Saturday, April 06, 2013

Video Game Cinema

“Video Game Cinema” doesn’t only refer to movies based on video games but instead applies to movies which are constructed and edited like a video game. Video games have come a long way from the 1980’s style arcade action and shoot’ em games. Contemporary video games can be divided into multiple genres, contain numerous characters & complicated plots and often include a cinematic sequences called cutscene, which fills in the backstory about characters and their mission. Also, with the rapid evolution in computer graphics, most games feature life-like characters modeled after actors whose movements and facial expressions are captured to create authentic video game replicas. 

Although, as video games get more complicated and involve multiple role playing characters, most video game movies follow an arcade style plot where a single character achieves small goals leading to a final mission completion sequence. The Resident Evil series, Raid: The Redemption and the two Crank movies are examples of such video game cinema which feature a single character moving from one crisis to another. Gamer is also an example of a video game cinema but it is the only one in this spotlight which contains a richly defined complicated world with multiple characters competing for control in a single frame.

Part I of this spotlight looks at all five Resident Evil movies while Part II will cover the cinema of Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor.

Resident Evil Movies

Any discussion about video game cinema has to start with Paul W.S Anderson. He directed Mortal Kombat in 1995, at a time when video game movies rarely made their way into cinemas. In 2002, he directed the first Resident Evil movie and has written all the movies in the series and directed 3 of the 5 movies so far. He will also direct the 6th movie in the series due in 2014.

Resident Evil (2002, Paul W.S. Anderson)
Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004, Alexander Witt)
Resident Evil: Extinction (2007, Russell Mulcahy)
Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010, Paul W.S. Anderson)
Resident Evil: Retribution (2012, Paul W.S. Anderson)

The movies are based on a video game and for the most part, all 5 features follow a video game format where one central character, Alice (Milla Jovovich), moves from one action sequence to another. The first movie contains the most dialogue as it outlines the origins of the T-virus and how the infection ended up getting released from the Umbrella Corporation's underground facility (Hive).

Each movie recaps prior events so a viewer does not need to worry about seeing all the previous movies. Subsequent movies provide a little more information about Alice's past but for the most part, the movies are about Alice killing infected and mutated creatures. The subtitles in the movies refer to the creatures as zombies but that word is never used to describe the flesh eating walking dead in any of the movies.

The on-screen action is kept simplistic like an old fashioned arcade game where there are easily classifiable targets that have to be taken out. Once Alice or her allies kill the creatures, then they proceed to the next frame where more creatures await. Resident Evil: Extinction has some outdoor shots in the desert where multiple characters try to kill the zombies but usually Alice and just an additional character is present to do the killing. Alice finds new helpers as the movies progress with Claire (Ali Larter) doing her part in Extinction and Afterlife and Ada Wong (Bingbing Li) in Retribution. This is also a rare series where woman take centre stage both in terms of heroes and villains. The villain of the first four movies is the Umbrella Corporation headed by Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts) but the fifth movie finally reveals that the Red Queen computer, shown in the first movie, has gone rogue and taken over. As the name indicates, Red Queen is a female and her personification is a little girl. 

Throughout the series, villains often become allies to Alice in taking out a bigger threat. Or characters that were dead often return back in different roles. Each movie has a well defined end goal that must be reached and the returning characters either assist or stand in the way. The last two movies Afterlife and Retribution are basically cliffhangers that end by revealing that a bigger threat lays waiting.

The 5th movie, Retribution, so far is the high point of the series video game look and feel. By showing the computer as the villain, characters are given a clue as to where their next threat will come from.

For example, as Alice and Ada move through the city simulated landscape (New York), Red Queen’s voice indicates that the New York sequence has been initiated, alerting Alice and Ada that threats are on the way.

The audience also gets their cue as to a fight will take place. Also, just like in a video game, the music changes when a villain is about to enter the frame. Basically, Retribution feels like seeing a video game in demo mode.

All the movies don’t get good reviews because if one treats them as conventional movies, then it is frustrating to watch repetitious sequences over and over. On the other hand, if one sees the movies as simply live video games, then it allows one to get through them. Also, one can see the influence of some shots from this series in The Walking Dead. The Resident Evil movies feature overhead shots showing cluster of zombies narrowing on a target. Such shots can be found in Season One of The Walking Dead. Of course, the TV series has more focus on character development and dialogue driven scenarios whereas Resident Evil strips most of the dialogue out.

Other reading

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky.

R. Emmet Sweeney and Dave Kehr.


Sam Juliano said...

Brilliant scholarly essay with all sorts of intricate observations and insights. It is a genre I am far too unversed on, but this is really a definitive reference on some widely popular films.

Sachin said...

Thanks so much for your kind words Sam. I was vaguely familiar with this genre but decided to give it a closer look. Found it enjoyable.

Anonymous said...

Creating a game is very though job because in the video game there are multiple works to do like graphics,multimedia, multi functions and some other features. So to develop a game is great work.
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