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Paul W.S. Anderson
Milla Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez, Eric Mabius, James Purefoy
Paul W.S. Anderson

A secret experiment. A deadly virus. A fatal mistake.
Box Office:
Budget $33 million.
Opening weekend $17.707 million on 2528 screens.
Domestic gross $39.532 million.
Rated R for strong sci-fi/horror violence, language and sexuality/nudity.

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English DTS 5.1
English, French, Spanish, Portuguese

Runtime: 101 min.
Price: $27.96
Release Date: 12/17/2002

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Resident Evil: Superbit (2002)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 17, 2002)

After the reasonable success of 2001ís Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, we finally found a movie adapted from a video game that didnít bomb. Would this mean that the floodgates would open for more flicks of that sort? Probably not, since Hollywood still seemed modestly infatuated with the concept even before Raider hit. That film may have knocked some video game adaptations up a few pegs on studiosí priority lists, but I donít know if it affected fortunes too strongly.

One of the first video game adaptations to hit the screen after Raider, 2002ís Resident Evil didnít do quite as well. Compared to the $131 million gross of Raider, the $39 million made by Evil doesnít look too hot. Thatís too bad, for while Evil isnít a classic, the movie offers a surprisingly lively and entertaining experience.

At the start of Evil, we enter a very secret research lab run by the ultra-powerful Umbrella Corporation. After a vial breaks, the buildingís security computer shuts down the place and actively kills all the inhabitants. We then meet a woman named Alice (Milla Jovovich). She wakes up in a shower in a mansion but possesses no memory of who she is or why sheís there.

Life quickly gets more complicated when a commando team run by ďOneĒ (Colin Salmon) storms into the house. It turns out that the mansion acts as the gateway to the Umbrella Corp. lab, and Alice Ė along with her fake husband Spence (James Purefoy), who we meet later Ė act as a defense system. The team descends into the lab to find out what happened.

Initially they think that the problem relates to the labís security system called the Red Queen. They try to get through its vicious defenses to deactivate it, and when this occurs they start to learn the truth about why the Red Queen apparently went berserk. At that point, they find out they have a bigger problem: the chemical leak has turned the dead inhabitants of the building into zombies. From there, the movie follows the teamís attempts to fight both the Red Queenís efforts to prevent their departure and also the zombiesí scramble to eat them.

Although the filmmakers wanted to create a perverse take on Alice In Wonderland, Evil felt more closely related to Aliens. Like Ripley, Alice become more empowered as the film progressed, and the commandos definitely resemble the Colonial Marines. Kaplan (Martin Crewes) shows the same panicky qualities as Hudson, and Rain (Michelle Rodriguez) is little more than a sexier version of Vasquez. The parallels donít seem overwhelming, and Evil doesnít come across like an Aliens rip-off, but I did think the James Cameron flick acted as a moderately heavy inspiration here.

Evil mixes lots of sources. Of course, the video games themselves provided much of the tone and the various elements. Since I never played any of them, I canít comment upon how many similarities they shared, but the film clearly included a lot of bits taken from the games.

Somewhat surprisingly, zombie flicks like Night of the Living Dead didnít seem like that big an influence on Evil. On the surface, the latter appears to be a zombie movie, but those characters really can be somewhat incidental. Theyíre an important part of the story, but unlike most movies of that genre, they donít make up the whole crux of the problem.

Despite the derivative nature of Evil, it still manages to provide a nicely exciting and tense piece. The film maintains a fairly relentless pace that works for it. Some movies seem to depend on non-stop action because they lack anything else to say, but that doesnít seem to be the case with Evil. The pacing feels appropriate and unfolds neatly.

Though not an original technique, the slow unfolding of some plot points via Aliceís gradually recovered memory works well. Yes, it does feel like a plot device, but it allows the story to seep out bit by bit and makes the enterprise more nerve-wracking.

If I had to pick the single crummiest element of Evil, itíd relate to the extremely poor computer-generated creature called the Licker. In other reviews, Iíve not hidden my disdain for most CGI, and the Licker does nothing to change my mind. The fake-looking monster actively took me out of the story whenever it appeared.

I also donít much care for the filmís score. Although I like the music of co-composer Marilyn Manson, the work heard here seems very mediocre, and itíll heavily date the film. Lots of flicks use the same kind of aggro techno metal music, and itís gotten tiresome.

Nonetheless, I think thereís more here to like than to dislike. Overall, Resident Evil doesnít feel like anything new or especially creative, but it does what it sets out to do. The film offers an edgy and exciting piece that seems much better than the average video game adaptation.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+ / Audio A (DTS), A- (Dolby Digital)/ Bonus F

Resident Evil appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though generally satisfying, the picture of the original suffered from a few too many flaws for a brand-new movie. It didnít improve upon that one tremendously, but the Superbit edition of Evil definitely provided a stronger visual experience

Sharpness appeared solid, as the movie looked nicely crisp and distinct. This area tightened up the old disc, which showed a little softness at times. The Superbit came across as well defined and accurate. Jagged edges and moirť effects created no concerns, and the Superbit seemed to eliminate the light edge enhancement that showed up on the prior disc. In addition, the new DVD lost some of the specks that periodically interfered with the first release, but I still saw the grain that appeared there. Actually, the tighter presence of the Superbit visuals made the grain appear more prominent here, but those elements seemed to relate to the original film. I didnít think that these elements came about due to the transfer itself.

As with most edgy movies of this sort, Evil featured a very stylized palette and tended toward fairly cool colors. A dark film, it kept the hues pretty subdued most of the time. The colors seemed well reproduced and appropriately saturated, without any problems on display. Black levels also came across as deep and dense, while shadow detail was appropriately heavy but not overly thick. Ultimately, Resident Evil offered a nice picture, and the Superbit noticeably improved the visuals of the prior DVD.

This Superbit edition of Resident Evil added a DTS 5.1 soundtrack to the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix of the prior DVD. The latter worked well, but the DTS version made the experience even stronger. Iíll relate my comments about the Dolby track first and then go over the differences I noticed between the two.

The soundfield presented a very lively and involving affair that really helped make the movie creepier and more effective. All five channels worked actively through most of the film. The elements blended together well and panned efficiently across the speakers, and the surrounds contributed lots of unique audio. The Red Queenís voice panned neatly across all five channels, and the rear speakers added some very useful spooky effects.

Audio quality seemed positive as well. Speech sounded natural and warm, and I noticed no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Music seemed clear and lively, as the rough-edged score presented the right level of crunch and fuzz. Effects appeared distinct and accurate and packed a solid punch as well. The movie presented very solid dynamics, with clean highs and some powerful but tight bass. The soundtrack of Resident Evil provided a fine complement for the action that accentuated the material.

How did the DTS mix improve upon the Dolby Digital one? I felt it simply seemed smoother and tighter. The soundfield appeared better integrated and seamless, and bass response also came across as richer and more succinct. During the Dolby version, I occasionally noted a little clipping from my subwoofer, but matters stayed cleaner when I listened to the DTS. Both tracks worked nicely, but the DTS mix provided the better experience.

In terms of visual and auditory quality, the Superbit version of Resident Evil seems moderately better than the old special edition. However, since Columbia-Tristar didnít issue Evil as part of their ďSuperbit DeluxeĒ line, this DVD offers none of the supplements found on the other disc. Thatís too bad, as it included some interesting components.

If you desire an original and totally creative experience, Resident Evil probably wonít do much for you. If you think youíd enjoy a lively video game come to life, then Resident Evil should prove to offer a lot of fun. Though not a great flick, it offered enough spark and life to make it enjoyable and entertaining. The Superbit version of Evil noticeably improved the picture and sound quality of the prior release, but it totally eliminated the supplements found there.

That makes recommendations more of a challenge than usual. With most of the other Superbit titles Iíve reviewed, I felt that this one definitely bettered the visuals and audio, but it lost all of the extras. If you value those elements, youíll probably still prefer the original disc; no, the movie quality doesnít seem quite as good, but they both remain positive as a whole. If supplements donít matter to you, however, this Superbit release clearly offers the preferred version.

To rate this film go to the original review of RESIDENT EVIL.