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Rated 2.99 stars
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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Unexpected
by Jeffrey Chen

I was ready to hate Resident Evil.

And why wouldn't I? No live-action movie based on a video game has been good so far, and yet that isn't reason enough to hate them. No, hating them has more to do with how disrespectfully they treat their source material, and how they set video games back with each new bad movie made. Video games, like animation, struggle to find their place in America as legitmate adult entertainment. Sure, a lot of them are trash -- this is true of any entertainment media -- but the ones that are pioneers in their ongoing growth deserve respect as creative achievements. These days, it is even possible to see artistic merit in some of them. Yet, most Americans still aren't ready to see them as anything more but time-wasters for teenagers. And Hollywood doesn't help when it turns every video-game-movie in to mind-boggling garbage, effectively humiliating the fans of the game while convincing non-gamers that they aren't missing anything.

Cases in point: "Super Mario Bros." is one of the most important video games in the short history of their development. Nintendo's offering was revolutionary -- imagine the scope of the video games being made at the time as if it were contained in a box, limiting potential and creative vision. "Super Mario Bros." blew that box away, broke all the boundaries of its time, and opened up seemingly new possibilities in concept and design. And how did Hollywood handle making a movie version of it? About as embarrassingly as possible. It warped the storyline and turned a bright and playful world into something dark and freaky. In the end, it was a movie that appealed to no one.

Another groundbreaking video game was "Street Fighter II." Capcom's game single-handedly brought an appealing concept that was heretofore unexplored to the arcade gaming scene: focused, intelligent, and skillful one-on-one competition. Its influence over the games of the '90's is immeasurable. And so how did Hollywood treat it when it made its movie? About as embarassingly as possible. It looked down on its target audience by giving them a movie with campy sensibilities, bad acting, and a script written for kindergarteners.

Hollywood continues to ignore the story and spirit of a video game when it adapts one to movie form, and that's what I find the most disrespectful. And from what I had heard of the developments of the movie for Capcom's "Resident Evil," itself important for bringing horror-atmosphere games in to the mainstream, I feared the worst. I heard of numerous script changes and rejections, already a bad sign because "Resident Evil" is one of the few video games with a solid plot that was readily adaptable to a movie. Then I found out that none of the characters in the movie were from the game, nor from any of its numerous sequels. Let's just say don't go in to the games looking for Milla Jovovich's karate-kicking character -- you won't find her (or karate kicks) anywhere. And then the trailers came out, and we had glimpses of a plot involving a super-computer represented by a holographic little girl with a British accent. Excuse me? Since when was there a super-computer or a British holographic kid involved in any of the games?

And yet I was surprised. I did not hate the movie. It's certainly not a good movie, but it wasn't horrible either. There I was in the theater, readying my venom to lash out at what I was seeing, and yet I could not. It simply wasn't that bad. Why? What did they do right?

Dare I say it? The movie-makers paid attention to the source material. They didn't create a literal interpretation of its essence, but they did reference it through the numerous winks, nods, and thumbs ups the movie gives to "Resident Evil" fans. There's a secret passage from a mansion to a science lab. The distinct tapping noise of the approach of a zombie dog. The numerous biohazard symbols littered everywhere, possibly referencing the game's original name in Japan. The familiar underground passage, where familiar hands pop out of the walls. The monster that continually mutates in to something more powerful. The battle in the train that is practically lifted straight from "Resident Evil 2." And, most satisfying of all, its R rating. This wasn't going to be a lightweight kid's show.

Credit should go to Paul W.S. Anderson, the director who helmed the only other decent video-game-movie out there, the campy Mortal Kombat. With Mortal Kombat, he understood that the game itself was campy and cheesy, and that showed in the movie -- it may have made for a mediocre movie, but at least Anderson knew where he was coming from. With Resident Evil, which he also wrote, he keeps many of the game's elements intact and fits them snugly in to what is essentially a b-grade escape-the-zombies horror movie. The combination is held together by an overall gory sense of fun, which both the game and a zombie movie naturally allow for.

I still have my complaints. I don't know why they couldn't just use the original team of heroes, i.e. Raccoon City's elite police team S.T.A.R.S. I found the first half of the movie tedious in its set-up, which doesn't have time to introduce the names of characters but does have time to rip-off Cube. I found its horror movie cliches annoying -- how many times do you have to build up the tense music only to have people jump at the sudden approach of one of the good guys? The music and dialogue are pretty bad. I didn't like how the movie essentially devolves in to Aliens with Michelle Rodriguez playing Vasquez. I would have liked to have seen more mystery and discovery elements, which would have been more similar to the games than a simplistic run-run-run plot.

Yet Resident Evil is at least a halfway-decent effort that didn't look down on its own origins. And that's more than I can say for nearly all of the other live-action video-game-movies out there. There's hope yet.

©Jeffrey Chen, Mar. 16, 2002

(Released by Screen Gems and rated "R" for language, strong sci-fi/horror violence, and brief sexuality/nudity.)


                                                                                                                                                                               
 
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