[8 September 2004]
PopMatters Film and TV Editor
This guy can really dislocate his foot, which is why that looks so good. It shouldn’t be like that. It’s not natural.
—Paul Anderson, commentary track, Resident Evil: Deluxe Edition
When Milla kicks the dog, that’s called a “dog on a stick.” There’s a man standing there in that scene, with a stick attached to the dog, holding it in place for Milla to kick.
—Richard Yuricich, commentary track, Resident Evil: Deluxe Edition
Just in time for the sequel’s theatrical release, Columbia is releasing the excellent “Deluxe Edition” DVD of Resident Evil. “Zombies are only scary if they’re in tight, confined spaces,” muses Paul Anderson during his commentary track with visual effects supervisor Richard Yuricich. “That’s something you learn from Romero’s movies, is that when they’re in the open, these things are easy to move around, they’re easy to push over, and they become jokey, they become funny… With this movie, we didn’t want that, we wanted the zombies to remain scary. Which is why we limited the amount of screen time, and whenever you see them, there’s a lot of them, and it’s always in a tight, confined space, so there’s no getting away from them.”
In addition to the essential pleasures of watching Alice (Milla Jovovich) in full-on kickass mode, the DVD includes numerous extras: the previous “Special Edition”‘s entertaining commentary by Anderson, producer Jeremy Bolt, and stars Milla Jovovich and Michelle Rodriguez, as well as the second by Anderson and Yuricich, whose previous credits include Anderson’s Event Horizon and Kubrich’s 2001. The DVD also offers a preview of the new, non-Anderson film (“My name is Alice, and I remember everything!”), an alternate ending (with Anderson explaining why he decided against it, namely, he preferred the “bleak ending,” inspired by ‘70s films)); “Resident Evil: Apocalypse Fangoria Clip Compilation” and “Resident Evil from Game to Screen,” and a series of featurettes (some repeated from the “Special Edition” DVD), on storyboarding, scoring, costume and set designing, and making the creatures, the elevator scene (this with Yuricich’s helpful observations), the laser, the zombie dogs and zombies (this involved attending “zombie boot camp,” to ensure that they wouldn’t end up looking like they were on the set of “Thriller”).
Resident Evil, derived from the beloved video game franchise, is more than one more movie about killing zombies, featuring a fabulous chick hero with a short skirt and a big gun. It’s a morass of narrative fractures, provocative, strange, and incoherent in ways that speak to current identity and community anxieties.
The plot is full of the kinds of obstacles and tests that take up time in video games, and the flesh-eating zombies business looks more unoriginal splatter-mongering than cunning homage to George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. (Here, they’re called the Undead.) The ultimate monster-thingy, called the Licker, doesn’t get enough screen time to exercise its repeatedly mutating threat to the fullest extent possible. And granted again, this has to do with time and money expenses—according to Anderson on the DVD commentary track with his actors, the digitization process took forever, some 48 hours to render one frame for the Licker, keeping in mind that each second of film requires 24 frames.
The German-British co-production, is a remarkably self-aware and tricky movie, acknowledging upfront that its lack of linear sense is the precisely point of emotional and moral departure for Alice. This intricacy comes courtesy of Anderson’s perverse genius; his dark predilections for constructing Terrible Places and fragmenting the heck out of narratives (here, in particular, Alice in Wonderland-style) made the SF-horror flick Event Horizon alarming and smart, if not entirely successful, and bestowed a notably grim-and-arty look on the recent AVP.
Such predilections serve Resident Evil well. It opens at a moment that might be best described as mid-psychosis, that is, the titular evil is overtaking the residence, a research facility owned by the ominously named Umbrella Corporation (which owns and/or exploits essentially everything on earth) and called, again ominously, the Hive. This facility exists beneath Raccoon City, whose citizens depend on the Umbrella Corporation for food and air. Here, Umbrella develops such consumables, along with military technologies, bioengineering, and viral weapons.
Within seconds, the Hive’s technicians, scientists, and administrative types are under attack by the computer that oversees the facility. And though you won’t find this out until later, the computer is called Red Queen, now “gone homicidal.” Elevators stop, rooms fill with gas or water, Dobermans jump and bark in their cages. And all the people die. The fact that the Red Queen is behind the murderous rampage is made plain in the appeal that all the victims beseech the surveillance cameras, their red “record” lights ominously on, before the shots cut to point of view images, so you’re looking on the desperate victims shouting at you/the camera/the computer, as they scream useful directions such as, “No!”
During this initial devastation and murder, some unknown someone has let loose a bright blue liquid, which you later learn is the T-virus. Alert! Alert! Biohazard alert! This virus is designed to “reanimate” cells. The problem is, it not only heals disease (apparently the initial intent), but also brings the dead back to life, with only one idea on their non-existent minds—to “feed.” Hence, the Living Dead imagery, much of it lifted directly from Romero (as homage, not rip-off). The ghouls throw themselves on appalled living humans’ necks, mouths agape, and they’re most definitively killable by one very familiar means—“Shoot ‘em in the head.” The shooters, that is, the characters based on the video game subject positions, are primarily a SWAT-looking team of government soldiers: One (a.k.a. Team Leader, played by the exquisite Colin Salmon), Rain (Rodriguez), computer-guy Kaplan (Martin Crewes), got-your-back-guy JD (Pasquale Aleardi), and assorted expendables, designated as Commando 1, Commando 2, et. al.
The team arrives in gas masks, black uniforms, outfitted with large weapons and loads of attitude. And their first apparent mission is to rescue Alice, who doesn’t know who she is yet. Alice’s amnesia (brought on by the computer’s “defense mechanism,” some nerve gassy business) is Resident Evil‘s best trick. For, as Alice flashes back in brief blitzy moments, figuring out who she is and how she came to be in this mess, you find out (sort of) where you are too (and frankly, the longer this revelation is put off, the better, for the plot can’t seem to help but be simplistic and uninteresting—not knowing is much better).
Alice first wakes just after the attack on the Hive, and here you see that she lives in a huge mansion. (Her eye pops open in extreme close-up, marking a next chapter, and at the end of the film, the same image implies a sequel, or maybe just the next game in the series.) Come to find out that this mansion hides an entrance to the Hive, by way of underground tunnels, when the SWAT-ish team shows up to get access to the Hive. Also come to find out that Alice is a totally exquisite operative: she kicks and runs up and down walls, and shoots with deadly perfect aim. Her memory returns, one broken-up instant at a time, under bits of dire circumstances. The effect is terrific.
The basic idea here is that the team must journey to the center of the Hive, where it confronts the Red Queen, then has to get back out. They encounter various problems, for instance, the Laser Hallway, where a beam slices through human bodies to produce fall-away parts; it’s more conceptual than visual… though the concept is pretty darn nasty. Or, Alice, temporarily separated from the SWAT-ish team, meets up with a herd of Zombie Dogs (the aforementioned Dobermans, transformed into flesh-out creepy-crawlers by the T-virus). They’re unarguably nasty bits of work, and she dispatches them efficiently, with deadly panache.
The Red Queen eventually becomes visible as a holographic image, an adorable, British-accented girl (Michaela Dicker), ominously “modeled after the designer’s daughter.” Her major responsibility is to tell the human protagonists, “You’re all going to die down here,” which is not a little distressing, coming from this small, red-effected, see-through child (and not a little reminiscent of Event Horizon). Her appearance in the “heart” of the Hive, a magnificently vast chamber housing rows and rows of old-fashioned-seeming computer “banks,” dark and menacing as if they’ve been puked up out of the time-warped environment of Brazil. As a representation of “evil,” this chamber does its job.
Running counter to the zombies’ havoc, is the film’s primary coherent relationship, between Alice and Rain. Once Rain is bitten by one of those Undeads, she turns increasingly grumpy, such that her skin tone turns paler and more ghoulish and her eyes start rolling back in her head. Yet, Alice grows fonder of her new compatriot. And when Rain comes back from what looks to be a for sure goner-snooze, Alice delivers the film’s most precious one-liner: “I should kiss you, bitch!” Just then, she’s distracted by some monster-action (in particular, monster-tongue action, as the Licker reappears), and the moment is lost. Such is the general rhythm of Resident Evil, a series of good ideas—the screwed-up narrative, the amnesiac hero—with too little room to move.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/resident-evil-dvd2/