By Noel Vera
Dir: Russell Mulcahy (2007)
Paul W. S. Anderson's latest produced script for the big screen
(helmed by Highlander and prolific music-video director Russell
Mulcahy) the thought went through my head that I was tired; no,
I was out-and-out sick of this sort of fare.
The promotional copy of Resident Evil: Extinction promised this
would be the last of a trilogy of movies based on the video game;
I clutched at that promise like a man in the desert would his canteen
of water. Ninety minutes of crap is easier to bear when it's supposed
to be for the last time.
I still had to sit through the movie. Alice (Milla Jovovich), The
Umbrella Corporation's greatest creation, survived the nuking of
Raccoon City (long story, see previous pic), but so, unfortunately,
did the virus; it's broken out all over the world and brought the
human population to the brink of extinction (Hence the title--get
it? Get it?).
Alice has been avoiding Umbrella's spy satellites by keeping to
herself in the desert; meanwhile, a convoy of survivors lead by
one Claire Redfield (Ali Larter) has been making their way across
said arid landscape. Alice and Claire's paths converge on the nearest
available Umbrella facility, where a fenced-off compound (surrounded
by thousands of zombies, and you can be sure they aren't there out
of sheer curiosity) encloses a wooden shack and a helicopter--one
large enough to carry Clair's people to Alaska, where the virus
appears to have failed to penetrate (don't ask me how, or why, or
even if it's true).
borrows from a number of movies, of course (I can't think of a recent
science-fiction / fantasy flick that doesn't filch from older, better
pictures). Band of survivors crossing a desert against marauding
crazies is George Miller's The Road Warrior (1981), and in fact
the movie was to be shot in Australia, had to cut back costs, and
settled for Mexico instead (it's cut-rate Road Warrior); the idea
of a fenced-off entrance to an underground facility, the fencing
surrounded by zombies, is lifted wholesale from George Romero's
Day of the Dead (1981); a sequence involving flocks of zombie crows
massing to attack was purloined from Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 classic,
The Birds (easily one of the greatest 'man vs. nature' films ever
Maybe the best,
most unimpeachable rationale for justifying theft of a story element
or image from a previous movie is in acknowledging the theft, then
playing with one's familiarity with the original--make it better,
if at all possible; I don't see that happening here. The Road Warrior
premise (band of brothers crossing desert) becomes a lot of dull
exposition between people that you know will be zombie fodder anyway
(no, it does not help that said cardboard cut-outs look like ramp
models (Jovovich, Larter, Ashanti in a throwaway role are especially
The truck they
drive looks wimpy compared to the spiky, formidably armored Mack
Miller used (it doesn't help that the zombies here manage to tear
off the window gratings like so much Christmas wrapper). The one
explicit homage to Miller that they do--a glance between Jovovich
and one of the better-looking hunks while driving to his doom--is
so blatant and shallowly conceived (the moviemakers seem to want--oldest
cliché in the book--a 'what might have been' attraction to
sprout between the two) that I find myself laughing instead of tearing
up (in Road Warrior the look was one of unspoken defiance, climax
to a skillfully woven plot sub-thread, about one man having something
to prove to another).
facility had the benefit of a production budget slashed in half
(Romero refused to take more money to make an R-rated film) and
recognizably subterranean locations to create a genuine sense of
claustrophobia (Mulcahy's underground lab is so brightly lit and
sumptuously appointed the strongest emotion it arouses is dismay
at the electric and housecleaning bills); more, Romero (despite
his reputation as a goremaster) does such swift, skillful sketches
of human relationships that he's able to create a thick atmosphere
of antagonism between the scientists and military officers trapped
in the complexj (Mulcahy has most of them killed off before Alice
gets there, sidestepping the issue entirely).
to Hitchcock is easily the most offensive, though. Hitchcock's bird
attacks were always prefaced by sequences so precisely staged and
timed and edited they were often more effective than the attack
itself--I'm thinking of Tippi Hedren waiting outside a schoolyard
while birds gather in the playground behind her. The shots start
out slow, establishing a familiar, quotidian world (woman, playground,
bird); enter the first crow, a seemingly innocuous enough occurrence.
By the time the fifth or six crow lands the danger has been well
established, and Hitchcock stretches the sequence out with all the
skill of a master interrogator (you find yourself wanting to yell
at the woman to please turn around).
the other hand, seems to be working under the misbegotten notion
that if you cut your footage fast and layer it with loud music and
use jarring, mostly handheld camera angles you're creating suspense.
Not really; you're just trying to stir up the audience directly,
giving them all the visual and aural cues that danger is forthcoming
when what you should be doing (what Hitchcock always did) is work
against the sense of danger, present a serene, everyday scene that
the audience knows will erupt in violence at any moment.
scene does turn ugly--but not in a good way. The bird attack itself
is confusingly shot and edited, and the victims' reactions mostly
unintelligent (you almost think "they deserve to be pecked to death").
Mulcahy lets the scene go on and on and on--when Jovovich finally
appears you cry out in relief, not from tension but sheer boredom.
a terrific, physically eloquent actress (you see her at her best
in Michael Winterbottom's wonderful The Claim (2000)), and it's
difficult to begrudge her the mdest financial success that these
Resident Evil" movies offer, but enough's enough; when will she
stop doing this kind of crap and try something daring and worthwhile
again? It's fun playing with zombies in the desert for oh, say,
the first five minutes; after that it's time to drop the corpse
and move on.
First published in Businessworld, 09/28/07.
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