Resident Evil: Degeneration Blu-ray ReviewDecember 16, 2008
The spread of Resident Evil through various mediums is almost as unstoppable as the T-Virus its story breeds. What began as a straightforward zombie shooter created by the aforementioned virus at the Umbrella Corporation in Raccoon City has evolved into a massive and complex cannon of stories intertwined within videogames and live-action films.
Keeping the story's characters and conspiracy-laced plots straight is no easy task, especially when a new kid comes out to play. The newest kid on the block is Resident Evil: Degeneration, the first CGI-animated feature-length film created for the ongoing Resident Evil entertainment series. Where the live-action films made a conscious effort to separate themselves from the videogame series by starting from the beginning, Degeneration is structured more as a continuation of the games that may or may not serve as a preface to 2009s Resident Evil 5 on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.
Degeneration begins with a dose of familiarity in the introduction of Claire Redfield, someone all-too-versed with what went down at Raccoon City thanks to the Umbrella Corporation's experiments. That "event" is now in the past and Claire has moved on with her life, working to help clean up the aftermath of terrorist attacks. Of course before you know it she is in the middle of a new terrorist attack of the "bio" variety at a bustling airport, requiring the coincidental assistance of fellow Raccoon City survivor Leon Kennedy, now an expert "handler" of bio-terror attacks, to escape the infested airport alive.
The initial airport zombie attack featuring a spectacular plane crash, whose visuals are spoiled in the Blu-ray Disc menu screen, and the subsequent survivor rescue is one half of a two-part Degeneration story. Watching Leon and his help traverse dark airport hallways and encounter swarms of zombies make you want to pick up a controller and join the fight. It is straightforward "shoot the zombie" mindless fun that begs for currently nonexistent future integration of being able to "play" a movie.
Another reason for wanting to join in on Leon and Claire's escape are the visuals. The film has been designed to look identical to the CGI cut-scenes found in the Resident Evil games. In some respects they push photo-realistic animation into new realms of believability, especially with the intricately designed sets and fire effects. The characters, however, retain that rubbery and sometimes stiff "game" feel that clashes with their more refined surroundings on occasion.
The second half is plotted away from the airport and designed to really twist your brain by involving not one, not two, but three different organizations all tied into the T-Virus and more powerful G-Virus in one way or another. Many questions are left unanswered as the action shifts to a showdown with a new creatively designed G-Virus victim at one of the organization's headquarters. The aftermath sparks the necessity for a sequel, which is blatantly hinted at, or continuation of ideas and tangents through Resident Evil 5 the game.
Degeneration's biggest fault is its lack of a memorable voice or reason to return. Capcom's decision to mimic the games' cut-scenes retains a connection between the film and game mediums but suffers from the same faults like horrible lip-sync and grossly underdeveloped characters. When it comes to laying waste to hoardes of zombies, Degeneration delivers all sizes and shapes to dispose of.
Resident Evil: Degeneration is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 encoded in AVC MPEG-4 at 1080p. Any CGI-animated film on Blu-ray is automatically held up to high standards which Degeneration meets. At the same time, Degeneration's heavy use of shadows and aim to look photo-realistic creates a naturally softer and sometimes more aliased look than, for example, a Pixar film, resulting in a less "eye-popping" presentation at no fault of the transfer.
Contrast and black levels are more than adequate, essential since much of the film is framed at night or in limited lighted areas infested with zombies. Where Blu-ray's 1080p resolution provides the biggest impact is in the details. Leon's hair, for example, has more visible individual stands than you could ever hope to count. I was especially floored by a split-second shot of a grandfather clock rendered so realistically and brimming with detail that it could have easily passed for live-action.
Sony's lossless 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack offers everything a Resident Evil film could ask for. There are countless explosions, gunshots, zombie moans, screams and violent crashing impacts brimming from what seems like every other scene. It is a loud mix, but like the zombies it supports, there isn't much thought behind it. Surround use is hardly logical, more often than not either silent or what seems like offering the same material the front speakers are. Directional effects certainly could have been employed in a more thought-through manner. If you are simply looking for a Resident Evil soundtrack to shake the walls then Degeneration's should amply satisfy.
In addition to 5.1 Dolby TrueHD, Sony offers French, Spanish, Portuguese and Thai 5.1 Dolby Digital audio options. Subtitles are offered in English, English SDH, Chinese (Traditional), Portuguese, Thai, Korean, French, Spanish, Chinese (Simplified) and Indonesian.
Almost all of the bonus features are presented in high definition including a pair of Blu-ray exclusives, both of which are only available while watching the film.
Interactive Picture-in-Picture (Blu-ray exclusive) - While the content in this feature is fairly run-of-the-mill, the way its presented is relatively new for Sony. It is best described as Sony's answer to Universal's U-Control technology where during select moments in the film, you can press a colored button on the remote that corresponds to an available stream. For Resident Evil: Degeneration, red is animatics, green is motion capture and yellow is storyboards.
Each of the three colored icons are always viewable in the upper-right portion of the screen. Being semi-transparent they don't interfere with the main feature yet stand out enough to make you notice when one turns its color for optional access. It is possible for two or even three to have their colors light up at once, though only one of the three can be activated so its content appears in the picture-in-picture window.
In terms of usability, Sony's interactive picture-in-picture is slightly easier to use and manage than Universal's. The icons are clear, easy to spot and never disappear. Easy accessibility is key to this feature for potential videogame players who choose Degeneration as their first Blu-ray Disc experience.
Pop-up Trivia Track (Blu-ray exclusive) - The facts presented in this feature are aimed more towards the general population who may have zero previous exposure to the Resident Evil universe rather than gamers looking for Easter Eggs or connections to the games or live-action Resident Evil films. Like a poor audio commentary track, the facts appear far too infrequently compared to tracks offered on other Blu-ray Disc releases.
The Generation of Degeneration (30:05, HD) – This feature is mostly comprised of interviews with the Japanese team that put the film together including Capcom producer Hiroyuki Kobayashi. Their interviews are in Japanese but Sony did not default the audio options to include subtitles. This needs to be set before accessing this featurette.
The interviews provide insight into creative decisions and facts that should have appeared in the pop-up trivia track. My only complaint is the overuse of footage from the finished film and under-use of behind-the-scenes footage, images and artwork.
Character Profiles (HD) - Text description of 10 main and secondary characters in the film that include Leon, Claire, Angela, Greg, Curtis, the Senator, Frederic, Rani, Ingrio and G. Each character includes a link directly into their photo gallery, a nice touch for lazy clickers.
Voice Blooopers (9:06, HD) – Four complete scenes with deliberate bloopers are available with a play-all feature. These aren't mistakes; they are along the lines of either improv or rehearsed alternate dialogue. What could have been one of the best one is sadly censored. It is moderately funny to see a scene between SRT members re-voiced with the actors complaining about their fees i.e. salaries only to have Leon enter and say his fee is "way too good." I also appreciated the "altered" press conference with a stab at Bill Clinton's sex scandal with a Resident Evil twist.
Faux Leon Interview (4:47) – A sit down interview with the mo-cap actor who plays Leon conducted on the virtual set. He overacts every question asked by an inexperienced interviewer making this something easy to skip over.
Resident Evil Trailers (4:17, HD) – Now this is what I call a full suite of trailers. Included and available to view in a "play all" manner are the teaser, two comic-con trailers, the Tokyo Game Show 2008 trailer and the final theatrical trailer.
Resident Evil 5 Special Footage (4:35, HD) – This brief only look at the upcoming game is broken into two segments: the trailer from the 2008 Tokyo Game Show and a general trailer. I expected Sony to put something exclusive together to help push sales, if not a first-time playable demo then maybe an exclusive behind-the-scenes featurette. Instead all that is offered are two previously released trailers, though they are arguably new being presented in 1080p high definition.
BD-Live - Access is given to Sony's BD-Live portal though there are no Degeneration exclusive features available there at the time of this review and none planned that I am aware of.
Rounding out the bonus material are previews for 12 Blu-ray Disc titles, only one of which is not yet available: Pineapple Express. That film was originally planned for release prior to Degeneration before being delayed into January.
Resident Evil: Degeneration is a curious addition to the Resident Evil saga. Though it is a feature-length movie, the design, story and characters clearly are derived from the videogames and not the live-action films. Because Degeneration looks like an elongated cut-scene from a next-gen game, it will resonate more with fans of the gaming series than say fans of zombie films who have no intention of ever picking up a game controller.
The Blu-ray edition offers generous high-def bang for the buck any fan of 1080p visuals or lossless audio will appreciate. Unless you want to watch the Resident Evil 5 trailer over and over again before the game's 2009 release, there is really no reason to return after a single viewing.
- Dan Bradley
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