Film fans have been left perplexed this year with the ongoing uncertainty over the release of eagerly anticipated titles, but monster movie fans are in for a treat this week.
Paul W S Anderson, director of the Resident Evil franchise, has a monsterfest landing in cinemas this weekend in the shape of Monster Hunter. It is an adaptation of the popular Japanese monster-slaying video game that launched in 2004.
Anderson may even start his very own monster vs monster feud, as he tells The National that the fantastical beasts in his movie are "better than Jurassic World".
Unusually for a traditionally CGI-heavy genre, the director insisted on shooting in a variety of exotic, real-life locations rather than against a green screen. That decision made creating his monsters a challenge of epic proportions, the director explains.
"I was trying very much to shoot the creatures in broad daylight. Our visual effects company said: 'Look, if you want to show them in broad daylight, we have to build these creatures better than the creatures in Jurassic World.'"
For Anderson, there was no debate. "I've seen enough movies where it's dark and raining or misty, and you can't see anything. I thought enough of hiding the monsters – let's see them in broad daylight. That's why I spent a year and a half working on the visual effects. If you hide it in the rain and the mist and the darkness, and you cut like crazy, the visual effects just don't have to be that good."
Anderson is convinced it was 18 months well spent, particularly in light of his proud Jurassic World claims. "I can give you all the stats, but basically there's more detail in our Diablos than there is in a T-Rex in Jurassic. We had to go for that kind of world-class level."
As Anderson excitedly reels off statistics about visual effects shots, it becomes apparent that Monster Hunter is something of a passion project. It's not surprising to learn that he became acquainted with the video game several years ago while visiting Japan and has been a fan, and regular player, since.
The film's stars, however, were less familiar with the source material. Thai martial arts master Tony Jaa, in particular, admits that not only was Monster Hunter new to him when he joined the cast, but also that the whole monster movie genre was somewhat unchartered territory.
"We didn't really have monster films in Thailand when I was growing up. We still don't, really," he says. "The Japanese have Godzilla. In Korea, they have that new one, The Host, that's an amazing Korean movie. But Thailand? No. Maybe next time I will put the monster in Thailand."
Jaa's co-star Milla Jovovich is no stranger to monster movie or video game adaptations – she and her husband Anderson have previously worked together on the most commercially successful video game movie franchise to date, Resident Evil.
Nonetheless, rather than joining her husband for all-night gaming sessions in preparation for her role as Captain Natalie Artemis, Jovovich followed the more traditional method actor’s route while researching her role.
Jovovich spent several days training at a California military facility that specialises in simulating rescue missions such as the one Artemis finds herself on at the start of the movie. "I said, OK, so here's how the script starts, and my character is a captain, and she's in charge of this mission," she explains. "How would I have gotten to be here today? What made me? I asked my adviser: 'How did you get to where you are today?' We literally worked backwards from that opening sequence and created my character."
Anderson and Jovovich's success with the billion-dollar-grossing Resident Evil franchise is something of an anomaly in a movie world where the rule of thumb is that video game adaptations tend to flop. So can they find the same magic a second time around? Anderson insists we shouldn't be too hard on the video-game-adaptation genre.
“I always find it funny when people go ‘video games, why are they so hard?’. Any kind of adaptation is hard,” he says. “To be honest, if you went through and did a similar analysis on movies that are adapted from books, I think you’d probably find that there are lots of failures there as well, but no one ever talks about them. It’s hard to make any really good, successful movie. If it wasn’t, everyone would be doing it.”
Besides being intimately familiar with the source material, Anderson also spent a long time in Japan with the game’s creators, discussing his film to ensure fidelity to their world. “You’re walking a fine line between pleasing people who read the book and know everything about the book, or the video game, and then also trying to bring in an audience that don’t know anything about the book or the video game,” he says.
“That’s the hard thing to do because, on the one hand, you want to please all the fans, but on the other, you don’t want to make it so insular that you exclude people who didn’t read the book or play the video game. That’s the real challenge with any adaptation.”
For Jovovich, there's something else about Monster Hunter that she hopes will extend its audience appeal. The star was among the first strong female leads in video game adaptations, predating Angelina Jolie's take on the Tomb Raider story by a full year with her appearance in 2002's first Resident Evil film.
Now she says that producers are finally waking up to the fact that action movies have alienated half of their audience for too long. “I feel like there’s been a huge improvement since I started making action films. There are so many films with female leads that are action-driven now,” she says.
"It's about filmmakers being interested in giving women great characters to play, where they take control of situations. There are loads of scripts like that written for men, and I think they need to write in the same way for women. That's how to really make it appealing to a bigger audience, and I think with this film we're moving in the right direction for sure."
Monster Hunter is in cinemas across the UAE from Thursday, December 3