Part One: Through The Looking Glass and What The Fans Found There by Rombie
Love them or hate them; or simply just hate them and those involved with them, the live action Resident Evil films have been quite a financial success. Much like the game that spawned them, Capcom probably never imagined how successful the brand would be as a film. Not just for them, but for everyone involved in their creation.
Of course it could have been a very different story, and even the first film took over 5 years to appear from it’s first ever announcement. Throughout however the fans made vocal noise about the idea of a Resident Evil film, be it in support, suggestion, or disgust; and sometimes all at once. In this two part feature, we trace the project through its development hell; what was, would could have been, and maybe even look forward to what might happen with the franchise in the future ahead.
January 14th, 1997.
A late announcement is placed on Variety.com’s website that had an atypical and simple headline not uncommon within the trade print. It says simply:
Constantin buys ‘Evil’ rights.
But already we’re getting slightly ahead of ourselves.
After Resident Evil’s original runaway and then record breaking success on the Sony PlayStation in 1996, a clear goal of expanding what was now emerging as a new possible franchise hit for Capcom started to take place. Not only were their plans for the extremely obvious, sequels for the game brand on consoles, but also included what could at the time be considered a more interesting risk. The original game mostly wears it’s inspirations on its sleeve, and it was clear one of those is zombie films. And people obviously saw the possibilities this twist on the zombie horror Resident Evil was could be capable of as a film.
According to Constantin Film, they approached Capcom about the franchise, but the description of the situation (found in the films production notes many years after the fact) also makes it sound as if Capcom was already looking to sell the rights to a studio anyway. Either way someone in an office at Capcom’s head department in Osaka sometime in the later part of 1996 thought this might be a gamble worth taking for this new title. In Japan that announcement happened slightly early, the fact a movie was going ahead was actually announced in mid-December 1996 almost a month prior to Variety’s posting.
And so we return to Jan 1997, where Variety has published the studio’s official announcement. Capcom has struck a deal with the small German film making company. Who have just purchased the rights to the game for the silver screen and also in its first announcement attached Alan McElroy, author of the “Spawn” comics, to pen the script for them.
This may not seem like such a big issue now, to license your very newly created videogame brand on the perchance someone will then actually go make something out of it. These days big new IP’s can become multimedia events in and of themselves, but back in the mid 1990’s this was not so much the case. And it was made even more interesting by two very important things in the announcement.
Firstly is the above history of said small German film company, Constantin Films. While having produced some successful independent films, at the time the company was mostly known in the US for the film The Neverending Story. And otherwise was notorious everywhere else for making a $2 million dollar Fantastic Four film with shlock filmmaker Roger Corman.
The latter would be seemingly unremarkable except fact the film made was never intended to be released, and made only so they wouldn’t lose the rights from Marvel Comics. The film was needed to begin production by the last day of 1992 in order to retain further rights, and so filming started on December 28th that year.
The whole story has been recounted time and time again from Stan Lee, to actors involved (who were never told of the plan of non release and even did promotion for the film), and it’s a very interesting and embarrassing account of greed, that would sadly pay off in massive dividends about a decade or so later after when 20th Century Fox made a multimillion dollar picture in which they had to pay Constantin for.
The second, and perhaps more important note, was the then also very recent event that was Street Fighter: The Movie. A movie that Capcom not only took very large stakes into as a company when it came to the film production (by being the film production company) but also backward in cross promotion (to this date I believe it’s still the only game turned movie to be turned back into a fully released game with the title “Street Fighter: The Movie: The Game” at Arcades and on home consoles). When the film released in December in 1994, pressure was on for it not to become another Super Mario Brothers. Nintendo’s famous creation was released as a film the year previous to bad reviews and poor box office which saw it making back not even half its production costs.
Capcom however got lucky. While critically panned heavily by fans and reviewers alike, the self-produced title made back almost three times its budget with a worldwide take just short of $100 million in cinemas. However given Capcom’s success in self-producing a financially successful Hollywood film, it was surprising that they would then on-sell movie rights for another franchise rather than just continuing the same trend they had with their previous film. It’s very speculative, however maybe the pure confidence put forth that the movie would make a profit when the reviews were so poor, that inspired the idea to sell the rights to Resident Evil where Capcom could have less production involvement but still rake in the license cash that lead to that decision in late 1996.
Additionally it may have been bolstered by the fact that in August 1995, several months after Street Fighter – New Line Pictures released Paul (W.S.) Anderson’s Mortal Kombat. When compared to Street Fighter Anderson’s Mortal Kombat film had fared better by game fans, and slightly better by critics. Then raked in slightly more cash than Street Fighter did seemingly due to it. If this latter point is especially true, several years later there would be quite a lot of irony to Anderson’s success in 1995.
In May 1997, Capcom reconfirmed the partnership and that the film was going ahead during the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) gaming event. This was done while promoting its new upcoming titles with plans that the movie will be underway by the end of the year for release by the later part of 1998. In the first of many, many bits of internet speculation to come, most said likely Halloween.
However movies don’t really happen overnight. And thus when you make an announcement in Jan (which you only just reconfirm in May), it’s all just words on a page. And so it’s not very likely much new will be said for many, many, months to come. Capcom’s own internal struggles with making a sequel to their own hit game was the main focus of 1997, and as the year went on a final release date for the video game sequel was locked into Jan of 1998. With this a clearer marketing plan would go ahead for the franchise.
And so, engrossed into the continued success of the Biohazard/Resident Evil brand, in late September and early October 1997 Capcom spent approximately $1.5 million USD on a live action commercial for the game, directed by legendary Zombie film director George A. Romero in downtown Los Angeles.
Combined with the added costs of broadcasting this commercial, the budget reportedly exceeded the actual production costs of the game it was for when released at the time. And so it goes without saying that it was also the most Capcom had ever spent on a commercial up until the time. However given the successful sales and promotion of the game when it launched in early 1998, Capcom probably considered the gamble as money well spent.
Ironically given the large budget spent on the commercial, while seemingly at first intended to be used worldwide, it ended up being locked into a Japan only release (for the most part, we’ll get back to that) to be used on TV and in cinemas. It was also released with a “rental only” ‘making of’ VHS tape in Japan, which contained behind the scenes video footage and the full versions of the commercials made. The agreements of both these conditions seemingly was made due to the actors involved, supposedly mostly due the actor playing Leon – the late Brad Renfro, who also made it so that his name could not be attached outside Japan. Claire is played by soap actress Adrienne Frantz.
It’s a seemingly puzzling event to spend so much money on an internationally made commercial for a videogame that you want to market to the world, however Renfro was quite a big deal at the time. He was an upcoming teen star and already had quite a following in Japan, and so of course this was big clincher to the commercial and seemingly why the more restrictive deal was put in place.
The “rental” tape of course was acquired by numerous sources in the years since and the commercials and behind the scenes materials themselves placed online.  
The commercial was produced by Capcom’s Keiji Inafune among others, alongside a large Japanese media promotions company. The visual effects work was done by “Screamin(g)” Mad George, who was an unexpected boon for the US-Japan co-production as he originally was from Japan and spoke fluent Japanese and reasonably good English which furthered the production process. Plus of course his effects work history in zombie, splatter, and monster effects work was as well known as Romero’s directing history. Mad George’s look was limited by the restriction of no blood to be shown because of the intended mark of mainstream television and cinema. Due to this heavy levels of blood or missing limbs and the like were not allowed but the commercial was given it’s look with a dried blood, torn flesh and patchy skin look which actually looked exceptionally great on camera.
The shoot took place at the Lincoln Heights Jail located in Lincoln Heights in downtown Los Angeles, a well used filming location for numerous films, TV shows, and music videos until 2010 (the location has just in the past few months reopened access for possible filming). The location was dressed in its front and some interiors to look like the Raccoon Police Department (R.P.D.) supposedly as from within the game. The shoot was quick, done over a few days, and shot all at night, with Frantz’s work done in one night and Renfro’s over the course of a few.
Due to the scope of the material, Capcom had its internal team which did the “making of” but also brought in heaps of press from Japan to come and cover parts of the shoot and interview those involved. Surprisingly though hardly anyone else from any other international media was informed – possibly again due to the contract restrictions. The one exception to this was Japanese based English writer Norman England, who was given complete access to the cast and crew (and provided most of the details and images I’ve included in here from his Romero Dawn Of The Dead fan site The Zombie Farm).
As mentioned, some parts of the shoot were used overseas. Visual elements of the commercial were used in the US promotion such as shots of zombies, Frantz as Claire screaming, and the building used in it were inter-cut in a rapid pace from Japanese originals with scenes for the game in US television commercials. It is a real surprise that in Capcom’s most costly commercial enterprise to that date, in the end the US market which was seemingly very important for the brand missed out on where is spent most of it’s advertising budget.
As Romero worked on his commercial for Capcom, the film’s content was fueled further online when a poster, clearly fake, began to do the rounds on the internet. No source for the poster ever came forward, so it was never noted as to where it really began from, it however got something right that stuck with the production for years to come; a tag line.
(A) secret experiment… (A) deadly virus… (A) fatal mistake…
A version of the tagline would appear both on this 1997 poster but yet again on some posters in 2002 when the film finally launched. We can only assume the person who worked on the official campaign in the end saw it, liked it, and used it. Either way it was the first mark the film had left behind since it was first announced.
When the commercial’s existence broke in the English media towards the end of 1997, the Resident Evil film had already been discussed at length and of course immediately Romero’s name was attached as a possibility to direct. It was simple math for a lot of people. Legendary zombie film maker does zombie game commercial; seems very easy to make him be a zombie film director based on zombie game.
Capcom themselves certainly liked the idea and found the commercial event a complete success, and so the discussions went forth between the company and the German film production house they’d sold the rights to for Romero to get on board. While he at first declined, eventually he was convinced to further consider signing on seemingly due to how smoothly the commercial was taken and how passionate he was about the material.
At the same time “the internet” did what it does best, providing further rumors and speculation. Mostly at the time to the unconfirmed reports of production problems and still at the time if Romero would even be involved as it would be some time before this became public knowledge. When Romero’s name wasn’t rumored as attached, instead George Sluzier’s name would. Sluzier’s main credit at the time was The Vanishing and was at the time working on The Commissioner which would be well received in 1998. It was expected his slate after finishingCommissioner would see him work on the film, with a projected stated date supposedly of around March 1998 working off McElroy’s script.
Actors rumored too were a wildcard draw selection of the then hottest name talent. So names like Jason Patric and Samantha Mathis (with fans hoping not to drag her Super Mario Brothers history into it) were named as considered for Chris and Jill. Sometimes you’d hear some interesting ideas like Bruce Campbell and the like thrown in for good measure as well for unspecified roles. These rumors would stick through well through 1998 as less was officially said on the film and more was unofficially rumored. What didn’t help either was the constant fan-hope driven tinkering of the movie’s page on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) which saw these and probably many other wild ideas flung onto it’s listings on an almost weekly basis.
Back in the actual franchise world however, a plan was hatched for the release of the game for the US which would be a specific promotion. Placed as a bright yellow star on the cover of every launch version in Jan of 1998 and listed in numerous print and online ads was Capcom’s crossover prize promotion – enter to win part of the Resident Evil 2 sweepstakes. The main prize was a role on the upcoming Resident Evil movie – at that point still planned to lens later in 1998. No purchase was necessary, as long as your entry reached Capcom US by the incredibly ironic date of April 1st 1998, you were in with a chance to win.
In March of 1998, Fangoria ran a byline in their news that McElroy was still attached and the script was still in the writing process with no director attached, however this was undermined by numerous reports the following month that Romero was indeed going to be attached and would not only be directing but also writing the script. These rumors eventually turned out to have more meat behind them when Fangoria, once more, interviews Romero and he mentions that he is indeed interested in working on the production but would not comment further only igniting more rumor discussion. PSM magazine dredges up old rumors again however furthering debate by still stating old names are attached the same month leading to further online debate.
Constantin Films announces CEO Bernd Eichinger as producer on the film that month as well. Eichinger was a well known German film producer, having just produced the Constantin production Smilla’s Sense of Snow successfully the previous year. After this Eichinger would stay involved with the entire Resident Evil film series production until his death in 2011. With this in place, its expected announcements on what’s happening aren’t too far off. Those expectations are exactly correct.
It’s early July 1998, and Romero finally comes out and ends the speculation. Via an interview with DVD Review at the Anchor Bay booth at the Video Software Dealers Association (VSDA) Expo he announces he will be doing the Resident Evil film. He tells them that he only signed on the previous week and that he will be directing and writing.
To say this now seems like it was instant, but it seemingly had taken many months for both a decision to come from Romero but also negotiate the deal for the whole thing as well. But somewhere along the way through this decision making McElroy was dropped, and so Romero was then hired to provide a script for the film as well, and submit it back to the company to see if they would go ahead with his vision for the brand. If they were happy then he’d be on board to direct.
Following this announcement he interviews with The Onion’s AV Club and with VideoGameSpot where he details the movie is to most likely be a R rated affair, and that Capcom would like to have it out around the time a third videogame title is launched. In September he does a brief interview with Cinescape and confirms he is working on the script at the time of the interview, and explains specifically how the chance of writing and directing it exactly came about.
After Romero’s announcement comes what will become a never ending debate of what the movie should be about and what actors and actress’ that should be playing roles. Sarah Michelle Gellar’s name is attached with a role in the film, as is Jennifer Love Hewitt and Maxine Bahns. Christopher Walken is even labeled as a possible Wesker! However all end up being denied and labeled, unsurprisingly, as purely fan speculation.
For the rest of 1998, rumor and discussion about Romero’s involvement goes on in the online community. Somewhere along the line 20th Century Fox is attached in some placement as distributor and constant story rumors surround the project. Tom Savini, a long time Romero supporter, is attached in rumors but once again nothing official comes out of those either. By December it seems the movie may be delayed to as far away as sometime in 2000. At this point had Capcom produced an actual winner for their competition, it’s unlikely their prize to appear in the film was probably ever going to come true.
On the lighter side, in January of 1999, Bruce Campbell officially ended rumors that had been going on for almost 18 months or more saying he was in no way attached to the production. Online chat Q&A sessions with Romero on Yahoo! and Talk City  both begin being circulated heavily by fans. But both actually date back from October of 1998. In them he talks about having a well developed draft underway and is seemingly positive about the production progress.
At around the same time a second poster appears online, with the tagline “Evil Is Only A Word…. Reality Is Much Worse.” Fox again is attached on the image as well as an unlikely release date of Fall 1999. All obvious speculation which seemed way off the mark given how long it had been already.
In late Jan, Ain’t It Cool News suggests some issues with the script maybe happening originally via statements in Electronic Gaming Monthly(EGM). However it was not considered major problems and speculated as most likely just redrafting to tidy the entire project up.
By May however things didn’t sound as well as everyone had hoped. On the 4th of May, in an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Romero was asked how the project was going and his response did not bode well. He stated he’d submitted a number of scripts and had not received greatly positive response on them; however his answer seemingly noted he was awaiting more word on the future of the project.
“It’s just been a mess. I did a bunch of drafts of the script and, you know, the same Hollywood story… I don’t know if it’s dead or what.”
What exactly was going on?
On the 25th of that month, GameSpot ran an article which provided Capcom’s answer to that question. At the 1999 E3 the week or so earlier, they had sat down with Capcom’s Yoshiki Okamoto (who would go on to be executive producer on the finished film before later leaving Capcom) and he was asked how the project was going.
“We know the movie is going to be out there someday. There is a scenario coming, but there’s no script yet.”
No script? The reporter was seemingly confused. Following this they asked then what had happened of Romero who had indicated a script was well underway. An infamous response was given in reply that would be forever quoted.
“His script wasn’t good, so Romero was fired.”
Following through in July and August more rumors came out based on this news of Romero being off the film. Firstly was that Romero was only fired from scriptwriting, that he would still direct just not write. Writing duties would be now undertaken by Andrew Kevin Walker, who’d written Se7en and Sleepy Hollow. There was also rumored discussion that Romero never ever even played or saw the game (seemingly this was already debunked by his explanation in the much earlier 1998 Talk City interview which explained his process) which added to the reason for his dismissal.
PSX.IGN fueled the fire with a story on July 12th 1999,  which included an infamous quote about things he wanted to include, like “zombies in sunglasses,” which was attributed to a ‘good industry source’ but never fully substantiated.
“Another good industry source told IGN that Romero lacked the feel of Resident Evil. He essentially was turning Resident Evil into Dawn of the Dead, instead of making it new and original, the source added. ‘He wanted to put sunglasses on the zombies and do other goofy stuff that didn’t fit in at all.’”
If it ever was true, looking at what’s happened with the film(s) in the end, not making it “new and original” by making it like Dawn and having zombies in sunglasses seem like quaint problems by comparison. As for lacking the feel of Resident Evil, it’s seemingly clear in hindsight from Romero’s draft year’s later he wasn’t really missing much of this aspect at all, especially again when compared to the finished films. And so this “industry source” IGN quoted was likely not really involved at all.
The annual tradition of new names for the talent pool also worked up a new frenzy, with names like Bill Pullman, Bruce Payne, Dolph Lundgren, and the like were mentioned in gaming and movie media but all just crazy suggestions making the rounds from a fan website’s rumor section in the end. Later on the suggestion that Andrew Kevin Walker is working on the script is also debunked, the movie seemingly is pushed back to at least 2001. All this now leading the public knowledge of what was actually taking place back to square one.
Romero moved on too. He was prepping a new independent project called Bruiser, but every chance fans got to ask him about “the Resident Evil project” he seemed just as confused about what had happened. At a Q&A session at the Toronto International Film Festival in September of 1999 his response was still an open question:
“I don’t know. The Internet says yes, but I have no idea.”
The following month, just as Romero himself implied, IGN’s defunct SciFi section posts an article about the loss of Romero as a figurehead while implying he was still directing. The statement says if they lose him, they risk loss of proper backing towards the project from investors and balks at the idea of budget between 25-40 million, which actually was the amount when the final product was created.. Obviously at this point however as far as Constantin was concerned Romero was departed and wasn’t coming back. Where these supposed insiders IGN kept getting were coming from was unknown, but it’s fairly clear they knew nothing about what was actually going on.
Then however – seemingly somewhere, somehow, details of Bernd Eichinger’s search for new directors came to light with names attached. Two names were listed. The first was German film director Rainer Matsutani, who had known links with Constantin. The second was English director Paul (W.S.) Anderson. The knowledge of this bore little fruit at the time other than rumors, and at the time people potentially relished the idea of the guy who did Mortal Kombat being a possibility. It had been considered a reasonably faithful and successful attempt, so maybe Resident Evil might be in the right hands?
What however caused more controversy, and then possibly gave us more understanding of Romero’s script issues, was that it was suggested Eichinger didn’t like gory movies that much and was looking for something less bloody. This was never 100% confirmed, but in the production notes released for the film two years later Eichinger only suggested he liked scary movies and didn’t think the games were that gory or violent which gives this rumor some traction.
Later in September, it was rumored that another greenlight had been given with a new script started and other early pre-production elements underway. It was also noted that Eichinger so wanted to get the project started he was prepared to step in and write the script himself to get it begun if there were more issues. Upon reflection this thrust of production work may have signaled that perhaps Constantin was in the same situation as they were with Marvel, and risked losing the agreement with Capcom if production didn’t begin soon. If this was indeed the case will probably never be known, but after all this rumors came out to light everything went dead on the project and no one seemingly talked anymore.
In Jan 2000, Romero did an interview with the Director’s Guild of America’s magazine publication. He now was officially stating he was off the project. It began to further the idea that the German producers had a different idea of what the film should be was the likely cause of the issue, at least that’s what Romero suggested.
“Resident Evil was a project with a German company. There are two sides to every coin but I don’t think they were into the spirit of the video game and wanted to make it more of a war movie, something heavier than I thought it should be. So I think they just never liked my script.”
The next month, more director rumors. On Feb 3rd, Ain’t It Cool reports Australian director Jamie Blanks, who directed Urban Legend, is supposedly attached and turned down directing the sequel to Legend, named Final Cut, for the gig. Even a supposed plot outline surfaces which doesn’t sound like it might be the most exciting film in the world but at least seemingly makes the idea of an evil pharmaceutical company possible.
“The movie is set in the future where medicine has rendered every disease curable. An evil corporation develops a new completely incurable disease and starts testing it on people. They plan to infect the world and then hold the vaccine ransom. When people get infected they turn into zombies.”
These rumors are never further substantiated and much like many rumors, this is the first and last it’s heard of.
It became clear, that while Romero had accepted he was off the project, no one really got back to him to officially say that was the case. Okamoto might have told EGM he was fired, but no one certainly told Romero that in person officially. In interviews for years onward he would always state no one ever got back to him and in the end he just guessed after a certain length of time that was it done, another dead end project.
On July 21st 2000, on his now defunct personal website, Romero made lengthy blog-styled post which summed up numerous open questions he’d been provided in a rant. Resident Evil was covered, along with numerous other projects, and his frustration was spilled out clearly on the page.
“But the biggest damn shame was Resident Evil. We busted balls writing drafts of that screenplay. I’m talkin’ marathons, seventy-two hours straight. I really wanted this project. I had directed a TV commercial for ResEv II, and being on the set again with zombies (by Screamin’ Mad George), I was hooked. Deep in my heart, I felt that ResEv was a rip-off of Night of the Living Dead. I had no legal case, but I was resentful. And torn… because I liked the video game. I wanted to do the film partly because I wanted to say, ‘Look here! This is how you do this shit!’“
As we moved further into the 3rd year of pre-production development, the way the project was going it was looking that the project has gone from just standard development hell to possibly just dead in the water…
In Part 2, we catch up to the official plans after several months of no news and learn what the filmmakers have in store might not be what anyone ever expected. And we look at what the filmmaking legacy of the Resident Evil movie franchise, so far, has left behind.
RESIDENT EVIL: THE MOVIE
Part Two: Alice’s Adventures in Zombieland
October 4th, 2000.
A late announcement is placed on Variety.com’s website that had an atypical and simple pun filled headline not uncommon from within the trade print. It says simply:
Anderson game to take ‘Resident’
After several months of no news whatsoever, Constantin Film confirms that Paul W.S. Anderson, director of Mortal Kombat, Event Horizon, and Solider; is set to write and direct the Resident Evil feature film. Most of the news is bland basic details for the trade. A budget of approx 40 million USD, shooting in Europe, planned to make a 2001 Halloween date, and Anderson is producing as well with his production partner Jeremy Bolt and Constantin’s Bernd Eichinger. All seemingly standard announcements. But it’s the plot nugget that is dropped in the article that makes the internet steaming mad. The story blurb in Variety’s article reads thus:
“Story focuses on a military unit that fights against a powerful super computer that is out of control. In order to save the world, the military unit must combat hundreds of scientists who have mutated into flesh-eating undead due to a laboratory accident.”
A powerful super computer that is out of control? What is going on here? What doesn’t help the first reactions either that the subtitle to the article called it a “military thriller” as well.
Any good will on the idea of this being anything close to as faithful as Mortal Kombat because Anderson was involved went immediately out the window.
Within hours protested discussions and howls of anger rage through the community. Anywhere you go are comments which sum up seemingly the feelings of almost all. Comingsoon.net staff write a concise statement about what many people are feeling – “If you’re a fan of the video game Resident Evil and were excited about the prospect of a movie based on it, [you should] give up now.”
Compared the expansive vocal group demanding change or answers to the plans, there are a small group who say there is need to wait and see what it’s really about as the description might be off base. There are thoughts it will be months until more answers are given but instead, unexpectedly, some new answers come in days..
[ALICE] A steely blue-eyed 21 year old woman with an
athlete’s body, Alice awakens one day with no memory
of her past-she doesn’t even know her own name. She’s
still puzzling over this mystery when she runs into
Matt, evidently a police officer, who is in turn
joined by an elite commando team led by a man named One…
alt.games.resident-evil. For anyone online these days a Usenet newsgroup seems like an antiquated way to communicate, in fact many probably reading this may not even know what a “news group” actually is. However for many early years of the internet, mail news groupings were the main used discussion boards for general social communication. Some of the long running sites online still today began on them as they provided sometimes general knowledge for you to look up (the IMDb is a great example of this) before something like Wikipedia. They had titles like news.california for Californian based news, or alt.book.stephen-king for those who like Stephen King stories, or alt.tv.simpsons if you wanted to talk about the episodes of the latest season of the Simpsons that had just screened. You may have seen these in web fronts these days such as Google Groups where you can still post into them and actually look back at archives, including that of the Resident Evil group.
Let’s change gears here a bit however, where I got personally involved. At this time I had been a long time subscriber to the alt.games.resident-evil group since I first found it in 1997, and it was my luck when I checked the group a week or so after the Variety article to come across an interesting post, made on October 15th, by a guy in New York. He said it was sent to all casting agencies in the area, and seemingly one would guess being a fan of Resident Evil decided to post it up for all to see.
The above quote about “Alice” was just the tipping point. The casting call provided specific details that matched up to the Variety article but told us that the “powerful super computer” maybe just the starting point for how much this might be nothing like what was expected of “Resident Evil“. Characters called One, Twelve and Rain in battle with a “homicidal” computer to be forever known as called Red Queen and the like. The Alice in Wonderland references were so blatant but questionably odd. What was more interesting beyond just this though was the way in which it spelled out more or less the entire film in each characters description; it seems we’d been provided a very meaty spoiler on Anderson’s planned feature.
The reaction alone on the newsgroup was small with dissatisfied disaster-in-the-making label attached, with nothing but simple complaint based on the outline. There was some doubt at first of course, but the guy who posted reaffirmed it arrived with many other legitimate casting calls which he dealt with. When I saw it, I couldn’t just sit on this info without spreading it further, as I was just as shocked as everyone else. At the time, running my RE fan site A New Blood, I wasn’t covering the movie or anything else but the games so the first place I thought of was my friend Rammy’s site Biohazard Extreme. I immediately messaged him, shot him the link, and ‘within minutes he registered his disgust on the internet’ along with the entire casting call. What happened next was mind-boggling.
The news spread like wild fire. I’d personally never seen such a blanket negative reaction to anything else in my life at that point. I hate to think of the e-mails Capcom got that day and the weeks following, but people set up petitions against the film, threads on forums spawned what seemed like a million raging fanboys and girls talking about the details. To say the reaction was not great would be the worst understatement to ever be made. I’d love to know what Paul W.S. Anderson thought should he have seen the reaction online. Especially before filming a single frame of a film that was also now quite spoiled as the casting call hit numerous movie and gaming news sites linking to Biohazard Extreme’scontinued coverage of the news and following backlash.
I actually kinda felt guilty in the end for even passing it on in the end.
Away from my personal involvement, what further fueled the fire once more was a couple of weeks later on Halloween, in reaction on Ain’t It Cool News to the movie’s casting call reports, their reporter Quint posted a review and breakdown of the then yet to be seen George A. Romero draft in much detail. When the fans saw what had been planned in his potential version against what Anderson’s casting call outlined of his plot the whole angry fan cycle started once again.
It seemingly grew worse. Boycotts of future Capcom products were often called by some, and once some casting announcements came through later in November of Milla Jovovich and Michelle Rodriguez many derogatory comments were made directly of them and further boycott calls of their previous and any upcoming work was also being touted. A title is given to the movie – “Resident Evil: Ground Zero” – this seemingly is the least problematic issue with the entire production according to the fans on the internet at the time.
Outside of internet rage, the production moves forward. Seemingly location scouting is done through Europe, firstly of some unnamed mansion and other early scouting in England. This is followed by reports of the director and producers looking at locations in areas in of Germany and Latvia, specifically military bunkers, bases, missile shafts, and other underground locations. Eventually it is confirmed the film will be shot in Germany.
Now into early 2001, casting news continues as the main source of further details. Firstly David Boreanaz is rumored as the cop from the casting call. It is seemingly revealed later by him at the Los Angeles Comic Book & Sci Fi Convention that he passed on the role as with filming due to start in March he wouldn’t be free from other work until mid-April, but that he was considering taking a smaller role in the film if time would allow.
The following month it’s announced Eric Mabius would be taking the role Boreanaz passed on. Boreanaz instead is announced as not appearing at all, instead taking a role in another film (teen slasher flick Valentine, directed by formerly rumored director Jamie Blanks).
In March, Clint Mansell announces he will be scoring the film via his personal website and James Purefoy is added to the cast just shortly before actual filming is due to begin.
Just shortly after this, in the middle of the month just as actual production begins, Constantin Films releases the first image from the film. The picture is Milla Jovovich in a red dress, holding guns, standing in what later turns out to be the Red Queen laser hallway. Once more this only furthers a split of difference to the online fan community, feedback on “why she’s in a red dress?”, the futuristic looking hallway, and reigniting some further hate for this version of “Resident Evil” once more.
In April, as production continues, Constantin Film updates it’s website with production notes in German. It explains various details such as confirming a recent rumor of well known German host/actress Heike Makatsch being cast in a role, details on the producers, FX techs, and the filming locations in Berlin including a yet to be opened real underground tunnel system.
In late April and into May spies have apparently infiltrated the set and the website “Resident Evil Forum” starts providing images and video from the location. The few details are continuing to confirm the original casting call was entirely correct and that little seems to have changed from it even though it was made from an early draft script. In a brilliant piece of mockery, one image they provide is that of a memo distributed on set to tell people working on the film to quit putting images from the set online.
Sony’s Columbia TriStar division picks up the distribution rights, finally ending the long standing 20th Century Fox rumor, and eventually places the film under its newly formed Screen Gems branding instead. And in doing so also ends the Halloween 2001 rumor by announcing a spring 2002 release window is where it will launch. This would be the beginning of a success for Sony Pictures that would become so large, the worldwide distribution rights of the Resident Evil films would become it’s second biggest money maker behind the “Spider-man” franchise.
European TV shows and Film magazines visit the set and provide behind the scenes details and footage, and once again more details emerge. This material also makes it’s way onto cover mounted DVD’s with certain magazine titles, both film and gaming, throughout Europe.
Now into June and seemingly the actual production is over, and Paul W.S. Anderson is tackling interviews on the subject of the fan outcry as the film heads into post production. There were articles in numerous magazines which Anderson defended his work against the outcry. There is a lot of stuff at this time which in retrospect seems very questionable but it’s worth looking at this cherry pick of a quote from an article with Shivers magazine in 2001. 
“There was no point in using the Jill Valentine character from the first Resident Evil game, 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.”
While it’s arguable that Anderson didn’t write Mortal Kombat when he made it (he was the director only), it’s not hard to argue against his statement of “new characters” at the time when you can also say characters in the film he made in 1995 faced this same issue (Liu Kanganyone?). And yet that never stopped him from directing that project. Nor the point that people adapt books and plays more straightforwardly in the same way and this has never stopped them either. Later Anderson will change his mind a bit on this idea, when writing the sequels and adding characters from the games to the films.
Anderson also claimed in the same interview the film was intended as a prequel to the games stories, an often repeated claim made by him in and around the first films production. Surprisingly even after all the sequels and obviously a continuing clear point where both franchises split into different ideas, he still stands by his statements about this and labels it as such to this day.
In August a sneak peak roll is screened at the 2001 London Frightfest, which manages to score mixed comments online from those in attendance. Anderson also does a Q&A session which most just repeats the same information he had mentioned in the behind the scenes material around already, including that it is a prequel and the like.
It is however later on the month that I get to post something everyone had been waiting for at the time. Via a contact in the Resident Evil newsgroup I was provided a copy of a script, which I then posted up once I could find some more info on its background. This was of course George A. Romero’s October 1998 first draft written with his production partner Peter Grunwald. I was already fairly confident at first as the content matched the breakdown on Ain’t It Cool and elsewhere, but via George’s now defunct personal website I seemingly was able to confirm it was indeed their draft.
October provides us with the news that Clint Mansell is out and…. Marilyn Manson… of all people is in for the movie’s soundtrack. Reactions are seemingly mixed to this news, but given all known about the movie for almost the past year this seems almost not worth the eyebrow raising. It’s later detailed that he would team up with more traditional film composer Marco Beltrami to do the work.
All references to the title Ground Zero are also dropped, after the events the month earlier in New York. At first the movie is renamed as “Resident Evil: Genesis” and appears as such in test screenings, however later it is announced that the movie will release as just “Resident Evil.”
Those test screenings are done in California, and while people are supposed to not speak about them, still some anonymous reviews appear online which seemingly are average to positive even though the film is in an unfinished state. And for the first time in a long time, some more of the online community begin to wonder if it won’t be as bad as they first thought.
Finally before years end, with a proper release date now set for March, Sony’s Screen Gems holds a competition to create a movie poster and provides numerous assets to do so. The competition runs for about a month with prizes that included a limited print run of your poster, a $2500 cash prize, and a private screening at a location close to the winner. They also announce the first full trailer will be attached to The Mothman Prophecies opening on January 25th, 2002.
After 4 weeks, official website provides the top 5 posters made to be voted on and the winner chosen during Jan. By the end of the month the trailer is added online and the winner of the competition is announced.
March 15th, 2002.
A movie screen flicks past the production logos and provides up a flying graphic which turns into the Umbrella Corporation logo and flies back across the screen. Words begin to appear on the screen…
The Events Leading To The Incident At Raccoon City
The words change, and a voice over begins…
“At the beginning of the 21st century, the Umbrella Corporation had become the largest commercial entity in the United States…”
After more than 5 years since it was first announced Resident Evil had made it to the cinema screen. There is little need to break down the film itself, plenty has been said about the original film as a piece of film work. Critically the film did mixed response, financially only slightly better worldwide that Capcom’s last film Street Fighter, but it was successful enough for what Anderson now refers to as a “small film” to ensure sequels would be made. And mostly financially successful ones at that.
Until the most recent film, the fifth in the franchise, each sequel had made more money worldwide than the last. And even yet the fifth technically hasn’t been that much of a slouch, still making almost $222 million dollars worldwide (easily more than twice the original did). Currently all 5 films in the franchise have made a combined total of almost $900 million just in worldwide cinema takings, with countless more made in home video releases.
But Anderson’s legacy with these films has continued to provide fodder for the online community to debate. Perhaps there is far less voracity in the direct outcry and attack like there once was when his plot appeared or the casting call hit the web before the first film, at least in pure direct numbers. And the films make money because there are people who enjoy them for what they are, instead of what they are not. But every time a film arrives, debate continues.
There is no denying that what Anderson has done for Capcom and everyone else is provide a media stream that has been nothing but successful in pushing forward the brand, even if the surprisingly growing good box office and poorer critical comment never matched up together. A mixture of the films content and the press surrounding it each time a film comes out gets the fans up in arms, but exactly why isn’t always clear or consistent, growing and evolving just like Anderson’s films.
Anderson met with Capcom frequently throughout the various film productions, wrote all the titles, and directed three of the five of what we’ve had so far. Through almost every press interview from the first movie until now, he stated he liked the games, he was a fan, and this was important to him. In press materials released (part of the films “Electronic Press Kit” or EPK) in the UK, often put on DVD’s as I mentioned earlier, he specifically stated the following while on the film’s set:
“The movie rights were licensed from Capcom. So officially Capcom had no input at all. You know we can turn Resident Evil into an all-singing all-dancing disaster if we want to. But you know, I really love the game and I really respected the people who made the game. As I became involved, I went to Japan, I met the creators of the game, I met Capcom, and I got them as involved as I could.”
He’s later said that changes in his script were done after those discussions, and those seemingly proved somewhat true (an early draft of Anderson’s script later appeared online which is more or less the same except for the way the ending takes place, which he has supposedly noted was changed from Capcom’s suggestions). But the idea of “meeting Capcom” – as if meeting a company brand solves an issue – just seems an odd statement to make, as if this was supposed to make fans feel better.
Realistically he met individuals working for the company on the games who suggested things but making that statement he doesn’t sound like he takes it seriously. And only more so by saying that he could turn it into anything, which sounds like a jab directly at critics. Because it was made on set in early 2001, it maybe our first real understanding of how he felt about the fan backlash to the his script after the reaction to the casting call.
To top it all off his claims of loving the game and being a fan were continually undercut to game fan communities by most of his additions in the films, and something that became more and more obvious the more sequels were made. How he got to the idea of a super computer at first and later super powered clones is an entirely different debate not worth having here, but with the deviation in the first film from the source alone it’s not surprising that this only continued to grow with the sequels.
Was it ever a bad thing that the fans really did want something a little closer to the franchise that had spawned Anderson’s future right to print money for him and others? Constantin got blamed early on for a lot of meddling. On one level as well I wonder how Paul fared at first, if changes or restrictions were put upon him to which made him write the script he produced the first time. And how much the fussing fans really affected his work with the sequels. Only he could tell us.
The Resident Evil movie franchise is the biggest video-game movie franchise currently though, at least for overall box office (and given video-game movies track records probably for some time still). So then if and when being negative about the content, are we looking at it incorrectly? Aside from fan quibbles and mixed reviews a lot of the time, the movies are obviously doing something right in the world of movies and money making. You don’t make almost $900 million from doing something considered completely horrible.
Is blame misguided towards Anderson and co. for seeing an audience that clearly does exist and just going for it? The critics don’t like it that much, vast chunks of the fanbase seemingly don’t either, but there is obviously large numbers of people who go along and somehow get entertained to the point of quite constant financial success for the films. People are simply entertained by Anderson’s choice of work but I doubt little if anyone will admit much artistic merits other than how nice it looks.
There is however a difference between successful adaptations, financially and critically. While Resident Evil is head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to box office success as a movie franchise, neither it nor any videogame movie has reached a successful critical reaction like say adapted novels, plays, musicals, or even comic-books have as feature films as well. Some of the statements that come from those involved in the production of the movie, cast and crew, reek of superiority based only on tickets sold but always seem to skirt the idea that they’re seemingly never moving forward the art that will prove that video-game adaptations are ever going to be as good as other adapted products.
Reviewers mostly look upon them, and other game films, that they’re loud dumb action spectacles, with simple stories, and that’s all they’ll ever be. But no one really tries to prove or say otherwise. It doesn’t help that no one really asks them about this fact very often either, and often many say instead it could be much worse. How many times have you seen something like “Think it’s that bad? Take a look at Uwe Boll!” as if it’s a proper excuse?
Often though videogame film makers feel like they have throw in minor references or gimmicks into the film as if it is to equate why it’s a “videogame film” (the FPS sequence in Doom anyone?). This doesn’t help anything but grow the stigma of the “videogame film” as loud dumb moviemaking with little in common with it’s source but just a statement on the outside cliche supposedly what a “videogame” is.
Paul W.S. Anderson is not immune from this either, as pointed out above after balking at the idea of using game characters he included Jill Valentine into the sequel as if to say to the fans “Look, I listen and we can really connect these things together even if it’s just in name and some look only.” While adding it to a collection of loud dumb set pieces with women often wearing little.
Maybe it’s the simple idea that the Resident Evil films (and basically most other videogames films) may not even be true adaptations, they’re merely inspired by the videogames that also stops this from being an accepted “leap to the silver screen.” Even if this is true however, those involved won’t let you even possibly consider it as an idea, instead trying to explain how the two materials link together.
Paul, Milla, and producer Jeremy Bolt may make some outlandish claims in the face of the fans at times, like the Resident Evil 5 videogame being in a “desert” because they did it in the third movie (even though the game doesn’t really take place in a desert much at all and Milla incorrectly saying the desert was in game “four”), or Milla telling us all constantly that it’s just a small number of people with issues with the films (my experience of the backlash and conversation every time a new film comes out tells me it’s much more than what she says, but much less than perhaps the most upset fans would hope would change the producers minds). But often they’re correct too and Capcom has altered games and reflected that sometimes their ideas will be used or referred to.
The concept of the “Red Queen” computer went onto be used in the games, there are often other nods to the movies in games as well (from laser hallways to virus storage cases and branding logos). Clearly people developing at Capcom have seen the idea that including stuff from the films may attract those who saw a Resident Evil film before they’d ever touched a game controller, especially now almost 11 years on since the first film released. As shocking as that is for some game fans to accept sometimes.
Capcom staff however obviously stopped at coming close to the idea of putting the character of Alice into a game however, no matter how much Milla vocally protests this idea in most interviews during the past couple of films. At least for the time being, anyway.
And over the years, even if it goes against what he said in interviews in 2001, Anderson started to riff on using actual game characters, at least in name and/or general look, for his films more and more and even beyond Jill, was able to often create scenarios where those characters where they weren’t automatically exempt from even being killed on screen. Many believe this could have been done from the start, and may have avoided many of the issues the franchise has – especially with Alice often labelled as an overpowered character and/or “Mary Sue” bad fanfiction type.
Either way, if both Capcom and Constantin set out originally to create a unified idea, it is these sorts of things with the game characters the do tie the brands together. And even when people are tearing the films apart on Resident Evil fan forums, they often do relish in the small nods Anderson does put into the films that link back. But sadly as mentioned, this is all mostly fluff, which again hides the idea that these works are not directly adapted from their source but merely inspired as such regardless of what small links or character names or looks appear.
It’s a thought (and one that started this article to begin with) to draw parallels to the creation and success (or lack thereof) in regards to certain Resident Evil games and the focus of the franchise towards more action just like the films. Both share a certain level of detraction but the negative impact seems more clear to the videogame franchise, with the latest main title selling well short of expectations and receiving negative reviews with hamfisted action and loose scope often being blame. Anderson’s latest film made almost half a much as the film before it at the box office, but reviews stayed fairly consistent. Still the films continue to push the same hamfisted action and loose scope. The former considered more likely as a failure, the latter closer to still a success.
But still I wonder how the franchise would have been under George A. Romero? Or under a different production house? Or another director? Or under Capcom themselves again? Would it have been more true to the games but less financially successful? Or even more so? We will never know these answers because it didn’t happen, but it leaves us with a good question for the future of the franchise.
Resident Evil, as a film, hit at the right time to actually lead a new zombie renaissance for cinema. Before its release there hadn’t been a mainstream zombie release for easily a decade or more in cinemas but also potentially proved shuffling old “Romero” zombies may have needed an update but also clear reverence as well. It may not have been the main cause of the following boom (I’d say 28 Days Later has a lot more to answer for it) but in almost every production afterward Romero’s original legacy was still somehow linked just as it was with Resident Evil as the first out the gates in early 2002.
By the year’s end, there was the fast moving “not-zombies” rage monsters (Danny Boyle refused to consider them as zombies in all press discussions) appearing in 28 Days Later, as mentioned, with seemingly no connection to older shambling corpses. But two years on from it, Romero’s Dawn of The Dead was remade by Zack Synder with fast zombies to success. Clever zombie comedies began to appear much more frequently as well with 2004’s Shaun of the Dead becoming a cult hit based on its love of the history of cinema zombies and just a witty general story of survival in what people feel a zombie apocalypse would be like (and begun as an idea, ironically due to Resident Evil 2 in a very roundabout way).
Based on the success of zombies at the movies again, George A. Romero himself then also got to return to the modern zombie concept he began when he directed Land of the Dead in 2005 for Universal and against expected odds it released to quite reasonable critical and financial success for him and the studio.
However it has been pointed out that when George went independent again after Land, his results were not as successful. 2007’s Diary of the Dead (starring future Resident Evil film franchise actor Shaun Roberts, who’d also had a smaller part in Land) received mixed to positive reviews but made limited box office. 2010’s Survival of the Dead however landed the director with both very negative reviews and a worldwide box office take in the range of only $140,000 when it cost $4 million dollars to produce. But by 2010 Romero may have failed to see the zombie glut that he released it in.
These days zombies have returned in every form possible. Big and low budget zombie films fill the shelves, books as well with success (many of these like World War Z and Warm Bodies also adapted to films) and games as well especially have had a complete love affair with them for the last several years especially. Even turning up in games where zombies normally wouldn’t have been considered before (modern-ish shooters such as Call of Duty, westerns like Red Dead Redemption, Japanese gangster games like Yakuza, etc. are just a very few examples). We’re spoiled for choice in regards to what sort of zombie based entertainment we want to enjoy. Resident Evil itself as a game franchise, seemingly in a fit of difference, instead moved more away from traditional zombies for most of the last decade, which also impacted on the more recent Anderson films in ways not actually explained very well in the films.
Capcom has also gone onto self-produce other Resident Evil feature films, those of a computer animated variety with reasonable success. They allow them to tell stories linked more into the game universe and directly with characters the game’s fans know and love. It is here perhaps many should put hope that maybe Capcom will spend some time telling new stories that are actual canon for the games fans. It proves that perhaps with the right investment Capcom was always capable of telling its own story as well and repeating their production success that they had with the Street Fighter film still.
Paul has said his series with end with the sixth and final film. But as a financially successful franchise its unlikely Capcom, Sony, Constantin and anyone else involved is going to want to end it when there are profits to be made. Again even Paul has been asked to speculate on that. Just recently the 6th film has been given a release date in September 2014, and seemingly if rumors are to be believed will link back into his first film by taking the characters back to the mansion and lab where his series began. However, if the direction games are going to be taking the time to be re-evaluated then maybe the same can be said of the feature films when Anderson finishes.
We can only hope that instead of linking new stories into the same universe as the current films (which personally I believe is probably very likely to happen especially in direct to video spin-off or sequels like those to Anderson’s Death Race take), maybe it’s time they look back to the simple idea that was the only game story at the time the rights were sold because it’s still a solid concept that could setup a film.
Where a local police special forces squad makes their way into a forest at night to try and find their team members, instead are attacked and have to escape into a mansion. Filled with zombies. And monsters. And much more evil. And we will line up at the cinemas to watch, likely passing posters as we make our way in, which will hopefully displayed with the following tagline:
“They escaped into the mansion, where they thought it was safe. Yet…”
About: Rob “Rombie” McGregor is a longtime Resident Evil and huge general movie fan, and ran the websites Resident Evil: A New Blood from 1998 until 2003, and ResidentEvilFan.com for several years from 2003 onward. He currently works in film and television production in New Zealand.
Acknowledgments: This has been a far, far, far bigger article than I ever expected when I began. As a note I’d like to thank several people and companies for their assistance with this article, including my long time friend Martin Ramsauer (Rammy) for providing me with a copy of materials I made many years ago and some images for this article from his archives; Yama from Biohaze for posting this onto his wonderful website; Sven from Capcom-Unity for dealing with some inane related questions that I knew were long shots but worth asking; Sony Pictures NZ for providing me with recent materials (and tickets) and answering questions related to the Resident Evil film franchise; SG79 from on the Biohaze forums for giving this all a once over look of this for me and general support; and all of the other fans and friends who’ve supported my online endeavors for the past 15 years or so. It’s been very much appreciated.