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For Mortal Kombat and Resident Evil director Paul W.S. Anderson, it’s all been leading to Monster Hunter

Polygon talks to the director about Mortal Kombat, Resident Evil, and his biggest movie yet

Graphic grid of six rectangles on bright purple blue background with images from the movies Monster Hunter, Mortal Combat, Resident Evil and a photo of director Paul Anderson Graphic: James Bareham/Polygon

“I love Monster Hunter,” Paul W.S. Anderson told Polygon in the first big interview for his upcoming Monster Hunter adaptation, conducted as part of this year’s all-digital New York Comic Con. “It was my favorite movie of any movie in my career to make.”

Considering his history, it’s quite a claim. Anderson is best known for breaking the video game movie curse with 1995’s Mortal Kombat, then shepherding the Resident Evil franchise as a director, writer, and producer. With actress (and eventual wife) Milla Jovovich, Anderson approached each installment of Resident Evil as an entirely different genre exercise, from the claustrophobic horror of the original movie to the Mad Max-ian post-apocalypse drama in Extinction and the visual experimentation at the heart of Retribution. Monster Hunter, based on the hit Capcom fantasy franchise, returns him to the land of games-as-movies. But it wasn’t a job for hire; Anderson was dying to make the movie.

With the release of Screen Gems and Toho’s Monster Hunter just a few months away, Anderson sat down with Polygon for an in-depth interview on his entire career. The NYCC 1:1 covers the making of Mortal Kombat, the surprising creative choices that defined Resident Evil, and a brand new clip of Monster Hunter, featuring a Greater Rathalos in action.

Find the full panel, the brand new clip (at 42:09), and his breakout quotes on Monster Hunter below.

After so many years of making action movies, how did Monster Hunter test you as a filmmaker? What was the challenge of bringing that world to life after everything we’ve seen before?

Paul W. S. Anderson: The really big challenge, or really big pressure, was to do it justice. I’ve long been a fan of the video game. I discovered it in Japan 12 years ago when it was pretty much a Japanese-only phenomena, before the rest of the world discovered what Monster Hunter was. I started talking to Capcom 10 years ago about adapting it into a movie. This really is a long-term passion project of mine and I’m approaching it not just as a filmmaker but also as a kind of long-term player and fan of it.

In terms of filmmaking [...] I fell in love with the creatures and the amazing world that Capcom had created. The landscapes in the video game, and the world they’ve made, is just incredible. To do justice to that, I wanted to film it for real. I didn’t want to go onto a studio backlot and shoot against a green screen and just manufacture everything in a computer. So we pretty much went out to find the most incredible landscapes we could and we went and shot there.

I’ve never done a movie like that before, where you literally have to go into the middle of nowhere with your entire film crew, 200 miles away from the nearest town in the middle of these desolate landscapes. We created tent villages for everyone to live in. So it’s 350 people living in a tent village where we had to put in water, electricity, both of which kept breaking down, you know, living in temperatures that varied from super insanely hot to below freezing, sometimes in exactly the same location. I mean, it was a really tough and challenging shoot from that regard. But we felt like adventurers, which was great. We felt like we were in the world of Monster Hunter.

What did you see in the franchise? What did Capcom really want you to bring to it?

I think Capcom knew that I was, having turned their video game into the most successful video game franchise ever, they were getting a good set of hands. But also, a passionate set of hands as well. You know, I was there when Monster Hunter: World came out and sold 15 million copies a year and a half, two years ago, when every Hollywood studio in the world was chasing Monster Hunter because suddenly they’re like, “Oh, big sales! Let’s go grab it!” And they were all very disappointed to discover that I already had the rights to it [laughs]. But I pursued the rights when no one knew about it outside of Japan. I think that passion for their project is something that Capcom really respected. And the closeness of my relationship with the creator of the game — we worked very closely with Capcom on this one, much closer than on any other movie I’ve made. They were very, very involved with it.

What were those conversations like?

We talked through the script and what that would contain, what creatures would be in the movie, which landscapes would be in the movie. When we were designing the costumes, we’d send photographs of all of the costumes to Japan and they’d say “Well, you know, the, the hunter’s collar should be little smaller.” “You know, the Admirals axe could be a bit bigger.”

The weapons can always be bigger.

Everything was run by them and so they got input into absolutely everything. And then in the process of making the movie also, I would fly to Japan with rough cuts of the fight sequences with the creatures, and the actual game animators would comment on the movement of the creatures. “The movement of the creature isn’t exactly right here.” “The creature would be a little lower.” “The stance would be slightly different.” “The toenails of the creature are too pointy.” That was a great note. I’m like, “Oh my god, you’re looking at the toenails of the creature?” I’m looking at Milla because she’s going to get eaten. She’s going to have her head bitten off by the creature, but they cared enough to kind of look at the toenails and what they exactly looked like. So, we took all the notes because we wanted it to be for fans of the game, for us to put these creatures on screen as accurately as possible.

The Black Diablos in Monster Hunter movie roaring
The Black Diablos from Monster Hunter
Image: Screen Gems

You and Milla have done so many movies together, from the Resident Evil series to The Three Musketeers. What’s her character like in this movie? How does Tony Jaa fit in?

It’s a very, very different character for her to play. She’s never played a character like this before. You know, when you play the video game, you play as an unnamed hunter, and I wanted to kind of recapture the feeling of when I first played the video game. I came to the game not knowing anything about it and I, as a stranger, was immersed in this world containing these amazing landscapes and in these amazing creatures that would kick my ass.

I thought, I want that. That should be the film going experience as well. So in many ways, Milla is the avatar for the audience. She’s the newbie going into this world. She’s the person from our world that knows nothing about the Monster Hunter world that’s going in for the first time. And what’s nice for the game players about that is it kind of recreates your first experience when you first played Monster Hunter. But also, what’s nice is that it doesn’t exclude anyone, because if you don’t know anything about the game, she’s the character who goes, “What are these creatures? What is this world? How does it work?”

And then you have characters like Tony Jaa’s character or Ron Perlman’s character, who are characters from the video game who know everything about that world and basically take her under their wing and have to educate her. She plays a kind of a fierce warrior from our world, but the skills she’s learned as a US Army Ranger, which is badass in our world, those skills don’t mean too much when you’re fighting these 50-foot tall monsters. All of the weaponry that would be very useful against a bunch of human beings doesn’t quite work so good against a wrathful, awesome Diablos. So she has to learn a new way to fight and she has to learn how to cooperate.

That’s one of the main themes of the video game that I really liked — cooperation is key. You have to fight with other people. You have to cooperate with other people to bring down those big creatures. That’s a good message for our world right now, you know? We live in such a divisive world where people are kind of closing off their borders and closing off their minds that to have a movie that in the most fun way possible basically tells you that people from different cultures, from different backgrounds, they need to cooperate for the greater good ... for me, that’s a good message for our times.

How did everyone do with the giant swords and, and weapons? It doesn’t seem easy to swing a giant sword.

They were not. Ron Perlman complained a lot. I mean, he picked up his axe and he twirled it but he said, “Oh my god, Paul!” Then we lit it on fire.

Tony, of course, was a star. He was the one who had to carry most of the weapons. He’s got this giant jaw blade, this great sword, which was huge. I mean, bigger than he is and he has to carry that and the great bow, which again is taller than he is, and kind of do these elaborate fight scenes. He was a real master. He really impressed me that he could handle these weapons. They’re very, very outsized, because that’s one of the features of the game. It’s the big, bad, bad weapons and we had to build them big. Tony, god bless him, he managed to twirl that huge blade. It was amazing.

Talk a little about the monsters we’re going to see in Monster Hunter. I think a few of them have been revealed, but does one in particular make you giddy to see on screen?

I love the Rathalos because the Rathalos is pretty much the rock star of the Monster Hunter video games. It’s been in nearly all of the games. It’s probably one of the hardest creatures to kill. It’s just badass. So I’m very excited that that’s in our movie. And then also, I love the Black Diablos. Diablos is a creature that I just like, but the Black Diablos is particularly nasty because that’s a female Diablos that’s in heat, so it’s just very angry. Very territorial.

Is there a cute monster we’re going to see in this movie?

You couldn’t make a Monster Hunter movie without having a Palico in it. We have one of the characters, Meowscular Chef, who’s kind of Admiral’s sidekick. He’s a fantastic character who has this rather kind of flirtatious relationship with Milla, which is really interesting.

greater rathalos breathing fire in the monster hunter movie
The Greater Rathalos from Monster Hunter
Image: Screen Gems

The Rathalos in your movie is actually called the Greater Rathalos. What makes it greater?

It’s a new and improved version that we joked we fed GMOs. So we make it bigger and better. But it’s a bigger version of the Rathalos than you would see in the games and the reason for that is it’s associated with this ancient civilization, which is a theme that runs through several of the games, and so there’s a kind of secret associated with this greater Rathalos that people will discover when they see the movie.

You really can’t go wrong with a big-ass dragon.

Who doesn’t want to see a dragon eat an airplane? They never had that in Game of Thrones.

After rewatching Resident Evil: The Final Chapter the other day, I realize you put in a taste of Monster Hunter. Alice fights a mini dragon.

I was definitely thinking of [Monster Hunter]. At that point, we were actively developing Monster Hunter so I was kind of trying out some techniques for that, you know, because it’s not, you know, filming kind of 50-foot high monsters, it’s not as easy as you might think because when you have monsters in a traditional movie, you have a guy in a suit with some tracking markers and all the actors come look at the guy who’s pretending to be the creature. When the creature’s this big, it’s like, what do they look at? How do you make sure everyone’s looking at the same thing? So what we ended up doing was something we pioneered when we were doing Resident Evil, which was the use of drones, where you’d have a drone and get the drone to the right point, right height, so everyone can be looking at the right thing. And then you can use it as the creature’s point of view shot of the actors, the tiny little actors down below that you’re trying to stomp on.

Is Monster Hunter a big investment for you? Do you see this as the opening chapter of something bigger? A franchise?

Listen, I love Monster Hunter. It was, it was my favorite movie of any movie in my career to make. Just the experience of kind of going out to these incredible landscapes and building a team spirit with the crew and the actors, you know? Us against the, the environment, in a way. It was something truly special. So, you know, it’s definitely a world that I would love to continue exploring but we always take it one movie at a time, you know? We, we want to kind of kick ass with this film first before considering doing anything else.

Monster Hunter is currently slated for release in theaters on Dec. 30, 2020.