Welcome to my new slice of pain for as long as I continue to blog! I have decided that I would start a regular segment on this blog and actually stick to it this time! Wow! That in and of itself is pretty insane I know. And instead of watching something great I decided to look into something that has plagued the entertainment medium for a while, video game adaptations. There is a surprising amount of video game adaptations out in the market today and every single one of them has been a critical bomb for the most part. We always ask the question, “Why did everything go wrong when everything was literally gift-wrapped to them?” Better understanding the essence of video game adaptations and their misgivings could reveal reasons as to why this topic is the hardest to get down pat. That is what I plan to at least attempt to do, to reveal some potential misgivings with specific adaptations and maybe somewhere down the line find something worth watching. Find a video game adaptation that often gets overlooked and could be perhaps a hidden gem, or the more likely answer being I’m going to watch a lot of bad films. My money’s on the latter, so without further ado let’s get Video Game Weekends underway!
To start everything off, I decided to watch the gatekeeper to bad video game movies. One that finally finished its long and confusing run in cinemas everywhere. Yes we are going to be tackling the very first in a franchise of films, Paul WS Anderson’s Resident Evil. This is usually one of the first film franchises that comes to mind when you hear the words “bad video game movie”, and that’s only because instead of staying a single film this long running franchise has spanned 15 years until it finally ended in 2017. That’s not to say this wasn’t a lucrative franchise, easily making 100 million worldwide when its first film debuted in 2002, Resident Evil however has never been a critically acclaimed series. Now why would that be? Well if you look into the source material and really peel back the ideas taken into the film, you can quickly understand why.
The Game: Resident Evil, the Popularization of Survival Horror
Resident Evil is a franchise of games synonymous with campy dialogue and great survival horror, in its earlier iterations and even its latest endeavour gaining critical acclaim. The film bases itself on the first game, loosely of course, opting for different characters to focus on. The game found itself selling its name relatively well surrounding its experience in a gothic mansion filled to the brim with terrifying monsters including the franchise’s mainstay enemy, zombies. Its steady descent into the mansion saw its small cast of characters deal with the horrors of a corporation’s illegal dealings in bio-genetics transitioning into a more science fiction horror aesthetic. Each zombie within the game felt like a threat, and with limited amounts of ammunition it kept the player’s mind on conservation and strategizing when to fight enemies and when to run.
The characters within the game were kept to a minimum to focus on, keeping their one note personalities and campy dialogue at the forefront of most encounters. The small team of STARS members being sent into a situation they knew nothing about and learning the hard way about the dangers lurking behind the Umbrella Corporation. What made Resident Evil’s characters endearing was the essential homage to classic b-movie horror, a la Evil Dead. It kept the gameplay intense and focused on the survival horror with its fixed camera views, while the plot remained steeped in ludicrous but engaging science fiction mumbo jumbo and great character moments. They never tried to make it feel too self-serious, but serious enough to feel invested in the tale it’s weaving.
The STARS team was filled to the brim with likeable characters the series saw fit to use time and time again. Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine make a good partnership delved into throughout the series, the chemistry works really well and despite being bland hero archetypes they never managed to overstay their welcome with bad acting. The comic relief, Barry Burton, was deliciously cheesy with such classic lines like “A Jill sandwich”. Wesker was the cold and mysterious leader who would stop at nothing to get to the bottom of the mansion. The cast of characters had personality to them, making them distinct within the players mind enough to be memorable even with them lacking in depth or acting ability.
Now does the film seem to capitalize on any of the game’s good elements?
The Movie: Milla Jovovich Staring Simulator 2002
Paul WS Anderson is well known for previously directing one of the more well received video game adaptations of all time, Mortal Kombat. A film that even improved the video game by giving it its iconic theme song, WS Anderson seemed to be the guy who could embody this franchise’s campy charm and wit while adhering to its more survival horror nature. Resident Evil seemed primed to execute what a lot of fans were dying for in a silver screen adaptation, a solid take on the B-movie horror and tense science fiction takes on something “Resident”. When you hear the title “Resident Evil” you think of a darkness close to home, something that blends in with us, something intrinsic in our very being. Now I want someone to explain to me how this film captures even a modicum of the source material’s depth?
What we get is a shallow action sci-fi horror flick with zombies that hiss with terrible make-up and CGI monstrosities that even back in 2002 were dated. Milla Jovovich stars as Alice, who for most of the film is never named, as easily one of the most forgettable characters ever put to sci-fi or horror. She isn’t fun to mock with how dull she is, just a bland female character that deserved to be treated better and with more depth than some crappy one-liners and an enormous amount of staring. When you go through the franchise of Resident Evil you can find good female characters, like Jill Valentine and Claire Redfield, you can see that they are characters not defined purely by their fighting prowess. Now this isn’t to say that it is Milla’s fault in the slightest as I have enjoyed her in other more campy roles or some actually good ones, yet the character of Alice is never traversed in this first film. It is left through flashbacks, staring and showing emotion once in a film near the end because we can’t think of her as completely hollow.
Now talking about the other characters in this film would feel repetitive as many never showcase anything other than caricatures or stereotypes. You have the leader, the hacker, the hotshot male and female version, you have the guy who hates corporations, and the evil guy who says lines like “Nothing…ever…changes”. Let’s not forget about the numerous grunts who would be an extra tough trivia question to even remember their names. So characters is not the films forte I get that from the get go, yet the story is just as vapid as its generic characters. They dedicate time to explaining elements in the film best described in one or two lines and prolong it into minutes of exposition with diagrams and terms that don’t matter much to us since they never are delved into during the entire film. The story is given to us in strokes because Alice has amnesia, remembering things as they go along. The twists become obvious and some handled with more coincidental writing as others because of the amnesia trope written into the story.
There is this heavy-handed “fight the corporation” message shoved into the film, focusing more on Resident Evil’s political and economic subplots revolving around Umbrella rather than the primal fear of what makes Resident Evil scary. It is the people around you, not the zombies or monsters that can be the most terrifying. Yes the film does attempt to execute that element with the actual villain coming near the end, yet it feels rushed and blunt with such iconic moments as him saying that the radical guy who hates corporations will never change anything. Resident Evil feels cheap in every aspect. There is approximately 21 different scenes of Mila or other cast members at random moments adding nothing to the scene at hand, mostly in regards to staring. Arguably each scene could boil down to 1-3 minutes for each staring segment. Add that together with the long bouts of exposition about things only people who have played the game would know about but still not care, and you have easily about half the film wasted.
What went wrong?
So what does WS Anderson take from the game of Resident Evil?
The basis of the world? To WS Anderson’s credit he did focus on the world built by the game fairly well, anchoring it in the same ludicrous nature found within the game. Underground laboratories run by an evil corporation running biological experiments was still a good hook for the movie. It is a zombie movie with more of a science fiction theme and execution, with an elite team of mercenaries sent into a den of zombies. Seems like at least the film could be a fun and exhilarating ride, creating an entertaining movie going experience with one-liners and fluffy action set pieces and interesting scenarios in which to utilize them in. Yet when it came down to it, the film feels like a shallow retelling of multiple elements of the game designated to moments within the film for them to spout exposition to make fans happy. They mentioned Raccoon City…even if it never played into the film at all in relevancy.
The characters? No he instead decided to create new characters, which for the most part seemed okay. Creating original characters in an adaptation is a perfectly alright move, especially to find ways in which to differentiate itself from the source material. Resident Evil is known for having a wide variety of characters in different installments, most games having different central playable characters. Retelling the tale of the Umbrella Corporation with new faces seems like a good idea, yet while it may sound good on paper you still need to make them likeable and fleshed out on screen. Sadly while not using any of the series’ staple characters or creating any memorable enough to care for, WS Anderson shot himself in the foot by not giving any character enough time to break out of a one-dimensional mold or get past spouting exposition and corny lines.
What about the horror? WS Anderson decided on a more action-oriented horror instead of the original game’s reliance on survival horror and choosing your battles wisely. Instead it opted for a guns blazing mentality, unleashing hails of bullets on zombies with no tact in how our characters handle situations. There is a distinct lack of logic in the simplest of scenarios, often resulting in characters prematurely dying in ways that are just baffling. Even some characters actively getting bitten by zombies. There is a lot of progressive rock in the soundtrack, techno tracks that take you out of horror you are supposed to be experiencing making it feel more like a rave. Action is also poorly shot with a lot of close-ups or without keeping the focal point of the action sequence in the middle of the screen, often deviating to random and more boring shots of people firing the guns or staring at things. It tries to capitalize on horror through jump scares though, without any of the previously mentioned atmosphere. Each jump scare is telegraphed as the music goes silent and the camera zooms in on a point before giving you the loud sound effect. It is textbook trickery that becomes a dull pattern within the film.
Where Resident Evil went wrong was not within its deviation from the source material, but rather its inability to let go of the source material as a crutch. It needed to go through a checklist regarding the original game, marking things that fans of the series would enjoy seeing without actually taking the time to integrate them properly into the film at hand. Despite being an action horror, the first few scenes of the film feel completely focused on building tension and atmosphere. Whether it be the unsuspecting Umbrella researchers being killed by the Red Queen or Alice walking through the mansion in the beginning, the rest of the film seems to be the complete polar opposite relying more on brash and explosive action and corny one-liners found in B-movie action. It is a jarring transition to say the least and those sections are the parts of the film that feel most like the game as a whole. I’m unsure whether WS Anderson wanted to deviate from the games or stay true to them since he was trying to have it both ways.
Paul WS Anderson understood that in order to adapt something like Resident Evil you cannot simply rehash the same characters and motivations, yet was unable to let go of core concepts executed better in the games. The time dedicated to socioeconomic and political subplots was rubbish in the film, if they focused on the human relationships instead of making each character one note then the movie could have been watchable fluff. Instead it decided to go all the way with a sci-fi horror angle with the finale against the CGI Ripper, which was absolutely horrendous CGI. It looked as goofy as Spawn. It taunts you with new characters and familiar elements from the franchise, yet was completely derivative of not only the series but also better science fiction films about zombies. If you removed the name from this movie, it would still be a forgettable action horror that leaned too heavily on uncreative one-liners, jump scares galore, close-up shots so we can’t see the action and Milla Jovovich being scared of the wind which may have inspired M. Night Shyamalan to do The Happening. Resident Evil becomes yet another forgettable action horror slog in the great wall of terrible video game adaptations, I just hope that when I look at the other ones they can improve upon some aspects.
That is the very first post in the long line of posts on video game adaptations. I can tell that I am going to have fun with this…I’m just waiting for Uwe Boll. So what do you guys think about Resident Evil (2002)? Do you think a video game adaptation is worth watching? I wouldn’t mind some recommendations in the hopes of finding some entertaining ones since we are just getting started! Feel free to leave a comment down below and don’t forget to have yourself a great day!