If you haven't torn through any of the Resident Evil games, Degeneration plods through the backstory with a clumsy montage of news stories. The short version...? 7 years ago, a genetically engineered virus turned damn near everyone in Raccoon City into flesh-eating zombies. Caught in a whirlwind of accusations and bad press, the Umbrella Corporation's stock plummeted south and eventually forced 'em to shutter its doors. Picking up in the here and now, bioterrorists have started unleashing the T-virus once again, and protestors are wagging their fingers at WilPharma, another suspicious megacorporation with its fingers in that I-guess-it's-lucrative genetically engineered viral pie.
Claire Redfield, one of the survivors of the Raccoon City disaster, is stuck in an airport with a group of protestors and a scenery-gnawing jackass senator when a plane teeming with zombies crashes into the terminal. Claire, the senator, and a few straggling survivors manage to hole up in a VIP room, but everyone else is either devoured or shambling their zombified legs through what's left of the terminal. Don't fret, though: a couple of SWAT team members and Leon S. Kennedy (who, yes, introduces himself with his middle initial) are swooping in to save the day. But wait! How was the virus unleashed on these shores in the first place? If it's the work of these terrorists, where are they getting their supply? Is there some sprawling government conspiracy behind all this? Resident Evil: Degeneration assumes you care, at least, so all of those questions -- and a whole lot more that are even less interesting -- are answered in meticulous, meandering detail.
Degeneration is kind of chopped up into three chunks. There's the opening salvo with the zombies, who are all but gone from the movie once the counter ticks past the half hour mark. The middle stretch is all about the shadowy conspiracy: the terrorist threat, which of the three (!!!) evil, sprawling, megalithic corporations is behind the contagion, and...yeah, I don't care either. The movie closes with a super-sized battle against just one hideously mutated monster, really.
Degeneration aims its sights more squarely at action than horror. The flick never manages to get the pulse racing, and I'm sure it doesn't help that none of the creatures -- undead, mutated, or otherwise -- really come across as all that menacing.
The worst thing about Degeneration might be its visual style. Instead of opting for hyperstylized character models, the movie aims for CGI that's more realistically human, although it winds up looking stiff and plastic instead. The models lack any real convincing expressiveness, their movements are awkward and jittery, and they look more like shiny puppets freshly yanked out of a mold than living, breathing people. In a movie where the threat is the undead -- well, that's the thought, at least -- it's probably not the greatest idea for the central characters to look so lifeless themselves. The models frequently don't gel with their environments, and especially in the opening siege on the airport, they look like they've just been overlaid on top of the backgrounds rather than actually inhabiting them. There's also such an obnoxious overuse of slow motion that the flick would probably clock in a few full minutes shorter without it.
I'm really not even sure who Capcom and Sony are aiming Degeneration at, exactly. The stilted writing, clunky acting, and lightweight splatter won't really grab in adults weaned on movies that are more visceral and...y'know, halfway competent. It's rated R, which makes it at least theoretically tougher for the younger set to grab a hold of, but I think I would've been bored stiff and cringing at its weak stabs at...well, everything even if I were fourteen or fifteen. I guess it's really just for rabid fans of the games who'll devour anything with the Resident Evil name on it. Skip It.
I wouldn't exactly chalk myself up as much of a fan of its animation style, but shrugging that off, Resident Evil: Degeneration generally looks decent enough on Blu-ray. The lighting has kind of a diffused look to it -- maybe as a stab at smoothening out the CGI and heightening the sense of realism? -- so it's not as astonishingly crisp as most computer animated movies are in 1080p. The clarity and richly detailed textures still manage to impress, though. The only technical flaw I was able to spot is some nasty aliasing and shimmering in motion, both when characters move and as the camera pans. This leaves edges frequently looking kind of unstable,
Resident Evil: Degeneration is encoded with AVC and is presented at its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1.
Resident Evil: Degeneration packs a hyperkinetic 24-bit Dolby TrueHD soundtrack: screams, skittering footsteps, a crashed plane carving a terminal in half, a colossal office tower crumbling into ruin, scores of enormous explosions, sprays of gunfire assaulting from every direction... The aggressive sound design keeps every channel roaring except when Degeneration decides to ramp up the tension, trying to unnerve viewers with extended sequences in near-complete silence and...well, the entire middle stretch of the movie when absolutely nothing happens. The low-end occassionally doesn't sound as meaty as I would've thought, although the LFE does rattle the room during the movie's most chaotic attacks. I can't really find much at fault at all with the presentation of this six-channel soundtrack, though. The only gripes I have are the poor looping -- lip movements rarely match up all that convincingly with the dialogue, as if Degeneration has been dubbed from Japanese even though it really was originally performed in English -- and, of course, the stilted, awkward line readings the voice actors belt out. Technically, though, this lossless soundtrack is pretty solid.
Dolby Digital dubs are served up in French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Thai. The laundry list of subtitles includes streams in English (traditional and SDH), French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese (simplified and traditional), Korean, Thai, and Indonesian.
Nearly all of the extras on Resident Evil: Degeneration get an upgrade to high definition, and Sony has even assembled a few new bells and whistles exclusively for this Blu-ray disc.
The Final Word
Resident Evil: Degeneration plays like a feature-length cutscene, complete with stilted, awkward dialogue, kinda low-rent visuals, and a story I really couldn't care less about. If this had actually been tacked onto one of the games, I'd be frantically mashing the 'Start' button to zip past it and get straight to the good stuff. For Resident Evil completists only. Skip It.