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Resident Evil Movie in Review

by Max Lake - March 20, 2002, 10:07 pm EST

Max reflects on the Resident Evil movie and why it's different than the video game-based flicks that have come before. (And no, he doesn't spoil anything...)

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Over the weekend, I got a chance to see the Resident Evil movie. I hadn’t seen any previews (which is often better, because you don’t know what to expect) or really bothered to keep up with the development of the film for a long, long time. Still, when I found it was coming last week, I decided to go see it. Like Tycho & Gabe in a Penny Arcade strip about the RE flick, I felt obligated to check it out. Good or bad, I was going to support gamer cinema. Not that I had gone out of my way any time before to see gamer movies recently.

Video game movies are great in concept; it provides the opportunity for fans to see their interactive heroes on the big screen. Unfortunately, the transition from game screen often sees compromises, over the top effects and just really ridiculous story lines. In short, it really doesn’t seem to work.

The last game movie I saw was Mortal Kombat, which I saw with my father and brother right before I left for college. It was decent, but sadly enough it was undeniably the best video game movie to date. Considering what had come before, this was hardly an accomplishment. What’s followed hasn’t helped. One of my many gamer friends saw, and enjoyed both Tomb Raider and Final Fantasy movies. Me, I couldn’t ante up the dough for ticket prices in the face of numerous, scathing reviews of both. Along with game movies being poor quality, Square has proven that game makers shouldn’t spend too much money & effort translating their interactive properties to film. The failure of the Final Fantasy film can be cited as one of the biggest reasons they’re now developing for Nintendo…

The Resident Evil movie though, I hoped would be different and rise above all others. The first Resident Evil on PSX genuinely scared me the first time I saw it in action and I subsequently became a big fan of the series and the zombie movies that helped inspire it. I was hooked and ended up showing the game off to friends every opportunity I could (mainly by having them rent it for their PSXs). I ended up buying my own Playstation for Resident Evil 2 (and other Capcom games) and was hooked.

Around this time there was already talk of a Resident Evil movie. It sounded exciting but the stinky history of game movies cast a foul shadow over it. Then rumors began to swirl about George Romero, being assigned to write and direct the movie. Romero is the director of Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead and is arguably the originator of zombie flicks (at least in terms of setting standards on how zombies are portrayed)… Finally the rumors were confirmed and it looked like Capcom was doing the right thing… Only to have Romero fired shortly thereafter.

After Romero was fired, I didn’t care as much anymore, figuring whoever they got would botch the job & the flick would end up a waste. Then I heard they got Paul Anderson, who directed the first Mortal Kombat movie and Event Horizon. I was still highly skeptical, even after I heard Milla Jovovich had landed the star role. Could Resident Evil turn out halfway okay?

Last week, I unexpectedly found it was opening soon & made plans to see it with some friends. At the worst, it’d be a movie with Mila Jovovich and zombies. A good zombie movie, let alone any movie with zombies, hasn’t been made in awhile. Since the games have brought seems appropriate that the Resident Evil movie brings the zombies back to the big screen. On the way to the theater I remained positive, reminding myself that although Paul Anderson is no Romero, Event Horizon was a pretty creepy movie…

Surprisingly, the movie was very enjoyable if not downright kick ass. My friends and I loved it. It fits perfectly in the Resident Evil saga, although it features none of the familiar characters from the game. No Chris, Jill, or any of S.T.A.R.S Team but Umbrella is there, so are the zombies. It feels like a visit to Raccoon City. Certain shots highlight familiar rooms and parts of the mansion, although very little of the movie takes place there. In fact, the characters end up criss-crossing underground Umbrella labyrinths, parts of the Mansion and even Raccoon City’s streets—and many are recognizable to players of the RE series.

There are lots of nice little touches too. A brief scene with some menacing birds; awesome FX for the zombie make-up and mutated killer dogs; zombie whispers and groans being heard from an air duct; ammo running out and needing to be conserved; puzzles and problems that must be solved to progress. In fact, there are times when it almost felt like I was in the situation with them. Not really because the film immersed me, but because it all seemed so wonderfully familiar. Through the Resident Evil games, I had been in (some) of these places and very similar situations before. I wasn’t the only RE fan who felt like this watching the movie either (“I had to remind myself I wasn’t in control,” says Zosha).

What’s even better (and more alarming) is that the movie serves as a giant puzzle piece to the games. It doesn’t recreate any of the game storyline, but serves as an excellent companion to practically all of them. The movie chronicles the initial outbreak of the T-Virus at Umbrella; how it happened and why it spread to Raccoon City. Although only some of the most hardcore fans will pick up on everything, any one who’s played the games will get a kick out this aspect. As PGC staffer Mike Sklens puts it, “It’s almost like Capcom wrote the script and gave it to the filmmakers.” It’s been believed for several months now that the upcoming Resident Evil 0 will be based on the film; this now seems entirely possible and would even be a good idea.

The film is so seeped in its source that it seems almost more for the fans than casual moviegoers. Viewers not fond or familiar with the video games will be able to understand the story, but not fully appreciate it. Because of this, any movie critic could rip this movie to shreds. PGC’s Zosha Arushan puts it this way: “I can see how critics panned it. You almost NEED to be intimately knowledgeable about the BH series to get the movie and even then... the plot has more holes than a zombie after shotgun time.” Granted, it’s absolute cheese—but come to think of it, so is the source material. Luckily, at least in the movie, the dialogue and voice acting far exceed those of the games.

The flick made little effort to acquaint us with the characters, which was a common complaint. As two of the characters suffer amnesia and most of the others are Umbrella special agents (seen in RE2), there’s little room for getting to know them & the film is more concerned with action than filling the audience in on the heroes. This is no big deal for me; characters in any horror movie are walking meat as far as I’m concerned. Besides, how well do any of us know Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine?

The Resident Evil games have traditionally relied on “shock” scares & general creepiness, instead of being truly frightening. I expected the film to use the same tactics and at times, it did. Yet it happened a lot less than I expected and also wasn’t overly predictable when it did happen. I heard others in the audience make zombie roars whenever they expected a scary part—and every time they were disappointed. More times than not, things happened very unexpectedly, much like the dog bursting through the window in the first Resident Evil game.

Although Paul Anderson wrote and directed, there are parts that feel really familiar to Romero’s movies. People opening a door only to have zombies pour out. Those who are bitten by zombies turn into zombies and zombies can only be effectively stopped by a massive head trauma (i.e. being shot in the head). That’s all lifted straight from Romero. If you like Resident Evil (games or the movie) you really owe it to yourself to check out Romero’s classic horror flicks; they are the blueprints to the entire RE franchise. There’s stuff that is distinctly Resident Evil though, like the spooky, child-like Artificial Intelligence, Red Queen.

It’s fast paced and there’s a good mix of action, scares, special FX and mystery. Such elements could be handled better but still blend well under the hectic pace.

This intensity is very appropriate, as zombies (and who knows what else) are closing in and time to escape is running out. There are also strobe effects, which are used to reveal the returning memories of the two characters with amnesia. The soundtrack is of the techno variety, it’s really cool and was arranged by Marilyn Manson. One of my friends actually went out after the movie and picked up a copy (though unfortunately found it had more re-mixes than original tunes from the flick).

On top of all this, there’s Milla Jovovich. She’s lovely, she’s tough and she can break a zombie’s neck between her legs. Milla demonstrates moves that made me wish the RE games included martial arts fighting.

Despite some flaws, fans of the game and gamers hopeful for a good video game based flick, Resident Evil doesn’t disappoint. It makes the prospect of Resident Evil on GameCube very exciting. It also gives hope that video game movies don’t have to suck. Of course, with movies planned for Crazy Taxi, Soul Calibur, Tekken, Dead or Alive and even more it looks like the video game to movie trend is just beginning. With any luck, these efforts will also be able to do their interactive properties justice. If not, we can always take comfort in the fact that a sequel to the Resident Evil flick is already underway.

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