Paul W.S. Anderson has been making Resident Evil movies for 15 years, and with the franchise finally complete, we caught up with him to talk about what it's like to say goodbye to the world of Alice and the Umbrella Corporation.
As Resident Evil: The Final Chapter hits Blu-ray on May 16, Anderson opened up about the legacy of the series, how he decided on the exact scene that would end the franchise (it was all about the smile), and whether or not we'll ever see any more Resident Evil on the big screen (of course, duh). We also asked him about the wider world of video game adaptations and why Resident Evil has been able to succeed where so many others have failed.
Outside the undead realm, we pressed Anderson for an update on his next project, Monster Hunter (it could shoot early next year), and the legacy of his modern classic sci-fi flick Event Horizon, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year (seriously, that movie is still terrifying).
As we all say goodbye to the world of Resident Evil, here's our deep dive with Anderson into how it all comes to an end. SPOILERS AHEAD for Resident Evil: The Final Chapter.
This film laid out a whole lot of the mythology for the series going back to the beginning, from Alice's origin to Umbrella's motivations. How much of that did you have mapped out from the beginning, and how does it feel to finally answer those questions?
Paul W.S. Anderson: It's really satisfying to bring the franchise to a close, but also full circle to where it all began. In a way I hope it makes people reanalyze the whole franchise. That it makes you want to watch the first movie again. A lot of those elements were in my mind from the first movie. The relationship between Alice and the Red Queen, that her memory loss may not be as coincidental as it seemed. The agenda of the Umbrella Corporation and the T Virus. Those were ideas I had back in 2000 writing the screenplay. It was just in my wildest dreams that I kind of hoped there'd be a franchise that would let me tell that story.
Why was this the right time to end the series, and why was this the right story to end it on?
When I came back to the director's chair for the fourth Resident Evil, I said, 'We made one trilogy, and I'm excited to make another trilogy in 3D.' I always planned another three movies, and then bringing everything to a close. Six films is one exceptionally good run. I wanted to end the franchise on a high note with a quality movie that had a huge look to it. Where we could really feel we delivered for the fans. A lot of franchises overstay their welcome. But you want to leave everyone wanting more, instead of less.
We've been very fortunate, and worked hard to achieve this, with every movie growing the audience. I didn't want to get to a point where the audience was diminishing for these films. Creatively, I felt two trilogies, that's an incredibly good run. I'd kind of done everything I wanted to do in this world. I still had a lot of ideas I wanted to incorporate, and that's one reason this movie is non-stop action. I feel I've accomplished everything I wanted to do in the post-apocalyptic setting.
Can you talk about how you decided on the final scene, with Alice finally getting her happy ending, but still out there on the road fighting monsters? Why is that the way you chose to end the franchise?
We went through some different iterations. There was one draft where I killed Alice. It was just so bleak, that it felt like it would be a slap in the face for the fans who followed her over six movies and 15 years. That the end of her story would end in tragedy. So, I wanted something more uplifting. The actual details of the final scenes came together as we were shooting, and we had a slightly different ending that I knew wasn't right, but I thought we could come up with something that could emerge organically as we were shooting the movie. One day, we were shooting some motorbike stuff, and I said to MIlla [Jovovich] that I think this is what the end of the movie will be. She gave me a range of different emotions until that one moment where she looks in the mirror and smiles. When I saw that, I said 'Bam, that's the end of the franchise. That's our closing shot.' The rest of that sequence came around that one moment. It was the perfect gift to me as a director.
'There was one draft where I killed Alice'
It's also the right kind of ending. It was uplifting, and came off the emotions of Alice having the memories she's been lacking for the entire franchise, and for the first time, she's finally a whole person. It was obviously emotional for me because it involves my wife, Milla, and my daughter was playing the Red Queen. And those childhood memories shown in the movie are actually home footage we've shot over the past six years … I think that really gave it an organic feel."
Alice obviously wasn't in the video games but has endured as much or more than any other character related to this franchise. Looking back, how did you decide that Alice was the right character to lead this franchise from the start?
I feel Alice is based on archetypes that existed within the game. The strong woman was there with Jill Valentine and Claire Redfield. The game has strong men, too, but also strong women. I thought it was more original to have a woman at the heart of a film like this. I felt like it was something not explored enough in American cinema at the time. You had the Alien franchise, which I loved so much, so I was keen to have a woman there. I thought it was suggested by the video game.
I wasn't keen on taking a character from the game, because then you know that character is safe. I feel like, since none of our characters from movie one appear in the game, I was free to kill them in whatever order I wanted. At the start, it may have annoyed fans of the games that they didn't see Jill and Claire immediately, but I think it gave the first movie an unpredictability. Since the events are not in the game, you have no idea who is going to die and when they're going to die. I think it leads to some classic scenes, like the laser corridor. It cemented the kind of shock and horror and intensity you'd have never gotten if we'd done a straight adaptation, because everyone who played the game would know who is going to die and what order. There are no narrative surprises, and surprise is what you need.
The predictive combat was an interesting element to introduce with the climactic fight scene in The Final Chapter. But after working on this franchise for so long, how do you approach the challenge to make sure you're doing something fresh with the action that fans have come to expect from this franchise?
I love movies, and I watch a lot of them. So, I'm aware of what's being done in other films. I see it as part of my challenge, as the writer-director, to bring something fresh to the table. I'm definitely helped by Milla in that regard. She reads everything I write, and she'll tell me if I haven't done it, yet. 'The action's not good enough.' She's said it so many times, and is always right. So many of the signature sequences, like in Afterlife, the needle dive. that was a result of Milla pushing me. Jumping off the prison roof with the zombies coming off like lemmings? That was Milla pushing for bigger and better. She read the first draft of Final Chapter, and the upside-down fight, she said 'That's amazing. That action scene. But, the rest isn't as good as that. It all needs to be that good.' So I went through a process over many months of working harder. She's a very good motivator, and we obviously have a very good relationship, and she always pushes me to deliver, both for her and for the fans. One of my challenges is to come up with new and exciting action, and if I get it by Milla, then the fans should really enjoy it.
A whole lot of video game to film adaptations don't do all that well. But Resident Evil managed to buck that trend. Why do you think Resident Evil was able to connect in a way other game adaptations have failed?
I think it definitely helped that me, as a filmmaker, I had experience because of Mortal Kombat. I learned a lot about game adaptations, what to do and not to do, working on that … Just like with Mortal Kombat, I was also already a fan of the video game. I'd invested heavily, as far as time, playing the games. I knew the ins and outs, I knew the strengths, and what gamers enjoyed about playing it. I tried to deliver that in the movie. It's not as simple as just copying the video game, which is where a lot of these come to grief. What you have to do is deliver the joys of playing the game, and that's slightly different in terms of film. You have to please two audiences. The hardcore fans who know the game, but also please people who don't know anything about the game. Trying to please both of these, without alienating either, is a harder task than people imagine. I think a lot studios look at games and say it looks like a movie, how difficult can it be? It turns out, it's quite difficult.
Your series may be complete, but Hollywood loves a good reboot. Do you think we'll eventually see more Resident Evil on the big screen?
I'm sure there will be a reboot at some point, but certainly as far as my involvement, I feel live I've achieved everything I want to. I'm a little ambivalent about reboots. Yes, studios at the moment are obsessed with intellectual property, but not in a terribly healthy way, I think. Everything is cyclical. When I first came to America with Mortal Kombat, the idea of making something based on something else was looked down upon. Everything was original ideas back then, and no one was really into existing intellectual property. Now, you look at what's happening. Everything has to be based on something else. Even if it's not terribly meaningful. Everything has to be a reboot. Go look at the history of reboots, and more often than not, these fail because people don't really want it. I think it's one thing you can do like a soft reboot on Jurassic Park, which came 15 years after the last movie. That's different than rebooting something when fans just watched the last movie two or three years ago, and may not want it.
'I'm sure there will be a reboot at some point'
You're actually developing another video game series for the big screen in Monster Hunter. What can you tell us about the film's progress, and what attracted you to the property in the first place?
I love Monster Hunter. It's very much a crown jewel for Capcom, and now in terms of sales, it's actually outselling Resident Evil. It's an amazingly beautiful game, with amazing landscapes and worlds created with these fantastic creatures. It's a wonderfully cinematic video game. I'm very excited to take that world and bring it to a cinema screen. It's something I've been working on for a while. There are no guarantees on anything, but I'm hoping to start prepping at the end of this year to shoot next year.
A bit off topic: This year is the 20th anniversary of your movie Event Horizon, a movie that wasn't a huge hit upon release, thought it really found an audience and a lot of love among sci-fi fans in the years since. Looking back, what do you see as the legacy of Event Horizon? Why do you think it's endured?
It's funny, when the movie came out I screened it for Kurt Russell, who I was just about to work with [on Soldier]. The box office had been respectable, but nothing amazing. So, after seeing it, he told me that in 15 years, that'll be the movie you're really glad you made. He said to forget the reaction now, that the movie is something you'll be proud of. He was 100 percent right. I think, really, the things that made it a hard sale at the time are its strengths. It didn't show the creature, the monster, because it was something more cerebral. It sent you out of the cinema discussing it. I think that's what's allowed the movie to endure. It doesn't serve up any easy answers. Where, if it was tied up with a neat bow, it may have been more successful at the box office, but I don't think it would've endured the way it has.
The lesson I learned on that movie is that less is more, sometimes. Keeping things from the audience and not showing gruesome details can be far more effective than putting your worst nightmares on screen. For years, I've had people coming up to me and telling me they saw terrible things in the movie that I never shot. It leaves so much to the imagination. That's what's powerful, because nothing scares people more than they can scare themselves. That's what Event Horizon addresses. People's worst fears.