Resident Evil Afterlife 3D: Interview with writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson

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Paul W.S. Anderson is the writer/director of "Resident Evil: Afterlife," starring Milla Jovovich as Alice. The film, which is the fourth in the franchise and the first in 3D, is being released by Screen Gems on September 10.

Franchise creator Paul W. S. Anderson is back at the helm of Resident Evil: Afterlife, after taking a two-film hiatus from directing duties. “I missed directing the films,” says Anderson. “Resident Evil has always been a rich playground for me. I disappeared for a month playing the first two games and emerged from my hatch with a giant growth of beard.”


“And we shot with the latest in 3-D technology, the cameras used to shoot Avatar,” he says. “It is really exciting to be on the cutting edge of a new technology.” 


A technological dream


The director started his career shooting such futuristic thrillers as Mortal Kombat and Event Horizon, films he says he always envisioned in 3-D. “I wanted to immerse the audience in the action the way simulator rides like Back to the Future: The Ride did,” says Anderson. “I feel like a filmmaker who is making the jump from silent pictures to talking pictures. This kind of moment in cinema history, when the technology changes in such a radical way, only comes along every 30 or 40 years.”  


A firy setting


The setting was inspired by the forest fires that raged on the outskirts of Los Angeles as Anderson began work on the screenplay. “Even with all of our modern technology and thousands of firefighters, it still takes weeks and weeks to get these forest fires under control,” he observes. “It started me thinking—what would happen if there were no human beings left to fight these natural occurrences? The fires would sweep down off the hillsides and go straight through L.A., through Beverly Hills, down Sunset Boulevard, past the Hollywood sign and just keep going. That’s the Hollywood we portray in this movie. It’s a burning city, which I thought was very fresh imagery.”


In this unfamiliar setting, Alice must grapple with a new challenge: her own mortality. “Over the series of the first three movies, Alice developed superhuman powers as a result of a mutation caused by the T-Virus,” says Anderson. “When she confronted a few zombies, she could just make them explode. If she got bit, she would regenerate. I felt she’d reached the point where we didn’t feel scared for her any more. If we were going to make another movie, Alice had to lose her powers. We took her back to the place she was in the very first movie: a skilled warrior, but just a human being.”  


And just as Alice becomes more vulnerable, the zombies are evolving into ever more dangerous foes. “One of the strengths of the games that we’ve incorporated into the movie franchise is that the undead do evolve,” says Anderson. “They are fresh and more interesting and more exciting each time around, as well as becoming more difficult adversaries. The zombies in this movie are changing faster than humans can evolve.  


“You have to wonder if they will eventually out-evolve human beings and become a viable race of their own,” he continues. “With the world semi-decimated, who are the real inheritors of the Earth? Is it the last remnants of humanity or is it the creatures who want to eat the last remnants of humanity? You begin to wonder if the undead are the new world order and the human beings who remain are like the last of the dinosaurs.”  


But beyond the thrills and action, Resident Evil: Afterlife tells a story that continues to resonate with audiences, says the director. “It has always encompassed bigger ideas, like the concept of the evil corporation being the true enemy,” says Anderson. “That is a slightly larger idea than a traditional horror or action-horror movie. Those bigger ideas are why the movies have thrived as long as they have done, and it’s why we’re on a fourth one. 


“The human spirit burns very, very brightly in the Resident Evil movies,” he continues. “That’s the beacon of hope and that’s why Alice can continue to live and continue to fight. In the last film, we saw her wandering in the desert, very much a loner. She had become very burned-out and cynical. By the end of that movie, there’s a relationship building between her and another survivor, Claire Redfield, that is continued in this movie. It’s one of the most hopeful things in the franchise.”  


Bringing back Alice


The Resident Evil franchise has become well known for bringing back popular characters for another outing,” Anderson says. “It’s also famous for killing them off without warning. We’ve established that just because you’re a big character in the video game and you were in the last movie, that doesn’t mean we’re not going to kill you in this movie. We did it with several characters in the last film. I think that gives a level of uncertainty in the films that make them truly scary.”  


After eight years and four films, Jovovich knows the role better than anyone, Anderson says. “When I first talked to her about Alice, I used references like Clint Eastwood from the Dirty Harry films, Charles Bronson, Steve McQueen. They were existential characters, but, damn, they were cool. Plenty of guys have tried to be the new Clint Eastwood or the new Steve McQueen, but there aren’t many women who have played those characters and played them as convincingly as Milla has.”  


In fact, Jovovich is one of the very few women ever to successfully anchor an action franchise. “Sigourney Weaver had the same kind of success with the Alien franchise,” points out Anderson. “I think it’s for the same reason. She is a very good actress who really makes you believe in the alien and in that far-flung, science fiction world. Milla does that for us.”


With each film, Anderson tries to present Jovovich with a fresh challenge. In Resident Evil: Afterlife, he gives her the task of playing an army of Alice clones. Jovovich approached the multiple roles with enthusiasm. “There’s only one of me, obviously,” she says. “But I have to play each of the Alices. I wanted to get creative with it as well, so each Alice has her own personality. They’re not carbon copies of each other.”


The characterizations were so subtle, says Anderson, it wasn’t until he began editing that he fully appreciated the nuances. “It was only when we composited three Millas together that I realized they were actually three completely different characters. This is Milla’s franchise and she keeps it alive by investing a thousand percent in it. People see the honesty and the integrity in what she’s doing and that’s why they buy into the movies.” 


Shooting in 3D


“When I was writing it, I knew it was going to be a 3-D movie,” says Anderson. “I tried to write situations and environments into the screenplay that would play well in 3-D. I firmly believe 3-D is a paradigm shift in cinema right now. Soon, it will become the industry standard, and it’s very exciting to be making one of the first real 3-D movies. And I do say ‘real’ because we shot a three-dimensional film. It’s not something that was shot as a 2-D film and then had 3-D layered over the top of it.”


Working with the new technology required adjustments in virtually every aspect of the production process. “I was lucky to have some very strong collaborators,” says Anderson. “Both Arvinder Grewal, our production designer, and Dennis Berardi, the visual effects supervisor, were designing the movie with me even before we shot a frame of film.”


Cutting-edge innovations sometimes tested the filmmakers’ ingenuity. “Most conventional camera equipment didn’t work for our purposes,” says Anderson. “Stabilized heads, motion control rigs and high-tech camera cranes are all built for lightweight film or digital cameras. A 3-D camera is essentially two cameras tied together, so it’s extremely heavy. We couldn’t just put them on existing equipment. Techniques we’ve taken for granted for twenty years, like Steadicam rigs, no longer worked. We ended up putting the camera operator on a Segway and it looked exactly like a Steadicam shot.”


After a battery of test shots, Anderson was able to devise strategies for the specialized demands of 3-D. “We found that you really don’t need as many close-ups,” says Howie. “There’s so much to look at within the frame. If someone moves in a 3-D stereoscopic environment, you just don’t cut as quickly. It is a kind of throwback to an old-fashioned form of moviemaking, but with incredibly modern technology.”


It all adds up to a totally fresh Resident Evil movie, according to Anderson. “Even if you’ve seen the other films, I guarantee you that you’ve never seen anything like this one. It’s going to reinvent Resident Evil and make it brand new again for people. People who’ve seen all four movies have told me that it doesn’t feel like Resident Evil 4. This feels like Resident Evil 1. It’s like the start of a whole new franchise.”