It’s been almost six months since I have managed to post up one of these due to so many silly reasons, and a half finished version of my next post remains currently ready for me to return to. But the recent passing of legendary film maker George A. Romero has kinda kicked me off to make a new post regarding his history making a video game film that deep down he knew only existed because of his own work - Resident Evil.
Having read through numerous tributes I wanted to provide my own spin in return to the numerous writings about how his work influenced many people out there.
In my case it was specifically Romero’s own work that originally got me interested in Zombies entirely (much like many I suspect). One rainy evening sometime in 1993 I was sat down to a screening of two of Romero’s films (Night and Dawn), alongside the then new release of Peter Jackson’s own zombie title Braindead (or Dead Alive as it’s known in the USA). Just a few years later this keen interest in zombie horror grabbed me in the video game form of Resident Evil which I obsessed over, and continued to follow me for years while I went on to enjoy well into the explosion of zombie filled media later through the 2000's.
When these two elements - director and game - met in late 1997 and almost came together to create a close feature film union I was beyond myself. Sadly it was not meant to be. A few years ago I posted a history of the creation of the original live action film on Biohaze.com - as I had followed the progression of the project online from early 1997 right through until the release of Paul W.S. Anderson’s finished 2002 feature. But a large chunk of what made that article was the lead up and how such an iconic zombie director somehow was considered not suitable in making a zombie film. With time as hindsight I have made some updates and editorial changes to my original article to focus more specifically on Romero’s contributions. I hope you enjoy this trip.
Many thanks Mr. Romero, I wouldn’t be the zombie fan or maybe even the film buff I am without your work. May you rest in peace.
Love them or hate them; or simply just hate them and those involved with them, the six live action Resident Evil feature films have been quite a financial success. Much like the game that spawned them, Capcom probably never originally imagined how successful the brand would be as a film. Not just for them, but for everyone involved in their creation.
Of course it could have been a very different story, and even the first film took over 5 years to appear from it’s first ever announcement. Throughout however the fans made vocal noise about the idea of a Resident Evil film, be it in support, suggestion, or disgust; and sometimes all at once.
However once upon a time the film’s production went in a direction that seemed so obvious, a director that made the most sense you could think of....and yet possibly too good to be true.
Sadly it actually was to be that case. This is that story of what could have been. The story of...
After Resident Evil’s original runaway and then record breaking success on the Sony PlayStation in 1996, a clear goal of expanding what was now emerging as a new possible franchise hit for Capcom started to take place. Not only were their plans for the extremely obvious; sequels for the game brand on consoles, but also included what could at the time be considered a more interesting risk.
The original game mostly wears its inspirations on its sleeve, and it was clear one of those is zombie films. And people obviously saw the possibilities this twist on the zombie horror Resident Evil was - could also be capable of as a film. The game, named Biohazard in it’s own home of Japan, took players into a remote mansion located in the forests, where a viral outbreak had created zombies and numerous creatures, due to the mad experiments of a pharmaceutical company named Umbrella.
According to Constantin Film, they approached Capcom about the franchise, but the description of the situation (found in the films production notes many years after the fact and a Japanese news story from late 1996) also makes it sound as if Capcom was already looking to sell the rights to a studio anyway. It seems either way sometime the late part of 1996 in an office at Capcom’s head department, then located in Osaka, someone thought this might be a gamble worth taking for this new game and put the rights for ‘Biohazard’ out for tender.
And so we return to Jan 1997. As noted above, Variety has published the German studio’s official announcement of production. Capcom has struck a deal with the small filmmaking company. They have just purchased the rights to the game for the silver screen and also in its immediate first announcement attached Alan B. McElroy, author of a large number of Spawn comics and the then upcoming Spawn film, to pen the script for them.
This may not seem like such a big issue now, to license your very newly created video game brand on the perchance someone will then actually go make something out of it. These days it seems big new IP’s can become multimedia events in and of themselves, but back in the mid 1990's this was not so much the case. And it was made even more interesting by two very important things in the announcement.
Firstly is the above history of said small German film company, Constantin Films.
While having produced some successful independent films, at the time the company was mostly known in the US for the film The Neverending Story. And otherwise was notorious everywhere else for making a never to be released $2 million dollar Fantastic Four film - based on the Marvel comic - with famous low budget filmmaker Roger Corman (see more below-left).
The second, and perhaps more important note, was the then (in 1997) very recent event that was Street Fighter: The Movie. A movie that Capcom not only took very large stakes into as a company when it came to the film production (by being the film production company) but also backward in cross promotion. To this date I believe it’s still the only game turned movie to be turned back into a fully released game with the absurd title “Street Fighter: The Movie: The Game” at Arcades and on home consoles.
When that film released in December in 1994, pressure was on for it not to become another Super Mario Bros. Nintendo’s famous creation was released as a film in Summer 1993 to bad reviews and poor box office which saw it making back not even half its production costs.
Capcom however got a little lucky, or it seems so on the surface. While critically panned heavily by fans and reviewers alike and generally doing poorly at the US Domestic Market, the self-produced title made back almost three times its budget with a worldwide take just short of $100 million in cinemas.
However given Capcom’s seeming success in self-producing, on paper at least, a financially successful Hollywood film... it was then surprising that they would then on-sell movie rights for another franchise rather than just continuing the same trend they had with their previous film. Why? Because it seems they didn’t get to possibly share in much if any of the films financial successes.
Alternative comments from a number of interviews with staff at Capcom at the time however also point to the fact that producing the film had a much heavier financial impact that originally thought. In its worst case some say the lack of profits from it once all the bills were paid almost bankrupted the company. It’s very speculative, however maybe the lack of any more confidence put forth in self production that leaving the film making to the filmmakers inspired the idea to just sell the rights to Resident Evil. Leaving it where the company could have less production involvement and personal cost but still rake in the licensing cash.
Additionally it may have been bolstered by the fact that in August 1995, several months after Street Fighter - New Line Pictures released Paul (W.S.) Anderson’s Mortal Kombat - also licensed from another gaming company.
When compared to Street Fighter - Anderson’s Mortal Kombat film had fared better by game fans, and slightly better by critics. Then raked in slightly more cash in profits than Street Fighter did seemingly due to it. If this latter point is especially true, several years later there would be quite a lot of irony to Anderson’s success in 1995.
It also seemed that Mortal Kombat’s succeeded the most just by simply being closer to the source material. All of the characters came from the games the fans knew, the plot was related to the background of the plot in the videogame. In some ways this made Mortal Kombat very predictable as a film, but aside from the much tamer level of violence than there was in the videogame, the audience seemed to mostly latch on to the fact that it felt like an adaption that other movies so far had not.
Indeed this was so when compared to the Super Mario and Street Fighter movies, which didn’t bear as much resemblance to their source material and had been major disappointments - especially to their most hardcore of fans. Of course the bar had also been set lower by these earlier disappointments and all the Kombat movie had to do was be at least averagely passable in this area to be considered and improvement over the previous competition.
In May 1997, Capcom reconfirmed the studio partnership with Constantin and that the Resident Evil film would begin filming before the end of the year during the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) gaming event. This was done while promoting its new upcoming game titles with plans that the movie will be underway by the end of the year for release sometime after the second game sometime late in 1998. In the first of many, many incorrect bits of internet speculation to come, most said likely Halloween of 1998 to be exact.
However movies don’t really happen overnight. And thus when you make an announcement like that it’s all just words on a page. And so it’s not very likely much new will be said for many, many, months to come and highly possible to slip into levels of development hell. Resident Evil did just that. But it happened to not just feature film but Capcom’s own gaming follow up for the PlayStation.
Capcom’s own internal struggles with making a gaming sequel to their own hit original was the main focus of 1997, with the game getting a delay and was reworked in a new version. As the year went on a final release date for the video game sequel was locked into Jan of 1998. With this a clearer marketing plan would go ahead for the franchise, and with this came a most unexpected film link.
So, engrossed into the continued success of the Biohazard/Resident Evil brand, in late September and early October 1997 Capcom spent approximately $1.5 million USD on a live action commercial for the game.
It was to be directed by legendary Zombie film director George A. Romero, and filmed in downtown Los Angeles - not far from the dreams of Hollywood.
Understandably one of the main inspirations for the entire game franchise had been a series of movies created by George A. Romero. He and his (then) trilogy of films - Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead - have always been credited as the creators of the modern version of the zombie. The films themselves had a subtext based on real world concepts, such as race and class issues, consumerism, and militarized war zones.
But their also occassional campy and low budget nature also likely created a type of fan and that probably had a lot more to do as a link with the Resident Evil video games success than the intent of the films heavier metaphors. And the developers themselves had fully admitted to having been inspired by his films when coming to create the main enemy of the original game during it’s production in the mid 1990's.
The $1.5 million dollar budget that Capcom provided then was huge compared even to the costs of some of Romero’s much earlier films, especially his earlier zombie ones. Combined with the added costs of broadcasting this commercial, the budget reportedly exceeded the actual production costs of the game it was for. And so it goes without saying that it was also the most Capcom had both ever spent on a commercial, and game, up until the time as well. Quite good for a company which seemingly nearly bankrupted itself with a full length feature film some 3 years earlier. However given the massively successful sales due to the promotion of the game when it launched in early 1998, Capcom probably considered the gamble as money well spent in the end.
It’s worthing however at this time pointing out that most of this spend appointed to help market the game with a well known US Zombie Film maker attached.... well was actually then not going ever going to be aired in the USA!
Indeed if you were a gamer in the period of late 1997 you might indeed ask... Romero directed a commercial for Resident Evil 2? How did I not see this?
Originally it seems it was planned to be shot and used worldwide, and given the budget you’d seemingly expect this sort of money would want to make something reaching as wide as market as possible. However it ended up being locked into a release to be used on TV and in cinemas in Japan only.
The agreements of both these conditions seemingly was made due to the main actor involved in the shoot, playing the RE2 videogame character of Leon S. Kennedy - the late Brad Renfro. Supposedly it was made so that his face and name could not be attached outside Japan, thus blocking the use of footage with him in it from anywhere else. Renfro was quite a big deal at the time. He was an upcoming teen star and already had quite a following in Japan, and so of course this was big clincher to the commercial and seemingly why the more restrictive deal was put in place. The other character from the game to feature in the commercial, Claire Redfield, is played by soap actress Adrienne Frantz. Unlike Renfro, she did not have the same restrictive deal in place.
Aside from it’s TV and Cinema screenings, it was also later released as a “rental only” ‘making of’ VHS tape in Japan also, which also contained behind the scenes video footage and the full versions of the two commercials made. The VHS “rental only” tape of course was acquired by numerous sources in the years since. The commercials themselves placed online and can be easily found on YouTube with a simple search. So too the making of documentary as well.
The commercial was produced by Capcom’s Keiji Inafune among others, alongside a large Japanese media promotions company. The visual effects work was done by “Screamin(g)“ Mad George, who was an unexpected boon for the US-Japan co-production.
As he originally was from Japan and spoke fluent Japanese and reasonably good English it really helped the production process. His effects work history in zombie, splatter, and monster effects work was as well known as Romero’s directing history in the horror world.
Mad George’s look was however to be limited by the restriction of no blood to be shown because of the intended mark of mainstream television and cinema. Due to this a typical zombie showing of fresh blood, missing limbs and the like were not allowed - but the commercial was given it’s look with a dried blood style, torn flesh and patchy skin look which still actually looked exceptionally great on camera.
The shoot took place at the Lincoln Heights Jail located in Lincoln Heights in downtown Los Angeles, a well used filming location for numerous films, TV shows, and music videos consistently until 2010 (the location has since been occasionally reopened access for possible filming in recent years). The location was dressed in its front and some interiors to look like the Raccoon Police Department (R.P.D.) seemingly as from within the game. The shoot was reasonably quick, done over a few days, and shot all at night. Frantz’s work as Claire was done in one night and Renfro’s as Leon over the course of a few.
Due to the scope of the material, Capcom had its internal team which did the “making of” but also brought in heaps of press from Japan to come and cover small parts of the shoot and interview those involved. Surprisingly though hardly anyone else from any other international media was informed - although this is possibly due to the contract restrictions surrounding Brad Renfro. The one exception to this was a Japan-based English writer - Norman England, who was given complete access to the cast and crew (and provided most of the details and images I’ve included in here from his Romero Dawn Of The Dead fan site The Zombie Farm - http://www2.gol.com/users/noman - which I’ve been a fan of since finding it sometime in 1998).
While only shown fully in Japan in the lead up to the games release - some parts of the shoot were used overseas. Visual elements of the commercial were used in the US promotion such as shots of zombies, Frantz as Claire screaming, and the jail building used in it were inter-cut in a rapid pace with scenes from the actual game in US television commercials.
It is a real surprise that in Capcom’s most costly commercial enterprise to that date, while it was deemed US market was very important for the brand missed out greatly on where the company spent the most of it’s advertising budget.
As Romero worked on his commercial for Capcom, the film’s content was fueled further online when a poster, clearly fake (using another film poster and badly edited in paint), began to do the rounds on the internet. No source for the poster ever came forward, so it was never noted as to where it really began from, it however got something right that stuck with the production for years to come; a tag line.
A version of the tagline would appear both on this 1997 poster but yet again on some posters in 2002 when the film finally launched. One can only assume the person who worked on the official campaign in 2001 saw it, liked it, and used it along with a take on the original fan poster (shown above left, 1997, and right, 2001-2002). Either way it was the first mark the film had left behind since it was first announced.
When the commercial’s existence broke in the English media towards the end of 1997, the Resident Evil film had obviously already been discussed at length and of course immediately Romero’s name was attached as a possibility to direct. It was simple math for a lot of people.
Legendary zombie film maker does zombie game commercial; it seemed very easy to make him be a zombie film director based on that same zombie game. As I mentioned at the beginning of the article when I heard this myself I was just as giddy as everyone else at the prospect.
Capcom themselves certainly liked the idea and they after found the commercial event a complete success, the discussions went forth between the company and the German film production house they’d sold the rights to for Romero to get on board. While he at first he supposedly declined, eventually he was convinced to further consider signing on seemingly due to how smoothly the commercial had gone and how passionate he was about the material.
At the same time “the internet” did what it does best, providing further rumors and speculation. Mostly at the time to the unconfirmed reports of production problems and still at the time if Romero would even be involved as it would be some time before this became public knowledge.
There was however others in the mix still, including McElroy’s script and other possible directors the studio was looking at. When Romero’s name wasn’t rumored as attached, instead George Sluzier’s name would.
Sluzier’s main credit at the time was The Vanishing and was at the time working on the film The Commissioner which would be well received in 1998. It was supposedly expected his slate after finishing The Commissioner would see him work on the film, with a projected stated date supposedly of around March 1998 working off McElroy’s script. Sluzier was never officially confirmed by anyone but was strongly rumored for many months McElroy’s script however was another thing into itself if rumors were to be believed.
Outside of the scripts and directors, actors rumored too were a wildcard draw selection of the then hottest name talent. So names like Jason Patric and Samantha Mathis (with fans hoping not to drag her Super Mario Bros. history into it) were named as considered for Chris and Jill. Sometimes you’d hear some interesting ideas like Bruce Campbell and the like thrown in for good measure as well for unspecified roles. These rumors would stick through well through 1998 as less was officially said on the film and more was unofficially rumored. What didn’t help either was the constant fan-hope driven tinkering of the movie’s page on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) which saw these and probably many other wild ideas flung onto it’s listings on an almost weekly basis.
Back in the actual franchise world however, a plan was hatched for the release of the game for the US which would be a specific promotion. Placed as a bright yellow star on the cover of every launch version in Jan of 1998 and listed in numerous print and online ads was Capcom’s crossover prize promotion - enter to win part of the Resident Evil 2 sweepstakes.
The main prize was a role on the upcoming Resident Evil movie - at that point still planned to lens later in 1998. No purchase was necessary, as long as your entry reached Capcom US by the incredibly ironic date of April 1st 1998, you were in with a chance to win.
Before that competition closed during the March of 1998, Fangoria ran a byline in their news that McElroy was still attached and the script was still in the writing process with no director attached, however this was undermined by numerous reports the following month that Romero was indeed going to be attached and would not only be directing but also writing the script. These rumors eventually turned out to have more meat behind them when Fangoria, once more - maybe in attempt to clear the mess up, interviews Romero and he mentions that he is indeed interested in working on the production but would not comment further only igniting more rumor discussion. PSM magazine still dredges up old rumors again however furthering debate by still stating old names are attached the same month leading to further online debate.
Interestingly though in both these rumors and the review of McElroy’s script, PSM had noted the producer would be the Constantin Films own CEO, Bernd Eichinger. Leading some truth to their sources, Constantin Films shortly after does exactly this and announces Eichinger as the producer on the film later that month as well.
Eichinger was a well known German film producer, having just produced the Constantin production Smilla’s Sense of Snow successfully the previous year. After this Eichinger would stay involved with the entire Resident Evil film series production until his death in 2011. With this now officially in place, its expected announcements on what’s happening aren’t too far off. Those expectations are exactly correct.
In early July 1998 Romero finally comes out and ends the speculation. Via an interview with DVD Review at the Anchor Bay booth at the Video Software Dealers Association (VSDA) Expo he announces he will be doing the Resident Evil film. He tells them that he only signed on the previous week and that he will be directing and writing.
To say this now seems like it was instant, but it seemingly had taken many months for both a decision to come from Romero but also negotiate the deal for the whole thing as well. But somewhere along the way through this decision making McElroy’s script was dropped, Romero was then hired to provide a treatment for the film as well, and submit it back to the company to see if they would go ahead with his vision for the brand. If they were happy then he’d be on board to direct.
Following this announcement he interviews with The Onion’s AV Club*** and with VideoGameSpot where he details the movie is to most likely be a R rated affair, and that Capcom would like to have it out around the time a third video game title is launched. He also admits he’d like to make a zombie action film rather than just a zombie film which Resident Evil seems like it will afford him this chance.
*** I love this interview with the AV Club so much. It’s a great web archive link where Romero touches on meetings with producers and soon Capcom staff, and the reporter gives him an exceptional suggestion to find better actors than those in the opening video in the original game.
In September of 1998 he does a brief interview with Cinescape and confirms he is working on the script at the time of the interview, and explains specifically how the chance of writing and directing it exactly came about.
It seemed this had all finally lined up and Romero was on his way to return to personally directing his first zombie film feature in almost 15 years.
After Romero’s announcement, as you’d expect, comes what will become a never ending debate online of what the movie should be about and what actors and actress’ that should be playing roles in his film.
Sarah Michelle Gellar’s name is attached with a role in the film, as is Jennifer Love Hewitt and Maxine Bahns. Christopher Walken is even labeled as a possible candidate for villian Albert Wesker! However all end up being denied and labeled, unsurprisingly, as purely fan speculation.
For the rest of 1998, rumor and discussion about Romero’s involvement goes on in the online community. Somewhere along the line 20th Century Fox is attached in some placement as distributor (Sony’s subsidiary Screen Gems ended up winning that role in the end) and constant story rumors surround the project.
Tom Savini, a long time Romero supporter, is attached in rumors but once again nothing official comes out of those either. By December it seems the movie may be delayed to as far away as sometime in 2000. At this point had Capcom produced an actual winner for their early 1998 competition, it’s unlikely their prize to appear in the film was probably ever going to come true.
On the lighter side of the casting news at leas - in January of 1999, Bruce Campbell officially ended rumors that had been going on for almost 18 months or more saying he was in no way attached to the production.
Online chat Q&A sessions with Romero on Yahoo! and on Talk City both begin being circulated heavily by fans during the start of 1999. But both actually date back from October of 1998. In them he talks about having a well developed draft underway and is seemingly positive about the production progress.
Also at around the same time a second poster appears online, with the tagline “Evil Is Only A Word.... Reality Is Much Worse.” Fox again is attached on the image as well as an unlikely release date of Fall 1999. All obvious speculation which seemed way off the mark given how long it had been already and was easily chalked up to more fan creation.
Later in Jan, Ain’t It Cool News suggests some issues with the script maybe happening originally via statements in a lengthy Romero interview in that upcoming months Electronic Gaming Monthly (EGM). This is the first rumors the wheels are starting to wobble a bit on Romero’s project, coming from the director himself on having to please the company - however it was not considered major problem given the way he is described saying it.
But by May however things didn’t sound as well as everyone had hoped. On the 4th of May, in an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Romero was asked how the project was going and his response did not bode well.
He stated he’d submitted a number of scripts and had not received greatly positive response on them; however his answer seemingly noted he was awaiting more word on the future of the project from the production company but hadn’t yet heard anything:
What exactly was going on? We would very soon learn more.
Not long after GameSpot ran an article which provided Capcom’s answer to that question. At the 1999 E3 the week or so earlier, they had sat down with Capcom Producer Yoshiki Okamoto (who would go on to be a hands on executive producer on the finished 2002 film before later leaving Capcom) and he was asked how the project was going. His response wasn’t what anyone expected:
No script? The reporter was seemingly confused. Following this they asked then what had happened of Romero who had indicated a script was well underway. An infamous response was given in reply that would be forever quoted:
The response to this news online was mostly shock. How could the guy who helped make the zombies that appear in this franchise not get the chance to make this film? It was unbelievable.
Following through in July and August more rumors came out based on this news of Romero now being off the film. Firstly was that Romero was only fired from scriptwriting, that he would still direct just not write. Writing duties would seemingly be now undertaken by Andrew Kevin Walker, who’d written Se7en and Sleepy Hollow.
There was also rumored discussion in some quarters that the reason was that Romero never ever even played or saw the game (although seemingly this was already debunked by his explanation in the much earlier 1998 Talk City interview which explained his process of watching gameplay from RE1 while taking notes and also getting recording of parts to rewatch) which added to the reason for his dismissal.
The PSX.IGN subsite fueled the fire with a story on July 12th 1999, which included an also infamous quote about things he wanted to include, like “zombies in sunglasses,” which was attributed to a ‘good industry source’ but never fully substantiated.
If it ever was true, looking at what’s happened with the film(s) in the end, not making it “new and original” by making it like Dawn and supposedly having zombies in sunglasses seem like quaint problems of not being anything like its source by comparison.
As for lacking the feel of Resident Evil, possibly it’s subjective but I feel it’s seemingly clear in hindsight from Romero’s draft placed online years later he wasn’t really missing as much of this aspect at all (especially again when compared to the finished films). And so this “industry source” IGN quoted was likely not really involved at all.
The continued annual tradition of new names for the talent pool also worked up a new frenzy while the films production hell marched on. Names like Bill Pullman, Bruce Payne, Dolph Lundgren, and the like were mentioned in gaming and movie media but all just crazy suggestions making the rounds from a fan website’s rumor section in the end keeping the internet occupied in gossip.
Later on the suggestion that Andrew Kevin Walker is working on the script is also debunked, the movie seemingly is pushed back to at least 2001. All this now leading the public knowledge of what was actually taking place back to square one.
Without anymore news Romero also moved on too. He was prepping a new independent project called Bruiser, which he released in 2000, but every chance fans got to ask him about “the Resident Evil project” he seemed just as confused about what had happened as the fans did. At a Q&A session at the Toronto International Film Festival in September of 1999 his response was still an open question:
The following month, just as Romero himself implied regarding “the internet” - IGN’s nodefunct SciFi section posts an article about the loss of Romero as a figurehead while implying he was still directing. The statement says if they lose him, they risk loss of proper backing towards the project from investors and balks at the idea of budget between 25-40 million (which funny enough actually was the budget range when the final product was created). Obviously at this point however as far as Constantin was concerned Romero was departed and wasn’t coming back. Where these supposed insiders IGN kept getting were coming from was unknown, but it’s fairly clear they knew nothing about what was actually going on.
Then however - seemingly somewhere, somehow, details of Bernd Eichinger’s search for new directors came to light with names attached. Two names were listed. The first was German film director Rainer Matsutani, who had known links with Constantin. The second was English director Paul (W.S.) Anderson.
The knowledge of this bore little fruit at the time other than rumors, and at the time people potentially relished the idea of the guy who did Mortal Kombat being a possibility. Kombat had been considered a reasonably faithful and successful attempt, so maybe Resident Evil might be in the right hands?
What however caused more controversy, and then possibly gave us more understanding of Romero’s script issues, was that it was suggested via more rumoring that Eichinger didn’t like gory movies that much and was looking for something less bloody. While this was never 100% confirmed, it is worth noting within the production notes released for the finished film two years later Eichinger only suggested he liked scary movies and didn’t think the games were that gory or violent which possibly gives this rumor some traction.
Later on in September, it was rumored that another greenlight had been given with a new script started and other early pre-production elements underway. It was also noted that Eichinger so wanted to get the project started he was prepared to step in and write the script himself to get it begun if there were more issues. Upon reflection this thrust of production work may have signaled that perhaps Constantin was in the same situation as they were with Marvel and The Fantastic Four, and risked losing the agreement with Capcom if production didn’t begin soon. If this was indeed the case will probably never be known, but after all this rumors came out to light everything went dead on the project and no one seemingly talked anymore.
A few months later in Jan 2000, Romero did an interview with the Director’s Guild of America’s magazine publication. He now was officially stating he was off the project. It began to further the idea that the German producers had a different idea of what the film should be was the likely cause of the issue, at least that’s what Romero suggested.
The next month, came replacement more director rumors. On Feb 3rd, Ain’t It Cool reported Australian director Jamie Blanks, who directed Urban Legend, is supposedly attached and turned down directing the sequel to Legend, named Final Cut, for the gig. Even a supposed plot outline surfaces which doesn’t sound like it might be the most exciting film in the world but at least seemingly makes the idea of an evil pharmaceutical company possible.
The movie is set in the future where medicine has rendered every disease curable. An evil corporation develops a new completely incurable disease and starts testing it on people. They plan to infect the world and then hold the vaccine ransom. When people get infected they turn into zombies.
These rumors are never further substantiated and much like many rumors, this is the first and last it’s heard of.
As the months went on it became clear, that while Romero had accepted he was off the project, no one really got back to him to officially say that was the case. Okamoto might have told EGM he was fired, but no one certainly told Romero that in person officially. In interviews for years onward he would always state no one ever got back to him and in the end he had just guessed after a certain length of time that was it done, another dead end project.
On July 21st 2000, on his now long defunct personal website, Romero made a lengthy blog-styled post which summed up numerous open questions he’d been provided frequently in a rant. Romero was known for being open and blunt about his successes and failures. Of course Resident Evil was covered, along with numerous other projects, and his frustration was spilled out clearly on the page.
But the biggest damn shame was Resident Evil. We busted balls writing drafts of that screenplay. I’m talkin’ marathons, seventy-two hours straight. I really wanted this project. I had directed a TV commercial for ResEv II, and being on the set again with zombies (by Screamin’ Mad George), I was hooked. Deep in my heart, I felt that ResEv was a rip-off of Night of the Living Dead. I had no legal case, but I was resentful. And torn... because I liked the video game. I wanted to do the film partly because I wanted to say, ‘Look here! This is how you do this shit!’
After several months of no news whatsoever, Constantin Film confirms that Paul W.S. Anderson, director of Mortal Kombat, Event Horizon, and Solider; is officially set to write and direct the Resident Evil feature film.
Clearly the quiet time was spent finding their direction and actually squaring up the details for the shoot before announcing it - maybe in response to how things had gone with Romero? Who knows.
As the Variety article above went on to outline, most of the news is bland basic details for the trade. A budget of approx 40 million USD, shooting in Europe, currently planned to make a 2001 Halloween date, and Anderson is producing alongside the writing and direction with his production partner Jeremy Bolt and Constantin’s Bernd Eichinger of course. All seemingly standard announcements, although also as mentioned much further ahead of where Romero ever seemingly got.
But it’s the plot nugget that is dropped in the article that makes the internet Resident Evil fans steaming mad. The story blurb in Variety’s article reads thus:
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 powerful super computer that is out of control? What is going on here?What does that have to do with Resident Evil? What doesn’t help the first reactions either that the subtitle to the article called it a “military thriller” as well. Any good will on the idea of this being anything close to as faithful as Mortal Kombat because Anderson was involved went immediately out the window. Indeed within hours protested discussions and howls of anger rage through the community.
Anywhere you go are comments which sum up seemingly the feelings of almost all. Comingsoon.net staff write a concise statement about what it seemed many people were feeling:
If you’re a fan of the video game Resident Evil and were excited about the prospect of a movie based on it, [you should] give up now.
All thoughts go back to Romero’s comments about the production company wanting some sort of harder war movie than he was used to or at all wanting to make. Anderson’s decisions would create months of unrest in the community as more and more details from casting calls which provided a lot of plot info through to moles leaking details while working on the set released as the months and production went on. Anderson’s responses to comments about the source also felt like he was responding to being attacked, justifying that Capcom was on board and that while he could turn it into anything he wanted he was respectful of the source material.
In the early stages of the fall out from the announcement of Anderson’s film, things are made more interesting by a review posted by Quint from Ain’t It Cool News. The review covers an early October 1998 draft of Romero’s Resident Evil film and his comments of it being closer to the source material only makes matters worse. Indeed when the fans saw what had been planned in his potential version against what the casting call outlined of Anderson’s planned plot the whole angry fan cycle started once again.
Several months later during August 2000 I get to post something everyone had been waiting for at the time. Via a contact in the Resident Evil newsgroup (alt.games.resident-evil) I was provided a copy of a full script, which I then posted up once I could find some more info on its background. This was of course George A. Romero’s October 1998 first draft - written with his production partner Peter Grunwald.
I was already fairly confident at first as the content matched the breakdown Quint had posted on Ain’t It Cool and George’s own comments in the 1998 Yahoo Chat. But via George’s now defunct personal website I seemingly was able to confirm it was indeed one of their first drafts. This draft still exists on the internet when you go looking for the script and I’m glad to see it still alive today for many people to read and make their own judgements on.
The script is both at times lauded for it’s more direct connections to the game (especially in hindsight to what we got) and looked down upon for it’s own faults, especially by bigger game fans (Native American Chris Redfield who’s in a relationship with Jill, the background of Barry Burton are two of the most mentioned among others). However it’s worth remembering this was also only a first full draft of what Romero said he and Peter provided as numerous versions of over six week period according to his own comments - so things may have changed in later versions.
Anderson’s film went onto release in 2002 to general success, financially at least - not so much critically. It’s box office bolstered a financially successful series of six feature films in total (the most recent in Jan this year) that have made well over 1 billion dollars worldwide alone. That’s just in box office, not even including profits from any other home movie and screening rights. It helped solidify Milla Jovovich as a modern female action star, and Anderson as some sort of absurdist 3D action director. All the while seemingly getting further away from the source material that started it as a film and the zombies and simple virus creature that populated it.
The first 2002 film certainly has nods towards Romero’s legacy (one of the most obvious a newspaper near the end which matches one from the beginning of Romero’s Day of the Dead - reading “The Dead Walk” as a headline). At the same time, maybe without any knowledge of the history of Romero working on the project or worse, any sense of irony, Anderson cranked out this comment in the behind the scenes material about his inspirations regarding the finished film:
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.
The last part is sadly the most true. Maybe not anything like 20 years but certainly more than 10. And Resident Evil, as a film, did however hit at the right time to actually be part of the lead in the new zombie renaissance for cinema. Before its release there hadn’t been much in the way of a proper mainstream zombie release for easily a decade or more in cinemas.
While one could argue it potentially proved shuffling old “Romero zombies” may have needed an update, other films also proved they needed clear reverence as well. It may not have been the main cause of the following boom (I’d say 28 Days Later has a lot more to answer for it) but in almost every production afterward it seemed Romero’s original legacy was still somehow linked - just as it was with Resident Evil as one the first out the gates in early 2002.
By the year’s end, there was the fast moving “not-zombies” rage monsters (Danny Boyle refused to consider them as zombies in all press discussions) appearing in 28 Days Later, as already mentioned, with seemingly no connection to older shambling corpses. But two years on from it, Romero’s Dawn of The Dead was remade by Zack Synder with fast zombies to reasonable success. Clever zombie comedies began to appear much more frequently as well with 2004’s Shaun of the Dead becoming a breakout cult hit based on its love of the history of cinema zombies, Romero especially.... and just a witty general story of survival/romantic comedy... It’s worth noting it also begun as an idea due to the Resident Evil 2 videogame in a very roundabout way.
Had the Resident Evil film not spent so long in development to begin with or the rights not sold so early, it wouldn’t have been surprising to see it sold and fast tracked to cash in on this new wave. And had so maybe the timing would have seen Romero have had a better shot.... because, well in the end he still did.
Based on the success of zombies at the movies again, Romero also got to return to the modern zombie concept he began when he eventually directed Land of the Dead in 2005 with backing from Universal. It was his first directorial zombie feature since 1985. Against expected odds it released to quite reasonable critical comment and moderately okay financial success for him and the studio.
However it has been pointed out that when George went fully independent again after Land, his results were certainly not as successful. 2007's Diary of the Dead (starring future Resident Evil film franchise actor Shaun Roberts, who’d also had a smaller part in Land) received mixed to positive reviews but made limited box office.
Meanwhile 2010's Survival of the Dead - which would be Romero’s final feature as a director - however landed him with both very negative reviews and a worldwide box office take in the range of just $140,000 when it cost $4 million dollars to produce. But by 2010 Romero may have failed to see the extent of the zombie glut that he released it in.
These days zombies have returned in every form possible. Big and low budget zombie films fill the shelves, books as well with success (many of these like World War Z and Warm Bodies also adapted to films) and games as well especially have had a complete love affair with them for the last several years especially. Even turning up in games where zombies normally wouldn’t have been considered before (modern-ish shooters such as Call of Duty, westerns like Red Dead Redemption, Japanese gangster games like Yakuza, etc. are just a very few examples).
And likewise The Walking Dead sells comics and games like mad and has not just one, but two TV shows based on it - which it’s own creator Robert Kirkman has always admitted all would not exist without Romero. Indeed we’re spoiled for choice in regards to what sort of zombie based entertainment we want to enjoy.
Resident Evil itself as a game franchise, seemingly in a fit of difference, instead moved more away from traditional zombies for most of the last decade, which also impacted on the more recent Anderson films in ways not actually explained very well in the films.
Capcom has also gone onto self-produce other Resident Evil feature films, those of a computer animated variety with reasonable success. They allow them to tell stories linked more into the game universe and directly with characters the game’s fans know and love. It is here perhaps many should put hope that maybe Capcom will spend some time telling new stories that are actual canon for the games fans. It proves that perhaps with the right investment Capcom was always capable of telling its own story as well and repeating their production success that they had with the Street Fighter film still - just hopefully more financially too in these cases.
To this day the same comments that were made - one would assume - via a translator from Okamoto to a GameSpot reporter are the ones usually mentioned when Romero’s Resident Evil film is discussed. Most people think he was fired, when it seems in the end neither Constantin or anyone from Capcom actually did anything other than just stop talking to Romero and the project just fizzled out with him involved. Maybe it was his blunt nature, maybe it really was a lack of improvement in the script, or a lack of the studio wanting to make the film Romero wanted - but rather something more like what we got in 2002. Maybe all of them. Without answers from anymore still alive involved we may never know the exact truth.
Still at the end of the day I wish the man who helped create the modern zombie film had managed to make this his return to the genre in what such an obvious fit. One that given his own comments on he certainly saw as such. Yet it seemed impossible that the man often called the father or even grandfather of the modern zombie was deemed unfit to direct a zombie feature he helped inspire. A real damn shame.
After the release of the last of Anderson’s six films earlier this year, Constantin Films wasted no time in announcing another film franchise based on the games. Seeing the potential to make even more money from the brand, the company snapped up Horror and Action film maker James Wan as a producer, and Greg Russo a writer who worked on a reboot idea of Mortal Kombat - that Wan was also involved in, and plan to reboot the franchise into a new six film series. No director has yet been announced.
Given Wan’s background, one can only hope the horror elements are slightly increased and that the writer takes into account the original background of the games and the style of the man who inspired it all. After all these years of Mila jumping around snapping zombies necks with her legs, backflipping motorcycles, throwing knives, and punching giant monsters - maybe it’s about time for some more traditional “Romero zombies” to come back to the big screen. And I can’t think of a better reason to do it.
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.
#10 - Resident Evil (2002)
#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.
All images copyright to respective studio/photography owners. Used under fair use for critical comment on video game feature films only.