Whose Aesthetics?: Resident Evil as a Video Game Movie

Curator's Note

Spawned from the popular survival horror games, the Resident Evil films stand out against disappointing adaptations of comparable, familiar game series like the Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001) and Super Mario Brothers (1993). These so-labeled “video game movies” can connote the typically misconceived, even pained, enterprise of adapting the gamic medium into a cinematic environment, which begets many financial failures. Along with adaptation of story content or inspiration, the “video game movie” draws our attention to reconfigurations of aesthetics: how does an interactive game become a viewable movie? Though the “video game movie” category might be taken as a one-directional system, its historically reciprocal relationship can be seen early in the Resident Evil franchise.

The video clip is the original, censored opening sequence for Capcom's Resident Evil (1996), initially released for the Sony PlayStation. The live-action cutscene provides players with the chilling terrors afoot in the fictional Raccoon City and introduces their S.T.A.R.S. Team. Though this cast breakdown features human actors posing, the characters are graphically rendered within the game. Cutscenes themselves—live action or animated “cutaway” sequences that offer supplemental information—are highly contested within the gaming community, because they limit, and generally prevent, player interaction. In essence, players are forced to watch the game as they might a film. Amidst the clunky acting and questionable special effects, the sequence's implementation of full motion video (FMV), reflecting its industry popularity in the 1990s, also illustrates the slippery categories of ludic and moving image. As such, we might consider how Resident Evil integrates its own live-action adaptation through dispersed cutscenes: a “video game movie” within a video game.

Interestingly enough, a remake of the original game followed the release of Paul W.S. Anderson's Resident Evil in 2002. Hugely successful, the remake marked an extensive redo of graphics for Nintendo GameCube, including the FMV opening sequence. In its place, Capcom provided an entirely new, pre-rendered animated sequence that mirrored in-game graphics rather than the live-action approach of its predecessor, shifting the lines of gamic and cinematic once again. 

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