in their previous tours, and when they face this crisis, their chemistry comes to the fore,” he says. “My son is a videogamer, and when I asked him if he knows about a game called ‘Monster Hunter,’ he said I should totally go and do it!”

The human cast’s co-stars, of course, are the monsters. Co-stars? Hell, they share title credit.

Usually in adaptations, whether it’s a book, play, or videogame, the source material serves as inspiration, but the filmmakers have creative liberty to change what they need. For Monster Hunter, it was important to the filmmakers and Capcom alike that the film reflect the fan-favorite monsters.

“The monsters are as much a draw to this movie as our story or stars,” says Anderson. “That’s especially true for the fans of the game – they want to see their favorites come to life. And that includes me. I might be the writer-director of the movie, but I was a fan first.”

The game creators and the filmmakers spent hours fine-tuning the minute details of the monsters, right down to eye color and claw nails. Capcom has always given creative input in the adaptions of their games to film, but when it came to monster design, Monster Hunter represented a new level of hands-on involvement. “We spent a lot of time together with the filmmakers to ensure that the details of our monsters were true to the game. They were very patient and receptive to lots of our feedback,” says Ryozo Tsujimoto, producer of the ‘Monster Hunter’ series of games.

According to Kaname Fujioka, Executive Director/Art Director of the game “Monster Hunter: World,” that time and effort in collaboration paid off. “When we finally saw the finished film, we were very impressed with how beautifully the world of ‘Monster Hunter’ was blended with the world of live action,” he says. “Seeing the monsters come alive on a huge movie screen, with all the visual details and sounds, was such a special moment. It was as if the monsters were transported from the game to the movie world, and I strongly felt the filmmakers’ enthusiasm and passion about how to capture the strength and vitality of the monsters. I think fans will enjoy seeing how wonderfully the monsters are portrayed in this film.”

“It was an amazing collaboration,” says Anderson. “My top mandate was to get it right, so Capcom’s deep involvement was not only helpful – it was the only way to achieve what we wanted to do.”

Milla Jovovich and Tony Jaa star in Screen Gems MONSTER HUNTER.

Filming in South Africa

Among the fantastical settings of the monster-inhabited world is the sea of sand under which the Black Diablos creatures live. This setting, where the Joint Security Operation soldiers are first attacked by these monsters, was situated in close proximity to Cape Town at the spectacular Atlantis Dunes, known for their distinctively pure white sand.

“Paul was very specific about establishing a difference between the two worlds, with the monster world being naturally grittier and our world that is a lot cleaner,” says Special Effects Supervisor Jonathan Barras. “When we drive through the desert, we used natural dust – Paul always wanted a texture in the air, especially around Milla and Tony.”

Carrying up to seven wind machines to sets in tough locations was a major challenge for the SFX team, but there was an even greater challenge: flinging around a Humvee to show the awesome power of the Black Diablos. “American Humvees each weigh about four tons and are very difficult to move,” Barras says. “Each time we hit a vehicle, we had to let off high pressure canons that take 50 bars of pressure. We filled them with sand and forced the pressure down instead of up; it cleared a 220-liter barrel instantly and hurled it about 30 to 40 meters away. We were throwing 400 kilograms each time.”

To show the interior of the Humvee as the characters are caught in a sandstorm, the SFX team built a roller rig. “It was almost a whole vehicle that we balanced between two roller bearings,” says Barras. “We could spin and revolve it at any speed that we wanted. Milla and the rest of our cast were all in there… it was like a giant tumble dryer with objects bouncing around inside – not very comfortable, but they wore it well.”

Three hours from Cape Town, a clutch of protected areas in the Cape Nature Reserve facilitated the locale for the Island of Rock, where Artemis and the Hunter take refuge. The Cederberg Nature reserve famously features prehistoric rock formations. “You have these incredible red stone structures; it looks like a huge amphitheater of an alien race out there,” says Bolt. Other key shots from the Island of Rock sequence were shot just north of South Africa in Namibia, specifically at that country’s coastal dunes and Sesriem Canyon.

The filmmakers felt privileged that they could also shoot at the fiercely guarded Stadstaal Cave, famous for its rock art by the San people over 1000 years ago. Thomas took casts from the cave for the art department to match the rock back at the studio set build of the Hunter’s Cave. “I was so excited when I saw the Stadstaal cave on location,” he says. “For anyone who’s spent a lot of time playing the game, a place like Stadstaal just comes alive.”

The “real world” would also need a location, and for this, the filmmakers trekked out to the stark, arid Karoo area of Tankwa. Remote and barren, with broken, black rock, it’s a place that few venture to – except its once-a-year time to shine as the home of Afrika Burn, the regional Burning Man event. “When you look one way it is black, and when you look the other way it is brown; it depends where the sun hits it,” says Thomas. “It’s just an incredible landscape. It is almost like the game makers had these landscapes in mind when they were creating the game.”

Of course, filming in some of the world’s most remote locations brought tremendous challenges. “We had to bring everything in,” says Anderson. “We had to create tent villages for 350 people to live, and we lived like that for months and months. It was very exciting, but it was also very challenging. We had high winds. We had low temperatures. It was extremely uncomfortable. But all of that was a positive for the actors, because they really felt immersed in the world.”

The tent city plan was in place for the punishing four-day shoot in Tankwa, where temperatures swung from 45 degrees Centigrade (113°F) during the day to 5°C (41°F) at night. “We had no WiFi, we were eating outside in the sand, living in tents, fighting scorpions and snakes, running from spiders, and suffered in blazing heat, blistering cold, rain and violent winds,” says T.I. Harris. “But it’s one of the world’s phenomenal places of nature, and I think the backdrop of this film will be one you have never seen before.”

Writer-Director-Producer Paul W.S. Anderson

Paul W.S. Anderson (Director / Producer / Writer) has become internationally known for his action-packed, edge-of-your-seat films. Together, his films have grossed over $2 billion worldwide, with #1 weekends around the globe – an accomplishment that puts him in an elite group of filmmakers. Anderson turns epic stories into must-see movies, having launched four successful film franchises and tackled such diverse subjects as classic literature, science fiction, video game franchises, and historical fiction. His talents also stretch into the commercial realm, directing a number of award-winning commercials for the likes of Audi, Volkswagen, and Deutsche Telekom.

Born and raised in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, Anderson graduated from the University of Warwick with a BA in Film & Literature; he continued at Warwick to become the youngest student to achieve an MBA.

Anderson’s first film was 1994’s low-budget success Shopping, which Anderson wrote and directed. This dark film about joyriding and ram-raiding British youth was banned in some UK theaters, but established Anderson’s flare for high-impact action.

Shopping paved the way to Hollywood for Anderson, and 1995’s Mortal Kombat became Anderson’s first American No.1 box-office smash. It was also the first successful movie adaptation of a video game. The triumph of Mortal Kombat quickly established Anderson as the man who could take the game off the television and make it explode into a successful franchise on the big screen. Sidestepping offers to direct a sequel to Mortal Kombat, Anderson chose instead to turn his attention to science fiction.

His next directorial projects included Soldier, written by David Peoples as a “sidequel” to his bleakly powerful screenplay Blade Runner, and Event Horizon.

Anderson returned to adapting video games for the big screen with the survival horror Resident Evil (2002). Anderson wrote, directed and produced the feature. A resounding commercial success, the movie spawned Anderson’s second successful franchise, which includes No.1 hits Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004), Resident Evil: Extinction (2007), Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010) and Resident Evil: Retribution (2012). Anderson wrote and produced the sequels with Impact Pictures partner Jeremy Bolt, and returned to the director’s chair for Afterlife and Retribution.

Anderson confirmed his box-office power when he wrote and directed the highly anticipated AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004). This kicked off Anderson’s third successful franchise; the movie opened at No.1 and went on to be the highest-grossing film in both the Alien and Predator series.

In 2008, Anderson’s Death Race, starring Jason Statham and Joan Allen, rolled into theaters. A remake of the 1975 cult classic Death Race 2000, the film was distributed by Universal Pictures and was produced by Anderson through Impact Pictures with Bolt.

In 2009, Anderson wrapped the sci-fi horror Pandorum, starring Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster, for which he took on the role of producer. Anderson and Bolt produced through their Impact Pictures banner.

Resident Evil: Afterlife, the fourth film in the highly successful franchise, released in 2010. It was filmed using the Vincent Pace 3D system developed for Avatar. It went on to become Anderson’s first global number one, staying at the top of the international box office for a month straight.

Following this unprecedented peak with the ever-evolving Resident Evil franchise, Anderson diversified to direct and produce the stylish and action-packed update of Alexandre Dumas classic The Three Musketeers for Constantin Film and Summit Entertainment. Filmed in 3D.

Following on in 2011, Anderson returned to his blockbuster franchise writing, producing, and directing Resident Evil: Retribution, the eagerly anticipated fifth installment of the Resident Evil movie brand. It blended familiar and beloved faces with hot newcomers in this clever metamorphosis of the series. Released in September 2012, it raked an impressive $240 million worldwide.

In 2014, Anderson released Pompeii, a classic story of love, friendship, greed, and betrayal set against the spectacle of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Visually stunning, Pompeii is an award-winning extravaganza that has grossed $120 million to date.

Anderson returned to the helm of his record-breaking enterprise in 2015 to direct the culmination of the billion-dollar franchise Resident Evil: The Final Chapter. Intelligently tying together 15 years of storyline and splicing beloved classic game characters with new monstrous adversaries, this was the final journey for the franchise’s and indeed the genre’s incomparable heroine Alice. Shot to dynamic effect in South Africa, the visually stunning, highly anticipated, action packed finale was released Jan 27, 2017, and grossed over $315 million worldwide. This was highest grossing film of the franchise, bringing the Resident Evil franchise total to over $1.2 billion.

In 2018, YouTube Red rolled out the sci-fi horror series “Origin,” which Anderson executive produced; he also directed the pilot as well as other episodes. Left Bank Pictures co-produced. “Origin” stars Tom Felton and “Game of Thrones’” Natalia Tena.