Resident Evil: Damnation (US - BD)
Gabe watches another batch of cut-scenes and never gets to play along.
Usually when I’m left to review a movie based on a videogame, I find mostly confused because I didn’t play the game the movie is based upon. This goes extra for animated movies based on videogames that are delegated to a limited STV (or, more likely, STV/theatrical only in Japan) market. These films are usually even less concerned with including the non-gamer audience in on the universe. However, I’ve actually played most of the Resident Evil games! I’ve even seen Capcom and Sony’s previous CG animated feature, Resident Evil: Degeneration, which is set firmly inside the game series’ ultra-convoluted, ongoing series narrative. I’m also familiar with all but the latest of the never-ending live-action Resident Evil movies, which feature their very own ultra convoluted narrative universes, minus all the fun of playing a videogame. I still have a soft spot for Paul W.S. Anderson’s original Resident Evil, but can’t really say why I keep watching the parade of sequels, which are only remarkable in that they grow exponentially duller with each episode, despite a rich well of wacky concepts borrowed from the infinitely more entertaining videogames. My point is – I’m not going to be left in the dust by Degeneration’s sequel, Resident Evil: Damnation. By the sound of that title, shit is about to get real.
The story apparently follows the events of Degeneration with fan favourite Leon S. Kennedy (voiced by Matthew Mercer) being dropped and basically abandoned in the ‘East Slavic Republic’ (a Resident Evil series equivalent to about a dozen Eastern European countries) to verify rumors that Bio-Organic Weapons (BOWs) are being illegally used in the country's civil war. From here, he unravels a conspiracy and fights monsters in an increasingly pulpy nature, all in keeping with the franchise’s trademark conventions.
I spent a lot of time on my recent Starship Troopers: Invasion review, complaining about the lack of truly good CG animated features from Japan. I find that many of these films are gorgeous ( Invasion is not among them) and almost free of thematic satisfaction. Degeneration got awful close to satisfaction, but was ultimately another series of cool ideas and images without a decent narrative tether. Damnation starts off with an ambitious idea, then quickly settles into the series’ normal pattern of over-expositional dialogue, excessively artsy-fartsy flashbacks, and episodic action. This is fine for videogame storytelling, where the plot only acts to move the audience from action scene to action scene, but, when we aren’t permitted to actually play the game, it proves silly. I’m assuming some of the human touch of the dialogue and characters are also lost in translation. I find it’s actually easier to generate sympathy for Leon when I’m playing as him. In these movie situations he’s too much of an invincible hero and merely the catalyst for future action sequences. It is amusing to watch him be entirely nonplused by zombies, though. Assuming you’re prepared to deal with a particularly simple story that seems to think it’s complicated, the bigger problem here is the dopey sidekick named JD that the filmmakers saddle Leon with for the first two acts. He’s like the Jar Jar Binks of the film.
Director Makoto Kamiya, who worked on the special effects for Gammera the Spinning Turtle’s late ‘90s return theaters and directed Degeneration, does a better job with the artificial shaky-cam techniques that are so popular these days, but tends to overuse P.O.V. shots. Obviously, these are supposed to recall the look of game play, which is counterproductive because this is a movie, not a video game. I’m not sure if I’ve harped on that point enough yet. Kamiya’s other attempts at aping the live action format are more hit than miss, especially the shots featuring evocative, impressionistic shafts of smoky light. I’m somewhat surprised by his overall restraint in terms of super-slow-motion, which has been a genre and Resident Evil mainstay for quite some time now. The animation is top of the line for type, besting just about every similar film I’ve seen outside of maybe Final Fantasy: Advent Children, which I believe had a much bigger budget ( Damnation recycles many sets from the Resident Evil 5 videogame, leading me to assume it was a relatively cheap production). Character movements are more dynamic without the weird, floaty issues that plagued Starship Troopers: Invasion, likely due to hands-on animators that know motion capture is only part of the finished job (this does not apply to JD, who is both annoying and badly animated). Anyone familiar with the cut-scenes in the series since it made the jump to the HD gaming formats will know what to expect. The facial animation is a bit of an uncanny valley issue, though not as much as you’d expect. As long as characters aren’t speaking they could be confused with real actors or at least real actors shot through some excessive filters. As any Resident Evil fan knows, however, it is the transformation and creature animation that sets the series apart. These are a bit few and far between for my liking, but do satisfy when they crop up. The new creature design introduced during the climax is pretty great.
Once again, I’m shocked at how perfect an entirely CG animated film looks on Blu-ray. Wait, I mean the other thing. The opposite of shocked, because of course this entirely CG animated film (from the owner of the Blu-ray format, no less) looks great in 1080p, 1.78:1 video. The incredibly detailed and highly textured animation is better constructed than similar films, ensuring that the range of detail isn’t lost in either the prevalent darkness (the bulk of the film takes place either at night or indoors with little lighting) or because too many similar elements intersect. There’s also a wider range of colours than those seen in Starship Troopers: Invasion, though most of the hues are relatively subtle. Costume bits and props (especially red and green ones) occasionally bounce from the relatively desaturated amber and grey settings, but the most aggressively poppy elements are usually monstrous, especially the blood red eyes of the infected. The virtual lighting rigs are often set soft, giving this transfer the added advantage of embracing softer textures without flattening the image, making for a more natural look overall. I’m most impressed with the complex wide-shots, which feature all the detail and none of the compression artefacts (save a handful of low-level noise issues on the warmer background hues), but this transfer is more unique among similar releases for its pinpoint facial details that step out among otherwise softly focused elements (this can be a problem for black levels, but I think an intended one). The creature animation and gore gets a nice boost from the transfer’s sharper qualities, especially the shiny highlights of the more grotesque liquidy elements, like blood and slime.
It’s probably good to note that Damnation was pretty obviously designed for 3D and as far as I know, there are no 3D Blu-ray releases on the horizon.
This disc’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English soundtrack is super dynamic, a bit more than I was even expecting. The whole movie is practically an action scene, so the business of the mix rarely lets up for more than a beat. These action scenes are brimming with explosive gunfire, which breeds both punchy LFE support and plenty of directionally enhanced bullets flying by the viewer’s head. The best of these action sequences work so well aurally because they’re so overwhelmed with sound, yet there are no issues with discerning elements or even dialogue. There’s also quite a bit of range in the aural make-up of the action, including some less animated hand-to-hand combat routines. The creatures are also well represented throughout the channels, generating a whole bunch of surround and stereo movement that evokes the game’s ability to make the player feel entirely immersed in the experience. The more subtle, ambient groan of zombies, slippery whips of Plagas tentacles, and the doom-laden growls of bigger critters all set the stage for the oncoming chaos. The music suffers from a bit of ‘digital sound’ syndrome, but generally mixes well with the action and is appropriately sappy when required. I’m a bit surprised by the lack of a Japanese option on this disc, especially since I assume that the game series’ cast worked on the Japanese release and that fans would care quite a bit.
Extras begin with Las Plagas: Organisms of War (7:00, HD), a weird primer on the Las Plagas creatures/infection that plays out via high-tech Power Point presentation. Up next is The DNA of Damnation (30:00, HD), a relatively extensive behind the scenes featurette. Discussion includes story (verifying it takes place between Degeneration and Resident Evil 6), characters, animation, production design, character design, motion capture, 3D conversion, Kamiya’s over the top direction, and creature fights. Interviewees include Kamiya, screenwriter Shotaro Suga, producer Hiroyuki Kobayashi, CG producer Nobuhiro Suzuki, CG director Atsushi Doi, background artist Kazutake Saito, character designer Sachiko Okada, motion capture director Hiroki Koshida, military advisor Motosada Mori, facial animator Kensaku Ishiyama, simulation animator Ryoji Tabuchi, effects animator Yoshiharu Komiya, animator Yukinobu Fujimatsu, 3D supervisor Tomotaro Ishikawa, and mocap actors Jolene Andersen and Kevin Dorman. The disc also features a conceptual art gallery, a gag reel (6:00, HD), game trailers for Resident Evil 6, Devil May Cry and Dragons Dogma, and previews of other Sony releases.
Resident Evil: Damnation will likely please many series fans and fit the Resident Evil mode of boiling down a series of cut scenes from a non-existent game. I found the experience relatively entertaining, especially the genuinely cool, Kaiju monster-inspired climax, but also find it so much like a videogame that I question the point of it [I]not[/]I being one. The filmmakers are already recycling sets and creatures, why not just take the time to make it a DLC game? But, hey, assuming you’re okay with not getting to play along, this sharp, aurally aggressive Blu-ray is a pretty good time.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 25th September 2012
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, French and Portuguese, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish and Thai
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Korean, Thai
Extras: The DNA of Damnation, Las Plagas: Organisms of War, Gag Reel, Image Gallery, Game Tralers, Trailers, UltraViolet Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Makoto Kamiya
Cast: Matthew Mercer, Dave Wittenberg, Wendee Lee, Val Tasso
Genre: Action, Animation, Horror and Sci-Fi
Length: 100 minutes
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