Tap tap tap... My fingers have been awkwardly drumming against my keyboard for the last ten minutes, because I honestly can't think of a way to open my review of 'Resident Evil: Apocalypse.' I'm so dumbfounded that words can't begin to describe the utter drivel that was the flashy, style-over-substance, videogame vehicle I've just witnessed. Seemingly eager to give the zombie genre another inoperable cinematic tumor, first time director Alexander Witt has delivered a film a lot less fun than the original and a lot more pretentious than the awful 'House of the Dead.'
This sequel story picks up shortly after the events of the original film and follows the genetically enhanced Alice (Milla Jovovich) as she aids a group of survivors (Sienna Guillory, Oded Fehr, and others) trapped inside the quarantined Raccoon City. Shut off from the rest of the world to prevent the spread of a deadly reanimation bio-toxin (apparently there are no prevailing winds in this fictional universe and a fifteen foot wall is all it takes to stop the spread of a disease), thousands of panicked people gather at the immovable gates and beg the guarding soldiers to free them from the zombie horror. To make matters worse, a monster of cheap prosthetics named Nemesis (Matthew Taylor) is on a mission to kill our heroes before they can, well, do whatever it is they have to do (to be honest, I lost track).
Sorry to lay the cynicism on so thick here, but I just can't stand the thought of filmmakers with this sort of vision getting millions of dollars to produce hyperactive music videos that wouldn't even earn playtime on MTV. Even action fanatics will find the fast paced vignettes nonsensical, unconnected, and lacking basic structural flow. The script is a ham handed and laughable mess, the acting is passionate but stiltedly shallow, and the horror is devoid of tension, chills, and creepiness. Meanwhile, the lighting gives no consideration to mood, the sets look as if they were shot on the backlot of an abandoned Home Depot, and the costuming is a literal interpretation of the untextured, plastic clothing that was featured in cutting edge graphics on Sony's early game consoles a decade ago.
To top it all off, every single pulse-pounding scene that's mildly inspired (like Jovovich's vertical repel-run down an exploding, glass skyscraper) is hampered by a dozen other shoddy effect shots that combine early '90s quality practical effects with CG that's sadly rivaled by the latest incarnation of the video game itself. I've been a Resident Evil addict since its birth on the Playstation, but this sort of pyramid-scheme flick is only good for the people at the top who get rich quick by ripping off the average fan. Uwe Boll and other filmmakers running precious properties over the coals will never generate any respect or potential for videogame based films. Is it any wonder companies are terrified to bank even inevitable videogame blockbusters like the 'Halo' film?
With that, I'm speechless. Avoid this undead attempt to cash in on your videogame, sci-fi, or horror sensibilities. Ackbar would say it best -- it's a trap.
Well, okay, maybe I'm not so speechless. 'Resident Evil: Apocalypse' does have an upside in this vibrant, 50GB dual layered MPEG-2 transfer that makes the film colorful to say the least. Black levels provide nice depth (although they're hampered by a reliance on blue filtering light), flames lick across the air with bright orange and red delight, and an overblown (but measured) contrast makes the images pop to life with a crisp sharpness that shows off your new 1080p display.
Unfortunately, the picture is so immersed in its unnatural palette that a lot of the on screen objects lose a convincing level of dimension -- constantly reminding methat I was watching a live action videogame. This is the kind of disc that would make for a great side-by-side comparison in the middle of Best Buy to help convince Mom & Pop that high-def is the wave of the future, but it just doesn't cut it for my home theater.
For fans of the film, the image looks nice but occasionally suffers from source noise in the backgrounds. Otherwise, the print is clean and unblemished throughout. Sadly, an above average (if not overproduced) visual experience can't save the film from looking bad, no matter what format you view it in. Like the standard-def DVD, the CG stands out like a democrat in Texas and almost seems hand drawn at times. Tentacles and fully-rendered beasts are the worst offenders, followed by enhanced zombie gore and human elements respectively. The high-def transfer made the disorienting disconnect between each natural shot and its imposed effect much more noticeable.
Presented in an uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround mix, the audio package is technically impressive -- again making for a fine demo on a store's showroom floor. The bass is heavy and shakes the ground, the dialogue is crisp and even, and the sound effects trickle from channel to channel with impressive accuracy and nice movement. Shattering glass and gunfire will grab your attention and the echo illusion is worth a double take.
The problem is, no matter how technically rounded a sound package happens to be, specs can never overcome poor sound design. 'Resident Evil: Apocalypse' comes ripe with an over exaggerated soundscape, a linear layering of effects and dialogue, a grating heavy rock soundtrack, and a habit of combing them all into each scene. Beyond these fundamental mistakes, important sounds are often buried beneath the rush of noise that floods the soundfield when action explodes to the forefront of the film.
Fans of the 'Resident Evil: Apocalypse' should be ecstatic over the sheer amount of special features included on this release -- unfortunately for me, I'm not a fan.
To be straight, I tried to finish each of the three commentaries on this release. I sat down with the time, the Crystal Light instant lemonade packets, the bottles of water, and the bag of pretzels to do it. Unfortunately, after the first twenty minutes of each track, my impatience got the best of me, and I couldn't help but skip around. First out of the gate is an unbelievably self-congratulatory track with director Witt, producer Jeremy Bolt, and executive producer Robert Kulzer. These guys are shockingly proud of both the movie as a whole and of the "astounding work" of the effects department -- easily the weakest part of the flick. Next comes a track with actors Milla Jovovich, Sienna Guillory, and Oded Fehr that's far more reasonable, but that contains the same odd level of excitement for the material. At least with this commentary, I got the sense that the set was tremendous fun -- which explains everyone's relative blindness to the actual product quality. I suppose when you make friends with everyone on set, it's difficult to subjectively evaluate the movie at the end of the day. Finally, an engaging commentary with writer Paul W.S. Anderson (also the director of the first film) and producer Jeremy Bolt turns out to be an informative track that adds a bit for fans of the series.
Flipping back to the menu, I jumped into "Resident Evil Reanimated," a six part documentary covering the production of the entire film. Aside from showing off some of the actors' on-set shenanigans and chemistry, this is mainly a talking heads piece that drifts into technical explanations of basic film techniques and processes. Once again, everyone seems to believe that this production is a grand culmination of their talents -- this time, however, I amused myself by staring at the background of every shot to catch the nervous glances of production assistants, grips, and technicians who were fully aware of the piles of wasted money pouring onto the set each day. Beyond this series of mini-docs, a trio of featurettes -- "Game Babes," "Corporate Malfeasance," and "Symphony of Evil" -- are mysteriously divorced from the larger Making-Of documentary. The first is an unintentionally offensive examination of hot chicks in F-me-pants that are featured in shoot-em-up videogame films, the second reveals the fictional Umbrella Corporation to be an allusion to modern business (unfortunately not nearly as interesting as it sounds), and the third follows a handful of shots from the filmmakers' imagination to their translation on screen.
Finally, a whopping twenty Deleted Scenes fill up a disappointing twelve minutes of space, as most just extensions to already weak moments in the film. So what sort of greatness waits for those brave enough to watch these deletions? Subtle line additions, a lightning flash revealing a stone gargoyle to be a hideous beast, the removal of a glass shard from a wound, and a shot of topless zombie hookers. Sigh -- where's my Excedrin Migraine?
'Resident Evil: Apocalypse' just isn't my thing in any way, shape, or form. Don't get me wrong -- I appreciate entertaining crap as much as the next guy, but I can't help but see films like these as little more than calculated, money-driven productions that only hurt the videogame-film genre much like many of the rushed comic book films in the days before 'X-Men' and 'Spider-Man.' On the bright side, with serious directors like Peter Jackson and James Cameron circling video game properties like hungry wolves, you can feel a change coming.
However, fans of the film -- I haven't forgotten you -- this Blu-ray release is a nice (if banal) package of visual "oomph", audio shaking "wham", and a hefty supplemental "ahhh". While it doesn't boast any major additional features beyond the standard-def DVD, the sheer expansiveness of this release should make it ideal for those who enjoyed the movie itself.