Resident Evil (2002)

Movies based on video games: probably one of the richest veins of out-and-out abominable cinema in the civilized world. Which makes it all the more amazing when one crops up that doesn't inspire thoughts of self-immolation.

Resident Evil is based on the video game series of the same name, one of the first big hits for the original Sony Playstation system. The series coined the term "survival horror", and at their most basic are an homage to George Romero's Living Dead movie trilogy, as you control characters who are trying to move through puzzle-filled environments crowded with flesh-eating zombies. Small wonder that Romero himself was on the short list to helm the movie version. Smaller wonder that, as usual, this fell through. Reasons extend from Romero's version being deemed "too expensive", or perhaps his maverick tendencies becoming problematic.

In any case, Paul W.S. Anderson seems to have become the go-to guy for adaptations of gaming media into celluloid (he was the director of Mortal Kombat and is reportedly working on a version of Aliens vs. Predator). The man produces very slick but flawed entertainment - the sort of flick that has sequences that cause one to think, "Man, that was cool!" followed immediately by, "But wait a minute..." Definitely brains-on-hold movies, if you know what I mean. I was entertained enough to be charitable and consider the bits lifted from Romero to be loving nods and not outright rip-offs.

Serving as a prequel to the games, the movie details the journey of a group of commandos (and a few other unarmed characters, most notably Milla Jovovich) through The Hive, an underground research and development complex where a man-made and thoroughly nasty virus has gotten loose, causing the master computer to go HAL 9000 and kill everyone to contain the infection. To tell you more would spoil the fun; it is actually a very good approximation of the Resident Evil experience, right down to the tiny little red mini-dress Jovovich is wearing as she kicks zombie butt.

This is the usual fine Columbia/Tri-Star video transfer: Warm colors, good shadow detail and rich blacks - everything you need in a horror movie. The audio features some nice surround effects which, if they don't make you throw your popcorn in the air, should at least creep you out.

There are, as the video box promises, five featurettes on the disc: the first, "The Making of Resident Evil", is the longest at 30 minutes, and goes rather sketchily into the history of the production. The most fun is gleaned from watching everyone interviewed trying to be circumspect about what actually happens in the movie, just in case you're watching the "Making Of " before the feature. The other four run less than 10 minutes each, and cover scoring (Marilyn Manson collaborating with Marco Beltrami), costumes and production design, and a too-brief section of zombie make-up tests.

Glaring omissions: any mention of Romero or actual game footage compared to movie footage.

There are "Selected Filmographies" for Anderson, Jovovich, and co-stars Michelle Rodriguez (who plays the apparently mandatory Vasquez clone), Eric Mabius and James Purefoy. There is also Slipknot's video for "My Plague". And let's not forget trailers for Resident Evil, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, xXx, Men in Black II, Spider-Man and Formula 51.

I always look forward to commentary tracks. But I have to say that this one featuring director Anderson, producer Jeremy Bolt, and stars Jovovich and Rodriguez is an exception. Every time some pertinent production detail is about to be expounded upon, it is drowned out by Jovovich and Rodriguez shouting over each other like attention-starved first graders. I eventually turned the track off in aggravation.

As ever, your mileage may vary.

Dr. Freex, 8/8/2002