Seemingly as far as video game feature film history goes currently, Paul W.S. Anderson’s take on the Resident Evil game franchise stands as the overall “most successful video game-to-film franchise” created so far. The five, this week about to be six*, film series has generated almost $1 Billion dollars at the box office alone (un-adjusted**) since the first films release in early 2002... Of course the response to the films themselves has always been almost completely split - meaning “most successful” is really only in box office. Most successful when it comes to critical... well is something else.
Game Over #10: Resident Evil
Dir: Paul W.S. Anderson
Box Office: $102,441,078 Worldwide
Fans of the game franchise tend to find the films an annoying mess of nonsense which runs it’s own crazy story line and in recent years has been cherry picking characters, monsters, and moments from the games with seemingly no reason than what I’ve been calling the old habit of “justification of (game) origin” in this series. And at their worst some argue the action focus in the films had been feeding back into to the continued focus on action the games had been taking more and more until recently as well.
As voices they are backed by most film critics who see the films usually as trashy action films, as often noted as “brain dead films for a seemingly possible brain dead audience” to paraphrase a few critics trying to make zombie jokes here and there over the years. Every entry of the franchise so far is below 34% on Rotten Tomatoes for example, with this first film being the highest rated (at that 34%) of the five so far released.
On the flip side the films do have their fans, from people who see them as a complete different line away from the games and to those just take them on face value as entertaining baffling action films. There is also a run of people who admire the visual craft Anderson has been working on in his action scenes, high speed camera, and even his 3D in recent films... considering that he is one the few film makers out there continually shooting on actual 3D camera rigs (including the Pace-Cameron system first developed for Avatar) rather than post converting his work later. Even I have to admit some truth to those claims, but that’s talk for later.
Anyone following this series will note that it’s been a few months (overdue) since I made my last post in this series.... for a variety of reasons. First Kinja seemingly swallowed my first early draft and outline of this at some point earlier weeks, but also pressures of a busy couple months or so of work and the holiday season hasn’t helped. All together it’s slowed my enthusiasm for this a little of late to get back on board. But with the massive thud that the Assassin’s Creed film made upon release, the release this week* of the “final chapter” of the Resident Evil films - as well as the latest entry in the game series... means it’s about time to jump back into even if that means sitting through five Resident Evil films in coming weeks among five others.
* - The film released already in Japan in late December 2016, but it is not releasing elsewhere in the world until this coming week.
** - Sony has stated the franchise exceeded 1 billion in box office, however all independant stats put the franchise just short of this - unless you count for dollar inflation since the series began in 2002.
But why? If something has been that successful for the companies behind it, why should it be so difficult to sit through? Well personally it’s the writer-director himself that has constantly made it hard for me to get the series. When he finally came on board as the writer-director on the first film he spent a lot of time banging on about understanding the video games being important and that a lot of game-movie directors just don’t care about the content like he does.
Of course then the first thing we find out when the film was announced was that a seemingly sentient super-computer in an underground lab was going to be involved.... something never previously seen into a Resident Evil game at that point, and you start to feel like Anderson’s talking about... well seemingly a lot of crap.
But before I get too far into this, because much more could be said about this and the continued state of all things video game cinema... let’s go look at the film itself... and then we’ll come back to Anderson’s thoughts.
Resident Evil actually moves through very quickly, establishing the Umbrella Corporation in flashy on screen text and voice over. Basically explaining they’re a major company who are create computer products (generally new to this film version, at least at the time), pharmaceutical products, and also creating military tech, genetics, and viral weaponry as a main money making export. If you followed my series thus far you know I’m not really a fan of voice over/text exposition at the start of a movie but this does just enough to set this up... so I guess I’m just kinda okay with it.
We start with someone taking a virus samples, blue and green, out of a containment area and placing them into a case, which they then close up and take - before throwing a vial of a virus. From here we’re treated to a scene with a bunch of workers which appear to be in a regular office where the virus breaks out due to that shady stealing of the virus itself. The whole sequence is a really nice setup, but.. and I’ve always been confused by this. It seems it could have made for a good twist in that while it looks like the staff are in an office building - they’re actually in an underground lab that looks like it’s a high rise out of it’s faked windows. But that never goes anywhere because when we get to exploring these with out cast later we’re already well aware of the underground complex. Seems like a real missed chance regardless.
Anyway the virus outbreak begins, and the computer overseeing the complex traps and kills everyone inside to avoid the virus getting out. So far not bad of a start.
After this we’re introduced to Milla Jovovich’s unnamed character who, due to amnesia doesn’t know who she is or whats going on, waking up naked in a shower. She’s inside a mansion, where a red dress has been left for her on a bed with a note nearby about making her “dreams come true.” There are other hints, a draw full of locked weapons and a picture of her and some guy on a wedding day.
She decides to leave the mansion however before she can explore much she’s scared back inside by crows and then a strange gust of wind(!?), bumping into and being dragged inside by some unknown guy and then an armed group bust in, capturing and cramming her and the other newly unknown guy - named Matt, claiming to be a Raccoon City Police officer who’s just appeared in the mansion - down into the area below.
Anderson’s choices here need fodder for deaths and so most of the characters of this group remain unexplained, barring the team’s commander One (played by Colin Salmon), a strong looking female soldier named Rain (Michelle Rodriguez), and another called J.D. (Pasquale Aleardi). They mostly act solely as the aforementioned death fodder throughout and get no development beyond generic concepts (one is a medic, there is a point man, tech guy and others etc.). Later the tech guy - Kaplan - will come into his own, but mostly they’re generally left to very little explanation throughout. Two of the guys are even just called “commando #1” and “commando #2" in the credits! Great work!
If Anderson’s intent was to steal a character fittings from something iconic like Aliens, he’s already well off the mark by not providing many memorable, or even named, characters so far.
So as mentioned, their progress takes them under the mansion into a storage space with blast doors and a ticking clock, and a train that will take them into the complex. The train needs powering, which thankfully has giant access doors inside the bottom of the train car.... quite convenient. Once they’re moving inside the train they find another guy locked inside, who Milla’s character (and us hopefully, if we’re paying attention) recognize as the guy from the wedding picture. She realized they have matching wedding rings, which when she checks insider tells her is owned by the Umbrella Corporation. Hmmm....
They arrive at the labs and begin exploring, finding nothing at first- although the audience both get shots of the computer tracking them and that there is obviously more to what’s going on. Milla’s character demands information and so “One” becomes Mr. Exposition. He tells them, and us as the audience, that they all work for Umbrella, and that the two of them are “fake” Married as cover for the entrance to the labs below. He explains about the labs themselves - called “The Hive” below Raccoon City (shown to us complete with one of Anderson’s favourite devices, map overlays)..., the gas that knocked them out, and then hints at something happening.
Almost everything we need to know... all spoon fed to us.
As they breach The Hive and explore further into the lab area, more explanations come from “One” - the “Red Queen” computer that is tracking them, that she killed the staff in The Hive for unknown reasons, and their team is there to shut her down. While Matt gets audio hints of something strange echoing through a vent, they have no idea what is happening... But as they depart we get to see the threat they don’t, the dead still alive.
Anderson continues to cheat his way around the space with his map overlay and we see the team have arrived at the bottom into an area called “Dining Hall B” but instead is filled with unknown tanks, which Matt surmises that “...the corporation’s keeping a few secrets down here.” Thanks for that ‘Capt. Obvious.’ As they explore Milla’s character looks inside one of the tanks, revealing some sort of creature growing inside and eeking a terrible jump scare attempt with One by her side.
After yet another flying map shortcut to tell us where we are, the team is now at the Red Queen’s chamber, and eventually access the hallway leading into the main room she’s in. One moves in, which eventually turns the lights on, before trying to access the chamber. The chamber opens and three of the team - the medic and two unnamed guys move up with a device to shut the computer down through an EMP scrambler.
As they move in the computer shuts the doors at both ends, trapping the four of them inside. A weapon system starts with a laser cutting the various team members down, one by one... err.. until “One” is left by himself (no puns intended) and while it seems he’ll escape instead the laser turns into a grid slicing him up into small bits. The sequence seemingly inspired by the horror movie CUBE, yet still original enough to be one of the lasting memories most people will have of this film. Tech guy Kaplan kills the security system, but not quick enough to have saved any of them. The unnamed fodder was expected, but killing off “One” was a slightly more surprising move given the amount of screen time he had so far.
With “One” dead, the Kaplan proceeds to cautiously grab the device and make his way into the chamber - which Milla’s character joins him to take out the computer. With it accessed and ready to be fried, the computer attempts to scare them with a hologram projection of a little girl with a British accent - based on the computer designer’s little girl which they basically ignore, even when she tells them they’re “...all going to die down here.” It’s just creepy enough.
Using the device shuts down the power in the complex, this also seemingly stops what is happening with all the creatures in the containers in the “dining hall” area... that the rest of the squad and Matt are currently still in. The computer reboots and basic backup power returns - resetting doors locks throughout. This of course unleashes zombies in the complex, who immediately attack the group in the dining hall. Rain is bit on the hand by the first one that appears, with the other soldier with her - J.D. - attempts stopping the person shooting them in the legs to no effect. Then both of them shoot the zombie down.
The rest of the team still alive arrive while Matt notices the keys for the handcuffs he’s been placed in have been dropped for him to grab while they’re distracted over the blood on the floor and the team argues over the shooting of the “survivor” - who’s vanished - and the death of the squad. However it’s not long before they’re attacked by a larger group of zombies, starting a round of neck snapping, gun firing, tank exploding chaos.
Milla’s still unnamed character has a flashback that makes it seem like she may have been involved in trying to get the virus in the lab out and be involved in the outbreak. Her and Matt are left behind while the rest of the squad head for the elevators, where after a panic over a code for access, the elevator ends up being filled with zombies who drag J.D. inside in Dawn of the Dead style. Rain gets bit again trying to save him, but is dragged away by the other members of the team as J.D. is killed.
Matt and Milla’s character survive the zombies, as well as the claw of a creature from one the tanks - who later breaks out. But they’re split up from the rest of the team - who went back to the entrance of the Red Queen’s area. Matt and “Milla” then also both end up going their own way for a bit. While exploring Milla’s character is attacked by both a zombie security guy and several zombie dogs. She jump kicks the zombie, takes his gun, shoots most of dogs, and then after using all the bullets later wall running and kicking one last dog in the head through a window... all to some funky guitar/synth mix. So yeah... we’ve entered the start of the absurder part of the film.
Matt finds a specific desk for a woman, Lisa, who was working at the labs, and has been, of course, killed and zombified. While he looks through paperwork from her desk, he is approached by the zombie version - who is killed by being hit over the head by a paperweight by Milla’s character as she attacks Matt.
She recognizes the woman from her flashback earlier as the person she was talking to about getting the virus out of the labs. Turns out, unsurprisingly, he’s not a cop and the woman was his sister - instead he worked for some sort of anti-corporate organization who sent his sister in to gather info and they’d planned on stealing the virus to get proof of Umbrella’s illegal operations. After this they somehow run back and return to the rest of the crew in the Red Queen area, now surrounded by Zombies in both exit doors, as always shown conveniently by the CGI map overlay.
It’s revealed that the giant blast doors they passed earlier with the clock is a fail safe, that if they’re not out by the time they shut - in about an hour - they’ll be sealed inside The Hive forever. Milla’s character then decides for everyone that the only way out is to reactivate the Red Queen Computer and get her to point their escape way out. With One gone, instead the computer becomes the new exposition device, explaining what The Hive was doing, the virus, the zombies outside, how to kill them, why everyone was killed to begin with, and a potential way out.
I want to complain more about all this but to be fair Anderson gets this info out cleanly in about two minutes tops, it could have been a lot worse. Lazy but I’ll buy it.
The team are led into utility tunnel ways below the Hive itself, allowing them to seemingly climb up around the outside of the facility back to the top labs. Anderson then does one of the cheesiest setups I can remember in film, with the amnesia man from the train getting stroppy about listening to the computer, when Rain pushes him aside against a vent. She tells him they’ve just “...got to keep moving because those things are right behind us...” just in time for zombie arms to come out of the vent on cue in a bad jump scare attempt you can see coming a mile away. Really? Super lame.
After a lengthy fight sequence that sees the team mostly all try deal with zombies from the vent while Milla’s character punches, elbows, kicks, and even snaps zombies necks with both her hands AND her thighs all by herself (this is clearly a clue where this franchise would head in retrospect!). She does this one woman action while she tells everyone to climb up on the pipes away from the zombies. They almost all escape, except Kaplan is bitten on the leg and Rain is bitten for a third, and then when confronted by zombie J.D. - a fourth time! Bad luck. After shooting several zombies, including J.D., however she makes it up with the rest of them, tormenting the zombies below with her bloody dripping hands.
The escape is short lived however, as they try to crawl along and then the exit from pipes with the zombies following below them. While crossing across the room a number of pipes and chains break, causing Kaplan to fall into the horde and Milla’s (yes, still!) unnamed character to almost fall as well (if not for an odd piece of leaping and the well timed grab from Matt). Rain is unable to shoot losing focus from her bites. And while Kaplan’s bitten for a second time, Milla’s character stops him from having his face torn off.
Kaplan is left with one bullet in his revolver (“That’s lucky” he quips as he throws the five other empty shells at the zombies below) and demands the others to leave him behind. There is no choice seemingly but to leave him on another part of the collapsed platform he managed to climb to. As they leave, a zombie crawls onto Kaplan as he puts his gun in his mouth... and we hear the shot as we see Milla’s reaction. However we cut back and find he shot the zombie instead, throws his gun at them, and then tells them they’ll have to work for their meal as his crawls off down the tunnel behind him. Nice work Kaplan.
The rest of the team arrive back into the labs where they started. Rain isn’t looking great, and the creature from before is unknowingly stalking them from the access tunnels. Milla’s character has what can only be called a “flashback hallucination” as she looks around her at what the labs used to be like and we get a look at the T-Virus and a possible “antivirus” (which I won’t even bother nitpicking the terms of!) Matt finds out that she was his sister’s contact, which obviously makes him angry believing it’s her fault the outbreak happened. When they go looking for the “antivirus” in the lab however both it and the virus samples are gone.
At this point our amnesia mystery man from the train has his flashback which we see. Him spying on the conversation with Lisa and Milla’s character, he and Milla having sex (just because... it’s a good memory I guess?), him writing the note about her dreams coming true, him stealing the virus, his name... Spence, and him throwing the virus causing the outbreak and then bumping into a guy from the start of the movie, and escaping the hive shutdown just as it happens. So the truth comes out with a wet thud of a surprise.
Milla’s character realizes just then what’s possibly happening and both her and the newly named Spence go for a gun she left while looking for the virus. Spence planned to sell the virus out on the open market once he knew others were after it, and attempts to talk her into joining him. Matt makes an attempt to grab the gun but comes up short (“Please. I wouldn’t want to shoot ya. Might need the bullets. Back off.” - good line).
Turns out the virus and the antivirus were on the train where they found him. Thankfully everyone else decides to stay quiet as a zombie rises out of the water (and also just as quietly as everyone else for convenience sake I must add) and bites him from behind on the neck. He shoots the zombie, avoids the others grabbing the gun from him, and escapes - locking them inside the lab, complete with a kiss off line directed at Milla’s character as he exits (“I’m missing you already.”) that you totally know will come back to him. Just in time the Red Queen pipes up telling them he won’t get away as she’s been “a bad, bad girl.”
Sure enough before he can escape, or even inject himself with the cure, Spence is attacked from above by the creature that’s been stalking them and is killed. This is all shown to the group left inside the lab via a somehow still working screen - even though that room was previously flooded floor to ceiling. The Red Queen goes back to exposition mode and explains what the creature was we just saw, including the fact it’s going to get bigger from eating, and confirming she didn’t warn them about it because it was meant to stop any of them escaping.
Trapped in the lab with 20 minutes to spare, the Red Queen says she will give them to code to get out of the lab if they kill Rain due to her being infected. Just to add extra pressure the giant creature arrives on cue and starts trying to smash through the thick glass panels into the lab as ticking clock music runs behind the scene. Rain prepares to sacrifice herself to let the others out... but in a cheat Milla’s character smashes the Red Queens screen/communication and somehow the computer gets fried... but how? The door opens and it’s Kaplan, who also killed the computer. The trio escape with him, just as the creature smashes into the lab.
Back on the platform they find the remains of Spence, who is now a zombie. As the others start up the train Milla’s character, still un-named more than 80 minutes in, goes to grab the virus case and smashes him over the head with the axe she still has - repeating back the line from him earlier - “I’m missing you already” - as expected and dumps her ring alongside him. Back on the train she injects Rain and Kaplan with the “antivirus” while Rain gives the audience a fake out death shortly after when she just simply passes out.
Thankfully it’s all just in time for a claw to come ripping through the side of the train, scratching Matt on the arm, and tearing a hole in the side. The creature is back for more. It tears open the door and eats poor old Kaplan from the control cabin, before after smashing down the back door of the train - knocking over Matt in the process, and heading towards Milla’s continually unnamed character. She then shoots in bullet time at the creature’s head. Doing absolutely nothing but seemingly pissing it off more so that it uses it’s super long tongue to grab her leg.
Matt grabs some conveniently bundled and hanging pipes that have been just hanging around since the start of the movie waiting for someone to use them... and rams them into the creature. It knocks it back and off of Milla - who then uses some of the pipes that fell down to pin the creature’s tongue into the mesh flooring. Now extra conveniently it’s stuck standing right on top of the also convenient access doors we saw being used on the train at the start of the film.
But before the doors can be dropped from below it, Rain reappears - in new zombie action form! Matt wrestles with her briefly before drawing his gun and shooting her directly in the head. Completing the path of conveniently placed items, her body falls back against the wall of the train directly on a large push button which also drops the creature out of the bottom, right onto the third rail both electrocuting it and setting it on fire while it drags along due to it’s pinned tongue. Cracking shot there Matt.
The button is pushed to shut the doors, cutting the tongue and leaving it behind as the last two survivors continue ahead on the train.
With mere seconds left the two exit the blast doors towards the mansion as the Hive is sealed off behind, virus case in hand. As they go through the mansion Milla’s character drops to the floor in shock, and Matt attempts to help her.... however he begins to react to the cuts on his arm he got from the creature, and falls on the ground rolling in pain. As Milla’s character prepares to inject him with the cure for the T-virus, the mansion doors swing open revealing guys in white hazmat suits.
She tries to fight them off as Matt is carried out, put on a stretcher and seems to start growing something out of his arm, as one of the masked guys pegs him as a candidate for the “Nemesis program.” She continues to fight several of this guys inside of makeshift zone put around the mansion, however she’s eventually overpowered. We hear a voice over saying they want her quarantined, moved to the Raccoon City unit and put under observation to see if she is infected as we’re shown washed out shots of what is going on. They also announce they’re going to reopen The Hive to find out what happened. That certainly seems like a brilliant idea that will no doubt not cause anything to happen... right? Right?
We return the eye shot again and she is now on a bed inside a white room, almost completely naked - again, and attached to various things in the roof, which she then rips out and falls off the bed onto the floor. Another attempt at a jump scare with a two way mirror in the room, realizing she’s trapped somehow she then manages to use one of the things that was in her to “magically hack” the card reader on the door, letting her out in what seems to be a hospital owned by Umbrella.
She wanders the halls, finding them empty and quiet... and finds a lab coat to cover herself up with, before exiting out onto the street... but it’s apparent something isn’t right. On the streets are wrecked cars and smashed items everywhere, and we see a newspaper title saying “The Dead Walk!” in a nod to a newspaper with the same line that appears in George Romero’s Day of the Dead. It’s fairly obvious whats happened.
She searches some Raccoon Police Department cars, and finds a shotgun in the back of one she takes. We cut to her response to the scene around her, as the camera pulls back, we hear a zombie and she cocks the shotgun, as we get to see a wider and wider view of what’s happened. Cut to director card, end of movie.
It’s a fairly decent way to the end the movie. Even if we never found out the character’s name. Well, unless you read the end credits.... oh Alice. Good to know.
That is Paul W.S. Anderson being quoted while at the New York Comic Con just last October. This is while promoting the very soon to be released sixth film in this franchise. Funny enough I bring it up because how it so well frames his opinion on the franchise and how his movie is when it comes to adapting it.
In the extra materials on the home version of the original film Anderson instead defers from the idea of direct adaptation on the game to film for reasons like it’ll alienate people who like one of the games in the series over another, and that it’s silly to just retell the same story of a game when you can just play the game. It certainly explains why this film really went out of it’s way to avoid being that adapted from it’s origins, while all the time he points out how much he loves the series and how well it’s adapted. But here we are almost 15 years later and it’s still the same tune even though it makes little sense when you look at the films. Even just this week he’s sticking to his guns.
At the time of release of the first film he considered the film itself a prequel to the games themselves. Of course this never held up, nor did even the movie’s ending really mesh with the game series. And instead every new movie release in the series there he was justifying the links to the source - clearly in response to the fan outcry about the films. But I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s go backwards here and start from the beginning because Anderson was certainly put on the back foot on this very subject, very early.
Off the back of the not so great experience with Street Fighter, instead of self producing another film Capcom sold the rights to German company Constantin Films in late 1996 or early 1997 - very shortly after it became apparent that the original PlayStation game was a huge smash. Over the next year numerous names were rumored to be attached, however the release of Resident Evil 2 in Jan 1998 would set a very specific course for a while.
As part of it’s promotion Capcom spent a huge sum on hiring zombie film making king George A. Romero on creating a commercial for the soon to release game. Shot in L.A., and featuring US actors the commercial ironically only appeared in Japan - mostly because of the talents contacts, but the success of the commercial put Romero on the way to taking the game series and turning into a feature film.
Plenty has been written about Romero’s ideas (a draft script is online, that I myself was part of getting online in 2000) but in the end Romero was dropped. He was seemingly never officially told, but Capcom producers told magazines he’d been fired when asked. In any case the film languished in development hell for almost a couple more years until Variety announced in October 2000 that Paul W.S. Anderson had been picked up to write and direct the still in production feature film.
On the surface this seemed okay, Anderson had worked on game films before - he had directed Mortal Kombat in 1995. But the fans noticed some details in the announcement which had them jumping up and down immediately:
“Story focuses on a military unit that fights against a powerful super computer that is out of control. In order to save the world, the military unit must combat hundreds of scientists who have mutated into flesh-eating undead due to a laboratory accident.”
A military unit fighting against a super computer? How does that have anything to do with Resident Evil they asked.... So to say the reaction wasn’t great, well... that was an understatement. Sadly this was also underpinned by more info only a few days later, as a legitimate casting call for the film was put online which outlined the characters and gave general details about the plot of the film - none of which sounded anything like the games, adding more fuel to the flames (nor to mention the additional issues which came up with the first still from the movie, Milla in the red dress in the laser hallway).
From material shot during the shoot itself to the interviews after, as mentioned above, Anderson is constantly defensive about his choices and yet strongly opinionated about the idea of adapting properly - which never fully line up. I can only wager a guess that it certainly had to do with the backlash at the time, and has continued in the discussion about the films still in the years since when he continually has to answer about making a video game into a film on any level.
The funniest part about the whole super computer is that in the bonus materials Anderson explains the computer was included to provide information that the gamers would get in diaries, computer screens, and other info when exploring the game that wouldn’t work in a film. I certainly can agree with reason for the idea, but he overloads so much exposition onto the computer... it’s not like the answer was that great a resolve, even if he crammed a lot of it into a small time frame.
The other part of this, as I mentioned earlier from him, was the idea of having events, stories, or especially characters from the games appearing. He’s very strongly put about this idea especially during this original film when talking about it, but over time he mellowed to the idea of using things more liberally - and characters, ideas, and enemies from the games would begin to appear. But that is discussion for another article or three.
What I must give credit to Anderson more than anything though is making a film that must be an R rated affair in the US. And that doing anything less was a disservice for the game fans, the film, and everything else. I’ve talked about this with other movies on here that went PG-13 for the profits, and lost sight of how mature the content in the game was to begin with. And so for that I respect him a little more for talking about having to tell producers and marketing people this needs to happen with this franchise when others might have backed down.
It’s often so easy for people to only see the possibly extra $$$ for the lower rating or simply rest on the idea that a “video game film” means it’s games and supposedly that only equals kids and shouldn’t be an R.
One of the odd things to me about the movie is Milla’s character not being named at all. Before watching this again I was certain someone said it near the end, but nope... nothing. If not for the credits you wouldn’t know her name was Alice. Anderson had a somewhat noble idea for this.... Alice in Wonderland. Down the rabbit hole, through the looking glass... the film is actually filled with references, some obvious - like Alice, or the Red Queen (and also her demands to kill Rain, which looks like they’d chop off her head) to ones in the background you’d never know - like the paperweight used to kill Lisa has Alice in Wonderland references on it. However somewhere along the line that kinda went off the rails and it’s mostly abandoned to just those little nods.
It’s actually this level of detail in production design that helps makes the film still work okay after almost 15 years. The CGI certainly is dated by today’s standards, but the actual make up effects, puppets, and production details are great for what was quite a low budget and the combination of such has helped the film not age as poorly as something that would have gone completely CGI at the time. I’ve certainly seen films newer that have aged worse.
The use of newly built real underground locations in Germany, where most of the film was shot, helps immensely. And while slapping Umbrella logos over a bunch of things sometimes looks cheap and tacky... it’s something you kinda see in the games. Likewise everything is shot, lit, and edited well enough. It’s certainly not award winning but the movie just feels like a thing of it’s time in this regard... a middle of the road action-horror. So it’s not surprising it easily made a profit for everyone involved, and led to more films.
What stands out as more unique however is the soundtrack. A mixture of traditional score and electronic, a combination of Marco Beltrami, Marilyn Manson, combined with JunkieXL samples... (and with a very of the time Slipknot single for the end credits as the kicker).
Anderson clearly had a big fondness for The Matrix (which will be discussed in another article where more relevant, but it’s worth noting this alternate ending from this film which is trying so hard to be like the lobby fight setup).... but he would beat the sequels to the punch with this choice - The Matrix sequels would go onto combo Don Davis with Juno Reactor more than a year later. (On a side note - Juno Reactor actually provided a track used in Anderson’s Mortal Kombat which was a similar mash of their style with a traditional soundtrack... which is a precursor to this choice maybe?)
In recent years this has become even more normal till the point where they’ve taken over scoring often... like Daft Punk with Tron Legacy, and JunkieXL on the Mad Max Fury Road soundtrack... but the soundtrack for Resident Evil is certainly original for 2002, and stands out so well even after all this time. Even if it might not be everyone’s cup of tea.
To me the more I reflect on the film it’s an odd level of compete contradictions.
It’s one the one hand faithful on some odd things, but completely ignores more tenable things in place often of those odd choices frequently.
It embraces numerous video game concepts, but moves far away from the game it’s supposedly based off.
It frequently chooses to wallow in the film cliche book when it’s director talks about avoiding repeating things from the games that people know because they’re supposedly too predictable.
And in the end, maybe the biggest irony is a movie that was almost made by George A. Romero who was later replaced by Anderson is inspired by... Well I’ll let Anderson tell you himself....
“It takes a lot from a whole genre of movies which I’m a huge fan of which are the Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead - that trilogy that Romero did. And not only those but also the Lucio Fulci movies. That’s what attracted me to the game. Was that not only is this a very strong game, to make a movie out of it was a chance to reinvent a movie genre that hadn’t been done for 20 years.”
To be honest, the Resident Evil film really did come at the front of the new wave zombie films. And he’s right, it was a genre not done with respect for a while then... perhaps not 20 years by certainly closer to 15 at the time, which was an honest attempt at making zombies scary again.
There was better zombie films to come, and then a giant glut of them to follow along with TV shows, video games, and the like... but Resident Evil rode a new century wave of zombie media just beginning again.
But it still makes me laugh that Romero himself was replaced by someone claiming to be so inspired by the movies Romero made.
Adaption? Ehh.... well...
Anderson does well to try and push the connections where he can, and considering some of the stuff I’ve sat through so far in this series/other films... then this film actually comes off looking half good in that respect. The T-Virus, Umbrella, a mansion and an underground lab, Raccoon City and it’s elements all kinda make their own way in well enough. Some things are changed, like how big Umbrella is as a company based on its products, and the whole cure thing is a little off. But it’s window dressing on a story and idea that, at least in 2002, wasn’t like the games one bit.
His choices in camera angles often reflect the earlier game as well. I’d originally was unsure if that was intentional or not, there are often many fixed angles and top down shots... but he even talks about doing this himself, so it’s another nod I can get behind.
Anderson also puts three mainstay enemies in there... zombies, fairly obvious and most direct connection outside of Umbrella... but the zombie dogs (often called Cerberus in the games) - which even he immediately says had to be in there because they’d been in every game released by that point, and the large creature - the Licker from Resident Evil 2 - as well, although he takes some creative liberties to make it more of a big bad threat.
So I have to admit for all the posturing about not using plots and characters, Anderson does put in a reasonable amount that makes a lot of game to movie takes look even worse... and if there was more straight up take when it came to the rest of what’s missing I suspect fans would have jumped all over as a game to movie done right in this respect.
Alice of course, the characters in general, and the overall modern style completely not from the games - but then sometimes they had their own impact as well.
So maybe it’s a pass. Just. But only because it’s better than other game-to-film attempts.
Positives? Creating a style.
I think Anderson had the right style for the film. In time the CGI maps would become very overdone (again, discussion for later) but the slick look matched the concept, made the budget often look better than it’s limits, and mostly worked. The cast is solid enough I guess, they’re often just never given enough... and a lot of that is the pace and the under cooked characters, and a lot of filling run time. It constantly screams potential and then shoots itself in the leg... like J.D. does to the first zombie.
That runtime really does feel padded when... well, I’ll let the pictures do the talking.
Likewise production design is a win, using puppets and the non-CGI zombie effects are all decent to help the film hold up more than it should, although it’s certainly rough around the edges. And I’m certainly personally going to add the unique soundtrack, ignoring the early 2000's Nu-Metal credits choice, with a good old thumbs up.
Lessons learned? Commitment.
The more and more I look over the whole thing, I have to say this movie never commits to a single idea. It’s a mish-mash of conflicts in concept; of story, development, and faithfulness to source. I really feel like, especially at the time, a solid zombie film was so easy to make here on the idea that existed. No one expected 100% faithful, but no one also expected such wild range that had surface level references to it’s source only.
I think Anderson’s films find an audience because beneath the absurd there is always a great film possibly trying to break out, but his bad habits and strong ideas keep on holding him back from achieving something both fans and critics might both like.
There is one more thing I want to add to this idea regarding his creative input, but it’s better left for next article when I get to his original game film - Mortal Kombat - because, well, it’ll make more sense in that context. So I’ll come back to it.
In the end Anderson would go forward to write the next two films, and write and direct the three following. Capcom on the other hand actually took a page from the more action oriented parts and started heading that way with the franchise itself as the 2000's wore on. The games themselves becoming as conflicted in style as the movie here was, to the point recently the developers admit they went a little too far on the action in the previous main game. The next title in the series, Resident Evil VII, comes out just days before Anderson’s last film does and looks like a major departure from the last couple of main titles.
The games themselves have borrowed from Anderson. The Red Queen computer idea has gone on into the games, and some of the designs like the T-Virus containers and case have been referenced, as too the laser hallways sequence. To this day however Capcom has avoided putting Alice or any other movie character into the games, or making a movie game - probably having learnt their lessons from the Street Fighter: The Movie - The Game debacle. Still Milla Jovovich still requests it happening every time she gets a chance. And that might never stop.
In the end Resident Evil was an off to uneven start to a film franchise that was to become the biggest money maker in games to films... but we’ll have to wait until we get to the next part before we go any further with this story.
If you’d like to know more about the history of the development of the original film in more detail than covered here, I previously covered this in a timeline format for Biohaze.com back in 2012.
Next time - We continue on the Paul W.S. Anderson train, but step back to 1995 when you can seemingly turn a violent and bloody fighting game into a PG-13 comedy slapfest.
#x - Halfway Point Review
#11 - Hitman (2007)
#12 - Street Fighter (1994)
#13 - Silent Hill (2006)
#14 - Max Payne (2008)
#15 - Hitman: Agent 47 (2015)
#16 - Doom (2005)
#17 - Silent Hill Revelation (2012)
#18 - Mortal Kombat Annihilation (1997)
#19 - Super Mario Bros. (1993)
#20 - House of the Dead (2003)
About ‘Game Over: Failure of the Video Game Feature Film’
A series looking at the top 20 profitable video game feature films to figure out what is lacking and what should be done to make a successful adaption of game to film. There are a set of rules to stick by, so for an introduction on the whole series I’m doing please check out the original post located right here.
Movie fanatic, writer and publisher of numerous gaming and movie websites of the past, and former video game guide writer. Started making content in 1997 and ran or assisted with several successful sites, mostly in the realm of Horror and Survival Horror gaming through the early and mid 2000's. Includes sites such as ResidentEvilFan.com, Streets of Silent Hill, EvilGaming.net, SurvivalHorror.org, ShenmueDojo.com, VGN, Gamers Alliance, GamersLounge.com, and BHXnet/BIOHAZARDextreme among others. Usually under the name Rombie. Still occasionally appears around on old video game and Resident Evil forums and semi-frequently appears on the ProjectUmbrella.net Resident Evil podcast.
All images copyright to respective studio/photography owners. Used under fair use for critical comment on video game feature films only.