Resident Evil (2002)
by Steve Habrat
Don’t hate me for telling you this, but I actually sort of enjoy Paul W.S. Anderson’s 2002 big screen adaptation of Resident Evil. Based upon the wildly popular Capcom horror/shooter video game, Resident Evil is a surprisingly entertaining and slightly creepy Night of the Living Dead for Mountain Dew fanatics and die-hard Alien fans. With plenty of guns, zombies, entrails, explosions, and chicks with barely any clothing, Resident Evil is a total guy flick that doesn’t ask too much of the viewer, only that you have a good time and don’t hate yourself in the morning for it. In a way, that is the main problem with Resident Evil, that it doesn’t think too highly of its target audience. Resident Evil has plenty to work with within its sinister corporation premise but it happily ignores this for an hour and forty minutes. It relentlessly misses opportunities to make heady comments about how big corporations deviously enslave us, but instead, it would rather show you Milla Jovovich nude or a zombie get its head blow to smithereens. I guess the blood and flesh show is more fun than the one that makes us think. But what did you expect from a movie that is based on a video game?
Welcome to Raccoon City, a futuristic metropolis that is controlled by the Umbrella Corporation, a pharmaceutical and houseware company that is also secretly developing a slew of biological weapons underneath the city. This underground development facility is called the Hive and it is here that a thief has infiltrated the seemingly impenetrable facility and unleashed the mysterious T-virus. In response to the contamination, the facility’s artificial intelligence, the Red Queen, quickly begins trying to quarantine the virus and kill off all the Hive employees who were exposed to the virus. Just hours after the slaughter, the Umbrella Corporation sends down a small team of commandos led by James “One” Shade (Played by Colin Salmon) and Rain Ocampo (Played by Michelle Rodriguez) to investigate. Along the way, these commandos meet up with amnesiacs Alice (Played by Milla Jovovich), Spence (Played by James Purefoy), and suspicious cop Matt (Played by Eric Mabius). As the group pushes further into the ravaged underground facility, they begin to be attacked by endless swarms of undead drones that crave human flesh. As the group’s battle to stay alive becomes more and more desperate, the undead ghouls stalking them through the tunnels turn out to be the least of their worries.
Director Anderson uses Resident Evil to make a surprisingly effective nod to George Romero’s 1968 zombie classic Night of the Living Dead. Interestingly enough, Romero was originally approached to make the film but he left the project due to creative differences. Anderson, however, keeps the film’s scope small, with swarms of ghouls attacking in narrow hallways and trashed offices, which heightens the terror to nearly unbearable levels. Things really get spooky when the group seals themselves into a computer room as the ghouls bang on the doors around them. He also has the sense to slowly build up to the first zombie attack with plenty of squirm-inducing suspense. Then he boldly kills off half the macho characters to make room for two seriously tough gals who pack mean drop kicks. Despite some iffy performances from the B-squad of actors, Resident Evil manages to really make an ominous impression in its first forty minutes. Sadly, once Anderson nudges the zombies to the side and unleashes the hulking mutant experiment nicknamed “The Licker”, things begin to spin wildly out of control. Anderson then piles on tons of poor CGI and disordered action that completely demolishes the smart touches he applied at the beginning of the film. You’ll reluctantly give in to his overkill and just go with the flow as the fake blood relentlessly splashes across the screen.
Another shock that comes out of Resident Evil is the fact that, while it may not be Oscar worthy, the acting is still surprisingly decent for a movie based on a video game. Jovovich is easily the best as the tough-as-nails amnesiac Alice, a chick who can throw down with the best of them. Anderson spends more time trying to photograph her bare breasts than he does focusing on the performance in front of him but Jovovich comes out of the project okay. Rodriguez plays the same role she always plays, a badass with her face scrunched up into a testy grimace. Salmon gets to channel Night of the Living Dead’s Duane Jones but he looks like a sissy compared to Jovovich and Rodriguez. Purefoy is pretty stiff and is basically asked to just play worried before a last act character twist that has him sparking to life. Mabius is severely inconsistent the entire time, which is a shame because his character is one that is front and center. Another standout is Martin Crewes as Kaplan, a spooked computer expert who is exceptional at conveying the sickened I-didn’t-sign-up-for-this face when the zombies stumble out of the dark.
To match Resident Evil’s industrial horror aesthetic, Anderson enlisted shock rocker Marilyn Manson, who was at the height of his popularity at the time, to compose the score for the film. With the help of Marco Beltrami, Manson delivers a burst of moody synths, shrill drumming, and bawling guitars that would sound much better in a headphones than in a Hollywood motion picture. At times, the score is unbelievably distracting, removing us from the moment and drowning out what little story there actually is. Still, Manson manages to compliment this industrial rot of the set quite well so I suppose he succeeds. Anderson also makes some questionable choices in the editing department, preferring to cut away just when the action was getting good. For the zombie fans out there, the ghouls are perfectly modest, just looking dead enough without getting carried away. There are not tons of elaborate wounds on every single zombie that stumbles in front of the camera but there are a few injuries that you will remember. The rest of the action is exactly what you would expect from an action film made in the wake of The Matrix, with multiple slow motion shots of the gals flipping through the air. Overall, Resident Evil’s first half is much stronger than its second half, but the film as a whole is a solid horror distraction that ranks as one of the better video-game-to-film adaptations out there.
Resident Evil is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
by Steve Habrat
Before Jack Skellington and Sally were mall goth heroes, they were a magical pair of claymation figures who just wanted to experience the joy and wonder of Christmas. Before all the heavy metal covers and the 3D conversions, their world was even more tempting, never needing an update and forever remaining timeless. The best of the claymation bunch, The Nightmare Before Christmas was a childhood favorite of mine, favored more around the time when Jolly Old Saint Nicholas plops down the chimney than my other favorite holiday. I always thought this film does capture the hypnotizing quality of Christmas, the one that makes us feel like children again. It really gels when Jack finds himself is Christmas Town, gaping at snowmen, elves, Christmas lights, and children snuggled in their beds. It painstakingly tries to re-establish that Christmas is about awe, not about the material fixation that now comes with the most wonderful time of the year. The film, which is the brainchild of producer Tim Burton (No, he did NOT direct this!) and director Henry Selick, is teeming with some of the most creative and bizarre animated characters ever captured on camera, and they do not feel like they are stretched or insipid.
The Nightmare Before Christmas ushers us to Halloween Town, a place where all the typical Halloween ghouls reside and emerge every year to give us the willies. Halloween Town finds a leader in the bony Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King who is growing weary of the same old traditions every year. With his ghost dog Zero, Jack wanders off into the woods and stumbles upon a portal to another holiday dimension: Christmas Town. Bursting with excitement and inspiration, Jack hurries back to Halloween Town and fills in the locals about what he has seen. Jack and the monsters vow that they will give “Sandy Claws” a break for the year and they will put on Christmas. As Jack’s plans slowly fall apart and his idea grows more and more dangerous, it’s up to the lonely Sally, a ragdoll zapped to life by a mad scientist, to try to convince Jack to leave Christmas to the residents of Christmas Town. Across Halloween Town, the sinister Oogie Boogie has plans of his own for Santa Claus.
The Nightmare Before Christmas is a true work of art, one that works simply because it carries off the viewers imagination. It did mine when I was young and I still smile today when I see the film. The 3D conversion the film underwent was rewarding because we get to see the fine details to Halloween Town. The film was the brainchild of Burton and watching the film is like stepping into the mind of Burton himself. The inspired characters also make the visit to Halloween Town beyond memorable. There are mummies, a trio of glammed up vampires, a two-face politician, witches, the boogieman, and a band of devious and merry trick-or-treaters. There are nods to the classic Universal Movie Monsters while also opening the door to a brand new world. Seriously, the film commences with a door being opened and ghosts coaxing us into the darkness. It’s really quite exciting.
As far as musicals go, The Nightmare Before Christmas is a stand out as far as I’m concerned. This film gives us some of the most ingenious, cleverly written musical numbers you will see in an animated film. Just get a load of that opening introduction as the monsters all introduce themselves. It’s a horror fans dream come true and anyone who appreciates the value of lyrics will be head over heels with delight. You will be tapping your toes along with it. The song, “This Is Halloween”, is now a goth anthem, even getting a makeover from heavy metal artist Marilyn Manson a few years back. Other standouts include the dreary “Sally’s Song”, Jack’s inquisitive “What’s This”, and the trick-or-treater’s bickering “Kidnap the Sandy Claws”.
There are some minor flaws to be found in this film. The love story between Sally and Jack is a bit wobbly. It never really gets off the ground and we mostly see the love from Sally’s side. Jack seems relatively unconcerned with her and barely notices her presence at times. The film is a bit short, abruptly wrapping up just when things are really starting to grip us. Oogie Boogie only really shows up at the end, a character that is the very definition if cool. What aids us in overlooking the minor bumps is that the characters are just so nifty. Jack has become an iconic animated hero and you’ll be overloaded on cute when you meet his playful pup Zero. The Mayor of Halloween Town will keep the kiddies chuckling, especially when his mood alters and his face changes. Santa Claws is also quite creative, a huge red blob of a man, a version of him that only Burton could think up. Sally is a hopeless romantic and we feel her sorrow. The most astonishing aspect is the complexities in Jack. He’s a control freak and at times a bit domineering, yet we root for him to see the error of his ways. Perhaps that is meant to force us to reflect on our own approach to Christmas. Have we missed the point of this Holiday? Are we any different than Jack? According to Burton and Selick, not really.
The Nightmare Before Christmas may prove to be a bit too eerie for some young viewers, but with films like Corpse Bride and Coraline (Also directed by Selick) on the market, that’s up for you to decide. It’s a shame that goth kids have marked it as their own, as there really is something for everyone to enjoy within the film. I think that Jack stands for much more than as the leader of the gothic nation. He represents our ignorance, our fascination with all things magical, and is the face of a truly poignant redemption story. He even symbolically rises from ashes near the end of this film. I think he represents more than the kids who shop at Hot Topic think. This film also cast its spell over me as a kid and I’m glad I had the chance to see it before the recent surge of popularity. Eye opening and intricate, with treasures abound, The Nightmare Before Christmas sweeps us off our feet, much like the season it is a testament to. An undeniable family classic.
The Nightmare Before Christmas is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.