Resident Evil Review
Video game adaptations? Get used to them because there is going to be many, many more. Studios are beginning to see modern videogames as having better cinematic potential than their equivalent of a few years ago - think Deus Ex rather than Pacman - and studios are looking not only for recognisable characters but also a strong story, pre-designed locations/levels and a playing time not far off the length of a movie - in other words everything bar setting up a camera and directing a few actors to move in front of it. Success is certainly not guaranteed but after Tomb Raider and Paul WS Anderson's adaptation of Capcom's Resident Evil, it's getting close.
Resident Evil opens in the Hive, a research facility owned by the Umbrella Corporation not far out of Raccoon City. The Umbrella Corporation is a multinational with pharmaceutical and computer systems divisions but unknown to most of their employees, they are also the largest global supplier of military systems, particularly in genetic research and viral weaponry. Much of this research is concerned with the T-Virus and, as with all such research in the movies, the virus escapes the laboratory, getting into the air conditioning systems in the Hive. This facility is controlled and monitored by a supercomputer, the Red Queen, which takes defensive measures to contain the virus, principally by killing every employee and shutting down the only route out of the facility to the outside world.
Meanwhile, Alice (Jovovich) wakes within a mansion with amnesia, unable to remember not only where she is but also who she is. She finds photographs of herself with a man she doesn't know, a cryptic note telling her that all her dreams are to come true and a drawer full of automatic weapons. On leaving the mansion, she feels there is something odd about the environment only to be suddenly dragged back inside when a commando group storms the mansion, including One (Salmon), Kaplan (Crewes) and Rain (Rodriguez). Umbrella corporate headquarters have ordered that the Hive is to be investigated and cleared of any possible threat. The commando team subsequently open the locked doors to the Hive and have but a limited time to carry out their mission. Given the release of the T-Virus, however, they are unsure of what awaits them within the Hive...
Resident Evil has had rather an interesting history. For a considerable period of time, George A Romero was developing a script and was set to direct the film. This association really began when Capcom asked Romero to direct the television advert for Biohazard 2, the Japanese version of Resident Evil 2. However, as Romero continued developing his script, Capcom, the developers of the Resident Evil game, clearly had concerns with the direction he was taking and asked him to leave the project. After that, it drifted along for many years until Paul WS Anderson picked it up. Anderson, with Mortal Kombat, had already been involved with an earlier videogame adaptation and his later film, Event Horizon, though not a straight adaptation, was both influenced by videogames and influenced them in return. Anderson, rather than Romero, seemed like the director best suited to Resident Evil and in moving quickly after dithering for so many years both during and after the Romero period, Capcom seemed to agree.
What with Anderson's involvement and a number of liberties taken with the story, the fans of the videogame series were rather upset. How relevant these comments are is entirely open to question given an example of "Hey dude, it's not set in the mansion, no grenade launcher and where's the snake?" It may or may not be the time to cast a critical eye of the original series of games but, being honest, they weren't really that outstanding. The first was good fun but let down by poor voice acting and scripting. Resident Evil 2 started well but lost its appeal when it turned out to be little more than a rerun of the first game, replacing the mansion with a police station but using exactly the same puzzles. Resident Evil 3: Nemesis failed to move the series on, being little more than a budget expansion pack and Gun Survivor and Code: Veronica did nothing to alter the impression that Resident Evil was resting on its laurels. When Silent Hill appeared, Resident Evil was no longer the survival horror game of choice for PlayStation owners, the latter looking like William Castle's The House On Haunted Hill to the former's The Evil Dead and Resident Evil began looking as creaky as the house in which the first game was set.
In terms of Anderson's movie, he has written and directed a piece of work very close to the spirit of the games if not being a direct rip from any individual entry in the series. Rather, he has allowed the games to influence his film with sufficient reference points to keep all but the most obsessional fans happy whilst opening it up for a large audience. Certainly, if you can look past the obvious link between the games and the film - specifically zombies - then the licker, the return trip on the train, the mansion, the reference to another research program and the film's final scenes all indicate quite strong connections between the two. The effect is one of Anderson playing it quite safe with the source material while the downside is that the film can feel as though it has been made to be liked by everybody but loved by no one.
Taken separately from the games, Resident Evil is actually a pretty good film, all told. Anderson's films have a habit of not outstaying their welcome and Resident Evil is no different, lasting for a little over 90 minutes and moving along briskly from the start. Anderson is also a director who knows how a make a film look good on a limited budget and there are a number of scenes that really stand out in terms of their visual appeal including those set in the sewers and in the entry to the Red Queen's core, which is rather heavily influenced by Cube, though this is admitted on the commentary. Most effective of all are the scenes set in the mansion as Alice wakes, which break up the action between the shutting down of the Hive and the arrival of the commando unit as well as simply being beautifully filmed. It is a pity the film has not been better paced to include more such scenes, which would break up the rather non-stop charge to the film's conclusion.
Of the cast, Michelle Rodriguez has what is quite clearly the standout role and her portrayal of Rain, though obviously modelled on Vasquez in Aliens, is the most memorable one in the film as well as being the most interesting character to listen to and watch. Unless, that is, you rather like Milla Jovovich, who does well as Alice even if her transformation, as her memory recovers, from being quite a bland but vulnerable victim of circumstance to a crack soldier is a little sudden. Interestingly for someone who tends towards action/horror movies, Anderson directs and writes for women better than men and where Rodriguez and Jovovich stand out, the men, excepting James Purefoy and Martin Crewes, tend to drift like mercury into a single tough commando character. Eric Mabius is, however, disappointing in his role and, regardless of what happens as his motives become clear, you never really warm to him.
Resident Evil is what Anderson does best - it's a mix of sci-fi, horror, conspiracies and action that works well but without really breaking away from its origins into greatness. Capcom could have held out for a writer/director that would have provided a visionary re-imagining of the Resident Evil world as Romero might have done, though his recent form would indicate otherwise, but then it wouldn't have been Resident Evil and the fans would have been vitriolic in their hatred of it, more so than then Anderson became involved. It should be remembered at all times that this film didn't start with the best of source texts and Anderson has made a rather better film from it than might have been expected.
What Resident Evil's success has done is to guarantee an increase in the number of videogame/movie two-handers and with the Max Payne software shipping with a movie deal secured and Shiny's cross-platform Enter The Matrix filling in the story between The Matrix and The Matrix Reloaded, Hollywood is all set for a big splash into the videogame market that not even Super Mario Bros and Street Fighter can contain.
The film has been superbly and anamorphically transferred in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with the pale, cool colours of the film being beautifully represented on the DVD. It helps that a lot of the film is set in stark, bright environments but the transfer is also able to handle the more muted colours of the sewers and the natural colours in the mansion.
There are a total of twenty chapters on the disc, which are divided into the main action set-pieces and the menus on the disc are fully animated throughout using a Red Queen-styled visual key.
The sound mix is great with good use of directional effects through the front and rear speakers. The score by Marco Beltrami and Marilyn Manson is heavily influenced by industrial rock and children's nursery rhymes and toys, something that Manson's contemporaries, including Nine Inch Nails, tend to fall back on when scoring horror films and games, taking American McGee's Alice as an example but the overall effect works quite well.
The extras presented here are exactly the same as in the Region 1 release, reviewed here by Raphael Pour-Hashemi. Therefore, there are no deleted scenes, no original ending and no features on the original series of games, all of which would have improved the package. Still, what there is on both releases is not bad for a single-disc set and should provide an entertaining couple of hours, particularly the commentary.
Theatrical Trailer (2m20s, 1.85:1 Anamorphic, Dolby Digital 5..1): This trailer begins by summarising the early scenes set in the Hive then quickly moving to cover the main action from the arrival of the special forces team. Most of the key set-pieces are included with the trailer cut to avoid giving away anything.
Teaser Trailer (0m40s, 1.85:1 Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): Being a teaser trailer, there is precious little content, sprinting through most of the few key scenes to a quick conclusion.
Scoring Resident Evil (11m10s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): This featurette begins with an interview with Paul WS Anderson talking about the John Carpenter feel he was looking for when scoring Resident Evil and how he enlisted Marco Beltrami and Marilyn Manson, who are subsequently interviewed themselves, to collaborate on the score.
Costumes (3m26s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): This featurette interviews both Paul WS Anderson and Richard Bridgland, the production and costume designer, on the design of costumes for the film.
Set Design (4m08s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): Once again, Richard Bridgland is interviewed but this time it is regarding his set designs for the movie and how the level design in the games influenced his design of the movie.
Zombie Camera Tests (1m02s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): Just as it says - footage of actors made up as zombies being filmed during screen tests; no interviews.
Easter Egg: Unlocking this will play the video for 'My Plague' by Slipknot from the Resident Evil soundtrack, which will appeal if you enjoy nu-metal and watching grown men wearing boiler suits and clown masks. For those of us born before 1990, it's not worth unlocking.
Making Of Resident Evil (27m21s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): This is not bad although it does suffer from looking as though it was put together for an MTV puff-piece prior to the cinema release. All the main actors are interviewed and Paul WS Anderson and Jeremy Bolt (the producer) discuss the development of the film given the history of the series as videogames, particularly when Yoshiki Okamoto, Capcom's Head Of Production, talks about the influence of movies on the games.
Cast And Crew Commentary: Jeremy Bolt, Paul WS Anderson, Milla Jovovich and Michelle Rodriguez all feature on this commentary. Frankly, it's a bit of a mess but a very enjoyable one as Jovovich and Rodriguez talk about pretty much everything but the film. Even in periods where they find something in the movie worth talking about, the scene has finished by the time they notice, which, to be fair to them, they do admit to. As the filmmakers, Bolt and Anderson have little to say regarding their work before Jovovich and Rodriguez shout them down to talk a bit more about Eric Mabius ("yoghurt!"), the KitKat club and Anderson's attempt at an Alice In Wonderland theme to the film (Alice, the Red Queen, Rain and JD as Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Spence as the Cheshire Cat), which Rodriguez understands but is possibly the only one, including Anderson.
The release could be very slightly improved with an SE but I fear that would only be of limited interest to those truly devoted fans, including an alternate ending that is only rumoured. The DVD package here is actually rather good and, if you're a fan of the movie, is worth buying. Those who enjoyed the games but not necessarily the movie will find little of interest here, nor will those with only a passing interest. Personally, I'm interested in a good commentary, a decent making-of but mostly the film with an excellent video and audio transfer, all of which are present here.
Resident Evil works by being a fairly loose reworking of the original story, pumped up with an industrial rock soundtrack, flashy visuals and lashings of horror/sci-fi action, showing that Anderson is quite at home when he sticks to what he knows. As with Event Horizon, this film works as glossy, high-concept entertainment yet, as with the earlier film, the largely British cast give the film a slightly odd feeling, out of place when put against the American accents of Homogenised Slasher Flick Part 3. Compared to The Matrix, another sci-fi action movie that, like gold leaf, is all glitz and no substance, Resident Evil is a rather clunky, British affair, quite obviously make-believe, curiously absent of an all-star cast but somehow still looking the business. Still, don't think this is Dawn Of The Dead or I Walked With A Zombie - there's little social commentary or retelling of the classics here - but it's better than Savini's Night Of The Living Dead and Romero's own Day Of The Dead.
What Resident Evil does very well, however, is to indicate the direction that film adaptations of videogames should take and following on from the many attempts that went before it, this film may prove, along with Simon West's Tomb Raider, to be rather important in the coming years, at least until someone produces and out-and-out howler but this film ain't it.