By: BRENDAN MCDANIEL
Fun fact about me: I love video games. I’ve been playing games for as long as I can remember, and the medium has always been a vital part of my life. So naturally when I heard on Friday that my favorite series “Monster Hunter” was receiving a film adaptation set for a September 2020 release, I was ecstatic. Problem is, the film looks anything but promising. For background, “Monster Hunter” is a video game series in which you fight monsters and use the rewards to craft better gear to fight tougher monsters.
My most cherished childhood memories come from playing “Monster Hunter” with online friends or with my father. Finally having a live action “Monster Hunter” film should be something of a dream come true for me. So why am I so wary of next year’s film?
Although director Paul Anderson has been attempting to get this film made for nearly a decade, the interviews he has conducted on it betray an interpretation of the source material that really bothers me.
The film’s summary, referenced in several publications including a piece on Gamecrate.com by Quibian Salazar-Moreno “Monster Hunter movie to begin production with T.I., Ron Perlman” reads: “For every Monster, there is a Hero. An ordinary man in a dead end job discovers that he is actually the descendant of an ancient hero. He must travel to a mystical world to train to become a Monster Hunter, before the mythical creatures from that world destroy ours.”
This summary has serious problems. I can look past the “descendant of an ancient hero” premise (something that doesn’t ever feature in the series), but there is a fundamental problem the second line. The world of “Monster Hunter” is not a “mystical world.” There’s no magic in the games’ world, no ancient spirits and certainly no means to travel between it and the real world. “Monster Hunter” is unique in its fantasy setting in that it constantly reinforces the idea that everything in it is the result of a natural, scientific phenomenon; wyverns (basically dragons) don’t breathe fire by magic, they do so because they have an organ that produces flammable gas. There aren’t magic spells for the player to cast, there are tools that you make yourself from monster parts, plants, and ores. The closest the series comes is having potions that make you stronger and restore health, but those are produced from plants and berries, which is how humanity has made medicine up until two or three centuries ago. This is a basic, but very significant component of the series; having somewhat-scientific explanations for the fantasy elements gives them a clear internal logic and creates the illusion that these monsters could be real creatures, had evolution taken a few different turns. A “hypothetical realism,” if you will.
This leads to the next problem: the “transported to another world/save the real world from the fantasy monsters” premise. This is a pretty standard fantasy trope, and while there’s nothing inherently wrong with it, applying it to “Monster Hunter” specifically just doesn’t make sense. “Monster Hunter” games take great care to create the illusion of the monsters being real, living creatures. Rathalos, the “Kings of the Skies,” fly with grace and power, but can’t walk two steps without tripping over their own feet; Kulu-Ya-Ku are clever enough to pick up rocks to use as weapons, but have a wide-eyed stare that makes them look like someone dropped a chicken brain in a velociraptor; and Deviljho aren’t just big ugly dinosaurs, they’re big ugly dinosaurs that pick up other monsters in their jaws and beat you to death with them. The “hypothetical realism” works because it asks “what if” and works through a logical, if goofy answer. Having the “Monster Hunter” world directly stated to be a fantasy realm shatters that illusion, and removes the sense that the monsters are thinking creatures in any sense.
Director Anderson’s apparent choice to forgo the “hypothetical realism” of “Monster Hunter” is a shame, because I think that’s what makes the series work. There’s a Pokemon-like joy of discovering each new monster and learning its behaviors and quirks that melds well with action role-playing game boss battles. Now, since the film isn’t going to be out for a year and a half, I can’t make any definite claims on the quality of the film. I’ll have to actually see it before I can do that. But based on what I’ve seen so far, I worry that something as near and dear to my heart as “Monster Hunter” will be relegated to the ever-growing pile of bad video game movies.