It’s 15 years ago since Resident Evil first made its debut on the silver screen. The first film adaptation of an immensely popular and critically praised horror game series was written and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, the very same man who brought Mortal Kombat to life 7 years earlier. As Resident Evil: The Final Chapter is upon us, how does the film that started it all hold up?
For those with a memory like mine, Resident Evil is not a straight forward adaptation of the games narratives. Instead we get a new selection of characters who come face to face with the deadly effects of the T-virus, and the dastardly Umbrella Corporation. Milla Jovovich stars as Alice, one half of a fake married couple who are a front to protect the secrecy of an underground lab known as The Hive. After an unknown person releases a virus within the facility, it activates a supercomputer program called The Red Queen which locks everything down trapping everyone inside. As a result a special ops team from the Umbrella Corporation is sent into The Hive, along with Alice to get to the bottom of the sabotage attack.
The decision to create a wholly new narrative is something that will always irk me, but that’s just my inner game fan speaking out. The story Anderson wrote for the film isn’t actually that bad, but it is riddled with problems. Watching it so many years on makes you realise how much expositional dialogue there is about Umbrella, The Hive, and all the other bits and pieces we can figure out for ourselves. This is hardly aided by the choice to wipe the short term memory of two characters, one of them being our lead meaning most things said to these characters are explanations of what is going on. As annoying as it is, this kind of dialogue is part and parcel of many films even today.
The more painful issue to watch is the baffling ineffectiveness of the military type commandos sent in to investigate The Hive. First we have Rain (one of the better characters) who gets bitten on three separate occasions. I don’t know about you but I didn’t see any green herbs or first aid sprays lying around to heal that, and surely she would be a bit more cautious after the first bite. Then there is the nonexistent aim of the group. It is understandable to see them fall prey to the advanced defence systems of the Red Queen, but what is not understandable is the hideous accuracy of their weapons fire. During the gunfight amongst the containers, after they disable the Red Queen, they manage to hit everything but the undead. It’s really laughable looking back, and so to is some of the CGI. I remember first watching the film way back when and being reasonably impressed by the look of the Licker, but watching it now it is clear to see the CGI in some instances does not hold up well at all. Amplifying the poor looking effects are the cuts between CGI and animatronic versions of the Licker, going from slimy detailed looks with substance to shiny and smooth CGI it doesn’t look good. But that’s father time for you, he’s a bitch.
However practical effects continue to demonstrate why they’re much more reliable over time than computer effects. The look of the zombies throughout the film are good, some are obviously more detailed than others, but even those with a touch of CGI to them actually hold up better than the Licker itself. The performances of cast hold up pretty well too, well the main ones anyway. The auxiliary cast used as cannon fodder can be ignored, but James Purefoy, Milla Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez, and Martin Crewes all do well in their respective roles. Overall Resident Evil isn’t a bad film to go back and watch, depending on how fond your memories of it are from your previous viewings. However it’s far from a defining zombie film from the 2000s, even if it got in there before most others. The sort of prequel type story just about works, but is hardly helped by the events within. As an adaptation of the games, it ain’t great. Anderson utilises familiar monsters, camera angles, and motifs from the games but fails to capture the sense of silent dread that made the games so atmospheric.