Video game fans were likely all a-titter when it was announced that there would be a film version of Resident Evil, one of the first breakout hit games released for Sony's PlayStation system in 1996. The game, which features members of an elite police unit known as S.T.A.R.S. investigating strange goings-on in an old mansion, was inspired by George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead movies, and it was originally announced that Romero himself would write and direct the film based on the game. The excitement turned out to be unwarranted, however, as disagreements over the script led to Romero leaving the project and eventually replaced by Paul W.S. Anderson (Alien vs. Predator, Mortal Kombat). Anderson delivered a film that, while not terrible as horror movies go, was also not very good. The movie gave us zombies and various creatures created by the T-Virus of the infamous Umbrella Corporation but had little else to do with the source material.
Turning a Great Game Into an Average Movie
The story starts in a secret underground laboratory called "The Hive." We see an unidentified person stealing a vial from one of the labs and, upon leaving, tosses another vial into the room, allowing it to shatter and spill its contents. Fans of the game know that this is the dreaded T-Virus, and that the people working in The Hive are, for all intents and purposes, already dead.
Upon detecting the foreign agent in the air, the Red Queen (the security computer system that controls The Hive) immediately begins a lockdown procedure. Fire alarms go off, security doors slam shut, and the people working in the underground facility are instantly and completely cut off from the rest of the world. Minutes later, they are dead, but they won't be for long.
Resident Evil: Go Ask Alice
After the initial scenes in The Hive, we meet the character of Alice (Milla Jojovich) who is awakening in a mansion which looks quite similar to the Spencer Mansion in the video game. She is barely on her feet a few moments when the mansion is stormed by armed soldiers, employees of the Umbrella Corporation who have been sent to re-open The Hive and see "just what went on down there." Alice, it turns out, is a high level security officer for Umbrella, and the mansion serves as a secret entrance to The Hive. She is also masquerading with Spence Parks (James Purefoy) as husband and wife, the cover apparently making it easier to guard the entrance to The Hive.
Alice and Spence are suffering from a form of temporary amnesia, a side effect of the Red Queen's defenses. As they accompany the team into the depths of The Hive, they are unaware of their history or of even who they are, but their memories are slowly returning.
Upon entering The Hive, the team is immediately decimated by the Red Queen's defenses and forced to separate. Then they learn the fate of those who were working in The Hive as they are attacked by flesh eating zombies. A few nods to the video game are present as Alice must square off against zombified dogs, the team encounters a lab which is now underwater (although there are no sharks present) and a version of a "licker" (one of the most memorable monsters from the Resident Evil 2 game) is seen.
As Alice's memory slowly returns she realizes that her marriage to Spence is not what it seems, the Umbrella Corporation is up to a lot more than they let on to the general public, and she's involved in a plot to reveal the truth about what Umbrella's been working on. As members of the team are killed off one by one, it becomes Alice's responsibility to expose the saboteur who released the T-Virus and help the remaining people get back out of The Hive in one piece.
This is the second video game movie directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, with the abysmal Mortal Kombat being the first. He has since helmed Alien vs. Predator, a film which also had its roots in the video game (and comic book) world. While he completely rewrote the script, changing nearly everything that George Romero had done, he did manage to keep a few things from the RE video games intact, mostly in small nuance lines and set decorations which would have little impact on the plot but would be picked up by those who played the games. The scenes where we see an extreme close-up of Alice's eye are a nod to the original game's title screen, for example, and the line spoken when the character Matt is wheeled away by Umbrella scientists ("I want him in the Nemesis Project") is a direct reference to Resident Evil 3: Nemesis.
Downside to Video Game Movies
The real head-scratcher for video game fans is that Hollywood seems to continually dispose of the story that comes along with a video game property when a movie is given the green light. While video games are not all known for having the most compelling storylines, some of them are actually quite good. Those who went to see Resident Evil wanted to see the characters of Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine. If Anderson had at least given us that, the movie would have been far better. At least the makers of Resident Evil: Apocalypse managed to give audiences the Nemesis and the character of Jill Valentine. Maybe things will get better for the fans of video game based films.