LOS ANGELES: Like a horde of undead, “Resident Evil” has shuffled relentlessly forward over six films, taking a fleshy US$1.2 billion chunk from movie-goers to become the biggest ever cinematic video game tie-in.
Unlike the eviscerated victims of the franchise’s bloodthirsty genetically modified flesh-eaters, however, the creators of “Resident Evil” are going out on their own terms.
Director Paul W.S. Anderson has said the DVD and Blu-ray of “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter,” released this week, will be the last offering from a series that has been savaged by critics but adored by its loyal devotees.
When the idea for the first film, “Resident Evil,” germinated from a marathon gaming session at the turn of the millennium, the world wasn’t exactly crying out for another video game turned into a movie.
“It was a movie that was made against the odds. It was made outside of the studio system with no American involvement,” Anderson, 53, told AFP.
“At our very first test screening, if we hadn’t scored really very high, the movie was going to go straight to DVD and there would have been no franchise.”
At that stage, around a dozen game adaptations had already been tried, starting with “Super Mario Bros.” in 1993.
A few — the first two “Pokemon” films, “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” and Anderson’s own “Mortal Kombat” — did very respectable business at the box office but all were panned by critics.
Japanese developer Capcom’s blood-spattered “Resident Evil” had grown into a global phenomenon however and Anderson felt it could buck the trend.
The 52-year-old British writer-director cut himself off from the world to immerse himself in the game, emerging bleary-eyed two weeks later with an idea for a movie.
“I felt it was way ahead of the curve. It was talking about things that people weren’t paying any attention to, this idea of corporate malfeasance and the fact that your government probably wasn’t looking after your best interests,” he said.
The movie, based loosely on the first two video games follows a special ops unit as it fights a powerful, out-of-control supercomputer and hundreds of scientists who have mutated into flesh-eating creatures after a laboratory accident.
Anderson shot almost the entire movie in Berlin but was mid-air on the way to filming the final scene in Canada on September 11, 2001 when two planes slammed into the World Trade Center in New York.
“I was one of the last flights out of New York to Toronto, and we ended up just closing down the shoot and doing it a month later, because it became a no-fly zone,” said Anderson, who produced all six chapters, directing the first and the final three.
“Originally the movie was called ‘Resident Evil: Ground Zero.’ We obviously had to change that.”
“Resident Evil” (2002) was an immediate hit, more than tripling its $33 million budget, and the trend throughout its sequels has been an upward trajectory towards the $312 million box office receipts of “The Final Chapter.”
The series is unusual in the world of blockbuster franchises in that it has been carried over 15 years by a single female lead, Milla Jovovich, who made her name in “The Fifth Element” (1997), briefly marrying its French director Luc Besson
Mutual respect blossomed into love for Anderson and Jovovich, 41. The pair married in 2009 — between “Extinction” and “Afterlife” — and have two daughters, the eldest of whom made her film debut in “The Final Chapter.”
“When I first came to Hollywood to make ‘Mortal Kombat’ back in the day, there was this rule that female-led action movies don’t work and American studios didn’t want to make them,” Anderson said.
Despite its brave casting, critics were not kind to the series — Time Out’s review of “Resident Evil” as a “derivative, tedious mess” wasn’t an outlier — but the first movie in particular has since grown a passionate fanbase and more generous reviews.
“There are so many movies that receive critical pannings and then become classics. It’s really nice to be in that bunch, to be honest,” said Jeremy Bolt, the producer for most of Anderson’s movies, including all six “Resident Evil” films.
The home entertainment release was marked Tuesday with a special screening in Hollywood of the original “Resident Evil,” arranged by superfan Kory Davis, who is better known as film fan and Twitter personality @moviedude18.
“The games were really good at first and then they kind of lost their way but I feel like the movies stayed consistent,” he said.
Next up for Anderson is “Monster Hunter,” another Capcom video game adaptation which is actually outselling “Resident Evil.”
“I’m staying in my wheelhouse, not making any romantic comedies in a hurry,” he joked.