Release: 2002, Sony Starring: Milla Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez, Eric Mabius Director: Paul Anderson MPAA Rating: [R] violence, language, sexuality, nudity Genre: Horror/Science Fiction
When a genetic experiment conducted by the giant Umbrella Corporation goes awry, a deadly virus threatens to transform the entire human race into zombies. A pair of heroines (Jovovich and Rodriguez) must lead a team of commandos through the company's vast underground laboratory and contain the virus while battling legions of reanimated corpses and mutants. Based on the popular video game series of the same title.
The Brains Behind the Zombies
Originally, this film's script was written by George A. Romero, creator of the classic Night of the Living Dead zombie movies. This seemingly perfect match of talent and content was soon broken up when Romero's screenplay was rejected and he was taken off the project. Now, in its final incarnation, Resident Evil has been written and directed by Paul Anderson, whose relevant credits include the creepy sci-fi horror Event Horizon.
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Behind the Scenes of Resident Evil
(The following material is provided by Sony, the film's distributor, and has been edited for length and some content.)
A secret experiment. A deadly virus. A fatal mistake. Based on the wildly popular video game series, Resident Evil is an action-packed thriller starring Milla Jovovich (The Fifth Element), Michelle Rodriguez (The Fast and the Furious) and Eric Mabius (The Crow: Salvation) in a battle of good and evil, human versus computer, the living against the Undead.
Something terrible is lurking in the Hive, a vast underground genetic research facility run by the Umbrella Corporation, a faceless bio-engineering conglomerate. A deadly viral outbreak occurs, and in response, the Red Queen--a vast supercomputer that controls and monitors the Hive--seals the entire facility to contain the leak, killing all the trapped employees.
Alice (MILLA JOVOVICH) and Rain (MICHELLE RODRIGUEZ) must lead fellow commandos to isolate the virus that has wiped out Umbrella's entire research staff. The team soon discovers, however, that the workers are not really dead. They are now the ravenous Undead, and they are prowling the hive. One bite or scratch from an Undead causes infection and worse, instant transformation into their kind.
Alice and the military task force have three hours to complete their mission before the virus threatens to overrun the Earth. To access the Red Queen, the team must pass through a series of increasingly horrifying obstacles in the maze-like hive. These include deadly lasers, mutant dogs and a vast specimen room where Alice witnesses the results of Umbrella's evil experimental research. Alice soon discovers that the former humans are the ghastly result of Umbrella's latest project gone awry--the T-virus.
Initially designed to combat ageing and fight nerve-based diseases, the T-virus has the ability to reanimate dead cells. Alice realises that an unknown saboteur has stolen the virus and freed it into the hive's atmosphere. That's how the outbreak occurred. Who would do such a thing, and why?
Confronting the giant computer, Rain demands that she guide them to the surface. The Red Queen agrees, but insists that no one who is infected will be allowed to escape. Unless of course, they can find the Anti-Virus first. Standing in their way is a genetically mutated experiment that is now a vicious creature known as "the Licker," bent on destroying them all. The Licker's strength increases with each victim it slays--making the team's job even more deadly.
Will the team defeat the Red Queen and find the anti-virus in time? Or are they doomed to turn? Who, if anyone, will escape the evil Hive alive?
TALKING WITH THE FILMMAKERS
"I've always wanted to make a really scary movie," says producer Bernd Eichinger of Constantin Film.
"After I caught people in my office playing the Resident Evil game when it first hit the marketplace, I could instantly see its movie potential. It wasn't gory or too violent--just completely terrifying to play--and I knew if we could transfer that quality to the screen we would be on to a real winner." In 1979 Constantin had distributed Dawn of the Dead, cult director George Romero's most successful film in Germany, and Eichinger knew there was an audience out there eager for a return to such a terrifying pop culture fantasy world.
Once the decision had been made to pursue the film rights to the game, overtures were made to Capcom, the world's leading computer games manufacturer. Produced and created by Shinji Mikami and creatively masterminded by Yoshiki Okamoto, the game series is comprised of Resident Evil (1996), Resident Evil 2 (1998), Resident Evil 3: Nemesis (1998) and Resident Evil - Code: Veronica (2000). To date the award-winning blockbuster series has sold more than 16 million units world-wide and grossed over $600 million. The next Resident Evil game will be released in May, 2002.
Eichinger continues, "We went to Capcom's headquarters in Japan to show the company that we got what the game was about and that we were capable of making a big international movie from their successful game. I promised them we would take their concept seriously and consult them on a regular basis." He adds, "I think the prime reason we beat out any fierce Hollywood competition for the rights is because Constantin is an independent company. When we make decisions, we make them fast, because there aren't a hundred other executives to consult. Capcom responded with equal promptness and we were granted the film rights in 1997."
After a couple of years spent developing the project, everything snapped into focus for Eichinger when Constantin entered a deal with Impact Pictures, founded by Jeremy Bolt and Paul Anderson, the producer/director team behind Mortal Kombat and Event Horizon. Jeremy Bolt explains, "We had been talking to Constantin about developing and financing a few projects when, by pure chance, we discovered they owned the rights to Resident Evil, a game Paul and I enjoyed enormously. Bernd Eichinger was impressed by Paul's knowledge of the game and asked him if he'd be interested in writing a script. When Bernd read it, he knew the concept he had been looking for had finally been cracked."
Bernd Eichinger adds, "Paul's script combined the elements of the game in fresh ways to maximise surprise and suspense. Plus Paul had directed the only successful video game film adaptation to date with Mortal Kombat. That meant he knew all the pitfalls and we could benefit from his enormous wealth of experience on that picture."
"I'm a huge fan of the Resident Evil games and have played all of them," says Paul Anderson.
"As a die-hard fan, I wanted a movie version that is respectful of it, builds on its premise and delivers on its promise. To be scary you have to be unpredictable--and that's why I wanted to use a set of fresh characters. We couldn't use the Jill Valentine character from the first game, for example, as the fans would know she wasn't going to be killed because she pops up in the later games. The suspense dynamic of who is going to live, who is going to die and what people's allegiances are was only going to work with new characters. This approach also fits in with the world of the game which is constantly expanding and introducing new characters and locations."
Taken directly from the game is the Umbrella Corporation, the concept of the mansion in the woods, the secret lab, the underground railway and the escape of the T-virus. In addition, a host of creatures from the game are also featured in the movie: the Undead, the Licker, the Crows and every game player's favorite, the Zombie Dogs.
To put his own unique mark on the Resident Evil project, Anderson incorporated various other chosen references too, as he explains: "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll are two of my absolute favourite books. I found the similarities between the Carroll literary masterpieces and the game's structure interesting. In both, a heroine goes on a strange journey underground and comes across many weird things. So I worked in the name Alice, Looking Glass House, the chess motif and the Red Queen computer. That's not going to come out of left field for the hardcore gamers either." In the last game, Resident Evil - Code: Veronica, one of the monsters is named Bandersnatch, which is a creature from the Jabberwocky poem featured in Through the Looking Glass."
Executive producer Robert Kulzer wraps up everyone's feelings about the Resident Evil genesis: "Movies based on video games and cyber characters are a relatively new genre, so naturally early teething problems during development did occur. Everyone could see the concept would make a great action horror thriller because it has such a haunting idea behind it. But only when Paul came in, wrote a suspenseful script and liberated the story from its game confines did all our collaborative energies spark and come together."
THE LOOK AND FEEL...OF ROTTEN
"In order to be respectful to the Resident Evil game, I thought the movie should use a similar colour palette," says director Paul Anderson. "So greens and blues are very much in evidence to promote the vibe and the broad overall feel, although I designed the look to change as the movie progresses. The Hive is seen pre and post disaster and then when the emergency lighting is turned off. Those three different atmospheres were carefully designed to become consistently stronger and scarier as the protagonists become more fractured by the Undead."
DISEASED MASSES AND CHOREOGRAPHING ZOMBIES
When he took on the Resident Evil assignment, director Paul Anderson knew that reinventing the Undead would be a challenge. "You can't do today what filmmakers were doing twenty years ago," he says. "Back then, extreme splatter movies like George Romero's Dawn of the Dead and Lucio Fulci's Zombie Flesheaters were everywhere, and dripping gore was the modus operandi of the times. To be scalp-freezing and scary rather than just gross, I knew we had to be different with our conception of the Undead in Resident Evil."
To that end Anderson turned to the special effects make-up company Animated Extras International Ltd. to design a unique Undead look. Oscar-nominated for Shadow of the Vampire, Animated Extras had created actor Sam Neill's make-up effects in Anderson's film Event Horizon and had also contributed to the widely acclaimed Elizabeth and Gladiator.
"Total realism is the key to the look we were after," comments Animated Extras' Pauline Fowler. "We wanted to create a visual look for the T-virus because it's inhaled, goes through the system and exits via the eyes, nose and mouth. So we researched medical textbooks to come up with something that wasn't the traditional rotting flesh, but a real living organism that eats away at the skin."
She adds, "Because the T-virus can be quick-acting depending on the system of the person infected, it gave us lots of variety in the look and diseased mass, although all the lesions are in roughly the same areas--including the finger-tips. It would have been a logistical nightmare for my six-man team to cope with the fifty main Undead extras if the virus mutated the characters' entire bodies," she says.
"It was far easier, and much more effective," says Fowler, "to have the virus concentrated in key areas. We also made the Undead look clammy, sweaty and as ill as possible so the characters--and the audience--could still think a few were latently human while something awful was clearly happening to them. Specially designed contact lenses, giving the lead Undead's eyes a pus-filled, grungy stare, completed the overall look."
An interesting element of the Undead sequences that Anderson decided to hire a choreographer to ensure physical fluidity of movement. Swing Kids dance coach Warnar Van Eeden was the man chosen for the task. He recalls, "Paul was emphatic about the Undead extras needing movement instruction because he didn't want the slightest chance of them looking ridiculous or laughable as they often did in zombie films." Van Eeden gave different instructions to the groups, telling one group for example, to imagine how it would feel if they were professional dancers who hadn't properly stretched in weeks.
Producer Jeremy Bolt joined the Undead, as he explains: "I actually ended up playing three Undead all in the same sequence," he says. "I'll volunteer for anything, and when Paul asked, I quickly joined the ranks. I was in make-up for four hours, had my head shaved, prosthetics put all over my face and my teeth blackened. Pauline Fowler told me I was a Grade 2--meaning my viral infection was quite severe. I get shot by Rain, then I'm seen in the elevator taking a big chunk out of JD's arm, then I'm in a suit being pulled 15 feet through the air. I became an honorary member of the stunt department after that."
Not only was the work fun for Bolt, Resident Evil became more of a family affair than he ever expected--sister Anna Bolt plays the scientist Green, who delivers a major underwater shock to the commandos when they first enter the ghost-like Hive.
Paul Anderson continues, "Production designer Richard Bridgland and I decided very early on to make all the sets where the Undead appear very claustrophobic--because that's how they become truly scary. If you are trapped in a confined space with them, and you can't get out, there's nothing you can do but panic."
Eric Mabius recalls the claustrophobic tunnel pipe sets. "The Undead in Resident Evil have such a unique and terrifying diseased look that I can honestly say I wasn't acting in those sequences, I was scared to death! Shooting those scenes crossed the boundaries of fantasy into clammy reality and all of us were left shaken by their stark realism."
James Purefoy concurs with his co-star. "I keep having flashbacks to the Undead scenes and they still creep me out. Paul has used them in ways that are really nightmarish. It was a brilliant idea on his part to use trained dancers and have all their body movements choreographed down to the smallest twitch. I wasn't prepared for how disturbing they were going to look and I couldn't wait for Paul to shout 'Cut!' just so the outstretched arms and clutching hands would stop for a while and let me regain my composure. If I had any initial doubts about the film being scary, they completely vanished during these moments. Scary movie lovers are in for a real treat with Resident Evil."
MILLA JOVOVICH GETS WET, THE CAST WORKS OUT
"When you write the script you have an idea of what the picture is going to be and in post-production you can only change things to a certain extent," says Anderson. "But actually creating on set is what makes me happy. I love coming on set every day with a total plan worked out knowing it can completely fall apart in seconds. It's stressful and crazy, yet incredibly thrilling and energising."
Milla Jovovich can attest to that. "Paul always suggests character elements and personality traits that I'd never even thought of. He knows what he wants; yet he will give you the leeway to experiment. A case in point is an early choice I had to make which turned Resident Evil into one of the most difficult challenges of my career. There's a pivotal scene where Spence and Alice jump for a gun at the same time. I reach it first, but to make the scene really work, it made sense for Alice to fall in a pool of water. Did I want to spend the rest of the movie soaking wet and having to be doused down before every scene just to supply the buzz of total authenticity? I told Paul I would do what was best for the picture and then, of course, a whole wet eternity stretched out before me."
"Paul is thoroughly prepared," notes Martin Crewes. "And he has a great phrase he uses when you make suggestions and he doesn't like them: 'Not in my Army.' He's very open to ideas from the actors but is also very quick to decide if they are right or wrong. A case in point is some ad-libbing I did when I disarmed the Red Queen computer. I kept using the term 'baby' as in 'Don't do this, baby' and 'Be good to me, baby' but Paul axed that. The same thing happened over the sideburns on my face. The hairdresser loved them, but the moment Paul said, 'Not in my Army' we both knew they had to go!"
"Prior to principal photography we all took part in three weeks of commando training," says Crewes. "Former Navy Seal Jaymes Butler is our collective personal trainer and he put us through our Boot Camp paces and gave us character-building assignments. It was important that we looked like a team who would rely on each other in times of stress. Resident Evil has been physically draining for all of us from a stunt point of view."
Butler, whose prior credits include Buffalo Soldiers and Boyz in the Hood, describes the intensive regimen he put the actors through to ensure their physical fitness. "I started them off with Taebo training--a combination of Thai boxing and aerobics--and karate kicks synchronised to music to get them in rhythm and peak condition," says Butler. "We had a hall set up with an indoor mountain climbing frame to get them used to being suspended and wired for safety--with particular reference to the access pipe Undead scenes. I also taught them fighting training and how to move like a military unit."
Butler also plays Undead lab technician Clarence. "I had to have a cast made of my head because Alice chops it off with a spinning kick!" he says.
With regards to the other actors, Butler points out, "Eric is a fit guy anyway and even after I had him climb the mountain wall with one hand tied behind his back, we still went back to the hotel gym to train further. Milla is one fantastic kicker and because the flexibility was already there, I just needed to ensure for safety's sake that she had the physical power to back them up. Michelle is an incredibly physical person too and already had immense boxing training thanks to her Girlfight role. Every actor, including Anna Bolt, who had to take scuba lessons to prepare for her underwater shock scene as the Undead Green, was in great shape, physically and mentally throughout the shoot and I think it speaks volumes that no doubles were needed for any of their major stunts."
That was important for Milla Jovovich, who adds, "Audiences just won't accept stunt doubles anymore. I was fully prepared to do everything myself because it's really important for the audience to be there in the scene with the actor for the excitement value. Thanks to the karate and combat training, I could do jumps, spins and kicks I've never done before and body stretches I never thought possible. I thought I'd trained hard for The Fifth Element but Resident Evil pushed me to the limit."
HERE COMES THE LICKER
Once all the Undead scenes had been shot, the director turned to the challenge of putting the Licker on screen. He notes, "The Licker is one of the defining points for the avid game player. The creature appears for the first time in Resident Evil 2 and is one of the entire game series' highlights. You glimpse blood dripping from the roof and, when you look up, you see this grotesque creature with a long deadly tongue, crawling upside down along the ceiling that suddenly turns and looks at you with a transfixing gruesome stare. I knew if we could create that image on screen, it would not only be a great moment in the movie but also pay homage to the game."
Using a combination of animatronic special effects and computer graphic imaging, the Licker sequence was recreated on location at the Reichstag U-bahn. Anderson describes the scene: "The Licker drops on Spence and devours him. But because the Licker is genetically unstable, when it eats Spence's DNA, it begins to transform into a more streamlined and bigger "Uber-Licker" that fights the survivors in the train climax. We put James Purefoy into a harness and shook him about so it would look like a giant creature was attacking him and holding him in between its teeth."
For the Licker sequences, Animated Extras built numerous puppets in various sizes to create the 8 feet long, 4 feet high monster. Pauline Fowler explains: "We built a three-quarter length model for close-ups of its eyeless face and to show its jaw dropping, a half-length battering ram version that is worn over a puppeteer's shoulders, and gloves with talons fixed on so it could rip through metal walls. We gave the creature a raw meat texture by using a mixture of dried stage blood and latex to suggest a sinewy musculature. Although we did build a latex wriggling tongue, it was more to give the actors something to react to on set rather than anything we thought would make the final cut. Digital augmentation will ensure the Licker's tongue is the horrifying appendage it is in the game. We also used 30 litres of surgical jelly to give the Licker a congealed and organic countenance."
Animated Extras also provided the Zombie Dogs, another game favourite, that Alice must fight in order to help Matt survive an attack by his Undead sister. Fowler says, "When it comes to real animals, animatronics are not the best option. So for the Zombie Dog scenes we decided to put prosthetics on trained Dobermans to make it look like they had been skinned alive. But because you can't stick anything onto animal fur, we dyed a stretchy four-way fabric known as zeta net in dark colours, fashioned it into a pull on outfit and dressed it with a rib cage, fatty tissue, muscles and blood. Hints of computer graphic imaging around the eyes complete the illusion. We also built a full-size dummy Zombie Dog for when Alice has to kick one."
Responsible for coordinating the computer graphic side of Resident Evil and supervising the entire visual effects was multi-Academy Award nominee Richard Yuricich. The film industry veteran, who includes Mission:Impossible and MI:2 on his impressive credits list, was also the visual effects supervisor on Anderson's Event Horizon.
"I found out on Event Horizon how much Paul was into the visual effects side of film and how much he liked to be involved," says Yuricich. I'm very comfortable with Paul because he's interested in making this film the best it can be--whatever it takes--and he loves the fantasy genre."
Although some key visual effects in Resident Evil are computer generated, Yuricich aimed for CGI quality rather than quantity. "The Computer Film Company is one of Europe's finest digital facilities and they are responsible for designing some of the Red Queen hologram although most shots will be simulated by my department. They are also enhancing the Licker and the Zombie Dogs scenes. For the latter sequence, CFC is animating sections of the Dobermans' eyes and a protruding snout. But in general I felt we should keep the effects as physical as possible for that extra feeling of real terror. When Alice is attacked by the Zombie Dogs, all that separates Milla from the animals is a sheet of protective glass. I wanted to solve problems like that simply rather than use expensive digitals in post-production."
HOW TO DICE PEOPLE INTO LITTLE CUBES
One's laser cubing death is a prime example of what Yuricich means. He explains, "We could have done that using 3-D digital animation but I felt it would gain enormous immediacy by being done live using tried and tested photographic techniques. We moulded actor Colin Salmon in the last position he's in before he gets diced, then cut that body cast up into cubes. Then all the pieces were held together by electromagnets until the moment One had to fall apart and then the current was shut off. While most of the scene will be done in mirror reflection, it's simple, startlingly effective and very shocking."
"No matter how much technological wizardry or gadgets you have at your fingertips, it's mainly audience belief in the script and the actors that make any movie work," says Anderson.
"I could have made any number of video game movies but I wanted to make this one because great video games are like great books--they don't come along too often so when one does you must grab it. Resident Evil was the first video game since Mortal Kombat that I thought would make an exciting movie. The performance levels by the committed actors, the spectacular action and the chilling suspense have all come together to achieve a unique approach to the Undead genre and give it the breath of fresh scare it deserves."
We will include a full review of this movie by March 20.
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