Friday, June 12, 2015

Resident Evil: Extinction

"It feels like Mad Max."
-Milla Jovovich (SciFiNow #7)-

In keeping with the spirit of the apocalypse, we turn our attention to a raging zombie apocalypse. Resident Evil: Extinction (2007) follows our inspections of both Resident Evil (2002) here and Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004) here. And while Resident Evil: Extinction may lack the originality of the Mad Max series this installment definitely channels the desolate energy of the aforementioned series set against a desert-based aftermath. It could never pretend to be the genius of a George Miller classic. It does however give the Resident Evil franchise a change of venue, some altered scenery in which to invest a new look into its zombie nightmare.

Perhaps it was the high expectations placed upon the second installment, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, that doomed it from the very beginning. It seems the harshest criticisms of the franchise have been unfairly bestowed upon that sophomore outing.

Thus, by the time the third entry in the Resident Evil franchise arrived expectations were apparently lowered. This third installment, Resident Evil: Extinction, would have the unenviable distinction of being the shortest story in the movie franchise. Though, in an era where films seem often too long and unruly and lacking a judicious editor there is something rather welcoming about a mean, lean, refined, quick and dirty little Resident Evil picture.

The success or failure of the film, these merits are certainly always subject to debate when it comes to Resident Evil, rested squarely on the shoulders of journeyman Australian director Russell Mulcahy, the third new director in the series behind Paul W. S. Anderson and Alexander Witt.

The latest seemed a perfect choice for Mulcahy. The film fell very much within his aesthetic wheelhouse. Mulcahy clearly ran with a bright, outdoor, desert aesthetic, which allowed him to create a film that ran in stark contrast to the dark, night time saturation of Resident Evil: Apocalypse or the deep underground basement vibe of the original. Resident Evil: Extinction was a full-on zombie assault actioner without the suspense and mood of the original. It also benefitted from its daylight filming in much the same way the Mad Max pictures could be enjoyed. Viewers could actually see everything vividly and brilliantly better than ever. This third film also seemed to spare no expense on make-up utilized for the zombie hordes, because they looked quite fabulous, well, for zombies.

The cinematographic look of Resident Evil: Extinction is really no accident. It shouldn't come as a surprise when one considers the career of the gritty Mulcahy. This third zombie retreat was suited perfectly for the man behind the camera.

Mulcahy established a name for himself with folks of my generation by squarely establishing himself as one of the premiere music video directors of the MTV generation. In fact, for a time, Mulcahy was synonymous with the biggest band in the world for a time: Duran Duran. Mulcahy's imprint on Duran Duran's music video output in the act's glory days was nothing short of prolific. For a time, Mulcahy delivered video after sterling video for the band proving that there was not only an audience hungry like the wolf for music videos, but one hungry for music video coupled with a genuine cinematic presentation. Along with MTV, Duran Duran wrote the book on making music videos. The band almost singlehandedly revolutionized the standard for them and Mulcahy certainly had an impact on that development. I mean Duran Duran was synonymous with music videos. They were the face of music videos and their pretty boy good looks coupled with that kind of exposure worked very much to the band's detriment despite really being a force in music still going strong as of this writing. How many 80s bands can say that? How many 80s bands could survive the kind of critical backlash and effort by the media and critics and still come out a survivor? Clearly not many. Mulcahy with Duran Duran were making something visually and historically special for a period. Planet Earth, My Own Way, Lonely In Your Nightmare, the haunting Night Boat, the classic Save A Prayer, Rio, Hungry Like The Wolf, Is There Something I Should Know?, The Reflex and the extended short film Wild Boys (for the Arena film). WOW! Never mind that Mulcahy worked with Spandau Ballet (True), Elton John, Ultravox, Bonnie Tyler, Icehouse, Kim Carnes, Billy Joel, Berlin, Culture Club, The Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac and even Queen for the obvious Highlander (1986) scoring of which Mulcahy also directed.

Signs of Resident Evil could be glimpsed early in such sun-baked desert heavy works as the Mulcahy conceived Union Of The Snake. In Union Of The Snake a Mad Max-styled band of survivors (Duran Duran) is forced across an apocalyptic landscape overrun by the science fiction of humanoid snake people. Shot in the Australian desert, the video looks fantastic as the band members of Duran Duran take refuge from the snake creatures in an underground lair deep below the desert. Strange maybe, but these ideas ring familiar and are tied to the mind of Mulcahy.

Mulcahy had reached his zenith in the music video world while directing Duran Duran's big ideas culminating in the live/concept concert film Arena (1985) and the centerpiece song and music video Wild Boys. Mulcahy suggested the band create a song based on author William S. Burroughs' The Wild Boys: A Book Of The Dead (1971). The song's concepts as well as those crafted for the music video directly reflected the aforementioned book thanks to the bold vision of Mulcahy. These grand ideas not only recalled the spirit of Mad Max but channeled the work of Burroughs. Wild Boys, the music video, cost an exorbitant one million dollars. It was intended by Mulcahy as a teaser-like lure for film studios in the hopes he could bring to life his vision of a much larger film of that book on which Wild Boys was based. The story centered on a homosexual youth movement with an eye toward the downfall of Western civilization. The setting was the apocalyptic, late twentieth century. Mulcahy had hoped to make that film and even turned to Duran Duran to score it as a soundtrack, in much the same way Queen handled the music chores for Highlander. It was never to be.

Unfortunately for Duran Duran and Mulcahy, Arena arrived to poor reviews and perhaps the beginning of the end of Duran Duran's Midas touch at stratospheric levels of popularity. Despite the setback, that apocalyptic, Burroughs-inspired, George Miller-infused aesthetic was perfectly visualized and realized by Mulcahy for Wild Boys. Wonderful, raggedy costume design, mutant and monster prosthetics and make-up, pyrotechnic visuals and a world fully-realized on the stage of Pinewood Studios transformed Duran Duran inside an apocalyptic world of pop art. So, for a time, Mulcahy and Duran Duran had formed an elaborate bond of music and film art that seemed to create a kind of cinematic fusion that became synonymous with MTV and music videos. The symbiotic relationship and symmetry seemed to work in spades.

And how did this become a lesson in music history and Duran Duran? It's hard to resist history or any connection to music in the 1980s. But much of this indeed paved the way for a director comfortable in making films like Tale Of The Mummy (1988), Mysterious Island (2005), The Curse Of King Tut's Tomb and The Scorpion King 2: Rise Of A Warrior (2008) as well as an episode of Jeremiah (2002). So of course Resident Evil: Extinction was a natural move for Mulcahy and a sizable genre pick. The film was a comfortable and natural fit to a man who once desired to take on such big, end of the world apocalyptic-sized ideas. Mulcahy seemed the perfect director for the objective of global extinction and now deserted civilization.

In many ways Resident Evil: Extinction feels the most like the journey to find the living and the uninfected concept that would infuse AMC's popular The Walking Dead (2010) series three years later. We see a rag tag group makes its way to Alaska rather than Terminus and we even have a prison setting in both.

There are plenty of creative moments within the entry whereby zombie killing should be creative and fun and Mulcahy doesn't disappoint in this.

Like any Resident Evil film, Resident Evil: Extinction won't set the world on fire or command a lasting legacy in the same manner as the esteemed George Miller Mad Max series, as much as Jovovich would like to marry the two, but this third entry makes for an entertaining, efficient and economic zombie actioner set against a sun-baked desert apocalypse vibe with loads of great practical effects. The aesthetic also contrasts nicely against the first two Resident Evil entries rounding out a rather solid, varied trilogy despite those that would have you believe otherwise.

How appropriate to add Ali Larter of TV's Heroes (2006-2010) acclaim with the infusion of a super-powered Alice, a living weapon a la the Ellen Ripley character of Alien Resurrection (1997). With these new layers to the mythology, along with the well-mined cloning concepts, there's actually a good bit on the mind in Mulcahy's well-framed, nicely lensed film. It may have its derivative inspirations including an homage to Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds and an immortals-like smack down ripped right from Mulcahy's own Highlander, but the execution is fun, effective with a taut running time that leaves no room to meander.

At the very least plenty of men (and women) can identify with all of the zombie excitement as much as they can the action heroine of Milla Jovovich. Can you imagine cloning Alice (Milla)? There could be one for every hot-blooded male on the planet. In Resident Evil, her presence always has a way of raising the (ahem) bar.

Future gamer as in Game Of Thrones player Iain Glen.
Ah, Ashanti, only you can make us happy.
Ali Larter: A hero once again.
Not her sexiest moment.
Not exactly Mad Max: Fury Road or Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.


Unknown said...

Ah, I was hoping you'd tackle my fave installment in the seemingly endless RESIDENT EVIL series. I like it for the fact that it marries the zombie movie with the post-apocaylpse movie. It's an interesting fusion that Mulcahy and co. pull off. Also, nice overview of the man's career. I love what he did with the first HIGHLANDER movie but I felt that after that one he never fully realized his potential and has gone on to become something of a journeyman director.

I think one of the reasons why I like EXTINCTION so much is the addition of Ali Larter to the franchise. She brings a rawness to the mix that plays well off of Milla Jovovich. Plus, it is great to see TWO female protagonists in the same movie, kicking some major ass as well. I'm glad that they kept Ali around for the next movie but was bummed when she wasn't included in the one after that. Maybe they couldn't coordinate schedules?

Anyways, thoroughly enjoyed your take on this movie - it makes me want to watch it again!

Richard Bellush said...

I think the apocalyptic genre is so enduringly popular in part because so many of our interactions with other people in everyday life are frankly unpleasant. Drivers cut us off, sellers demand payment from us, customers complain, bosses, co-workers gossip, bureaucrats make us wait in line, kids scream, lovers cheat, neighbors are rude, etc., etc. It’s no wonder we sometimes fantasize about making them all go away and leave us alone. So long as it stays a fantasy it is probably healthily cathartic. Then there is the metaphor for our own mortality.

And, of course, Milla is cute.

Franco Macabro said...

What got me to watch this one was the fact that it was directed by Russell Mulcahy, because I'm a huge Highlander fan. As I watched it, I noticed how much Mulcahy infused into this film, at times it feels like a Highlander film, turns out this one ended up being one of my favorite in the franchise. That scene with the zombie birds reminded me a similar scene in Lucio Fulci's Zombie 3, I liked Extinction just enough to keep me coming back for all the others. The Resident Evil franchise is a guilty pleasure of mine, I keep seeing every sequel..though I have to admit part 6 was the worst so far.

SFF said...

J.D. I recall quite vividly your love for this particular episode. I remember conversing with you about it or hearing your thoughts about it a few years back.

The "journeyman director". I agree. The man did a nice job with this film and Highlander is also another solid endeavor yet he never received the accolades or notice to sort of take it to the next level.

I like the two female lead combination as well. Thank you J.D.

SFF said...

Richard. Loved your commentary in and of itself. So true. Thanks for writing that.

SFF said...

It does have its Highlander inspiration in spots. I agree.

I think the last two have sort of lacked some of the uniqueness and strength visually of these first three installments. Still entertaining mind you but they are starting to blend together so much so you can lose count since there is no Resident Evil 6 as of this writing. ;) But I know what you mean. Ha.

Thanks Francisco.

Franco Macabro said...

I believe it was Jovovich becoming a mom (again!) that slowed down part 6, but according to him and JOvovich, it is getting made! After the way part 6 ended, I'm curious as to how it will end. I hope Anderson makes it cool, cause part five felt a bit sloppy and disjointed.