DVD Review: “Resident Evil: Degeneration”

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Resident Evil: Degeneration (2008, Sony)
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I have to say, I am pretty much the biggest fan of the Resident Evil games. From the moment I played the original version on Playstation 1, I was hooked, and have followed the adventures of Leon S. Kennedy, Ada Wong, Claire Redfield and all the various characters through the years, as they’ve tried to outlive the memory of the outbreak in Raccoon City, which turned the entire isolated community into flesh-eating zombies.

Although Resident Evil didn’t actually initiate the genre of game playing known as “survival horror” as is popularly thought, it did inspire the title, as well as such later iterations as Dino Crisis, Silent Hill and The Suffering, among others. It also spawned its own series of films, each meeting with a fair degree of financial success at the box office.

Now comes the first fully CG movie in the series, Resident Evil: Degeneration, from the game’s developer Capcom and Sony Pictures Entertainment(Japan). It received a release in Japan in actual theaters, and limited release stateside in New York and L.A. before hitting DVD shelves, and with damn good reason; as far as storyline and execution goes, this was a monumental waste of time, money and involvement on the part of everyone from the director on down to the janitor, on a par with the 2001 bomb Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.

The story takes place seven years after the end of the game Resident Evil: Nemesis when the aforementioned Raccoon City was destroyed by a nuclear missile to contain the zombie outbreak. Claire Redfield (voiced by Alyson Court, who portrays the character in the games) is working for an environmental group which responds to bio-hazard outbreaks. She’s meeting a friend at the airport when an unexpected attack upon U.S. senator Ron Davis (Michael Sorich) by an infected man and the crash into the terminal of a plane full of diseased passengers instigates a new outbreak of flesh-hungry Undead. Sent in with a Special Response Team to save the survivors is special agent Leon S. Kennedy (Paul Mercier, who also plays Leon in the games), another Raccoon City escapee. After effecting an escape from the terminal however, Leon and Claire find that even greater dangers lie ahead, as an unnamed terrorist group threatens to unleash the T-Virus (which turns the living into zombies) upon every populated area in the U.S. if their demands aren’t met. The deadline: midnight, which leaves our heroes barely four hours to find and stop the terrorists before America turns into the land of the Undead…

The first third of Resident Evil: Degeneration is actually pretty good, and in spite of having a few cliched moments, has some pretty good action. While it’s not necessary to have played the video games or be intimately knowledgeable about their history, there are some well-placed nods for those fans. Once the movie gets past the initial rescue however, it becomes a muddle of repetitious cliches, uninteresting corporate intrigue, and worst of all, steals ideas from past incarnations of both the games and the first Resident Evil film, to pad out what’s billed as an “original” adventure.

Possibly the most damning evidence that this flick might–might–have played out better as live action instead of CG is that the computer graphics aren’t all that eye catching. It seems the Maya software used to create the characters isn’t much more than a quarter-step above what’s used in the game series’ cut scenes, and the voiceover work almost never syncs up completely with the movement of the characters’ lips on screen. This isn’t too bad in a one or two minute cut scene for a game, but when it comes to a feature-length film, it’s atrociously distracting.

Game makers are often accused of being barely housebroken geeks who tug at their carrots with one hand while tapping in configurations on their computer with the other, in order to give their female protagonists overly sufficient “assets.” Anyone who’s ever seen Lara Croft’s design from the Tomb Raider videogames would undoubtedly agree with this conclusion…or anyone who’s watched this movie, where the character designers must have stopped every ten minutes for “bathroom breaks” in between making certain that every prominent female had shapely child-bearing hips, blowjob lips, or moaned in a way indistinguishable from an orgasm when a zombie bites her throat out. I mean, I can appreciate a well-rendered Claire Redfield as much as the next guy, but c’mon…really.

Later action scenes are fairly well done, but a bit over-the-top, even for a movie of this type. When Leon gets thrown horizontally at least 75 feet and smashes into a wall, even for a CG character, he should be whipping out a cell phone to make an appointment with a chiropractor. Extras on the DVD are almost absolutely worthless. There’s a series of fake voice “bloopers,” wherein the cast tries to make it seem as if their characters are engaging in all types of atypical funny business. It falls completely flat. There’s a “faux interview” with Leon, which is unbearable to watch. The featurette “Generation of Degeneration,” consisting of interviews with director Makoto Kamiya, producer Hiroyuki Kobayashi, script writer Shotaro Suga and CG producer Yusaku Toyoshima, is the most interesting thing on the disc, in spite of the fact it’s in Japanese with English subtitles. It’s also very revealing, in a highly ironic way: there comes a point during director Kamiya’s interview, where he states that he’s always worked in special effects, and asks rhetorically “Am I really worthy to debut as a full-length feature director on Resident Evil?”

No.