Resident Evil: Extinction (UK - BD)
Chris Gould takes a look at Sony's first profile 1.1 Blu-ray disc. Oh wait, he can't
The events of the film take place approximately five years after those of Resident Evil: Apocalypse. The T-Virus has virtually eradicated all life on Earth, be it plant, animal or human, and the planet is now a little more than a desert wasteland. Hoards of flesh-hungry zombies roam the land seeking out the last few survivors, who themselves are engaged in a never-ending search for food, water and other essential supplies.
Enter our heroine, Alice (Milla Jovovich), who has been genetically altered by the nefarious Umbrella Corporation and imbued with super-human strength, reflexes and psionic powers. Alice joins forces with a rag-tag group of survivors led by Claire Redfield (Ali Larter)—including old friends Carlos Olivera (Oded Fehr) and L.J. (Mike Epps), and new acquaintances K-Mart (Spencer Locke) and Nurse Betty (Ashanti)—to find a cure for the T-Virus and bring Umbrella to its knees.
What follows owes more than a little to Mad Max and George Romero's zombie flicks, but never manages to reach the standards set by the best films in those franchises. Key characters from the previous film are conspicuous by their absence, with only a single throwaway line devoted to the intervening years between Resident Evil: Apocalypse and Extinction. Spunky sidekicks like Jill Valentine and Rain Ocampo give way to the decidedly dull Claire Redfield, leaving Alice as the only strong female presence in the film (actually, the only strong presence of either gender).
Jovovich is certainly pretty to look at and makes a convincing enough female action hero, but unfortunately her turn isn't enough to save the film from mediocrity. Don't get me wrong, I like action films, but I expect them to have at least a tiny bit of character development. Why should I care if a bunch of people I know nothing about get chomped to death by the undead? Resident Evil: Extinction is nothing more than a series of set-pieces strung together by a paper-thin plot, which just doesn't do it for me I'm afraid. Still, it's reassuring to know that even the apocalypse won't be enough to stem the flow of Sony Ericsson mobiles and Vaio laptops (yes, there's plenty of product placement).
Resident Evil: Extinction is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 and encoded at 1080p. Of the three or four high-definition titles I've reviewed so far this film is the most recent theatrical release, so I was expecting nothing short of greatness from the transfer. I actually had the dubious pleasure of watching the film at the cinema, so I can be fairly certain that this Blu-ray release retains the original look of the picture, which means a bleached out appearance with pumped-up contrast and a muted, earthy colour palette that intensifies the look of the harsh desert environments.
Things remain impressive even when the action switches to the dark confines of a subterranean facility, with solid black levels and nicely defined shadow detail. Some light film grain is evident, but no more than it should be, and the transfer remains sharp and detailed throughout. To be honest there really isn't much to criticise here, apart from some slight shimmering in a couple of exterior shots and the rather strange 'digital airbrushing' of Milla Jovovich's face (she looks like a waxwork). However, these things are so minor they're hardly worth mentioning and certainly don't detract from what is a very impressive Blu-ray presentation.
This is also a good time to mention the visual effects, which are a step up from previous instalments (if memory serves). The zombie make-up is suitably disgusting, especially because the creatures in this film are in an advanced state of decomposition compared to those in parts one and two. The zombie dogs are also back, looking as gross as ever. CGI is competent for the most part, although it does go a bit wobbly when a mutated Dr. Isaacs makes an appearance as Tyrant. Still, it's generally of a higher quality than previously seen in the franchise, so I've no real complaints.
The primary audio track on the disc is an English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 affair, which continues Sony's shift from space-hungry uncompressed PCM audio to compressed, lossless audio. I'm glad that the studio seems to have opted for TrueHD rather than DTS-HD Master Audio on the majority of their titles, for the simple fact that more players can internally decode the Dolby variant. Both formats are lossless, so there shouldn't be any reason to stir up the old Dolby vs. DTS debate on this occasion.
The track itself is very impressive, with clear, focussed dialogue and some excellent use of the discrete channels. There are plenty of ambient effects used to build tension during some of the scarier moments (if scary is the right word), but it's during the heavier action that it really delivers. There's plenty of 'oomph' from the sub as guns are fired and things blow up, but my favourite moment has to be when the heroes' convoy is surround by a flock of zombie crows that fly around the soundstage, squawking and pecking at anything that moves—I really felt like I was in the middle of an all-enveloping attack. What really struck me was the crystal clarity of the audio, which is a definite step up from the other discs I've reviewed so far (on either format).
Before I forget, I should probably mention the dissonant industrial score by Nine Inch Nails collaborator Charlie Clouser, which compliments the post-apocalyptic look of the film nicely. Interestingly enough, Anderson mentions something about the original composer leaving the project shortly before completion. A bit of Googling reveals that composer to be none other than Tyler Bates, but the reasons for his departure are not explored. Perhaps he couldn't steal any suitable music.
The bonus material on the disc utilises some BD-J (Blu-ray Java) content, which tends to give current standalone players some trouble. Resident Evil: Extinction takes around a minute-and-a-half to load, which is fairly respectable given that my other BD-J titles take between two and three minutes, but the load times are much longer than I'm used to with HD DVD. Whether things will improve with later players using the new Blu-ray profiles (Bonus View and BD Live) remains to be seen.
First up is an audio commentary from director Russell Mulcahy, writer/producer Paul W.S. Anderson and producer Jeremy Bolt. The track actually exceeded my expectations, with few periods of dead air and some genuinely interesting comments from the participants. Mulcahy was obviously recorded separately from Anderson and Bolt, but the editing is done in such a way that it's not too distracting. The track isn't as energetic as the one found on the original Resident Evil disc, but Milla Jovovich's absence does keep things more focussed.
The press release advertises a PiP commentary, but my disc had no such option. That could be because the software intelligently hid the option on account of my player 'only' being profile 1.0 compatible, which means PS3 owners will be able to enjoy the added content (due to the recent profile 1.1 update). However, as far as I'm concerned it's not available, so it won't be factored into the overall score. Of course this isn't an ideal situation, but perhaps next time Sony will standardise their format before releasing it to the masses so this sort of thing doesn't happen to people two months after buying an expensive piece of hardware...
The featurettes kick off with 'Alice Vision: Preproduction', which details the story behind the inception of the movie, including Paul Anderson's original idea, the hiring of director Russell Mulcahy and the planning stages. There is plenty of talking head interview footage with all the major players, including Anderson, Mulcahy, Jovovich, Iain Glen and Ali Larter. At one point Anderson alludes to the fact that he's making The Road Warrior for a new generation...
'The Big Bang: Shooting Resident Evil: Extinction' focuses on the actual making of the film and features interview footage with the usual suspects, along with Oded Fehr, Mike Epps, Ashanti and Linden Ashby. The actors all talk about the difficult filming conditions in the desert before the focus shifts to the studio in Mexico City, where the interior sets were constructed. We're also shown a few conceptual drawings by production designer Eugenio Caballero, before Anderson discusses the visual style of the film, specifically the overhead angles. The piece closes with shots of the actors performing various action sequences, including Milla Jovovich slicing and dicing with a pair of kukri knives.
The last two featurettes are so short there's not much point writing about them separately. 'Bigger, Faster, Stronger: The Undead Evolve' takes a look at the evolution of the series' zombies, from the lumbering undead in the first picture to the speedy 'super-zombies' in the third. There are a few behind the scenes sequences in which we see make-up being applied, along with some discussion of the various types of zombie featured in the movie. 'Vegas Visual Effects/Miniatures' takes us on a short trip through the visual effects featured in the Las Vegas scenes, specifically the miniature Vegas Strip and the destruction of a model fuel tanker.
Unfortunately the combined running time of all four featurettes is only thirty-one minutes, so we're hardly talking an 'exhaustive' exploration of the creative process. Everything looks as though it's been shot and cut together to appeal to those with a short attention span, which I guess it probably has. The trouble is, recent documentaries like 'Dangerous Days: Making Blade Runner' have set the bar incredibly high for this sort of content, so this fluffy EPK stuff just doesn't measure up.
Eleven deleted scenes come next, with a combined running time of just over eight minutes. The scenes are in various states of completion, with some lacking post-processing and others missing any form of audio. A few trailers are also included, but none of them are actually for Resident Evil: Extinction itself. Instead we get trailers for Resident Evil 5, Devil May Cry 4 and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Finally, there's a short promotional trailer for the CGI animated movie Resident Evil: Degeneration.
The only Blu-ray exclusive feature I was able to access was the 'Blu-ray Wizard', a sort of index that allows you to create your own custom play-lists for the various featurettes and deleted scenes on the disc. I's a neat idea, but in practise it's actually just easier to select the required feature manually, rather than mess about with the wizard.
Resident Evil: Extinction is never going to win any awards, but I found it to be marginally more entertaining than the previous film, if not as good as the original Resident Evil. Milla Jovovich comes across as slightly insane in most of her interviews, but she is undeniably pleasing to the eye and looks very nice cutting a slow-motion swathe through dozens of zombies in her tight little short-shorts. There are just too many problems with the script to address here, but fans of the series would seem to be more interested in the gore, action and aforementioned short-shorts than coherent storylines. If that sort of thing is your bag this film is for you, but I expect a little more from my action movies.
The audio-visual quality of the Blu-ray presentation makes for great demo material, but unfortunately the bonus features let the package down somewhat. Most of them are too fluffy to be of any real interest and the only genuine 'next-generation' feature (the PiP experience) isn't available unless you have a profile 1.1 machine. That's all well and good for PS3 owners, but what about those of us who have standalone players? I'm still waiting for my free Blu-ray player upgrade here, Sony.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 18th February 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: English Dolby TrueHD 5.1, Czech Dolby Digital 5.1, Hindi Dolby Digital 5.1, Hungarian Dolby Digital 5.1, Polish Dolby Digital 5.1, English Audio Description Service
Subtitles: English, English SDH, Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Estonian, Finnish, Hindi, Hungarian, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Polish, Romanian, Slovak, Slovene, Swedish
Extras: Audio Commentary with Producer/Writer Paul W.S. Anderson, Director Russell Mulcahy and Producer Jeremy Bolt, Beyond Raccoon City: Unearthing Resident Evil: Extinction Featurette, Alice Vision: Preproduction, The Big Bang: Shooting Resident Evil: Extinction, Bigger, Faster, Stronger: The Undead Evolve, Vegas Visual Effects/Miniatures, 11 Deleted Scenes, Trailers, Resident Evil: Degeneration Sneak Peek, Trailers, Blu-ray Wizard
Easter Egg: No
Director: Russell Mulcahy
Cast: Milla Jovovich, Oded Fehr, Ali Larter, Iain Glen, Ashanti, Mike Epps, Spencer Locke
Length: 95 minutes
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