Title  : Resident Evil
Platforms  : Cinematic
Director  : Paul W. S. Anderson
Publisher  : Columbia Pictures
MPAA Rating  : R
Review by  : Ken Gagne

Resident Evil, Capcom's second game series to make the jump to cinema, has nearly become an indelible part of pop culture. Its 1996 launch for the Sony PlayStation defined the "survival horror" video game genre. Unfortunately, its movie counterpart fails to be similarly extraordinary. 

The film Resident Evil resembles the plot from the games, but the details are a good deal different. Columbia Pictures and writer, director, and producer Paul W. S. Anderson (who also directed the movie Mortal Kombat) did not chain themselves to the games' minutia — a trap which snared previous video-game-to-movie adaptations such as Super Mario Bros. and, to an extent, Street Fighter. 

The movie is inspired by the first three Resident Evil games, in which the pharmaceutical/genetics company Umbrella allows an experiment to escape. The first game was set on the outskirts of Raccoon City in an abandoned mansion, where scientists fell victim to a virus that transmutes living organisms into undead zombies. In Resident Evil 2, the virus had spread to the main city, where two strangers became involved in an Umbrella plot gone awry; their escape from the city led them through an Umbrella experimentation installation. The third game in the series was synchronous with its predecessor, following RE1's heroine Jill Valentine as she too made her escape from Raccoon City. 

From setting to climax, the movie is based on Resident Evil 2 most of all. 

The story starts in the afore-mentioned mansion, giving only the briefest of nods to the story's original locale before setting out for the Hive – Umbrella's vast laboratory located beneath Raccoon City. The Red Queen, the advanced artificial intelligence that controls the Hive, has killed everyone in the facility without offering a peep of explanation or justification. This technological killer proves to be only one of several threats the Umbrella special operations squad encounters as they attempt to penetrate the Queen's defenses and determine not only what's happened, but how to rectify the situation — if they can. (Unlike the games, there is no Special Tactics And Rescue Squad, or STARS, of good guys; just Umbrella employees.) 

Our stars are Alice (Milla Jovovich) and Spence (James Purefoy), who spend most of the movie suffering from amnesia. Rather than create suspense, this storytelling device prevents the audience from identifying with the main characters, who have no idea who they are. It seems a waste of the audience's time to wonder which is the hero and which the traitor; such allegiances hardly matter when surrounded by bloodthirsty zombies. 

Zombies, dogs, and "lickers", all common enemies in the games, are in the theatrical version. Hollywood's zombies are hungrier than the PlayStation's ever were, but the licker appears as though a corner or two were cut in its animation process. 

I generally find video games to have a greater capacity for scaring its audience. A movie viewer might identify with the main character, but a gamer becomes the main character, with zombies becoming personal nightmares rather than detached threats. That lack of involvement prevents the atmosphere that worked in the game from necessarily work in the movie. A movie and game that are both extraordinary are such in different fashions, as appropriate to their media. 

Overall, this film is a decent action flick with a hackneyed "infiltrate and escape alive" plot. Fans of the games will enjoy the film, even if, for better or worse, it is not a direct translation.

This article is copyright (c) 2002, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 25-Mar-02