A nasty rhinovirus once made Judge Dan Mancini feel like a zombie.
Try not to get killed.
A CG animated epic straight from the folks at Sony Pictures Entertainment Japan, Resident Evil: Degeneration is far more faithful to the continuity of Capcom's Resident Evil video game series than Paul W.S. Anderson's trilogy of live-action films starring Milla Jovovich as a hot babe programmed to kick zombie ass. Set seven years after the Raccoon City nastiness that nearly plagued the world with the zombifying T-virus, Degeneration reunites badass hottie Claire Redfield and emo supercop Leon S. Kennedy from Resident Evil 2 for more intense excursions down dark hallways and cartridge after cartridge of headshots that turn the undead into the plain, old, boring dead. It's typical Resident Evil action-horror, but without the pesky need for a DualShock controller.
Let's be honest, though: "Faithful to the video game series" isn't necessarily the same thing as "good." So the question remains: Is Resident Evil: Degeneration worth a spin? Let's take a look.
Facts of the Case
Bleeding heart do-gooder Claire Redfield arrives at Harvardville Airport at the same time as scumbag American senator (and Rush Limbaugh look-a-like) Ron Davis. Claire works for Terrasave, a group that protests bio-terrorism, promotes environmentalism, and generally makes itself a pain in the ass to guys like Davis, who has close ties to WilPharma Corporation, a pharmaceutical company that has developed a vaccine for the T-virus. Before Claire can even make it to baggage claim, a zombie outbreak instigated by disgruntled former WilPharma employee Curtis Miller ruins her and everyone else's day. Special Response Team member Angela Miller (Curtis' sister, coincidentally) teams with Secret Police Force tough guy and fan of twee haircuts Leon S. Kennedy to rescue a group of survivors inside the airport, including Claire and Senator Davis.
After the rescue, Claire, Angela, and Leon accompany WilPharma executive Frederic Downing to the company's high-tech research and development facility to scare up some more T-virus vaccine. All hell breaks loose when Curtis sneaks in and unleashes a heap of T-virus and super-mutating G-virus mayhem. Our trio of heroes must stop Curtis, contain the viruses, spill and splatter as much zombie blood as possible, and find out what Downing and WilPharma are really up to.
If you're wondering whether Resident Evil: Degeneration's CG animation looks like a collection of cut scenes from a next-gen video game, the answer is yes, sort of—but, boy, what a beautiful bunch of cut scenes they are. The movie's locations are spectacular. Harvardville Airport and the WilPharma facility are sleek, detailed, and nearly photorealistic. Dark dilapidated hallways are appropriately claustrophobic and filled with fine detail, from scarred walls and rusting metal to motes of dust captured in the beams of flashlights. Shots are carefully composed for maximum effect, offering cool camera angles and loads of visual information. Action is wickedly fast-paced, immersive, and bound (for the most part) by the laws of physics. Potentially annoying stylistic flourishes like slow-motion are kept to a minimum.
While the various environments are perfectly rendered, the motion-captured characters are much less impressive. Their movements are rock solid but their stiff, rubbery visages are closer in quality to video game animation than, say, the exemplary work of Pixar. Worse than the animation is the voice acting; it ranges from merely adequate to unintentionally funny. Most of the performers are veterans of video games and anime dubs. Claire Redfield is played by Alyson Court, who played her in the Resident Evil 2 video game, too. Paul Mercier voices Leon; he also played the supercop in Resident Evil 4. Laura Bailey, whose credits include a ton of Dragon Ball Z titles, provides the voice for Angela. They're the best of the cast and none of them is all that impressive. To be fair to the thespians, they're not aided by clunky dialogue, a dearth of humor, or the pristine, artificial, and downright weird ambient space that plagues the soundtracks of most Japanese video game and anime productions. Add to those flaws the voice of 42-year-old Michelle Ruff (Samurai Champloo) as the 11-year-old niece of one of Claire's friends and you end up with a movie that is significantly diminished every time one of the characters opens his or her mouth.
As with much anime (and many video games, for that matter), the movie's plot is at once unnecessarily convoluted and entirely predictable. You can tell from the moment you see a character whether he or she is heroic or villainous. Shadowy conspiracies between evil corporate executives and corrupt bureaucrats render no surprises. Thankfully, they don't get in the way of the mayhem or zombie carnage either. More problematic than the goofy plotting is that, while the flick captures the action of a Resident Evil video game, it doesn't quite manage to reproduce the creepy chills. Watching Claire and Leon move through dark hallways with guns poised isn't as nerve-wracking when you aren't living their adventure vicariously through a video game controller.
The movie's crisp and detailed animation comes across beautifully on this Blu-ray's 1080p transfer. Colors are appropriately bold during daylight sequences, and cold and bleak during the characters' ventures into dark, cramped spaces. Motion is smooth and fluid. Difficult elements like mist and flames are rendered without macro-blocking or other digital artifacts. Details like camera shake during a first act plane crash and faux lens flares give the proceedings a truly realistic vibe. Despite limitations in the character animation, Resident Evil: Degeneration is a good-looking movie.
Audio is presented in a bold and ballsy TrueHD mix. It's not quite reference quality but it makes plenty of noise during action sequences without missing a step during dialogue-heavy scenes. Again, the dialogue sits in a sterile ambient space that rings artificial to my ears, but the quality of the recording is impeccable.
The disc also comes with a respectable array of onboard extras. A picture-in-picture feature offers a collection of animatics, storyboards, and raw footage from the motion capture studio to enhance the feature. A pop-up trivia track offers just that: random trivia about the production, story, characters, and video game series.
The Generation of Degeneration (30:05) is a making-of documentary that features director Makoto Kamiya and his team talking about the work they did on the film.
The disc also houses static, text-based profiles for 10 of the movies characters along with photo galleries or action reels for each character; a collection of four voice bloopers; an amiable, four-minute interview with the actor who did the motion capture performance for Leon; and a collection of five trailers for the film. There's also a Tokyo Game Show 2008 trailer and a special theatrical trailer for the upcoming Resident Evil 5 video game. The disc is BD-Live capable, though as I write this review no supplemental content is online.
Fans of the Resident Evil games disgruntled with the live-action trilogy will appreciate the fidelity of Resident Evil: Degeneration. Those just looking for some gruesome zombie fun are better off sticking with the work of George A. Romero and Danny Boyle.
Not guilty…provided you like the video game series.
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