When I heard Resident Evil was being made into a major motion picture a few years back, my heart leapt with joy. There had not been a large budget zombie film since “Day of the Dead”. For someone who was introduced to this sub-genre of horror by Romero’s classic “Night of the Living Dead” and at an early age and has since spent his life searching out such films from across the globe, it was like a gift from heaven. I already owned all three of the games in the Resident Evil series for the Play Station and had spent hours upon hours glued to a TV playing them. I began to await the film’s release more zealously than Star Wars fans were counting the days to Episode 2.
Back then it was rumored that George Romero himself was to direct the film treating it as an unofficial installment in his own “Dead” series (Night, Dawn, and Day of the Dead). It wasn’t long though until the powers that be in Hollywood kicked Romero off the project and handed the script over to Paul Anderson who did a rewrite and ended up actually directing the film. Yet I still held out hope that the zombie films of the late 70s and early 80s were poised for a comeback on the big screen.
Now the film has been released on DVD and I have finally been able to purchase a copy of it much to my own personal heartbreak and disappointment. It was not worth the wait nor the excitement, I assure you. Not even if you are only a fan of the games and not the films that inspired them.
The movie is centered around the Umbrella corporation and its illegal bio-warfare experiments just like the game series. Beneath Raccoon city there exists a massive research facility known as the Hive. A rogue Umbrella operative attempts to steal the “T-Virus” and unleashed it in the Hive complex killing all five hundred of the scientists, workers, and support staff inside. A team of para-military operatives are sent in to disable the base’s state of the art artificial intelligence which is blamed for the incident.
Anderson, the writer and director, tries hard to bring the game to life on the screen and even adds some unique twists and turns such as making the AI of the complex itself a powerful and deadly enemy of the film’s heroes, killing half the team in the opening scenes alone with its internal weapon systems. Anderson also does an amazing job at capturing some of the games odder creatures like the skinless, infected hell-hounds and the bio-engineered “licker” monsters. The film even features a hip, young cast and more than a little “eye-candy” in its star, Milla Jovovich, with her unending chain of skimpy outfits.
If Resident Evil had been intended to be a dark action film or even the horror genre’s answer to “Tomb Raider”, I have no doubt it would have been a huge success, yet it Resident Evil should have a been a zombie film and as thus failed terribly to find an audience of fans that would cherish it forever. What Mr. Anderson and Hollywood seemed not to realize is that fans of the game series are zombie fans and gore hounds both with fixation about the “walking dead”. Sure. “lickers” and Milla Jovovich are nice, but when fans of the game watch this film they are sure to be disappointed as the film has very little gore compared to the games and the zombies are so down played they may as well be just another part of the background. Even the film’s ending, which features Jovovich emerging into a war torn city overrun by the dead fails to capture the magic of that “end of the world” feel that runs so deep in earlier zombie films like Day of the Dead or The Beyond. Perhaps if there is a second film, which I find unlikely, it will be aimed more at the people who enjoy films of this genre and the games than the teenage audience.
I would be hard pressed to tell you of any one who would truly enjoy this film as it is lacking the game’s trademark zombie plague feel and having so simple a plot that doesn’t even follow the formula of such films that was developed by Romero with Night of the Living Dead and spawned so many cheesy and great spin-offs alike.
In short, if you are looking for terror, gore, or certainly zombies, then pop a copy of Michelle Soavi’s Cemetery Man or Romero’s Dawn of the Dead in your DVD player instead. You will be happier and perhaps spared the heartbreak of once again watching Hollywood trash a great and powerful concept as I was.
Copyright © 2002 by Eric S. Brown and Bewildering Stories.