Movie Review: Resident Evil

I have never understood why Hollywood is apparently incapable of delivering a truly great movie based on a popular video game franchise.  Perhaps this is because studios tend to deviate extensively from the source material and ultimately churn out films that hardly represent their pixelated counterparts.  Most of these games that serve as inspiration for said films include all the necessary elements that make movies enjoyable -- unique characters, ceaseless action and intriguing storylines that wholly envelope the player into its universe.  When Resident Evil lurched into theaters in early 2002, it was hardly the first of its kind.  By this time, several other video games had witnessed their own big-screen adaptations, and Resident Evil was all geared up to follow the same kind of success as some of its predecessors.  But would the movie go on to achieve a satisfyingly haunting atmosphere similar to the one found in Silent Hill, or would it be doomed to drown in a river of cheese alongside Super Mario Bros.?

The original Resident Evil game centered around a team of special agents who explore a mysterious mansion in search of their missing teammates and tumble headfirst into a web of secret experiments created by the maniacal Umbrella Corporation.  The majority of the group is shredded into bloody bits by the house's cast of creepy-crawlies while the survivors struggle to escape the madness with their lives intact.  While this plot sounded perfectly acceptable to the typical horror movie fanatic, the movie took a different approach, serving as sort of a prequel to the first game by employing an entirely new cast of human characters headed by the dangerously beautiful Alice (played by the delicious Milla Jovovich).  Alice's past is shrouded in ambiguity when she awakens inside the mansion suffering from a severe case of amnesia.  It doesn't take long before a band of turbo-soldiers crash through the windows and whisk her away on a mission leading deep into the house's underground chambers.

You see, the mansion is simply a front for what lies a mile beneath its surface -- a system of laboratories and offices designed by Umbrella for top-secret research.  The battalion, led by One (the monotonous Colin Salmon) and his right-hand woman Rain (Michelle Rodriguez), explains to Alice that the complex's main computer, nicknamed "The Red Queen," has shut down the entire facility and that they've been summoned to find out why.  From here on out, we're treated to an onslaught of technological jargon that only drives die-hard Resident Evil enthusiasts to beg the question, "When are we going to see some freakin' zombies?"  Nearly forty minutes into the movie, after half the team is wiped out in the film's best sequence involving a corridor armed with a laser-based security system, the undead finally make an appearance, stumbling after the remaining team members as they attempt to dig their way back to the surface.

Enough about the plot; it's time to discuss why Resident Evil fails in most departments but still shows the occasional glimmer of promise.  The video games perfected the "horror survival" genre, backing their hopeless players into corners as countless ghoulish abominations surround them.  Director/producer/writer Paul W.S. Anderson seemed more interested in developing a full-on action movie and thus skimped out on the genuine scares that served as a principal trademark of the games.  While this fact might not bother conventional moviegoers, Resident Evil devotees might be disappointed that there are no giant spiders, mutant snakes or even the original game's final boss, the Tyrant.  There are appearances by zombie dogs, which are common enemies throughout the series, as well as the Licker, a skinless whip-tongued creature that dwells within the hallways of the police station in the second game, but all-in-all, this movie continued the hapless tradition of lackluster game-to-film adaptations.

The Verdict: In the early stages of Resident Evil's development, George A. Romero (the legendary filmmaker behind the Night of the Living Dead franchise) was attached as director and screenwriter.  After Googling his draft of the screenplay and skimming through it, it's safe to say that his version of the movie would have better satisfied Resident Evil fans as it stayed much truer to the game's storyline.  The studios saw this as a negative, claiming that audiences would have trouble finding the movie frightening if they knew what was going to happen next.  Screw that -- Romero is the undisputed king of zombie cinema.  Maybe when the series is inevitably rebooted in the next decade, Romero will get his chance to step up to the plate and show everyone how the master gets it done... unless by that time he has joined the ranks of the undead himself!  I'll give Resident Evil a 5 out of 10.

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