Maybe Shawn Roberts’ portrayal of Albert Wesker is meant to mimic the video games, stiff and utterly unconvincing, matching those early PlayStation entries of the franchise. That’s fine on a technicality, paying homage to what inspired this insipid film series, but it doesn’t work in execution because nothing else resembles the games.
It is hilarious that Wesker jabs Alice (Milla Jovovich) with a syringe to take all of her super-powers away at the beginning of the film, as if this script is apologizing for the sheer stupidity that nonsense caused. It’s about the only positive thing to come out of Wesker being a part of this movie.
Of course, the Resident Evil film adaptations have never matched the game, more or less an in-name only type of thing barring the inclusion of named characters and the zombie virus. They exist as action fodder, pure and embarrassing action fodder. Afterlife is an odd mixture in that it seems like the effects were chosen deliberately from two categories: painful and seamless. The budget didn’t allow for both, so it’s a mish-mash of hilarious green screens and precision CG work.
This effort has Alice seeking refuge from the zombie hoard after an assault on an underground Umbrella Corp. This is an act of shrewd revenge, blowing the impossible underground structure to pieces. Surely the questions of why specifically she chose the Japanese base in the first place has validity, but Afterlife is busy stupifying its audience with 3D effects to care.
This is the type of 3D that makes you pound your head against a wall, trying to forget the tech ever existed. Not only is it blatant, shoving shotguns and throwing stars at the screen for no logical reason other than the effect, it’s arduous in 2D. Paul W.S. Anderson is back in the director’s seat, and wants the audience to appreciate the film’s not-so-glorious effects, so most of the action is shot in slow-mo. A shower brawl is the worst kind of farce, an overgrown zombie swinging his axe around the screen for the glory of those wearing special glasses; the rest just sit back and whimper at how much time this takes.
You know this has all become a worldwide franchise when Alice plops down on the roof of a jail containing a few survivors, all conveniently selected not for their logical survival skills, but their appeal to every race. It’s the most culturally diverse group of plague survivors ever, and how the whiny movie producer ever had a chance to make it that far is anyone’s guess. It’s certainly not Afterlife’s position to answer, because it’s too busy shooting things in a familiar fashion (just now in 3D!) to care.
Because the technology seems to require it, Afterlife was shot digitally, the core camera being the Phantom HD, suitable enough for most movies, but underperforming here. It’s undoubtedly not only the camera that’s at fault here, but the wealth of pathetic green screens and other “me too” special effects that take away from every aspect of the video.
Sony’s AVC encode is sufficient enough, handling quite a bit of rampant action, strewn brains, and other intrusive action events. The only fault comes during the shower rumble, the streams of water pouring from the pipes creating a bit too much motion for the encode, breaking up rather obviously during the overused slow motion.
This becomes a film of plastic people, the overly smooth nature of digital even more apparent when combined with so many special effects. Medium shots are more of a joke, completely lacking in any discernible detail. Skin resembles something found on a mannequin, not an actual person. Even in close the detail rarely pops, a few select close-ups absolutely astounding in their texture, while the rest flounder in mediocrity.
Noise can litter certain backgrounds, generally during some of the more special effects-oriented action scenes as people flip and jump in ways people never could. This is a problem under control for most of the film though, this aside from a brief underwater jaunt that is riddled with it. Black levels are a secondary concern, never delivering a true sense of depth, and when they try, they’re more or less glowing. The muted color palette, appropriate for the material, doesn’t exactly help the image leap off the screen like it needs too either. However, whites are pure and bright, a real shock to the retinas as the characters turn the lights on in the underbelly of the ship.
Those that aren’t looking for any real texture, just an image clear and sharp, will find a lot to like here. For the discerning videophile, it’s a bit of a mess, no fault of Sony or the encoders, but a mess nonetheless.
Afterlife’s 3D is sort of like ordering a Happy Meal when you’re 30. You’re a bit embarrassed to be enjoying it, but damn it, the toy was too tempting and you jumped in anyway. The effects are intense and overwrought, completely absurd as to be laughable, yet you cannot argue against the voraciousness of the depth. Alice’s first attack begins with throwing stars jetting towards the screen in a slow motion effect that lets the viewer appreciate the depth, forcibly or not.
Action regurgitates the same effects repeatedly, yet no one will probably care. This is so much of a showcase as to alleviate any fears that the technology is not working. The shower fight, with streams of water and an axe being shoved into the field of view, is pure dimensional bliss. Less active scenarios still dominate, with framing that accentuates 3D, and only appears artificial when the special effects themselves do.
Were it not for the grating soundtrack blaring over every second of every action scene in this movie, swallowing the mid-range like a shark mauling a goldfish, this could be a reference piece of audio design. Visuals are not the only thing that make a 3D experience; you need the audio accompaniment to be precise too. From the moment Alice tosses a bunch of throwing stars at the screen, the “whoosh” effect panning front to back with the ultimate in precision, this is certainly going to be a treat.
For the most part, it is. Gunfire is just spectacular, the opening scene capturing each hit from every shot fired, plus the debris to go along with it. Swords slash through the stereo channels, the blood splatter carrying through into the rears. A city full of zombies envelopes every channel, and when being shot at, stacks of quarters pouring out of the infected’s head (don’t ask) clang precisely in the channel that’s required to complete the effect.
It is a travesty then that the subwoofer, with the exception of some mighty explosions, is forced to take on this pulsing soundtrack full bore, making the low-end work from other parts of the design disappear. When it’s allowed to work as an effect, such as a hammer trying to smash through a gate at 53:30, it’s incredible. The fullness, tightness, and raw power is as strong as anything else out there. Sadly, those moments are few, and the musical stylings of tomandandy just keep blaring over everything else.
A picture-in-picture track gets off to a rough start, praising the use of 3D, and it doesn’t get much better. This is all promotional fluff and thanks to all who worked on this one. A commentary features Paul W.S. Anderson and producers Jeremy Bolt & Robert Kulzer. A selection of eight deleted scenes run near seven-minutes, and some enjoyable outtakes make it past four-minutes.
Seven featurettes (including yet more 3D praise) last nearly 50-minutes, carrying little teeth. Like so many studio features these days, they exist as endless praise, not interesting looks at how this came together. A weak trailer for the new animated Resident Evil Damnation (in 3D!) is included, along with the usual Sony staples of BD-Live support and MovieIQ.