'Resident Evil' Director on Bold Choices "No Studio Wanted"

Paul W.S. Anderson, Hollywood's most successful gamer-turned-filmmaker, looks back on six movies and 15 years as his franchise reaches its final chapter.
Courtesy of Sony Pictures

Paul W.S. Anderson is closing out a major chapter in his career.

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, the sixth and final installment of the video game franchise he's shepherded since 2002, is in theaters now and will help put the franchise over $1 billion at the box office.

The series broke ground, tackling the zombie genre before it enjoyed a resurgence and putting a female character (Milla Jovovich's Alice) front and center in an action movie.

In a conversation with Heat Vision, Anderson looks back on his time with the series and reveals what's next for him. 

Why has this franchise succeeded while other video game movie franchises haven't?

Milla and myself and Michelle Rodriguez, going back to the first movie, we came to the movie with a lot of passion and a lot of love for the original intellectual property. I wasn't looking for a video game to adapt. I'm a gamer, and I became obsessed with Resident Evil. I played the first two games back to back. It took me like 10 days. I disappeared from view. Stayed in my apartment. Didn't return anyone's calls. After 10 days, I emerged with 10 days' worth of stubble and kind of bloodshot eyes going, "I love this! We have to turn it into a movie."

You'd already made your mark with 1995's Mortal Kombat.

The inception was very much from passion and exactly the same with Mortal Kombat, which was my first Hollywood movie and my first video game movie. I had played Mortal Kombat back I arcades in London and I loved it. I came to the movies as a genuine fan of the intellectual property, and I think that counts for a lot. The same with Milla and Michelle. Milla played the game with her little brother. Michelle was a big gamer. And we all came to the set. You see it reflected in the movies we made. You can tell that the DNA of the game is in the fabric of the movie. It's made by people who understand the world of the game and are passionate about it. I think that counts for an awful lot.

How risky was this franchise seen when you made the first one?

We took some bold choices when we made the first one that were kind of seen almost as negatives when we were trying to get the first one up and running and financed.

But as soon as we made the movie, they were positives. For example, having a really strong female lead, which at the time in Hollywood was not fashionable at all. No studio wanted to do that. We very much benefited from the fact that we put the first movie together as an independent film outside of Hollywood. And then also, there was the question as to whether people wanted to see zombies or not, because no one had made a zombie movie in 15 years.

What was the secret to keeping the franchise fresh all these years and avoiding audience fatigue?

Franchises need to evolve or die. You can't just keep making the same movie, and I was very inspired by what James Cameron did when he did Aliens. Because Ridley Scott's Alien is one of my favorite, favorite films. You look at that as a haunted house movie in space. It's almost a perfect movie. How intimidating to try and follow up the perfect film. How do you do better? And I think Cameron was very smart in that he didn't try to redo Alien. He made actually a different kind of film. Where Ridley's movie was kind of a small, claustrophobic, contained haunted house movie, Cameron went and made a war movie.

So we've always tried to deliver a slightly different experience in the franchise so that the audience keeps coming back for more. Our first movie was very much the tight, claustrophobic, haunted house film, all takes place in the same location. The second film, much more expansive. Bigger budget. We had a whole city to play with. We had helicopter gunships. There was a lot more action. We made more of an action movie. The third movie, in its structure and its scope, was very much a road movie. We went out in desert and made this Road Warrior-esque, Mad Max road movie with zombies. The fourth movie for me was always a siege movie. You had all of the characters besieged within that one prison and they are desperate to escape with the thousands of zombies around them. And then the fifth movie was very much a chase movie. It was one, long relentless chase right from the first frame to the last frame of the film.  

You've done other films in between Resident Evil, but could always count on coming back to something that more likely than not would be a hit. Will you miss having that level of security?

I'll definitely miss returning to that world, but there is nothing guaranteed in this world. You see, franchises, they are big until a new one comes out and it doesn't work and everyone goes, "What happened?" You are only as good as the movie you make. I really believe that. It's one of the reasons why we've left some gaps between the films is we've never put the pressure on ourselves to have a release date where, "We have to have another one of these movies in theaters next Halloween." We've always gone away, done other things, so when we come back to make a Resident Evil movie, everyone is really passionate and excited about doing it. And then you can give like 150 percent. You're not being led by there just being a release date on the calendar and you have to have made a movie by then.

When we went away and did Three Musketeers, it was a fantastic change of pace. It was great, but then after a year of carriages and horses and sword fighting and dresses, it was great to go back to this apocalyptic world with machine guns.

Do you have any creative regrets from your time on Resident Evil?

I love the movies I make and the kind of movies I make. I’m very proud of the movies we make. I can't say I have creative regrets at all. There were a couple of the movies I didn't direct, which I think given my druthers, I would have done. You're not always completely the master of your destiny in Hollywood, so sometimes it was just availability conflicts. I was on set a lot when Resident Evil: Extinction was shot, the one Russell Mulcahy directed, and I was definitely envious of him getting to shoot those landscapes. "Damn you Russel!" because I'm very much into landscapes. I addressed that with this movie, because we went to Africa and we shot with these amazing landscapes and it was partially to have the experience Russell had had in directing these big, dramatic, epic landscapes.

Fans have noted there were some big changes between the games and the movies. Why were those choices necessary?

We did make some dramatic changes. Milla's Character Alice doesn't exist in the video games. A lot of fans were very skeptical of that to begin with. My reasoning for that was, when you make a videogame movie, you have to please two audiences. There's the hardcore fans, who know everything about the video game and about the world and then there's the more general audience, who you also need to come and see the movie, who don't know anything about the world. I think sometimes they feel a little excluded because they go, "Oh this is not for me." Milla really became the avatar for that audience. Basically we were saying to the audience, "It's OK if you don't know anything about the world of Resident Evil,' because the central character is a completely new character. The fact that Milla woke up without any memory, it kind of made it OK. If you don't know anything about the world of Resident Evil, that's OK because your leading lady — she's right there with you.

What are your thoughts of the future of video game movies?

I'm very much probably the first generation of filmmakers who grew up with video games being a big part of their lives. I remember it was a monumental experience for me as a kid to come across the first Space Invaders machine. And after that I was hooked. Video games have always been a big part of my life and I think they are totally valid a pieces of intellectual property to adapt. They are slightly more difficult though. You see that in the history of adaptations. Video game adaptations are more likely to fail than they are to succeed. And it's not because there is anything inherently wrong with the idea of adapting video games. I just think the adaptation process — it's a fine line that you walk pleasing those two audiences and I think it's a little easier if you are adapting a comic book rather than something that's already a visual medium with moving image. And I think it's quite often it's underestimated how difficult it can be to do an adaptation that works.  

Do you have a sense of what is next for you?

For me, because I write and direct and produce, and my wife and my daughter are in this last movie as well, they are very intense films for me. I give them 150 percent. I'm not someone who has a huge raft of potential movies. I tend to finish something and then slowly start to work on what's going to be next. There's a video game that Capcom also created, called Monster Hunter, which I'm very excited about that I'm working on right now. I'm going to continue doing the kind of movies I'm doing. I love action movies. I love genre movies. I'm not about to go off and do a romantic comedy. And neither would anyone want it. 

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