Our reviews of Resident Evil: Deluxe Edition (published October 25th, 2004), Resident Evil: Superbit Edition (published December 17th, 2002), and Resident Evil (Blu-Ray) (published January 7th, 2008) are also available.
"You're all going to die down here!"—The Red Queen
Humanity has come so far, yet we're still just a bunch of blundering boobs who've learned nothing from past mistakes. A shining prime example is the horror action zombie-feast Resident Evil. I believe that man is born with a certain amount of instilled knowledge: right from wrong, the capacity to love, and never, ever make a video game into a full length film. Yet over and over again someone in Hollywood keeps breaking that cardinal rule: Double Dragon, Super Mario Bros., Mortal Kombat…the list goes on and on. Once again, we're bombarded by a loud, brash movie based on a popular home video game about a group of people trapped in a confined space as they're attacked by the living dead (I can already hear the shuffling of papers by George Romero's legal staff…). Starring Milla Jovovich (The Fifth Element), Michelle Rodriguez (The Fast And The Furious), and Eric Mabius (Cruel Intentions), Resident Evil lumbers onto DVD care of Columbia Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
Zoinks, it's zombies! Far below the populated Raccoon City lies The Hive, a secret laboratory that has been working on genetic experiments that would make Darwin shit a brick. The Hive is owned by the Umbrella Corporation who, according to the film, has products in nine out of ten homes around the globe. The underground facilities house about 500 workers who find out that big business sometimes has its drawbacks: when a coiled vial filled with the dreaded T-virus is spilled on the floor the entire facility goes into lockdown, killing off the building's population. Enter an elite group of commandos sent in to see just what went on and take on the Red Queen, an artificially intelligent super computer that seems to be melting down quicker than Anne Heche's career. The team includes the rough and tumble Rain Ocampo (Rodriguez), the amnesia-ridden Alice (Jovovich), and the bland Matt Addison (Mabius). After riding a huge train underground and cracking into The Hive the group…well, what do you think happens? Zombies attack, guns explode, and bad things happen to everyone.
Here is a brief (and somewhat incomplete) history of zombies in the movies: first there was Bela Lugosi's White Zombie, then came James Whale's Frankenstein. Flash forward many years to George Romero's triumphant 1969 hit Night of the Living Dead (the mother of all zombie films). In the '70s Romero produced his sequel Dawn Of The Dead and the Lucio Fulci rip-off Zombie. The 1980s brought us The Return of the Living Dead and its sequel, Romero's second sequel Day Of The Dead, the über-fantastic Re-Animator and its sequel, and something called The Chilling (a terrible zombie film to say the least, though I had to mention it because it falls into the "it's-so-bad-it's-good" category). In the 1990s, zombie films trickled off, leaving us with only The Return of the Living Dead Part 3 and a few other scant brain munching dead movies not worth mentioning. In 2002, the zombie film made a comeback with Columbia's CGI tainted Resident Evil. To say that Resident Evil is the least satisfying of all the above mentioned zombie films is an understatement. First off, let me say that if you're going to make a zombie movie, then make a zombie movie. George Romero knew this all too well. His movies are jam-packed with dripping, gooey zombies that made the Los Angeles coroner's office look like a potpourri scented coffee house. Backed by make-up guru Tom Savini (who also directed a Night of the Living Dead 1990 remake), Romero's movies were an apocalyptic nightmare of shuffling, limb-dropping walking dead.
Resident Evil is not an apocalyptic nightmare. It's not even a smattering of a bad dream. And it certainly ain't scary. Resident Evil is a computer enhanced live action video game that never amounts to the sum of its parts. The movie was directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (the guy who directed Event Horizon and Solider, not Magnolia) and is as slick as they come—bullets, blood, and bombs go off straight though to the end. But a funny thing happened on the way to the end…I just didn't care. I was never given enough information about the characters to invest any emotion in them, and none of the actors came off as even the least bit interesting. Milla Jovovich's character is so vague that you don't have a clue where she came from (and even the info available seems to be in question). Michelle Rodriguez sneers the whole way though while sweating buckets of blood and perspiration. The men in the film are all interchangeable except for the token black military solider who dies in the most gruesome of ways (ala the movie Cube). The dialogue consists of each actor shouting at each other lines of dialogue that includes "Run!" "Help!" and "Nooooo!" I think there was also an "Arrrgh" in there someone, but I'm not sure. Almost every amount of humor was sucked out of Resident Evil, making it a loud, chaotic experience that induces more headaches than it does scares. The focal point of the film (aside of Jovovich's perky nipples) is the zombies, and they end up being a huge letdown. In one of the disc's featurettes, they show some of the make-up tests for separate zombies…and they were great! So why didn't the filmmakers decide to linger a little longer on their work? Like Dan O'Bannon's Return of the Living Dead, Resident Evil's zombies movie quicker than Romero's shuffling bodies. This makes for a difficult look at their faces and deformations. People, here's some good advice from a living dead fan: slow it down and show the dang zombies! The whole reason I go to see a movie about the walkin' dead is because I wanna see faces torn off and hair falling out. Speaking of effects, can I get a petition going that says no more CGI, ever? I am willing to give up computer effects in all future films if it means I never have to sit though shoddy, 75% finished versions of special effects in sub-par movies again. At the end of the movie, a giant lizard/dog/wolf-like creature with his brain on the outside of his head shows up and looks as if he crawled out of a video game from 1999.
For all of my complaining, Resident Evil isn't quite as bad as I'm making it out to be. You could do a lot worse with an hour and a half of your life than sit though this mundane horror flick. For mindless action and horror, Resident Evil isn't half bad. There are a few decapitations, a lot of gunfire, and a nice homage to George Romero at the end (a newspaper sports the headline "The Dead Walk!" stolen from Romero's superior Day of the Dead). Just don't go into it expecting much more than a sub-par zombie movie or you'll be wishing you were eating live brains instead.
Resident Evil is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and what a transfer it is! Nearing reference quality, this is an excellent reproduction of the original theatrical experience. Columbia has done beautiful work at making sure this print includes striking colors, dark and well saturated black levels, and even flesh tones. After looking long and hard (okay, maybe not that hard) I spotted nary a smidgen of edge enhancement or digital artifacting. Overall, this is a great looking picture and a tremendous effort by Columbia!
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in both English and French. Much like the video portions of this disc, the audio portions are close to perfection. Resident Evil is a very loud, bombastic movie experience that utilizes a vast array of directional sounds that swirl all around the viewer. The score to the film was composed by Marco Beltrami (the Scream trilogy, Mimic) and shock rocker Marilyn Manson, and I can't think of a better venue than this film for their modern, hard rocking music. This very aggressive and well mixed soundtrack is free and clear of any hiss or distortion. Also included on this disc are English and French subtitles.
Supplements! Supplements! Supplements! That's right, this is a "Special Edition" and we all know what that means, don't we? A good batch of extras for the consummate fan to shift though! Alas, you don't get the original video game version of the movie as a freebie. However, for starters there's a commentary track by director Paul W.S. Anderson, producer Jeremy Bolt, and actors Milla Jovovich and Michelle Rodriguez. All of the participants go with the age old tradition of goofing around and just having fun while watching this popcorn flick. Little in the way of deep production info is explored, but who really cares? If you're really in search of the meaning behind why Jovovich's character karate kicked a zombie dog, then you really need to get out more. Otherwise, this is a silly, mildly entertaining track that's good for a few chuckles.
Next up are five—count em, five—featurettes on the making of the film. "The Making of Resident Evil" is a typical 30-minute behind-the-scenes look at what it took to bring Resident Evil to the big screen. Included here are the typical talking head interviews by the cast and crew as well as some fairly interesting footage from the shoot. "Scoring Resident Evil" features interviews with composer Marci Beltrami, rocker Marilyn Manson, and director Anderson. This film was Manson's first outing at scoring a movie (up next: the sequel to Forrest Gump) and while his looks may scare the snot out of you, he's actually a well-spoken individual. This isn't to say I still want to meet him in a well lit room, but at least he knows something about the film music biz. Finally there are three vignettes: "Set Design," "Costumes," and "Zombie Make-Up Tests." Each of these are fairly short and touch upon the different aspects of the film they encompass. The best of the three, "Zombie Make-Up Tests," features close-ups of the actors in the prosthetic zombie gear. Eeewwww.
Rounding out the disc is a bombastic music video by the rubber-masked thrash group Slipknot, a few scant filmographies on the cast and crew, and theatrical trailers for the Columbia films Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, Spider-Man, Formula 51, Men in Black II, XXX and Resident Evil.
Resident Evil is a slick, far-too-polished zombie movie minus any really snazzy zombies. It seems that the focus is more on style and substance than character or plot. Then again, this is a film based on a video game, so what else can you expect? Columbia has done exceptional work on this disc, though fans might want to hold off and wait for the rumored new two-disc edition (complete with alternate ending) that's in the works.
The disc is free to go but the movie is found guilty of not enough flesh eating!
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary with Director Paul W.S. Anderson, Producer Jeremy Bolt, and Stars Milla Jovovich and Michelle Rodriguez
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