Saturday, June 7, 2008

George A. Romero Month, Film 3

Ok, I'm definitely grasping here, but I feel like this deserves to be placed under the banner of Romero Appreciation Month, if only to illustrate just how good his few films are. Here's my justification: If Romero had never done for zombie films what Alfred Hitchcock did for slasher films there would have never been a Resident Evil video game (it doesn't take a wizard to figure out that zombies in a house in the woods begat zombies in a house in the woods). Nerds will tell you this was both a good thing and a bad thing. I spent a good deal of my youth playing Resident Evil with Michael West. We would wait until dark and we would scare ourselves to death waiting for zombies, sharks, and giant spiders to attack (he did most of the actual game play. I'm not ashamed to say I suck at video games and have no desire to return to any of the things I wasted my younger years playing. I guess you could say that the game may have contributed to my love of zombie films or my desire to make them, but Dawn of the Dead was really the fire inside my boyhood desires. God, how embarrassing would it be if I had to tell people that my hopes and dreams were the product of hours of playing a video game). Anyway, the capcom video game Resident Evil came out in the states in 1996 and had as many as three direct sequels, three spinoffs and a remake before it was optioned for film rights. We played all of these games (even the ill-advised first-person shooter) and I can say without exaggeration that they were all scarier than the film (which, as we'll learn, isn't hard). I'd write up the film's first sequel but christ almighty that sucked worse than having a cavity filled. And I don't hate myself enough to watch House of the Dead.

Resident Evil
by Paul W.S. Anderson
The prologue tells us that Umbrella (a rather uninventive Japanese attempt at an American sounding corporation) is the world's single largest producer of shit (drugs, electronics, munitions, chemicals, other completely illogical things that no company in the world could get away with selling at once. It's supposed to be a secret that they sell weapons, but who would America sell to? We only have enemies. You think you can keep anything a secret today?) Anyway, our story starts with a gentleman stealing brilliantly colored liquids in double-helix shaped glass containers in a lab of some kind (those must have cost a fortune. Seriously blown glass in a shape as intricate as that costs a ridiculous amount of money. What's that? Oh, you just wanted to see the pretty colors and don't care about logic or anything? Oh, ok. You're not gonna do shit like the whole film, are you?). Before he leaves he throws one of them on the ground and then runs like hell for the exit through what looks like an ordinary office building. Well it seems that this is no ordinary office building because the green stuff that the guy spills sets off some kind of alarm. The elevators shut down, the doors all close, sprinklers turn on and the workers cannot get through the safety glass. Then everyone who isn't drowned or suffocated gets a heavy dose of poison gas.

Next thing we see is a very naked Milla Jovavich (we'll later learn her name is Alice) sprawled on the floor of her shower. Apparently she has lost her memory because of the huge defense mechanism set off by the spill. After dressing herself in the red dress someone left her for on the bed of the adjoining bedroom, she takes to investigating. Other than the collection of automatic weapons in the bottom clothes drawer in a ridiculous glass case with a number lock pad (oh you are going to do this the whole time. Splendid!), she discovers nothing of use in the large mansion she finds herself in. Then, in the blink of an eye she is strong-armed down a hallway by a guy in a suit, and then a SWAT team bursts through the windows (it should be noted that the room they smash into is just steps away from an open-air hallway. You're such an idiot, Paul) and demand that the girl give a report. As she's a recent amnesiac she has no idea what to do. They take her and the guy in the suit to an underground passageway that leads to a train that leads to an underground complex called the Hive. They hot-wire the train and find another amnesiac called Spence. He and Alice were both guards working for the same organization who sent the SWAT team and runs the hive. Both these two were assigned to protect the secret entrance, but neither can remember the other, or, that they were married (it was Spence who laid the red dress on the bed, and he's also the guy who spilled the green liquid everywhere. You didn't think that was a surprise, did you, Anderson?). Hold on a second. OK, so you're running a big secret operation where hundreds of people work everyday and not only do they not know that it's a secret, they don't even know what they're making. If they knew what they were doing, then the doors locking wouldn't come as so much of a surprise. This isn't like Three Days of the Condor where it's six people working on game theory and filing reports for Washington, this is hundreds of people with cubicles and assembly lines who have no clue what the fuck they're getting paid for. And as if that weren't stupid enough, the train was built for the purpose of, I assume carting the workers to and from their jobs. I say this because if this is not the case, then a plot thread crucial to the story doesn't make any sense (and thus the whole film doesn't make any sense. Fancy that?). That means that not only do the people working underground not have any clue that they live in perpetual danger of being gassed, but that nobody got the least fucking suspicious on their morning industrial train ride under a mansion in the middle of the woods. Where's the parking lot these people use? Nobody suspects when three hundred people flock to the middle of the goddamn woods in business casual with briefcases and coffee every morning. These are the geniuses who are secretly selling nuclear weapons to North Korea or wherever? Has Paul W.S. Anderson never been outside before? This is maddeningly imbecilic.
So the swat team, 7 in all, policeman, and two amnesiacs make their way up to the hive and find that just about everyone's been killed, their bodies floating around in their flooded offices or lying in heaps on the plush office floors. Their leader (Colin Salmon, the best thing about this film) explains that the hive is run by a security system known as the red queen. The red queen murdered everybody and they need to find out why. Using a lot of stupid gadgetry they get through all the computerized locks and get to the central computer to try and shut it down. Wait I thought they were trying to analyze the meltdown. Don't tell me Anderson forgot what he wrote two pages ago? Are you shitting me?

So once the electronics wizard gets the doors to open to the pristine chamber that leads to the computer's motherboard four of the team start walking down, only to have the doors lock and the computer cut everyone to ribbons with a fucking acrobatic laser beam (and nobody told the janitorial staff? This place is huge and you mean to tell me that there's no clean-up crew and that no one told them that if they hang around mopping the wrong room after hours they might get cut up by laser beams. Dude, the video game made more sense). So that leaves one electronics guy and two amnesiacs to shut the computer down. As they prep the big pinch or whatever the thing is that fries circuit boards, the computer puts in an appearance; or more accurately takes the appearance of its inventors young daughter. A red holographic little girl issuing warnings about the procedure. The last thing it says before being shut down is "You're all going to die down here." YOU MEAN TO FUCKING TELL ME THAT THESE GUYS PROGRAMMED THEIR FUCKING COMPUTER TO MENACE THE TECH SERVICE GUYS!?

So then what happens is the zombies show up and kill one of the marines. Another plot hole then rears its head (there's a drinking game waiting to happen. Every time the plot fucking reaches behind itself and cuts a big hole like a snake with a scissor in its mouth, take a shot). If the red queen killed everyone because the green liquid spilled everywhere, the sole purpose of which, if I'm correct, is to make people zombies, why would the computer hasten the process. Unless everyone in the building was killed simultaneously in freak accidents that night, there was no danger whatsoever of the 'virus' ever doing any of these people any harm. So the computer in essence killed everyone so that a zombie movie could happen in one spooky boiler room after another (to say nothing of the pointless conglomeration of satanic forces which conspire to make sure that Milla Jovavich wanders around in an always shrinking red dress). Tell me something, why in building your underground office complex did you decide to make most of it a big sewer? Cause much of the midsection takes place there. The rest of the film is basically the dwindling survivors cutting deals with a mischievous British school girl while dodging zombies and pulling guns on each other. Then there's the zombie dogs, the creature with the big tongue, Michelle Rodriguez and other sorted wretchedness.

"Director" Paul W.S. Anderson has never made a film that everyone likes. His films don't even generate the least bit of support from the bad film aficionados who put up with Uwe Boll. The best thing he's ever done, if for no other reason than I've met people who say they like it, isEvent Horizon, so that should tell you something about the rest of his films. His other work includes Mortal Combat and Alien Vs. Predator. So Resident Evil was fated to fail. The video game had a lot of explaining to do, but it worked because it was staged like a whodunnit. The plot elements and various villains were unraveled slowly and so the crazier the plot got the more excited you were to solve it before the answers showed themselves. It even takes place in a big spooky mansion, inviting further comparison to an old-school British mystery. For 12 year-old me, there wasn't much spookier or more exciting to fill the hours with. What happens when the fuckhead behind Mortal Combat gets his hands on it? Well he ditches the suspense, the rustic spookiness, adds stupid editing tricks, Marilyn Manson music, and Milla Jovavich and her vagina. The stuff that they selectively maintain and cut from the video game are all wrong; gone is the spooky setting, the sound design, the believable inciting action, and the likable characters. What does that leave: an underground zombie factory, a swat team, an evil corporation, and the name Raccoon City. I liked the video games, but it was still, after all, translated from japanese. I understand that just about everything would have to be tweaked to get anything resembling success from this story, but it could have at the very least not sucked. Anderson seems to have felt that the real issue with the source material was that it didn't feel enough like a video game and set about curing that with every stupid trick he ever learned.
Incidentally the zombies in the game were also scarier and more effective than those in the movie. The film zombies are just people in suits and lab coats who walk around with their arms out. Anderson also doesn't explain why the zombies bite humans if not to eat them. The one marine they manage to get their hands on they don't actually eat, the just mark him up with their teeth and move on. So what is the weapon exactly that Umbrella was working on? Something that waits for you to die so it can resurrect you after a few hours so you can bite people on the off chance that you might hit an artery or something. Puh-leaze. There was no thought put into this movie. At all. All I can say is thank god for 28 Days Later.

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