Resident Evils: The Movies, The Games, And How They (Don’t Always) Get Along

PART ONE: Resident Evil-The First Movie, The First Game, and When the Series Worked

The first time I played Resident Evil 1 on PlayStation, I was still squimish about blood in video games.  I didn’t like it.  I didn’t watch horror movies (I actually fled the theatre in fear when I saw Ernest Scared Stupid as a kid.  …but actually.)  And the limitations that the game forced on you as a player scared the hell out of me.   These limitations were half technological, half by design: every room you walked into was pre-designed, so no matter where you entered from, the camera angle was pre-determined and “forward” (up) meant “forward” everywhere.  If your character was facing toward the camera, away from the camera, WAS the camera (okay, that never happened) up meant forward, down meant back, and fuck you for trying to move in general, because Resident Evil wants you to die.  Your character moved like a tank.  But, for the way they designed the game, it made a twisted kind of sense (at the time they couldn’t render 3D in realtime, so instead they pre-built a nice looking level and let you tank around it).  And there were limited save games (based on typewriter ink ribbons.) meaning you could actually run out of your ability to save your progress, if you weren’t frugal.  And there was also a permanent limit on ammo in the game, which is (still) horrifying.  If you stood in a corner firing bullets, you could actually ruin the entire game for yourself.  Awesome, yes.  Terrifying…hells yes.

But one day, I was on an airplane back from summer in Vancouver and was reading a walkthrough for Resident Evil 3: Nemesis and suddenly I understood.  I had a Virgil to my Dante in the realm of Resident Evil (Literary high five, English students!) and so I rented Resident Evil 3: Nemesis…and I got hooked.  I played it on Easy Mode (unlimited saves, an assault rifle at the start of the game, zombies who only look at you funny…no, seriously, it was about that lame).  It was awesome.  A good friend of mine and I fell permanently in love with the series then, and with the help of walkthroughs, I played through the first two games.  I also got into Evil Dead and Romero, and suddenly understood the B-Movie Charm of the whole damn series.

And then, suddenly, they were making a movie.

The first description of the movie I heard was that it featured ‘Alice the Zombie Killer’ fighting an evil computer, followed by a sufficient amount of ‘video game magazine covering movie’ eye rolling.  (I followed suit…this had nothing to do with the game…)

I would have watched it, and judged it, but I was barred by my parents (because they heard that you saw Milla Jovovitch’s vagina in it…you do, it’s glorious.) from seeing it, until the aforementioned friend and I illicitly rented it (heh, remember when that was a thing?) and watched it.

And actually, that first film was pretty damn good.

Resident Evil actually stands the test of time as one of the best video game to film adaptations of all time…sadly not so for its sequels…but below, I offer for the approval of the Midnight Society (and, you know, Wha Happen readers…we get a lot of overlap)…

RESIDENT EVIL: The How the Movie and Games (Occasionally, only sorta, or in the worst way possible) Line Up.

FILM: Resident Evil
GAMES: Resident Evil, Resident Evil 2, Resident Evil 3: Nemesis

First up, we’ve got the best of the bunch.  Despite having a plotline entirely separate from the games, this is the only film that attempts to inhabit the same world as the games, which as a fan means a whole helluva lot more to me than: “Oh, there’s my favorite character from the games!…played by the guy from Prison Break…and in the movie for two minutes…and…why?”*    *See Resident Evil Afterlife.

I’m here because…uh…Prison Tattoo?

For the uninitiated, the main points are:

1)There is an evil uber corporation called Umbrella that makes pharmaceuticals publicly, but secretly develops weapons for ‘the government or something’ in the form of biological weapons.  ZOMBIES! (Amongst other monsters).  For me, this was my first ‘science zombie’ plotline and made a hell of a lot of sense to me, particularly because it was spelled out charmingly in absurdly over-detailed Memos that evil scientists left everywhere.  Literally, everywhere.  Would that life were so easy…

Hmmm…this Memo #3 says Hitler is going to invade Poland.  Huh. Guess we should stop him now and avert another world war.  Neat.

As the stories go along, Umbrella’s power grows radically (think every possible evil corporation trope in a blender and you have the right idea.  Evil CEOs, evil commandos, evil scientists…seriously, it’s like an entire company of Bernie Madoffs.

2) There are zombies and various monsters made for…you know, evil sake.  There’s a virus (The T-Virus!) that turns things into zombies, or monsters, etc.  It means there are a variety of wacky monsters to fight to spice things up (and make you waste your precious, precious items).  In the later games, these tend to become more and more humanoid (like the guy with the bizarre super axe…)

“So we made this virus to turn people into zombies and such.”
“Cool.  Why does he have that giant, chain-wrapped, axe thing?”
“I saw it on the cover of a metal album.”

3)  Everything has an overly complicated puzzle to open things.  This can range from passcoded doors everywhere, to regular keys, to Indiana Jones-level-of-wacky key items (you need to find the upper wings, lower wings, and golden dragon fly body, combine them, then put them in a door to open THE LAB.  WHY?!  WHAT SCIENTIST CARRIES AROUND A MULTI-PART DRAGONFLY KEY TO OPEN HIS WORKPLACE???)

COMPLICATED PUZZLE OF SCIENCE! Science! science! science!

Impressively, the first film brings in all these elements in clever and appropriate ways.  The first game follows the S.T.A.R.S. Team (Special Tactics And Rescue Squad) that just  so happens to work for the local police department is sent in to investigate a series of murders (and a missing S.T.A.R.S team) in an Umbrella owned mansion.  The mansion turns out to be a front for the super evil lab beneath, there are betrayals aplenty, many zombies, and eventually everything gets blown up.  Awesome.  It’s campy as hell, and opens with the greatest cinematic ever committed to video game disc (jump ahead to the 1:00 mark, that’s where the magic begins…):

Academy Award Winner: Most Batshit Crazy Video, 1998.

It also had such unbelievably awesome lines as:

(Having just escaped a classic ‘walls are closing in’ trap, a la Trash Compactor on the Death Star): “You almost became a Jill Sandwich!”
“…Yes, I almost died.  It was horrifically traumatic.  Fuck you.”

And one character being declared (unironically) “The MASTER of unlocking!”

I always get Paul W.S. Anderson and Paul Thomas Anderson confused…

The film follows another mansion in the outskirts of Raccoon City that covers an exterior entrance to the main lab (different from the game lab…there are a lot of labs. Umbrella’s like that.) guarded by Milla and the guy who played Marc Anthony in Rome.  When someone attempts to steal the virus, the facility’s AI locks down the labs and mansion, causing everyone trapped inside to become zombies.  Weeeeee!

Tonally, the movie begins with a narration that could be straight out of the games, detailing the vast powers of Umbrella, brands everything in sight with the distinctive logo (also a trope from the game…when we see a bullet-casing with the logo on it, it’s both chuckle-worthy AND accurate to the game, where every last inch of everything, including ammo boxes, in some games, are covered in branding.) 

Like Nike, but with less sweatshops. More zombies, but less sweatshops.

We get a gun cabinet with a numeric code, a zoom in on a tiny hand cuff key (you find about a hundred of these damn things), and all the important monsters are there: zombies (though in the games they don’t carry weapons), zombie doberman (dobermen?) known as Cerberus in the game, and the Licker.  The Licker is a monster from the second game (and a horrible one at that) that skitters past windows and haunts your dreams…until you murder it’s face off with a shotgun.

Or, you know, punch it in the brain.  That could work too.

They jack the Licker up to final-monster status (fine by me), but even go so far as to recreate the above, classic frame from the game.  Awesome.

But what makes this first film all the better, is that it plays out as a solid (albeit not terribly original) zombie/horror film.  The initial lockdown of the facility features a classic ‘elevator decapitation’ which would be right at home in a slasher film, or Final Destination; we get that awesome laser cutter scene from Cube again…pretty much verbatim  but still awesome.  We get all the usual fun ‘I’ve been bitten’ stuff and it’s the first time that chick from Zoolander (as I then knew Milla) kicks a tonne of ass.  When her character Alice runs up a wall and jump kicks a zombie dog, game fans likely had the same response I did: a resounding “FINALLY!”  Because seriously, all I’ve ever wanted to do in a game that requires strict ammo management is to PUNCH AND KICK THE SLOW MOVING UNDEAD!  If I don’t have bullets, I still have THE GUNS!

The Goon has it right.  Also, read The Goon.  And check out this Kickstarter.

And the moment, that got me and my aforementioned Resident Evil friend and I to our feet in amazed shock and awe(someness) was the final line: as they escape, the male hero (having been wounded by the Licker) is mutating and is ordered put in the Nemesis program.  This is a reference to the main enemy of the third game and one of my favorite video game enemies of all time (much, much more on him to come next week).  It was a beautiful way to link the movies into the game universe, while not stomping on the toes of us game fans.  It was a fun, awesome nod to the people who actually CARED about the franchise and I loved them for it.  What could be better?

Oh, this could be.

Then the movie ended by setting up an even BETTER movie: nearly-naked Milla (our kick-ass final girl) escapes an abandoned hospital, only to find the city infected, picks up a shotgun, and is ready to take on the world.  This was a precursor both to 28 Days Later and The Walking Dead and was just a fucking incredible way to end a film.  (After the first game, the virus gets loose in Raccoon City, leading to the second and third game, and a setting they never topped.)  The final shot is just amazing in this film.  No wonder Anderson won the Oscar for There Will Be Blood.

…but seriously, there was a time when this confused the hell out of me.

So, the verdict:

The first film was actually a fine supplement to the series that spawned it: this is the first and only time there had been a game movie that was canonically accurate enough to fit into the pre-existing world…quite a feat.  Also, it’s an entertaining film in it’s own right.  VERY very loud and silly in a distinctly early 2000’s way.  Also, it has one of the holy duo of actors who always die:

And guess what kind of character she plays??

All of the above.
See for a great article about this!

So, the verdict?

It’s great.  It doesn’t try to be the game, but it does try to be friends with the games and wins.

Unfortunately…it’s the last one that does so…


The rest…

Resident Evil Apocalypse: repeatedly slaps in the face and demands I like it! (I do not).  But it DOES imply the death of Rob Ford, so that’s okay…

Resident Evil Extinction: is it’s own man and that makes it good!  It’s forgettable, but enjoyably unoffensive compared to…

Resident Evil Afterlife: What happens when a game that digresses from the zombie plot of video game series gets shoe-horned into a movie series that never did.  The result is horrific.

Resident Evil Retribution: I haven’t seen this one yet.  But apparently it is the most like the games…weird.  We’ll see.

And you will too.
I’m glad to be back.
Thanks for checking back in, too.

You rock.

Posted on October 20, 2012, in Modern Mythology. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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