Thursday, April 15

Some quick thoughts on Resident Evil (2002)

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From the IMDB, 'cuz you already know anyway: "A special military unit fights a powerful, out-of-control supercomputer and hundreds of scientists who have mutated into flesh-eating creatures after a laboratory accident."

I can remember the furor across horror forums crawling all over this film's development and release a decade ago. After George Romero directed this commercial for the Japanese release of Resident Evil 2, Sony and Capcom entered into a development deal with the director to write and helm a Resident Evil film. If you weren't there you can only imagine the explosion of excitement across the 'net from this news. It was supposed to be Romero's long belated return to the subgenre that made him a household name...in those homes that love horror. Yet ultimately, Romero's screenplay (read here) was ejected by one of the original producers, and the project placed on hiatus until director Paul W.S. Anderson came on board to write another screenplay. The rest is this resulting 2002 film. Though in some weird off-shoot, a piece of RE's Beltrami/Manson score showed up in the teaser trailer for Romero's Land of the Dead (2005).

I hate hokum that doesn't realize that it's hokey and fully embraces that. Anderson's Resident Evil typifies misjudging what should be lighthearted fun for a serious-minded genre cocktail. Little Paulie has aspirations for Cameron's Aliens or Carpenter's The Thing, but forgets about including believable characters that immediately convey dependability in what they are. There's something genuinely trustworthy in Wilford Brimley's Dr. Blair and supremely authoritative in Al Matthews's Sgt. Apone despite their respective limited screen time. One never quite gets the same feeling from any character Anderson and his cast construct. Martin Crewes's Chad Kaplan hits the right tone, the solider who fails to override the Red Queen's deadly entrance, but is underplayed and constantly dumped on. Instead of the potentially juicy angle of Kaplan being grief stricken over the loss of his fellow men by his hands (even though this wasn't exactly the case), the character's primary function is to pop in at just the right moment. In fact, two events that revolve around Kaplan illustrate another weakness with Resident Evil, the film adaption.

It's got no balls. Anderson sets up Kaplan for a Pvt. Steel salute with one bullet left, but then cops out. Also Kaplan halts Michelle Rodriguez's Rain near axe decapitation with a surprise appearance. I know these gimmicks aren't original, especially after the zombie's reentry into mainstream horror with this flick, however; they're more annoyances that make the entire feature seem like exactly what studio suits wanted from the picture. The biggest of these being what pisses off most fans of the video game series--Anderson takes a steaming pile on the storyline of the immensely popular and very theatrical first game installment. The director's excuse is that prior movie tie-ins weren't financially successful. C'mon man, Resident Evil ain't Super Mario Bros. or your Mortal Kombat. Like Silent Hill and plethora of next gen franchises, the game seems tailored to a translation onto film. Finally, the R-rating is incredibly meek, it's tiresome seeing bullet impacts explode into aerosoled cotton threads. Would it have killed them to throw some Karo syrup-filled squibs onto zombies that are being riddled with high powered weaponry at close range?

Perhaps I'm being too harsh, but Resident Evil has (or had) potential splashed all over its ultra-slick sheen. The moment the Red Queen reboots with all the doors unlocking and horrific experiments becoming unstable is especially excellent. The film is reminiscent of Ryûhei Kitamura's Versus both in its sometimes frenzied style and score. Though Anderson substitutes that film's gory devil may care attitude for close-ups of CG bullets making slo-mo beelines and attempts at making the diamond-tit studded, hardly-above-frail Jovovich into a super estrogen-powered badass with spin kicks that would turn Anderson Silva inside out. The final product is like death by a thousand missed opportunities--both small and large. The second sequel, the nighttime-dominated Apocalypse, is a different story being a work that understands its own goofiness and gleefully rolls about like a pig in shit amongst the kung-fu tactics against zombies, city mayhem, and cumbersome man-in-giant-monster-suit fun.

Despite just buying the Japanese DVD, I watched Resident Evil on Sony's Blu-ray. I'm afraid to say the picture quality is only okay; probably due to the use of an older high definition master. Close-ups consistently don't have that tack-sharpness seen in other transfers of films from the early '00s. Colors also appear too thick and heavy. I imagine once this one receives another Blu-ray, hopefully a new uncut version, these quibbles will go away. Just as an FYI, even though the Blu-ray of Resident Evil: Apocalypse has the very false reputation of being one of the worst looking transfers on the format, it blows away the looks of Resident Evil.

On a sidenote, I'm unsure just what the hell to make of Resident Evil: Afterlife 3D. This trailer of the upcoming fourth series installment looks like Ultraviolet, The Matrix, Blade, 300, and The Day After Tomorrow smashed into one...IN 3-D!
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