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Review written by: Alex Sandell
You know she's tough cuz
of her ripped red dress and
tight black mini-skirt.
For Resident Evil geeks, such as myself, this film has been a long time coming. Whispers of a Resident Evil movie started as far back as 1996. Eyes opened wide in 1997 when what turned out to be a hoax teaser poster started making its rounds on the Internet. Salivation started in 1998, when George A. Romero, creator of classic zombie fare such as, Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead, plus the director of a couple of Japanese ads for the Resident Evil 2 video game, announced that he was to write and direct the Resident Evil movie. Alas, as happens with so many video game films, disappointment set in when, in 1999, the Resident Evil movie got a bullet through the brain due to George A. Romero being fired from the production, and his script becoming nothing more than cyber-fodder. A strange stomach virus (people kept saying they felt like they "were gonna puke") worked its way through the entire Resident Evil community in 2000, when it was announced that Paul Anderson, director of the mediocre Mortal Kombat movie, was attached to write and direct the first Resident Evil film. Lastly, in 2001, a feeling that can only be described as clinical depression hit Resident Evil fans hard when it was leaked that the film had some zombies, sure, but mostly it was about a big, evil computer. I've actually heard that Prozac prescriptions went up by 300%, after this leak, among people claiming to have the "T-Virus."
Like the dedicated Resident Evil geek that I am (I chose to buy the Nintendo Gamecube over any other console thanks to Nintendo having exclusive rights to all of the upcoming RE games), I latched onto each and every Resident Evil rumor and factoid in the paragraph above -- and plenty more that floated about -- desperately grasping at anything that may indicate to me that my favorite video game series wouldn't be destroyed by turning itself into a film. When it came time to actually see the movie, I no longer knew if I could stomach watching this inevitable disaster unfurl before my weary eyes. Maybe, I thought, if I pretended that it didn't happen, it would all go away.
As I waited for the lights to dim and the projector to flicker, it became obvious that I wasn't the only one worried over the film that I had spent nearly seven years only half wanting to see. There was an odd silence in the theater before the movie commenced. As nearly everyone knows, when geeks gather, conversation flows like hard liquor at a VFW club. Not this time. You could have heard a pin drop before Resident Evil. No talk from anyone about what they were expecting out of the film, no mention of Futurama's cancellation, no passionate debates over whether Star Trek or Star Wars is truly the greater science fiction series. Hell, I didn't even get a chance to risk life and limb by making fun of The Lord of the Rings while in the presence of its most loyal followers. The whole thing was an entirely peculiar affair, filled with a restraint usually reserved for funerals and Scrabble.
The awkward silence was broken the second the movie began. This film is loud. The volume isn't usually the first thing I'll bring up when reviewing a movie, but attending Resident Evil is like being at a Rob Zombie concert while wearing your grandfather's hearing aid and having it turned up to ten. There is rarely a moment where the techno-metal soundtrack isn't blasting, and, for the first time ever, I'd suggest ushers hand out complimentary earplugs at the door.
Volume aside, the film starts in a way that will be as familiar as a comfy control-pad to Resident Evil fans. There's the T-Cell virus, the evil Umbrella corporation, dogs in cages, a big mansion, a hot girl, bad acting, and, well, everything but the kitchen sink. Sadly, if I may liken the kitchen sink to the sound of silence, it was the one ingredient missing from the film that would have made the movie a classic.
The greatest masters of horror have figured out that fear is oftentimes found in the quietest of places. You might discover it in the falling rain hitting an old woodshed, the sound of your heart as you walk up a set of stairs into a world unknown, or even the rustling of some leaves, when you're out in the woods camping. The Resident Evil games masterfully played upon these fears, turning silence into your worst enemy. The Resident Evil movie does nothing more than turn obnoxious music deafening.
Am I expecting too much from a video game movie? Probably. Hollywood has never understood that what makes a game great isn't heavy metal music and sexy babes, and by this point I should know what to expect when walking into a film like this. I should know, when sitting down to watch the next train wreck, that the big guys at top will never figure out that seeing the train derail isn't nearly as intense, or half as fun, as it would have been if we would have gotten to know some interesting passengers, and spent an hour or two with an intriguing storyline, before we bore witness to the inevitable disaster. Not even George A. Romero seemed to fully grasp this, seeing as how his script for Resident Evil was pretty much a hack job, and, as much as it pains me to say it, turns out to be inferior to Paul Anderson's final product.
As an assembly line director making a by-the-numbers horror flick, Paul Anderson actually created a movie that moderately impresses, in Resident Evil. The film is genuinely exhilarating in parts. There are images that you will have a hard time forgetting. While never getting too graphic (you can see that there was a lot of *ahem* cutting to get this movie the coveted "R" rating it needed to receive to become at least somewhat of a success), there are some gruesome scenes, and a very grim, humorless tone that the majority of recent horror movies shy away from, convinced that they need to give the audience a good laugh after every small scare. Hollywood mistake 101: "horror movies must actually be comedies." Thank Heaven Anderson didn't see it that way with Resident Evil.
Oddly enough, I'm going to also have to give Anderson credit for throwing all sense out the window. The ridiculous premise he presents to us in Resident Evil, one regarding two amnesiacs essentially taking command of the military folks from Umbrella (you have to play the game), actually works. The Alpha Amnesiac's memories come back in the form of ghostly apparitions, giving the film an eerie feel, while allowing for a lot of exposition that doesn't seem like, well, exposition.
The mega-hot Milla Jovovich, as the leading actress with amnesia, also manages to bring a small amount of respectability to the movie, as she tries to remember who she is, even if she does so in a ripped dress and tight mini-skirt. Unfortunately, she's the only person in the movie able to act her way out of a high school play, but Resident Evil fans are used to bad acting by this point (hell, we've had 4 games full of it), and any geek worth his weight in hormones can tell you, after watching her breakthrough performance in The Fifth Element, that just looking at Milla makes up for 10 poor performances.
I guess that the acting could have been deliberately stiff, to make up for the shortage of stiffs in the movie. There ARE zombies, but they aren't as plentiful as they are in the game, nor are they as hideously decomposed (with notable exception made for a few). Also, you never really get to see them chomping down on anyone - even when they're eating, the camera covers all of the good stuff. Most moviegoers unaccustomed to zombies and the hunger that drives them will disagree with me on this, but the film really did seem to be lacking when compared to the frenzied flesh feedings of zombie films of yore.
What you do get with the Resident Evil movie are some wonderful zombie dogs, and a mega-hot Milla Jovovich pulling a Matrix on their sorry asses. You get a unique scene featuring a few lasers and a few more dismembered body parts. You get a big, ugly monster ("the Licker" from the RE 2 game) willing to chomp down on anyone with meat on their bones. You get a thin plot that isn't dumbed down to the point where you want kidnap the screenwriter and throw him, unarmed, into Raccoon City. More than anything, what you get is a quick 90-minute movie with a finale so faithful to the games, so dedicated to the hardcore gamers, and so fun to watch, that it makes that entire 7 year wait that we all endured for this film well worth the while.
Oh, and about that big, evil computer running the show. It really isn't a bad idea, and it doesn't actually control the zombies and monsters, like so many Internet rumor-mongers have been claiming that it does. Resident Evil is actually a good movie, computer and all. Feel free to take a deep breath and get off of the Prozac, now. The T-Virus has left the building.
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Text ©(Copyright) 2002 Alex Sandell [All Rights Reserved].
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