In the early days it was simple. Buy the license to a big summer movie, take an existing game genre (platform, racer, beat em-ups: the usual suspects) and expend as little creativity or imagination as possible. If you were a gamer in the ’80s each month brought an 8-bit adaptation of a new movie, many of which you were too young to watch at the cinema, and despite the occasional triumph the offerings were poor pretenders, lazy imitators and, at worst, barely playable pixellated vomitus which had little to do with the source material.
Times changed and technology improved. CD-based system brought with them more storage, higher-resolution graphics and that dreaded phrase, a holy grail to many developers in the early ’90s, the ‘interactive movie’. There was a misconception that enabling players to choose from a number of potential outcomes while they sit through appallingly produced movie clips constituted the future of gaming. Luckily there were those at work who were already weaving in cinematic elements into their games. Preferring the experience over than the presentation, the substance shining above the style, was the key and it would take the undead to breathe life into the fettered ruin of video game to movie adaptations.
Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph is the latest video game inspired movie and with the much-anticipated, though delay-plagued, Halo movie, we’re a long way from the execrable Super Mario Bros movie which poisoned the well somewhat in the early nineties. As a game the first Resident Evil helped boost sales of Sony’s fledging PlayStation console and quickly became a defining game of the console and the era. Along with Tomb Raider and Tekken, both adding an extra dimension to long-running gaming staples, the game sold in huge numbers and a movie adaptation was quickly proposed to no-one’s surprise. Hopes were not high.
The first game was not the first survival horror, but it was arguably the best and the hardware of the PlayStation allowed for a new experience. The Alone in the Dark games were an influence on Mikami and his team and the cyclical effect can be traced through the two movies which came from Infogrames’ series of games. The first came in 2005 and was directed by Uwe Boll (for what it’s worth have a 1% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 2.3 rating on IMDb) and came after the success of the first to Resident Evil films and the relative popularity of the two Tomb Raider films, themselves having an Indiana Jones influence. In a reversal of the ’80s and ’90s situation video games were now being adapted, their in-built market appeal and the technologically advanced nature of the games, allowing for a richer and more immersive narrative in some, although not all, cases, were rich fodder for Hollywood.
It would be an omision deserving of a half-chewed face if the story of Resident Evil would be told with mentioning the name George A. Romero. The director’s influence on the cinematic landscape is unquestionable and his first three ‘Dead’ films are the pool from which countless sequels, tributes, spoofs, rip-offs and remakes were spawned. The zombie film has come a long way from that first Night of the Living Dead with its stumbling enemies and slow burning apocalypse (along with the key social commentary) but the seeds were planted there. It’s no surprise to learn that Romero’s films were a key inspiration for Capcom’s Resident Evil series and following the success of the first game (and its second incarnation, tellingly re-titled Resident Evil: Director’s Cut) production on a movie inspired by the ongoing series began.
Returning to the source Capcom asked Romero to write a script which was ultimately rejected and the project spun off into another direction designed, one can imagine, to appeal to a wider audience. Romero’s script is easy enough to find on the internet and it’s an intriguing part of the Resident Evil history as it is one of the most faithful video game to movie adaptations with the main locations and characters being used. If Romero’s script had been used perhaps both the video game and movie series would have developed together instead of finding their own path. I speak for myself, though I can imagine how many others are with me, when I say that I’d happily take a George A. Romero Resident Evil film over Anderson’s but box office figures prove that Sony have found a director who has created his own brand, and with great success. Romero’s Resident Evil will, sadly, remain one of the greatest movies never made.
While the Paul W.S. Anderson produced Resident Evil film series rolls on through Apocalypse, Extinction and Afterlife (with a fifth film, subtitled Retribution, out this month) Sony Pictures and Capcom have director Makoto Kamiya working on a series of CGI Resident Evil films. The first was released in 2008, subtitled Degeneration, and the second, out this week and with the name Resident Evil: Damnation, continues the ever-expanding global apocalypse taking elements and characters directly from the games. In a recent interview with GamersLiveTV Paul W.S. Anderson talked about how the forthcoming game Resident Evil 6 may influence his own sixth Resident Evil film and vice versa. The popularity of the films and the continuing onslaught of Resident Evil across multiple media and platforms means we’ll see more crossover, more influence and many more video game to movie adaptations.
It would be a strange world in which Resident Evil becomes more popular and influential than the genre classics it drew on. But stranger things have happened.
Resident Evil: Damnation is out now on Blu-ray and DVD.