[26 January 2005]
PopMatters Film and TV Editor
You’re not mutation, you’re evolution.
—Major Cain (Thomas Kretschmann), Resident Evil Apocalypse
Obviously, we wanted to keep a little bit of sadism in it. But it’s more fun sadism in this film, I think.
—Paul W.S. Anderson, commentary, Resident Evil: Apocalypse - Special Edition
I never enjoyed it. The stunt guys said after the second time, you’re going to love it. Never enjoyed it. Never liked it.
—Oded Fehr, commentary, Resident Evil: Apocalypse - Special Edition
“It all began with Paul [W.S. Anderson], who spent a year playing the game,” says Resident Evil producer Jeremy Bolt. He goes on to describe the aesthetic and political visions they shared, their efforts to combine a video game experience with moviegoing, so that the film might seem interactive, so that he characters might be points of visceral identification. “Plus,” he adds, no hint of joke in his voice, “We needed to make money.”
Most of the folks assembled for the three commentary tracks for Resident Evil: Apocalypse - Special Edition are like that—dry, funny, self-deprecating. (A second disc includes 20 deleted scenes, outtakes, the making-of featurette “Game Over: Resident Evil Reanimated,” and a couple of brief theme-oriented docs, like “Game Babes,” about the brutal joys embodied by action chicks, summarized by the wise and wonderful Milla Jovovich: “Women hide things.”) The first track features Bolt, director Alexander Witt (late to this game, but plainly working to keep up), and executive producer Robert Kalzer (who ponders the existential aspects of their self-appointed task: “What is a video game adaptation? ... What makes a video game movie different from a regular movie? And I think it’s the experience of the gamer, when you sit there in a dark room, you play this game. Hardly any video game movie has done this… Alice, an invention of Paul’s, I think she was very much an allegory of what it meant to play a game”).
Another track features Anderson himself, along with Bolt again, pressing the politics; Anderson calls the film a “return to the ‘70s, when cinema was at its least successful commercially but at an all-time peak creatively. The idea that the Corporation is watching right from the get-go… Even our heroine has internalized the Umbrella Corporation.” Both are also upfront about their frequent homages to Dawn of the Dead and all things John Carpenter (Assault on Precinct 13, Prince of Darkness, Escape from New York; during one street shot, Anderson can’t help himself, “You expect Ernest Borgnine to drive around in his taxi any second now”).
The remaining track is labeled the “cast commentary”; actually, it’s two spliced together: the always lively Jovovich and Oded Fehr have much fun during their shared commentary, remembering stunts gone wrong or the nighttime shoot (“I have to say on this movie, I hardly ate at all, because I had to look sort of sick and pale, and there was so much tension working nights”), making fun of Alice’s trauma (“Life is tough girl, even the Buddha says, you know, life is sorrowful, it’s the one fundamental thing you learn”), or Jared Harris’ haughty accent (“No really, he’s great”); alas, poor Sienna Guillory is set apart, providing serious discussion of her preparations, her character’s motivation (“I think that Sophie being there is what gives Jill that little extra bit of strength and courage to carry on”), and the plot as if it makes sense. Whenever Guillory makes a serious point, the track cuts to the other two’s uproarious observations (Fehr: “I remember we used to, to help us with the acting techniques and so on, we used to play Dog Day Afternoon every day. We’d watch Al Pacino and learn how to do the moves”; Jovovich: “Is that how you had that gay tough guy thing happening?”).
All this to accompany a sequel that’s more linear and less unnerving than the first film, primarily because now Jovovich’s Alice appears to be more coherent and more possessed of her memories than the first time out. “Appears” is the key term here, for beneath its frankly quite lunatic action-babeness (Alice is here joined by Guillory’s tube-topped Jill Valentine), Resident Evil Apocalypse renders a grim and timely tale of voracious corporate-world. As Bolt describes it, “From the beginning, we wanted to make this not just a movie about undead, and the t-virus, but about this huge corporation, that on the one hand a very respected corporation, but on the other hand is a very corrupt and evil corporation, kind of like an Enron type. It’s a combination of something like U.S. Army combined with Microsoft combined with, you know, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corps. It’s that scale of organization.”
You might admire Bolt’s ambition and even Anderson’s vision and nerve (he actually repeats here the comment he made about the genius of James Cameron’s sequel to Alien for his commentary on the recently released AVP DVD, by way of calling Resident Evil: Apocalypse a kind of riff on the first film, as it is less claustrophobic, less dark, similarly sadistic and “more fun”), but you might also wish these were applied to a more substantive film. The RE franchise is rife with good ideas—the fragmented protagonist who parallels the game player, the no-way-out framework that emulates game/economic industries. So why are the films falling just short of insightful greatness?
In the second film, Alice is Umbrella’s most fabulous product: regenerated and genetically altered, she thinks she’s “learnt the error of [her] ways” as a former Umbrella employee. Now infected with the t-virus, she’s feeling rather hardy and mean, and so determined to resist Umbrella that she heads to suburban Raccoon City to save humans the company has locked inside, in an effort to contain the virus, per order of the Germanic-accented Major Cain (Thomas Kretschmann). Among those locked up is Angie (Sophie Vavasseur), daughter of Umbrella’s most usefully brilliant Dr. Ashford (Jared Harris), the man who thought up the virus, as a way to speed little Angie’s recovery from a dread ailment (you’ll recall that the virus is regenerative, only it works too well, bringing dead people back to life and igniting in them a craving for live flesh.)
Ashford spends most of his onscreen time with Vaio notebook computer in his lap (he’s in a wheelchair), directing Alice and some tagalongs to save Angie, in return for a chopper that will lift everyone to safety. A couple of cops form the nucleus of this rescue team, Jill Valentine and her already-bitten partner Wells (Raz Adoti), as they’re sort of protecting Terri Morales (Sandrine Holt), a tv reporter who brings her video camera everywhere, imagining it’s her ticket to a Pulitzer. Also living (as opposed to undead) are super-soldier Carlos Oliviera (Fehr) and a smart-ass hustler called L.J., played by the inventive Mike Epps, who, Bolt reports, replaced Snoop at the last minute, and whom Bolt and Anderson love for looking “like he’s escaped from the mid-‘70s.”
Many of REA‘s intertextual repetitions of the first film aren’t so imaginative (another set of zombie Dobermans), but Alice’s perpetual trauma is refitted here to extend the game and complicate the very idea of identity. Before, she sought to recover her memory as a means to “know” who she was. Now, that doesn’t help, as what she comes to remember only leaves her at a loss for words and even matching pronouns. “I thought we survived the horror,” she says, “but we were wrong.” Anderson reveals, “When I was writing Milla’s character, I definitely had in mind Clint Eastwood,” and you can see how this works—even if she has a name, she has no self. Again, Anderson sees this as allusive: “To me, zombies are back for two reasons, one Hollywood is cyclical. Also, for me, there is in modern times, a definite fear of loss of identity. And that’s what the undead represent. They are the mass, there’s no differentiation between them.”