Although it wants serious respect, the CGI film Resident Evil: Damnation simply fails to impress.
The direct-to-home video market is an odd industry to be sure. Not good enough for A-list actors to bother with, but just busy enough to keep it moving, this aspect of Hollywood suffers from the “always the bridesmaid never the bride” syndrome. And who could blame anyone from rejecting them? Loose scripts that sorely need real Hollywood editing, poorly shot using inferior equipment, and a general sense that you’re in a 99 Cent Only store for movies does tend to keep the buying public away. And while the technological advantage that A-List movies enjoy is getting smaller, the industry is still way behind in terms of delivering quality stories. A good example of this is Resident Evil: Damnation, a CGI film produced by Sony Pictures that’s actually part of a catalog of films based on the popular video game. Unfortunately, its swagger is less Mick Jagger and more opening act in a disappointing release.
In the decades following World War II, the Cold War divided the world into free and oppressed nations; as the Soviet Union’s stranglehold weakened in the 1990’s, many of its satellite countries broke away, and attempted their own western-style free enterprise systems. But greed is a cancer of every ecomomy, and soon the gap between rich and poor overtook countries like the ficticious Eastern Slav Republic, blossoming into chaos on the streets and eventually a civil war. In this war-torn environment, the republic’s first female President Svetlana Belikova (Wendee Lee) attempted to reconcile the various factions to end the fighting. Unfortunately, peace was short-lived, as the government learned that the rebels’ territory was rich in natural resources, thus touching off another campaign to secure the land at any cost.
As the rebels begin to employ new and more violent tactics to overthrow the government, the US sends the agent Leon (Matthew Mercer) to assess the situation and to determine if the rebels are using BOWs (“Bio-Organic Weapons”), which many countries have banned. Upon learning that his stay will be cut short, Leon defies orders and remains, determined to sort out the truth. Soon, he’s captured by the rebels and learns that BOW’s are definitely being used in a sort of master-slave relationship through the use of a special injection. His troubles are soon magnified as the mysterious Ada Wong (Courtenay Taylor) enters the picture – Leon has had prior dealings with the femme fatale and soon realizes that he’s involved in the something far more sinister. Together with the rebels, Leon tries to end the conflict and expose President Belikova as the dark enemy behind the drapes.
Resident Evil: Damnation suffers from the same issues that absolutely plagues the direct-to-home releases: a lack of quality in the story. Filled with too many cliches, characters we don’t care about, and a plot that’s bereft of imagination, it wants big screen credibility but only further demonstrates that direct-to releases are always less-effective products. While there is a nice girl fight between Wong and the President (huh?), there’s little character development here, focusing instead on action. The result is that several pieces either don’t seem to fit or are horribly misplaced into the mix. Why rebels would employ the use of expensive BOW’s when they’re cash-strapped to begin things doesn’t make any sense. The entire zombie story isn’t fleshed out either, leaving one to wonder why such an important part of this puzzle wasn’t better explained. Our characters also seem one-dimensional, happy to exist as good-looking CGI creations, especially Ada, whose high skirt and crotch shots will only tease gamers hoping to see her in more compromising positions. I’m sure fans will enjoy the characters, the various revelations, and the way movie (all-too) comfortably resides into the Resident Evil universe. It is entertainment escapism to be sure, but when many aspects remind you of other movies (such as the president’s giant bald-headed warriors looking awfully like Prometheus engineers), you begin to wonder why you wasted the time. Anime Director Makoto Kamiya (RE: Regeneration) does use the full CGI palette with moderate results, with lots of Matrix-like slow-motions, but he also throws in a nice sequence in the underground facility as Leon pursues one of the BOW’s. Of the three voice actors, it’s Mercer’s who seems the best fit for our story: tough, with just enough compassion needed for a field agent, Mercer makes the most out of a script that needed more time in the microwave. In the end, the whole effect comes off no better than a really well-funded CGI game with a 100-minute runtime.
Resident Evil: Damnation is presented in a 1080p MPEG4/AVC format that was intended for home release; therefore, the print is digitally free of any errors because there was no conversion process needed. Having said that, there’s two nagging issues that prevent me from awarding a higher grade. First, there is a lack of graininess throughout the movie, which gives even the darkness of Act 1 a ‘soap opera’ look. Second, skin tones look too pasty, becoming very apparent each time a lesser character like JD or the president’s assistant is shown. This lack of a consistent treatment for all characters is prevalent throughout, demonstrating that the law of unitended consequences also affects the Blu-ray home market. Day scenes look good, especially those which highlight details of buildings and clothing. On the human side, our primary characters get good treatment with flowing hair, wrinkles on clothing, and fluid motion in their fight scenes. What helps these scenes (especially in the girl fight and final battle) is the lack of banding, aliasing, or edge enhancement that’s hurt previous RE releases. In that way, Damnation represents an improvement.
Damnation arrives in a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless track that’s uneven to say the least. While guns crackle and aircraft soar overhead in impressive fashion, two issues also persist. First is the lack of a presence in the rear speakers – environmentally, there is zero going on here. No dripping water effects in the underground scenes, no sounds of fire burning in the final battle. Everything here screams in the forward speakers. Depending on your setup, you might not even notice it; but for those who expect a rich sound field in their Blu’s, you will be seriously disappointed. A far more serious issue is that the vocal tracks do not match up to the lip movements. It’s maddening when the problem is accidental (due to issues with your home setup), but it’s unforgivable in a home release. The issue is more prevalent in those scenes which feature President Belikova or Ada. On the positive side, the LFE gets a nice workout here, pushing every rumble and thud through the subwoofer with excellent results. Also, dialogue is clear to the ears, mixing nicely with scenes involving gunfire or hand-to-hand combat, of which there is many. I also liked the soundtrack by T’s Music Co. (huh? sounds like a used record store), which sounds very good here. But it’s the shortcomings of the track which ultimately drag things down.
I’ll admit it’s hard to gird up enough supplements for a CGI release, but Damnation does offer a descent set of extras.
- Conceptual Art Gallery (1080p): A good collection of hand-drawn sketches that shows off how several of the characters evolved throughout the process.
- Las Plagas: Organisms of War (1080p, 6:59) – This short film does a good job filling in backstory surrounding the creatures seen in the film.
- The DNA of Damnation (1080p, 30:03) – Clearly the best offering here, the filmmakers discuss the story, action, and characters, then transitions to the process of bringing their vision into the digital realm. We see how motion capture was utilized, and the process of bringing the 3D experience to light.
- Gag Reel (1080p, 6:03) – A totally unnecessary offering, several scenes are ‘re-voiced’ – I would have loved a short on the score by T’s Music Co.
- Game Trailers (HD) – Resident Evil 6 (3:54), Devil May Cry (2:14), Dragon’s Dogma (2:06)
- Previews – Additional Sony titles
- UV Digital Copy
Our 2D evaluation copy did not come with a slipcase or a DVD of the film. Several companies like Sony are now offering clasp-locking amaray cases which fail only after a couple of openings – Damnation has one of these, and I’ve already experienced some issues keeping it locked.
Resident Evil: Damnation offers audiences nothing new, happily existing as a straight-to-home release with the same zombie/creature antics to which we’ve become accustomed. Too many cliches and a predictable script might fail to keep the attention of its audience. The video presentation is good, the supplements are fair, but several issues with the audio are frustrating. The release proves that while technology is making strides in the direct-to-home market, we’re still miles away in terms of story and overall presentation. I only recommend it as a rental, and only for those who enjoy the game series. Otherwise, I’d skip it. Resident Evil: Damnation is rated R for bloody violence.