George A. Romero’s Abandoned ‘Resident Evil’ Film Is A Depressing Tale Of What Might Have Been

Variety has a fine piece looking back on the Resident Evil film we didn’t get from the mind of George R. Romero. The father of the zombie film directed the ad above for Resident Evil / Biohazard 2 and seemingly earned a ticket to bring the series to the big screen for Capcom. Judging by the reaction by Adrienne Frantz, the actress playing Claire Redfield in the ad alongside Brad Renfro as Leon Kennedy, a Romero Resident Evil would’ve held a somewhat intense attention to detail:

“It was an honor to work with a legend like Romero,” Frantz said. “All of the zombie TV shows and movies that we see today are because of him. He started an entire horror film revolution.”

Frantz was struck by Romero’s dedication to recreating specific images from the game. “Every little detail counted to him,” she said. “I remember he taught me how to pump the shotgun correctly!”

As Variety reports, the ad only aired in Japan but impressed the folks at Sony and earned Romero an opportunity at the series’ film adaptation. It seems like it would’ve been the perfect piece to play to Romero’s strengths. The script was ready to follow the first game, already full of iconic scenes, and would’ve been stuffed with all the weird creatures and mutants fans battled in the game. A mutant shark, carnivorous plants out of control, and a horde of the undead ready to scare and thrill theatergoers. But after looking at the screenplay, the film was no more. As has been mentioned numerous times in the past and repeated to Variety, Capcom’s Yoshiki Okamoto said, ““Romero’s script wasn’t good, so Romero was fired.”

Pretty rough for the guy who helped create the zombie film as we know it today, but not surprising for the time. Romero’s body of work by 1998 was not at the same level as the period he made Dawn of The Dead and helped bring Creepshow to the big screen. While he had his hand in plenty of great horror stories, mainly on television, his film work was defined by films like Monkey Shines and The Dark Half — not bad films, but certainly far from what would’ve been expected by fans.

It ends well, though. Romero moved on and returned to the Dead series of films with Land of The Dead and a few more sequels. And at the same time, Capcom got a successful series of Resident Evil films. Only they didn’t resemble Resident Evil too much according to author Jamie Russell in Variety:

“The original game was a slow-burn horror story, punctuated by moments of intense terror,” Russell said. “Anderson’s movie, in contrast, took the concept and put it on steroids. It was brash and relentless. At times, you’d be forgiven for thinking he was adapting the ‘Call of Duty’ games.”

The Variety piece is an interesting look back at what might’ve been. It isn’t clear if the films inspired the game series to take a more action-oriented route or if that was the plan all along, but it’s no surprise that Capcom and Sony stuck with the formula once it was a success .Resident Evil: The Final Chapter is set to put a close to the film series in January, with the series earning close to $1 billion at the worldwide box office. Resident Evil 6 was the last game released in the main game series and ended up being the most successful in terms of sales.

None of it has been critically acclaimed, with the film series increasingly becoming a mesh of the video game storyline and the original characters introduced in the first film. Meanwhile, the games abandoned the horror aspect that many enjoyed, partially due to lukewarm sales and definitely in part to the success of the films. Despite the sales for the last Resident Evil game, Capcom has decided to return to horror for Resident Evil 7 according to Polygon:

“We had a lot of internal discussion about where to take this series [after Resident Evil 6],” [producer Masachika Kawata] said. “My boss, Jun Takeuchi, requested that we strip it down to its core — and the best way to express the horror directly is in first-person view.”

So with this return to horror for the game series, could there be room for an introduction to horror for the film series? The time for an adaptation of the games has definitely passed, but there’s room for other directions as proven by the game series. Even with the final entry hitting theaters in January, it’s going to be hard to say goodbye to a cash machine like Resident Evil at the box office. George Romero is still out there, so maybe there’s time for a second chance.

No matter, the Romero version of Resident Evil is likely a missed opportunity for the series to tip its cap to the godfather of the zombies while also using his status to create a genre classic. It seems perfect on paper, but reality did not work out that way. Check out the full piece over at Variety and think about what might’ve been. While the series of films we got had their moments, I think I might’ve prefered what Romero could’ve offered.

(Via Variety / Polygon)