Written and Directed by Paul W. S. Anderson
I remember looking forward to this film a lot while waiting for it’s release. Resident Evil was a phenomena on the Playstation 1 (yep, kids there was actually a PS1!) and I have a lot of fond memories of playing the game with my housemates at the time. A favourite was coming home one night after a late shift, knowing my mate was playing and bursting in through the open window (it was summer) while making Zombie noises. Oh how he laughed…
And that was the beauty of the game. Although not necessarily exactly terrifying, it was tense, and it got the old heart rate up when zombie dogs jumped through windows or one of the numerous jumps scares caught you unaware. The control system also made for some very stressful manoeuvres when surrounded by zombies and your ammo was running low.
If they could bring that to the film (the intensity and fun scares – not the movement system, that would have been weird) then they were on to a winner!
And, in many respects, they screwed the pooch on that one.
It became very clear, very soon that the expression “based on” was being used very lightly. Although we do have the Umbrella Corporation, Racoon City, a mansion and the T-Virus, the rest of the film held very little resemblance to the original game. There was no Chris Redfield, no Jill Valentine and no Barry Burton to help the master of unlocking (sorry, this always amused us playing the game).
There were also none of the other support characters (unless zombie dogs and lickers are support characters) and despite a brief mention of the Nemesis project, nothing about the (even) darker side of Umbrella and the creepy Albert Wesker.
In the film, Milla Jovovich plays Alice, an Umbrella operative who wakes up with no memory. She slowly discovers that she was gassed by the Red Queen security system under Raccoon City, following an outbreak of the T-Virus. Caught up with special-op agents on a clean-up operation, she ventures into the Hive along with Spence (James Purefoy), who may be her husband, but is also suffering with memory loss, and Matt (Eric Mabius), an activist, posing as a cop, who is trying to bring the corporation down.
The agents’ mission is to shut the Red Queen down and contain the outbreak but, as you might expect, things go south, people die and the survivors are caught up in a race against time to escape, before the Red Queen seals them all in for good. Add to that the horde of zombies, zombie dogs and lickers and you know it isn’t going to be easy. Along the way, Alice recovers her memories and realises she was a contact for Matt’s sister within Umbrella; they were working together to smuggle the virus out and bring down the corporation. Unfortunately, Spence also remembers this and reveals his plan to steal the virus and make a shit-load of cash out of it.
Spence leaves them for dead and makes a run for it on his own. It doesn’t end well. Alice and Matt make it out, only to be “caught” by a load of guys in haz-mat suits who cart an infected Matt away, talking about the Nemesis programme, while Alice is taken away to be checked for infection.
She wakes later, hooked up to lots of machines, but on her own. As she makes her way out of the hospital we discover that the shit really has hit the fan and Raccoon city is on fire. Roll on part-2.
So, anyone familiar with the game will realise how little resemblance this has to that storyline and the film certainly suffered a backlash about it when released. Hell, even I was disappointed, having set myself up for seeing the game writ large on screen.
Was that fair?
I don’t know. Maybe not.
Watching it now, 20 years after release, and many years since I last watched it, I am not sure it was. Although we are a long way from the video game, what we end up with is a fairly decent haunted house movie with an expendable group of special ops agents trying to escape a zombie horde. To be fair, if you like a zombie flick, there is no reason not to like Resident Evil. The dialogue can be a bit forced and we get the usual line-up of expendable special ops hard guys and gals but, to be hones, that’s what you want in a film like this – we aren’t out here vying for Oscar contention, we just want to entertain the audience. And, lets be honest, 90 minutes of fetch quests, shoving gemstones into statues and searching for levers probably woudln’t have been as enjoyable!
Yes, some of the CGI is clearly ropey by today’s standards, the Licker being particuarly poor and, where physical effects are used (zombie dogs for example) the results are much better. However, it is 20 years old after all and probably had a relatively low budget for a video-game spin-off, so I can forgive it some of those issues.
Ultimately, if you forget about the video game for a bit, it’s a fun zombie flick that you can disengage your brain for and just enjoy the action. I think the 6.7 (at time of writing) on IMDB is fair and, while it may be the pinnacle of quality for the series (although we will see) I am ready to plough on with part 2 next week!
Next up: Resident Evil: Apocalypse