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Why The Monster Hunter Movie Looks Nothing Like The Games

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Resident Evil director Paul WS Anderson recently returned to big-screen adaptations of classic console games with 2020's Monster Hunter, but why does the action fantasy look nothing like the original games? Starring martial arts icon Tony Jaa and the long-running Resident Evil franchise’s resident heroine Milla Jovovich in the main role, Monster Hunter is the latest in a string of fantasy/horror/action game adaptations from Paul WS Anderson.

Anderson (not to be confused with There Will Be Blood and Inherent Vice filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson) has been working in genre movies for decades now, with his impressive CV including the likes of Event Horizon and the underrated Alien Vs Predator. But ever since bringing Mortal Kombat to the screen in cult darling fashion, Anderson has been best known for big-screen adaptations of popular video games, and Monster Hunter is no exception in that regard. The movie fared relatively well with audiences upon release, but critical consensus largely dismissed Monster Hunter as a subpar, forgettable bit of fantasy action from a director capable of better.

But the humdrum critical reception wasn't the movie's biggest issue for many fans of the source material. Fans of the Monster Hunter game franchise were understandably surprised by the look of the movie adaptation, as Anderson’s movie features a visual aesthetic a world away from the colorful console games. Gone are the verdant green plains of Monster Hunter’s original Playstation 2 game and subsequent sequels, with the famous series setting replaced by a dry desert for much of the movie's runtime and the film looking more post-apocalyptic than medieval. Much of Anderson’s movie takes place in remote, desolate locations that owe more to the director’s earlier Resident Evil: Extinction or the Mad Max franchise than the high fantasy style settings of the original Monster Hunter games.

The change is too obvious to be a mere oversight, and fortunately, it wasn’t a question of budgetary limitations either. In a 2016 interview shortly after the movie adaptation was originally announced, Anderson broadcast his intention to focus more on the game’s desert settings and otherworldly elements than the more fantasy-inspired settings. Per Anderson, the movie would connect “the Dune-like, sand-covered world of Monster Hunter with our world,” a comparison that elides the more traditional fantasy elements in favor of the game’s spectacular Gobi desert setting and more realistic, contemporary-looking milieus.

A big concern for Anderson, as with any director adapting a video game to screen, was avoiding silliness and ensuring the finished film didn’t look too over-the-top. As such, avoiding the overt fantasy settings of earlier flops such as Warcraft meant the director could capture the feel of the Monster Hunter game series without directly aping its visual aesthetic. Of course, only fans of the games can decide whether Anderson succeeded, or whether sapping the Monster Hunter movie adaptation of its recognizable aesthetic rendered the movie another conventional fantasy action escapade with few memorable features.
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