Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Just like any other form of entertainment, video games are blessed with a multitude of genres. That way, there's a little something out there for every kind of gamer to enjoy. Among the more profitable genres is survival horror. The idea of dropping a player into an isolated location populated with evil demonic monsters from the edge of Hell is a surefire money-maker for game publishers. And in this reviewer's opinion, the standard bearer for survival horror has been the acclaimed Resident Evil franchise. When Capcom released the first game (titled "Biohazard" in Japan) on the Sony PlayStation in 1996, it was a smashing success. The decade that followed saw the franchise branch out to include three sequels, a prequel, a number of spin-offs, a remake, a bunch of novelizations, and action figures of the game's characters. So it was only a matter of time before Hollywood became knocking at Capcom's door. Though Sony Pictures greenlighted a Resident Evil movie in 1999, behind-the-scenes shake-ups caused it to languish in developmental hell until Paul W.S. Anderson - director of the well-recieved cinematic adaptation of Mortal Kombat - was brought in to write and direct in 2000. The movie finally started moving forward in production, and saw a spring 2002 release date. Considering the "curse of mediocrity" that is said to befall video game adaptations, just how does the Resident Evil movie stack up?
Our story begins with a quick introduction of the Umbrella Corporation. For those of you unfamiliar with the games, Umbrella is the largest commercial entity in the United States, a politically influential company that handles everything from computers to pharmaceuticals and healthcare. Ninety percent of all homes in America have at least one Umbrella-produced product. However, unbeknownst to the general public, the companys immense financial gains are thanks to having a hand in the underground production of military technology, genetic experimentation, and viral weaponry.
That leads into a short prologue at an Umbrella laboratory called "The Hive," a half-mile beneath Raccoon City, a small Midwestern town that Umbrella practically owns. Someone purposely shatters a small vial containing an unknown substance, which escapes into the ventilation ducts and prompts the Hives security system to go homicidal. It locks down the Hive, then kills everyone inside by crashing two crowded elevators and suffocating everyone in the labs and offices with Halon gas.
We flash forward to five hours later, where a young woman named Alice (Milla Jovovich) wakes up in the shower with a nasty bump on the head and a bad case of amnesia. She soon discovers that shes in a huge mansion in the woods, with a hidden cache of guns in her dresser drawers. Why? She doesnt know. Alice has no idea whats going on, but shes quickly jumped by an unknown man. At that moment, a team of commandos storm the mansion, crashing through the windows and tackling Alice and her assailant.
The commandos run an ID check on the man and learn that hes Matt Addison (Eric Mabius), a local man claiming to be a police officer. Hes placed in handcuffs since his presence is a tad questionable, and access a hidden door that leads them to a subterranean train statio. There they find a shady fellow amnesic named Spence (James Purefoy), who we learn lives in the mansion with Alice, posing as her husband. Anyway, the commandos and their three companions take the train down into the Hive with the intent to shut down the Red Queen (the voice of Michaela Dicker), the artificial intelligence program thats in charge of the Hive. However, the Red Queens defenses chop up most of the commandos into itty-bitty little pieces, but those that remain shut down the defenses and manage to turn off the Red Queen.
Shutting down the Red Queen ends up opening every locked door in the Hive, which is a very, very bad thing. As those still alive try to leave, theyre attacked by a massive horde of reanimated corpses. Despite having all kinds of firepower, the zombies get the best of them and the crews numbers are thinned out to five: Alice, Spence, Matt, and commandos Rain (Michelle Rodriguez) and Kaplan (Martin Crewes). They promptly reboot the Red Queen and grill her for information, learning what exactly caused their mess: the broken vial we saw earlier caused an outbreak of Umbrellas newest creation, the T-Virus. Being infected with the T-Virus can have some extreme consequences (i.e. reanimating the dead), so the Red Queen killed everyone and locked up the place to prevent the outbreak from spreading. Of course, she wasnt exactly expecting a crack team of commandos to barge in and raise a stink, but what can you do? So after this little revelation, the crew decides to head for the nearest exit. Unfortunately, they have less than an hour to escape before the Hives doors close for good, and they also have to worry about the zombie army, a pack of zombified dogs, and the "Licker," an vicious Umbrella-created monster with immense claws and a super-long tongue.
Lots of people have knocked Paul W.S. Anderson for doing less-than-stellar movies. However, I must give Anderson credit for giving the movie a very slick and stylized look that I appreciate. He and cinematographer David Johnson use crazy camera angles to hearken back to the games, such as overhead shots and close-ups of opening eyes. From the way he talks on the movie's DVD commentary, Anderson has a real passion for the games, and after repeat viewings, it shows. However, that passion couldn't raise the film to be more than what it is. One thing that bugged me was the cast. I liked Jovovich as Alice and Purefoy as Spence, but outside of those two, the rest of the cast was either useless cannon fodder or just not that good. Then again, I liked Rodriguez too, but she pretty much plays the same role she plays in all her movies: a tough-as-nails tomboy. Watch The Fast and the Furious, Girlfight, Blue Crush, or S.W.A.T., and she's playing the same character with some subtle differences. And I'd be remiss if I didn't compliment Marco Beltrami and shock-rocker Marilyn Manson for their awesome score. With the film being more of an action film, the throbbing industrial rock music fitted much better than an orchestral score would.
A second problem is that the plot is too loose from the games. Sure, there's zombies and labs and the T-Virus, even a Licker, but those are the only real similarities. The movie relies too much on homages to other movies (such as Dawn of the Dead and Cube), and not on the material presented in the games, though I am glad it wasn't a direct knock-off of the games. If it was a direct translation, the movie would have been a James Bond movie with zombies. And there's also many similarities to Alice In Wonderland, too. Why? I don't know, and I don't think anyone involved knows why either. The only reason I can think of is the main character is named Alice (and her name isn't even mentioned until the cast roll call in the closing credits). Night of the Living Dead director George Romero, who'd originally been attached to write and direct the movie for years prior to Anderson taking over, wrote a script that was more faithful to the games (and can be read by clicking this link). While Romero's script could have used a few rewrites, I think it could have been spun into a halfway decent movie. Maybe someone could have adapted S.D. Perry's novelizations of the games into screenplays, too.
Overall, Resident Evil might be watchable, but I don't know exactly if I'd call it good. You know that kind of movie. It's the kind you'll pop into your DVD player on a lazy Sunday afternoon if you want an inoffensive way to kill an hour and forty minutes. Is it as good as the games? Unfortunately, not by a long shot. But the movie adaptation of Resident Evil isn't totally bad. So I'll give it two and a half stars for being perfectly acceptable entertainment.
Final Rating: **½