Because I can’t leave well enough alone and an obsession begun is an obsession finished. Once upon a time, in the beginning, the people who wanted to turn Resident Evil — the game — into a movie asked George Romero (yes, that Romero) to write them a spec script. Once I heard that, I had to track it down to see if we were better off with Paul W.S. Anderson’s script and vision, or see if we’d missed something wonderful.
I found the script.
Okay, the first thing you have to know is that the Romero spec script was rejected by the movie makers. That’s fair. The Romero spec script is bad. Really bad. Entertainingly bad. If you don’t want to read through it, here’s a summation, so you’ll be able to follow along with this post.
It’s obviously a first draft with all the concomitant errors — continuity, character retrofitting, etc. So what I’m looking at primarily are the obvious differences, and the really interesting differences.
Resident Evil: Romero has Chris Redfield as the protagonist, with Jill Valentine a secondary protagonist/love interest. Wesker is present and still sucks. Rain shows up but her name is Rosie here: her attitude is much the same. Ada Wong shows up as a beautiful scientist who was in love with Dr. Marcus. I am not a video gamer, but my friends who are and who have played Resident Evil assure me that the Romero script is much more true to the video game than the Anderson vision. Romero’s script makes a point of showing us the levels as they descend, and like the video game, each level has a different threat, including zombie sharks.
Okay, there are zombie sharks. So maybe the zombie ax-men weren’t all that bad….
Which raises all sorts of questions, ranging from: how does the T-virus affect non-mammalian things? Do you know how hard it is to import great white sharks from the sea? Ask an aquarium! There are reams and reams of forms. And do you think they’d survive being underground? They are epipelagic and mesopelagic creatures — they need sunlight. And what are you feeding them? And have you factored in power needs to filter that much salt water? Also, what the heck are you going to do with a zombie shark? You can’t exactly just open the gates and sic them on your enemies.
From what I understand — willing to be corrected! — the Romero script is based on Resident Evil’s first game, and a book called Resident Evil: The Umbrella Conspiracy by S.D. Perry.
The script makes some significant detours: while Jill is still a member of STARS, the elite paramilitary group, Chris has been recreated as a lone-wolf. Because really, Hollywood loves their loner heroes who get slapped with labels like “maverick” and “wildcard.” It’s very manly. This is a very manly script.
There are points of similarity between Romero’s script and Anderson’s Resident Evil — there’s a fancy mansion with labs below. There are zombies. There are laser beams. Though the ones in Romero’s script also spit acid, because that’s what they do. And Wesker loves his sunglasses.
Romero’s script is also much more purely a horror movie. And a pretty darn standard one at that. Summed up, there are zombies. An elite team and a loner go in and fight them; most of them die. There’s an inevitable betrayal. Our steadfast hero and love interest survive, and bring out a few survivors with them. There are heroic deaths; there are dumb deaths.
It’s a horror movie with the inevitable stinger that things will continue on as they began. The zombies are loose. The genie is out of the bottle and can not be shoved back in.
The Anderson script differs in some really significant ways, not least that he puts Alice, a made-up character, front and center. Both movies have multiple female characters — in fact, the Romero script actually has more: Ada, Rebecca, Jill, Rosie.
But I’d argue that Anderson did more with the women he wrote: Romero’s Ada, the scientist, aghast at what’s happened to Dr. Marcus’s genius invention, waits to die quietly in the zombie house, and has to be coaxed into surviving by Chris. In Anderson’s world, one of the scientists is a journalist/scientist determined to blow the cover off Umbrella’s misdeeds, even if she dies trying. Anderson’s Rain gets to be the bitten soldier who still makes the most of it for as long as she possibly can, who fights to survive. Romero’s Rosie is tough, doesn’t get bitten until the very last minute but then hurls herself onto a zombie to slow him down. Same heroics, but Rain’s struggle to survive is more interesting, I think.
Jill’s over-arcing conflict in the Romero script is: who should I listen to, my boss or my boyfriend? Alice’s over-arcing conflict is: how do I get all these people out alive while piecing together my past? I know which one is more interesting to me. Romero definitely tried to make women part of his story. Just not the hero of his story.
And let’s talk tone. Romero is horror 101; things leaping out of you at the dark, even referring to horror in the pop culture — he manages to shoehorn in reference to his own zombies in the Night of the Living Dead. Romero gives us the familiar story of “Science has wrought something it shouldn’t have, and it’s going to kill us, unless we kill it first.” That’s fine. I like that kind of horror. Ask me about my fondness for The Relic sometime. I’ll tell you.
But I think Anderson does something more interesting. He makes Resident Evil feel genuinely science fiction as well as horror.
The technology in the Romero script is all current-day tech or mad-scientist tech — kooky labs and all; Wesker and the crew move through the mansion’s levels with a series of color-coded key cards.
The technology in Anderson’s script is futuristic.
And it’s pervasive: from the underground Hive where people live and work; to the amnesiac gas that flattens Alice in the beginning; to the freaking Red Queen AI that runs a corporation.
It’s not fair to really compare sets, because who knows what the director of the Romero script would have come up with? I’m going to compare them anyway. Romero gives us all present-day settings; even when you get to the final scenes, where Romero spells out that the setting is futuristic. The problem is his version of futuristic is a wall of blinking buttons and switches and high tech computers on desks. There’s a pop-out disk that runs the computers. Not very futuristic.
At least not compared to Anderson’s Resident Evil, which begins with a futuristic looking lab, with strange helix vials of brightly colored viruses.
It begins with the Hive being violently locked down; people being trapped miles underground while fake windows show a fake sky. With Alice in a mansion atop the Hive, opening smart-glass drawers of weaponry after being gassed by a shower head. The whole movie begins with the Red Queen AI recognizing that the T-Virus security has been compromised.
So SF, definitely on tap. For a movie written more than 15 years ago, Anderson’s Resident Evil still feels plausibly futuristic. And that’s before we even get to the fully functional cloning factories in the next movies.
Interestingly to me, Romero’s story is very much about nature. And the unnaturalness of the T-Virus. Chris Redfield feeds freaking eagles and has Native American blood (Mohawk, specified), and as the script constantly reminds us, he’s at home with nature. He moves like a giant cat. He’s all about animals — he has a horse ranch, a slew of dogs, lives on a farm backing up on a forest, and helps the migrating eagles. Even the zombies in Romero’s vision are fucked-up animals, a clear indicator of nature gone wrong. There are zombie plants, zombie dogs, zombie apes, zombie crows, zombie bats, zombie copperhead snakes, and of course zombie sharks. And all these things are wrong/bad/terrible. Which of course they are, but that’s beside the point.
It’s clear cut in Romero’s script. Nature is good. Nature tampered with is evil. The opposite of natural is unnatural.
Anderson’s Resident Evil is more interesting than that. Romero gave us an isolated mansion in the woods. Anderson gives us a hive underneath a bustling city. Romero swears that unnatural is bad. Anderson’s script throws us clones and T-Virus-based super-powers, then makes those tools for the good guys. The T-Virus is bad, because Umbrella made it that way. They used it as a weapon. But the story is repeated in Anderson’s Resident Evil movies — the inventor of the T-Virus intended the virus to be a healing agent. Umbrella corrupted it. The evil here is not science; it’s greed. It’s corporations putting their own interests above that of humanity.
Our modern society has a love/hate affair with the artificial. We scream about trans-fats in our food, fear GMOs like they’re plague-vectors, and drink diet soda by the gallon. We stick cell phones to our skulls all day long and dye our hair brilliant shades of pink and blue and green and purple, and worry about power-lines and make up conspiracies about contrails overhead.
We talk about our bodies as temples, and inject botox. We take blood-thinners and insulin and psychiatric drugs and we save our own lives.
Nothing is clear-cut.
The opposite of natural is not unnatural, it is artificial.
Anderson’s Resident Evil says, hey, things man-made can be brilliant as well as terrible. Artificial can be beneficial as well as malevolent. Romero has the day saved (at least temporarily) by a man in touch with nature. In Anderson’s final chapter, the day is saved by three women, all artificial in one way or another, and frankly, if Umbrella had left well enough alone in Resident Evil, the day would have been saved by an AI, ruthlessly willing to sacrifice every worker in the Hive to keep the T-Virus contained.
Romero’s script is horror, which says the end times are now, and we’re all going to suffer and die. Anderson’s Resident Evil is SF, and the thing about SF, even horror-tinged SF? It says the future is survivable. It may be strange; it may be hard and scary; it may even be artificial. But it’s survivable. And that makes all the difference to me.