A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 376 – Resident Evil (2002)

Resident Evil (2002) – March 11th, 2011

This morning we went to the keynote speech for the convention we’re attending. In it, Jane McGonigle said many interesting things about how video games can enrich our lives and make us better people. And in large part I agree with her. It’s hard to deny some of the results of the studies she cited and effects I’ve personally experienced. However. There was one point she made that I must disagree with, at least in part. According to her, studies have shown that gamers have more lucid dreaming episodes (no argument there) and in general have fewer nightmares than non-gamers. Now, in general? Fine. But when she said that horror games don’t actually give us nightmares? Bullshit. Because Resident Evil 4 (the game) gave me horrific nightmares beyond compare. The only nightmares I have ever had that come remotely close are snake dreams, and I think my review of Snakes on a Plane made it abundantly clear how I cope, or don’t cope, with snakes.

Perhaps the nightmares from a zombie game are part of the reason I shy away from zombie movies as a genre. The constant feeling of being hunted, the tension, the suspense, when you know there’s something coming and it’s close and it’s going to pop out from behind you or in front of you or above you and oh my god where is it and when is it going to happen? That lingers with me and invades my subconscious until I am a quivering mess of nerves. So! With that in mind, I was a little wary of this weekend’s trilogy. I know the Resident Evil games. I know the universe has that mood to it that gets to me. The chainsaw in the distance from RE4 will remain with me for years, I’m sure. And so I figured if the movie managed to capture the tone of the games, I was in trouble. And, well. I might be in trouble because I was pleasantly surprised with how well the movie emulated the games, bringing a feel of the world without feeling like an extended cut scene. Of course, it helps that the movie is live action. It always feels more like a cut scene when the movie’s animation is only a step or two above (or equal to) that of the game’s scenes.

Really, though, I was impressed with the tone and while I might end up having some unpleasant dreams tonight, it’s not a sure thing because this movie managed something I hadn’t really considered possible. It balanced the tension and horror well enough that it wasn’t overwhelming. When you play a game like that, part of the experience is the tension and suspense. That’s the point. Tense running around followed by brutal action scenes. But a movie isn’t a game and a game isn’t a movie and they shouldn’t be the same experience. As movie watchers we’re stuck in a far more passive role than game players are, so we have no control over who in the party lives or dies or gets munched on by zombies. And this movie handles it all quite well. If you know the games, you can see their influence on the visuals in this movie, from the creature design to the costumes to the sets. This is no passing nod to the games. It’s the world of the games made real and I really appreciate that. Add that to the balanced horror and action elements and I’m impressed.

The story involves what all Resident Evil stories involve: An outbreak of the zombie-causing T Virus and the covering up of said outbreak by the Umbrella Corporation, which created it. In this movie, the outbreak happened inside an underground facility run by Umbrella, which caused the facility to be locked down completely. Everyone in the facility dies and then we meet our main character, Alice, who’s suffering from some mild memory loss due to a security measure that released some nerve gas into her house. Alice and her not-husband are two Umbrella agents placed in a mansion that is the entrance to the underground facility. When the facility is locked down and commandos sent to get in and find out why Alice and her not-husband go with them, along with a cop who’s just sort of shown up. Obviously things in the facility are Not Good and half the team gets killed in fairly short order. Such is the way of things.

Over the course there are all sorts of secrets about the virus and how it got loose and why the computer went into lockdown and killed everyone and what else Umbrella’s been doing down there. That’s part and parcel of the world it’s set in. But I liked how this particular movie set it all up. Oh, it’s nothing shocking or unexpected, but it’s fun and it feels appropriate to the world. The zombie reveal is one of the most obvious I’ve ever seen, but then, why bother to have a shocking reveal? It’s not like we don’t know what’s going to happen sooner or later? How many people actually saw this who didn’t know what Resident Evil was? And I liked Alice. Of course, I love Milla Jovovich and I love seeing her play a character who gets to kick a lot of ass. She’s good at these characters and I think she’s fantastic. The rest of the cast was fine, though I will give some props to Michelle Rodriguez, who plays one of the commandos, Rain Ocampo. The guys? Well, most of them are sadly difficult to tell apart. They’re all decent enough actors with short brown hair and strong facial structure. It’s the women who really shine here, getting some of the best lines and moments of action and stubborn will.

The only things I wasn’t too fond of in the movie were the corporate espionage plot, which could have been good but wasn’t given enough time, and the sort of second stage zombie creature. Now, these abomination things are nasty as all get out and they’re dangerous and have tongues they can use like whips. But they are the Chekhov’s Gun of this movie. Alice sees them in their cages and you know damn well at least one’s going to get loose and cause some fuss. And I guess while they are foreshadowed and all, they just felt tacked on to me. Like they could have been incorporated in a much more organic fashion. But honestly, those are my biggest critiques. And for a zombie movie, reviewed by me, that’s a big deal. Now I just have to hope I can get a good night’s sleep after watching it.

March 11, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Resident Evil

March 11 2011

Resident Evil

A year ago, when we were attending PAX East for the first time, Amanda and I had just started our daily movie project. It was the first real test to see if we could stick to the rigorous schedule of reviewing a movie every single day even when we had a lot of other things to do. We reviewed Stand By Me (because Wil Wheaton was the keynote speaker) and a couple video game inspired CG messes. We also laid plans back then to make this year’s PAX bigger and better in every way. This included taking more time off surrounding the convention (to allow us to prepare and decompress) getting a hotel room in the hotel connected directly to the convention center (so we could play games in the loby with other gamers after the convention hall closed) and buying the Resident Evil trilogy so we’d have video game based movies to watch. (If our project reaches into a third year I am very much affraid we may have to watch some Uwe Boll movies. Although that probably won’t happen because Amanda would never, NEVER let me pay money for a copy of Silent Hill.)

Anyhow – tonight’s movie is the first of several Resident Evil movies starring Milla Jovovich and written and directed by her husband Paul W.S. Anderson. None of which I had seen before we put this in tonight. I have to say, and this is as somebody who has played all the way through several of the early games in the series when they were re-released on the Gamecube, I was pleasantly surprised how well this movie fits with the game universe.

The Resident Evil games are the great grand daddies of the “survival horror” genre of video games. They’re also famous for putting eye candy and atmosphere before gameplay. In the first two seminal games in the series Capcom used a nifty trick which took advantage of the much higher storage capacity of CD games on the Playstation to create detailed pre-rendered backgrounds for the heroes and zombies to play on. The actual characters were simple polygon models created in real time but the backgrounds were mostly static with maybe a touch of animation here and there to give them life. The result was that all the processing power of the Playstation could be concentrated on making the player and zombies look as good as possible because the setting they appeared in was already pre-generated. In short they were the best looking games on the console. Of course the controls were awkward (Jill Valentine and company lumbered about like tanks with left and right on the controller making them rotate laboriously in place and forward and back making them stagger in a straight line) but part of the appeal was that you were in constant danger of being overtaken by shambling zombies who could barely walk – the games were more about creating a mood and looking cool than about being playable.

Which brings me (finally) to tonight’s movie. It’s all about setting a mood and looking cool. It doesn’t necessarily have much in the plot department, but it’s sure fun to watch. It even keeps several recognisable and iconic locales from the first two games. The movie starts out in a mysterious lab run by the terrifying Umbrella Corporation which is behind every sinister in all of the games. It features the mansion that is the setting for the first Resident Evil game and it ends in the burnt out husk of Raccoon City which is the setting for the second game. (I don’t think it’s a spoiler of any sort to say this since the opening crawl which introduces the world to moviegoers who might be unfamiliar with the games talks about the upcoming Raccoon City disaster.)

The movie doesn’t concern itself with being slavishly faithful to the games though. It pays homage to them but it is very much its own beast. For one thing the characters here are completely new. No Chris or Claire or Jill. The plot revolves around the original outbreak of the T-Virus which allows for the re-animation and mutation of organic matter. When mysterious terrorists bent on bringing down the Umbrella Corporation infiltrate a top secret and somewhat shady lab that’s doing work on military applications of zombies (seriously) the A.I. that runs the facility goes into lockdown and kills everybody on site. Well everybody except two agents living under the guise of a married couple in a mansion that sits atop one of the entrances to the vast underground complex. They were simply knocked out by a nerve toxin that erased their memories. One of these is our hero Alice, who wakes up with no memory in the mansion just before it is invaded by a swat team that has been sent by Umbrella to figure out what went wrong at the facility. The other is some guy named Chad, who Alice and the mercs find in the train that runs between the mansion and the facility. There’s also an interloper named Matt who is also in the mansion for some reason.

Of course all of them traipse directly into the top secret high-tech lab and attempt to shut down the supposedly haywire computer to figure out just what has gone so catastrophically wrong. And they proceed to die. At first it’s a kind of 2001 situation with them attempting to deal with the computer which is simply trying to kill anybody that interferes with its programming. Then of course they have to deal with hordes of zombies when all the deceased employees in the lab get up and start trying to eat them. (Apparently none of the mercenaries have ever seen a zombie movie in their lives because when the dead people start shambling after them they spend a ridiculous amount of ammo shooting the zombies in the torsos. There should be something in a military training handbook somewhere that clearly states that if your deceased opponent gets up and continues to walk towards you the best course of cation is to SHOOT IT IN THE HEAD!)

This movie is formulaic and predictable. The characters are stock types clearly recognisable from any number of other movies. And yet it is still entertaining and enjoyable, and I it’s all thanks to Milla Jovovich. As Alice begins to regain her lost memory she discovers that she used to be some kind of crack commando badass, and when things start to go bad she takes charge and sets out to get the survivors out alive. It’s a kick ass role and Milla fulfills it perfectly. I wouldn’t say that this movie is really survival/horror like the games it is based on. It has all those aspects, but it’s really much more sci-fi action with zombies in it. (Pretty amusingly stupid zombies for the most part too. One plot point involves them being unable to climb up a few feet to some pipes overhead that our heroes have escaped to – the zombies just stumble along beneath them reaching up hopefully for their lunch to fall down into their waiting arms.) And you know what? I don’t mind that it’s not horror. I love a kick ass female lead shooting and kicking her way through hordes of the undead. I’d watch that any day of the week. Indeed I’m pretty sure we’ll be watching exactly that again tomorrow morning before going back to the con. I’m looking forward to it.

March 11, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment