Two kinds of people will see "Resident Evil"--those who know and love the video game that inspired it, and those whose opposable thumbs haven't toggled anywhere near it. Count me among the latter.
Does that put a reviewer at a disadvantage? Not any more than one who's writing about a film based on a book he hasn't read, I don't think. I've seen enough zombie movies know that while this film by Paul W.S. Anderson ("Mortal Combat") has some nifty sequences, it also covers some awfully familiar territory. Like, "Night of the Living Dead" and "Dawn of the Dead" territory. In fact, George Romero was reportedly on-tap to direct this one, but dropped out because of creative differences. So you have a video game that's inspired by Romero's zombie films which in turn inspires a new movie about zombies which Romero almost directed.
The plot itself is pretty simple, though the science fiction is questionable--not a problem for video games, but for a movie? Milla Jovovich wakes up kinda nude in the shower (here's my first problem--if someone passes out because of a gas, how do they keep that towel so strategically placed?) and the "brief nudity" the "R" rating promises is a nipple shot so quick it could pass for a flash. She has no idea who she is or what's happening, which makes two of us--except for the nudity. As commandos in gas masks swoop in and take her away and the action continues for 20 minutes. viewers unfamiliar with the game will be going, What the?, until Alice (Jovovich) says what's on all of our minds: "I want to know who you people are and what's going on." And we get the explanation.
It turns out that she and everyone else is an employee of The Umbrella Corporation (whose name implies it could be even bigger than Big Brother). She was living and working in "The Mansion" with another operative pretending to be her husband (James Purefoy), part of an elaborate cover for an operation located a half-mile beneath the surface of Raccoon City. "The Hive" complex below-ground is a top, top, ultra-secret research facility where the corporation really makes all of its money developing nasty bio-warfare products and such. More than 500 people live and work there, but we discover that the chaos we witnessed in the opening was either an act of terrorism or a severe malfunction of the main computer that's responsible for the security of The Hive. Dubbed "The Red Queen," this computer may have gone haywire, possibly with outside prompting, killing everyone in the facility. And the commandos, along with the people they snagged from The Mansion, are trying to get in there and stop the computer before it does further damage (Uh, isn't everyone already dead?). And so the plot itself is fairly simple: a commando mission tries to set a charge under The Red Queen which would force the computer to reboot and presumably stop killing people.
The problem is those darned zombies, who turn out to be the same 500 or so people apparently rendered undead, somehow, by the gas that was released. And the zombie dogs, who are perhaps the coolest thing in this tries-too-hard film. They put the next level monster, a "Licker" (which we learn on the commentary also comes from the video game) to shame. The zombie dogs move realistically despite huge pieces missing, and they're infinitely more interesting than the humans, who seem more like the zombies from the old Miller Lite commercials. Aside from the dogs, the other truly memorable sequence comes when the commandos enter a corridor and are detected by the computer, who sics laser beams on them and slices and dices them as if they were vegetables and The Red Queen was a Vegematic. I take that back. There's also a pretty memorable demise scene that results when someone tries to use her head to help people out of an elevator. Aside from those memorable scenes, I found myself actually bored with all of the repetition: zombie pops up out of nowhere, can be felled by bullets, teeth trying to tear flesh, lots of shooting and screaming, blah-blah-blah. Much worse was Anderson's overuse of ominous music followed by a jumpy BOO-YA to surprise one of the characters. I mean, he went to the well so often on this that there isn't a drop of water left. And the dialogue was no great shakes. Example? Male cop: "You can't do this." Female commando: "Blow me." Not exactly "Rosebud."
The main interest, really, comes from Alice's flashbacks that make us wonder about her position and allegiance in the whole affair. It certainly doesn't come from the commandos or their leaders (Colin Salmon, Michelle Rodriguez), whose Rambo posturing is godawful familiar. And yet, "Resident Evil" is hardly a stinker. It's what we at DVD Town call "a passably decent film, but not one to get too excited about," which makes it a 6 out of 10.
The 1080p picture looks very good, with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio stretching the film so it fills the whole screen on a 16x9" monitor. The techno-looking corridors and their blue lighting look especially nice, with a high level of detail and decent black levels. But at the five minute mark there was a bit of a glitch, and at the ten minute mark there was some momentary compression artifacts and pixellation. It self-corrected in a hurry, but still, the flaws are worth mentioning.
The featured soundtrack (which is LOUD, by the way) is an English or Italian Dolby True HD 5.1, with additional tracks in French, Spanish, and Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 and subtitles in English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian. Sometimes there seem to be too many sounds all at once, making this a bit too cacophonous for my taste.
The commentary track with Jovovich, Rodriguez, Anderson, producer Jeremy Bolt, and actor Jason Isaacs is a bit of a free-for-all. Jovovich and Rodriguez are interesting at times, challenging the director and asking why in the world he did this or that. But other times they just chatter on and on, and you can't really tell who's speaking . . . or why. At one point they even break into song, doing something from "Les Miserables." There's lots of laughter, too, though we're never included in the jokes. Not one of the best commentaries I've heard. Better is the visual effects commentary with Anderson and visual effects supervisor Richard Yuricich, who go scene-by-scene over their shots. It may not be as provocative, but at least it has substance.
Better still are the 12 featurettes on "From Game to Screen," "The Making of Resident Evil," "Scoring Resident Evil," "Storyboarding Resident Evil," and short-short features (under 10 minutes) on costumes, set design, the laser effect (one of the neatest), the train, zombie dogs (also very good), zombies, the elevator (nice), and an alternate ending playable with intro (interesting). Rounding out the extras are a few promo trailers and a pretty awful music video of "My Plague" by Slipnot. Was Kiss killed and replaced by zombies?
In the useless department, there's also something called "Blu-Wizard," which someone was definitely overpaid to develop. It's a program-your-own sequence of extras to watch separately or during movie playback. Why you'd want to do this is beyond me. First of all, it's a pain in the butt to go over all these things and then program it. Why not just click on the menu and watch them in order? It's certainly faster to use the menu than to go through this dopey "Wizard." And while you can program this disc to play the features during the movie, you end up pausing the film and have to take a detour. Why would anyone want to pause the film for so long? I don't get it.
Despite scenes you'll probably never forget, such moments in "Resident Evil" make you conscious of what the rest of the film lacks.