Resident Evil: Special Edition DVD Review

Written by Eric Strauss

DVD released by Columbia Tristar

Written and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson
2002, Region 1 (NTSC), 101 minutes, Rated R
DVD released on July 30th, 2002

Milla Jovovich as Alice
Michelle Rodriguez as Rain
Eric Mabius as Matt
James Purefoy as Spence
Martin Crewes as Kaplan
Colin Salmon as One


Capcom's "Resident Evil" became a bestseller on the Sony PlayStation console and revolutionized the video game industry with its "survival horror" theme: A SWAT team investigating a series of brutal murders follows the clues to a deserted mansion, only to find itself under siege from cannibalistic zombies, menacing undead dogs and other monsters, with only a few clips of ammo and no idea what is going on. The mix of suspense, horror and vulnerability — plus some horrendous voice acting — gave the game a true B-movie, zombie-movie feel.

So it was only natural that, after the success of the original game and several grander sequels, Capcom tried to turn this B-movie game into an actual film. After several fits and starts, including a flirtation with the biggest name in zombie horror, George Romero, the film ended up in the hands of writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson, who had turned another video game hit, "Mortal Kombat," into a hokey but entertaining film, and whose flawed "Event Horizon" nonetheless showed he could create disturbing imagery with the best Hollywood has to offer.

Anderson did not try to replicate the original game, as Romero apparently had, but created a "prequel" of sorts, allowing him more flexibility in plot, character and so on — and avoiding the trap of bringing the game's beloved heroes to the screen. Anderson says on the DVD audio commentary that he is a fan of the game and wanted to create a film his fellow fans would enjoy. As a result, he tried to maintain the flavor and atmosphere of the game while creating a new scenario that would keep its fans guessing.

The film begins with a disaster shutting down the Hive, the Umbrella Corp.'s gigantic underground headquarters near Raccoon City. The Red Queen, the massive main computer, appears to have killed everyone inside, and a strike team is sent in to find out what went wrong, picking up a pair of amnesiac survivors along the way. What they find, as fans of the game can guess, is more than they bargained for, as they must deal not only with the "HAL"-like computer, but biohazards resulting from Umbrella's biological weapons work. What starts as an information-gathering mission quickly becomes a fight to survive — launching the film directly into the game's now-famous "survival horror" world.

The cast is divided in thirds: main stars Milla Jovovich (The Fifth Element) and Michelle Rodriguez (The Fast and the Furious) are joined by solid supporting actors such as Eric Mabius (The Crow: Salvation) and James Purefoy (A Knight's Tale) and a variety of others, mostly strike team members, who have "cannon fodder" written all over them. Jovovich and Rodriguez, both underrated actresses, give fine performances, and the male supporting cast fills out the more one-dimensional roles — "tough guy," "traitor," "sensitive guy" and so forth — with aplomb. One important element to the performances is that all of the actors bring an appropriate amount of likability to their roles — giving audiences a reason to root for them to make it.

Of course, the key to any survival horror film is the horror itself, and Anderson does a pretty good job of jeopardizing his likable characters. The first portion of the movie, in similar fashion to Event Horizon, sets the tone: something is not quite right in the Hive, putting soldiers on guard, and audience members on the edge of their seats. But the Red Queen is in many ways a red herring, and soon enough, the audience has what it has been waiting for: zombies.

The zombies are well-done, makeup-wise, and with their broken limbs and bloody mouths, make a menacing sight. Effects range from makeup to CGI, and both serve the film well. There is not the gore you might find in a Euro-zombie film, or the best of Romero, but these are effective, and successful, 21st-century undead, perhaps a little too slickly done for the purists, but with an authentic look that serves the movie well.

Not so authentic-looking or successful is the CGI "licker," another monstrosity from the video games that becomes a recurring villain. Anderson says he tried to use the Jaws or Alien theory, with quick glimpses serving to build up the barely-seen creature's menace. But as with Jaws or Alien, when the creature reveals itself for extended periods of time, the effects become painfully apparent and can pull viewers out of their focus on the film. And that is too bad, since most of the movie's other CGI is far better integrated.

The movie's one other major flaw is a more subtle one: It is, in many ways, built from parts of other, more successful, movies (see how many Aliens lines you hear). Though its pacing should keep audiences attentive, a more thoughtful look reveals the many clichés and familiar situations that are employed. This is not entirely the fault of Anderson and his filmmakers, since the original game also feels derived from other things. But while the game took the previously unrealized idea of action cloaked in horror movie tension, this is a horror movie, and what was novel in a game is in many ways familiar ground here.

Nonetheless, Resident Evil is successful at its primary goal: Entertaining. It is not a true zombie movie, in the same way the game is not a true zombie game. But Anderson knows how to craft a film with an air of unease, and Resident Evil's disquieting atmosphere is further evidence of his skill. The film's solid box office results were enough to merit a sequel, Nemesis, so it evidently drew in enough of the game's fan base to be considered a success. And while Resident Evil may not live up to the hype and hope built up during the years between the game and the movie, it is nonetheless an enjoyable and exciting, if flawed, film.

Video and Audio:

The anamorphic widescreen video is near reference quality, handling all of the movie's bright colors and dark images well, though blacks are not quite perfectly solid in places. The picture is crisp with no evidence of overenhancement or compression problems. The print, likewise, is near-perfect.

The most impressive aspect of the audio is the floor-shaking bass, which dominates many of the scenes. As with any action movie, dialogue is sometimes drowned out by the effects, with the surrounds put to good use. The eerie score is often loud as well, but that may be by design, as the overwhelming sound often adds to the movie's tense atmosphere. Like the video, the audio is excellent and just below the top
tier, if not quite there.

There is also a French Dolby 5.1 track, as well as English and French subtitles.

Special Features:

The first extra is an audio commentary featuring writer/director Anderson, stars Jovovich and Rodriguez, and producer Jeremy Bolt. The four are recorded together and the commentary often takes on a party-like atmosphere, filled with jokes and strange stories. There are a surprising number of silent spots, and despite a variety of accents, the participants are a little hard to tell apart at times. But generally, the foursome provides an absolutely hysterical commentary, making this a real treat for the fans, along the lines of (but not quite as good as) Bruce Campbell's classic Evil Dead commentary and the cast track on Elite's Re-Animator discs.

(For example, at one point, producer Bolt points out his sister, a drowned zombie, during an argument about the temperature of the water flooding one set, and one of the girls proves her point with a snide "nice nipples," leaving him somewhat speechless.)

The other major extras are a series of featurettes: The 27-minute "Making of Resident Evil" and the 10-minute "Scoring Resident Evil," plus shorter (1-4 minute) featurettes on costumes, set design and zombie makeup. Most are EPK-type material, though the main featurette has interviews with almost all of the major participants and all have their interesting moments. Marilyn Manson fans will like the look at how he (and Marco Beltrami) scored the film, and zombie fans should enjoy the brief makeup gallery. With a total of about 45 minutes of footage, the featurettes appear to have fallen victim to Hollywood's length rules, and could easily have been combined into one longer piece.

The widescreen music video for the Slipknot song "My Plague" is included, featuring concert and film footage (and including, at the end, a promo for the movie soundtrack).

Also included are filmographies (not biographies) for Anderson, Jovovich, Rodriguez, Mabius and Purefoy, as well as widescreen trailers for Resident Evil, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, XXX, Men in Black II, Spider-Man and Formula 51.

One thing to note is that a bigger, two-disc special edition is planned for down the road (including a second audio commentary, which is mentioned in the current one), so buyers may want to wait, if they can.


Movie: 4 Stars – After so much ado, it's easy to look past the film's good points and see a failure, but that does not do Resident Evil justice.
Video: 5 Stars – An excellent image that only real nit-pickers should find fault with.
Audio: 5 Stars – The constant rumble of the bass adds to the film's sense of urgency.
Features: 4 Stars – If this is just the tip of the iceberg, the bigger special edition should be terrific.
Overall: 4.5 Stars – A fun movie on a good, solid disc.


The bottom line for this movie is simple and twofold: Will it please fans of the game? And will it please horror movie fans? The answers are "maybe" and "yes," but unfortunately for Resident Evil, too many movie fans are fans of the game, expecting more than this film can deliver. Nonetheless, if audiences can put their preconceived notions aside, they will find an entertaining film that does, in fact, live up to the standards of the game that inspired it. As for whether to buy this DVD or wait for the bigger special edition, that probably depends on the patience of the buyer — there is plenty to like about this disc's extras, and the A/V is excellent, but all of the features apparently will reappear on the later disc.

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