Lost in Translation? – Resident Evil


Welcome to Lost in Translation? – the Ready Up series where we look at the rocky two-way road of media adapted from video games and games based on films and TV shows, in a bid to decide whether the juice was worth the squeeze, or if what made the source material great in the first place got lost in translation.

Released in 2002, Resident Evil was directed by Paul W. S. Anderson (Mortal Kombat, Event Horizon) and starred Milla Jovovich (The Fifth Element) and Michelle Rodriguez (The Fast and the Furious). Reportedly made on a budget of $33 million, the film made $102 million at cinemas worldwide and went on to spawn four financially successful sequels – not bad for a film with a ‘generally unfavourable’ 33 out of 100 on Metacritic. Here’s the trailer:

The main crux of each entry in the Resident Evil video game franchise (by 2002, at least) was ‘survival horror’ – each installment saw the player fighting for survival against deadly foes ranging from simple shambling zombies right up to genetically-engineered monstrosities. At the time of the film’s release, four games had been released in the main Resident Evil series, with 2000’s Resident Evil: Code Veronica the latest. It looked like this (though please note, this trailer is from the 2011 HD re-release rather than the 2000 original):

Based loosely on elements seen in the first two Resident Evil games, the filmic Resident Evil sees amnesiac Alice (Milla Jovovich) awaken in a mysterious mansion on the outskirts of Raccoon City, which is stormed (in an unnecessarily dramatic window-smashing fashion) by an Umbrella Corporation special forces team who claim Alice is one of them, before leading her through a not-very-secret entrance to an underground Umbrella facility known as ‘the Hive’. Finding the site worryingly empty, the team soon learns that the artificial intelligence that monitors and controls the Hive, the ‘Red Queen’, has killed the entire workforce that inhabited the facility, in response to a deadly outbreak of the T-Virus. The problem with the T-Virus? It turns out the workers aren’t quite as dead as first thought, reanimating as ravenous zombies. With the good guys’ numbers thinning out over the course of the movie, it’s down to the team to shut down the Red Queen and escape the Hive before it is sealed permanently.

What it got right

Structurally and environmentally, the film is composed somewhat like a Resident Evil game, particularly the first entry in the series. The action begins in a seemingly deserted mansion, with the main character isolated and vulnerable. In far quicker succession than in the game (after all, the film is only 97 minutes versus the game’s several hours), the environment switches to a cold, clinical Umbrella facility, also taking us through dark and dingy utility corridors. The film, like the game, introduces us to progressively more dangerous enemies, with zombies first, then the more lethal zombie dogs, before the battle against the film’s final boss, the monstrous Licker. That the final confrontation is preceded by several fleeting glimpses of the ultimate foe is a nice nod to Resident Evil 2, as is the final rush out of the scientific facility onto a speeding train that hosts this ‘boss battle’.

What it got wrong

As an adaptation, one of the biggest criticisms that could be levelled at the film is the absence of any characters, specific locations, lines or situations experienced in the games, with only loose visual references and a couple of lower-tier monster-types making the transition to the big screen. Until their appearances over the four sequels, fans expecting to see the adventures of favourites such as Chris Redfield, Jill Valentine, Albert Wesker, Leon Kennedy or Claire Redfield were left disappointed by a standard selection of typical horror movie cliche characters – a recovering amnesiac, a sassy chick, a technical whiz, and a couple of other forgettable horror hand-me-downs.

While the games achieved their take on survival horror by throwing an increasingly more dangerous barrage of threats against the more or less isolated player-character, with only a handful of ammo and even fewer healing items for you to rely upon, the movie takes the more conventional cinematic approach to survival horror, whereby cast members get offed systematically in a manner befitting of a typical slasher or zombie film.

That the film went its own way in terms of plot isn’t so much of a problem, but more of an effort to reflect the player’s experience would have gone a long way to making this a stronger adaptation. For instance, the characters are only very rarely isolated in the movie, with the odds only especially stacked against the survivors when they’re grouped. The other key complaint is the slowly-revealed hidden abilities of Alice, which sees her go from relatively powerless to, later, springing off a wall and delivering a flying kick reminiscent of something from The Matrix – in effect killing all tension whenever the character is on-screen. The games were always about surviving against restrictions, and by enabling the film’s lead to perform superhuman feats, any relatability Alice had quickly dissipates.

The Verdict

If all you seek from a film bearing the name ‘Resident Evil’ is some standard jump-scares, a fair few zombies and girls with guns, then you’ll be satisfied with this game-to-film. But for fans of the Resident Evil games and its core values, the filmic Resident Evil will leave you wanting. This one’s lost in translation.


One response to “Lost in Translation? – Resident Evil”

  1. Duncan Aird avatar

    I thought there was quite a high-level of isolation. They may have been in a small group, but you can’t expect a movie to go full ‘Castaway’ style and only have one actor on screen self-narrating.

    They made sure the group were alone, without communication to the outside, with limited ammo in a cramped, confined space almost throughout. Though I confess the characters themselves were a little bit lacklustre… And Resident Evil 2-5 missed the plot completely – but I thought the first one was pretty good. For what it had to work with, and being the earlier days of video game to movie adaptions. 🙂

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