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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Resident Evil: Degeneration (Blu-ray)
Resident Evil: Degeneration (Blu-ray)
Sony Pictures // R // December 27, 2008 // Region Free
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted December 13, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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After seeing
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their franchise suffer through a slew of mediocre live action movies, Capcom decided to hammer out their own feature-length Resident Evil flick, this time tying the story much closer to the original games. Set between Resident Evil 4 and yet another sequel due next March, this limp, lifeless computer animated flick plays less like a movie and more like an agonizingly long cutscene.

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.
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The characters are bland, dragged down by awkward dialogue that reads like a VCR manual (no, really! It's okay to let native English speakers give your script a polish), inexpressive models, and a weak batch of voice actors. Even though Degeneration scored an R rating, nothing gruesome ever really happens. The screen's never slathered with the red stuff, there's not much I'd chalk up as gore, and even the frenzied bites and gunned down zombies avoid bursting out with any splatter. This is might be the single tamest zombie flick I've ever sat through. I didn't think much of Dead Space: Downfall either, but at least I felt like it was trying. Degeneration makes the mistake of assuming anyone really cares about the plot...weepy sob stories about trying to make a difference, bioterrorism headed up by some schlub with the not-exactly-menacing handle of General Grande (if you want to really strike terror, don't name yourself like something off the 99ยข menu at Taco Bell), conspiracy theories, a love triangle with lots of quiet, vacant staring... Where's the unsettlingly eerie atmosphere? How about some zombies? Something? Anything?

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,
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including chainlink fences and the rims of glasses. This is light enough to not be too distracting, but it creeps in more frequently than I'd like. I'm not sure if that's a misstep in the authoring or the way the animation was originally rendered.

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.
  • Interactive Picture-in-Picture: This Blu-ray exclusive feature uses three of the colored buttons on the remote to control a tiny picture-in-picture window. As the movie breezes along, you can toggle between animatics, the raw motion capture footage, or roughly sketched storyboards. Not all of these option are always available -- the mocap is definitely more sparse than the other two -- but it's still a pretty great feature.

  • Pop-up Trivia Track: I'm usually not all that much of a fan of trivia tracks, but this ranks up there as one of the better ones I've seen. A few highlights include a note that the actors behind the motion capture took their jobs seriously to actually smooch even when the sensors weren't snapping away, the backstories of a few prominent zombies being fully spelled out, why the G-monster chases after one character in particular, a few models that had to be redesigned after resembling some real-life politicians a little too closely, and a long list of some of the ideas nixed during production. Conceptual art, 3D models, sketches, zoomed in peeks at the production design, and model sheets also pop up in a small window.
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  • The Generation of Degeneration (30 min; HD): This half hour, high-def featurette tears through pretty much everything: a run through the characters both new and old, hammering out a story more closely tied to the original games, the design of the levels backdrops in the movie, a Japanese director who doesn't speak a lick of English overseeing motion capture sessions with a small army of American actors, the training the cast underwent with a military advisor, Degeneration's stab at a more realistic approach to CGI... It's a pretty solid making-of piece. Annoyingly, though, this featurette is in Japanese but isn't subtitled by default. When I flip on the English subtitles with the remote, everything is subtitled, including all of the comments and dialogue already in English.

  • Character Profiles (HD): Each of the main characters in the movie scores a biography along with either a photo gallery or a high-def action montage.

  • Faux Leon Interview (5 min): The only standard definition extra in the set, this tongue-in-cheek, hyperenunciated interview with the actor tackling Leon's mocap is a little too obnoxious to suffer through from start to finish.
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  • Voice Bloopers (9 min; HD): A few scenes are cut together differently with goofy dialogue -- y'know, quips about the voice actors' paydays, blaming all the havoc that's wreaked for an hour and a half straight on the writers, the gals getting pissier about a love triangle, President Evil...blah. None of 'em really manage to score much of a laugh.

  • Resident Evil: Degeneration Trailers (4 min; HD): Four different trailers have been piled on here.

  • Resident Evil 5 Footage (5 min; HD): Two trailers -- one from the Tokyo Game Show and another that made the rounds theatrically -- plug the game that picks up where Degeneration leaves off.
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  • Previews (HD): A slew of high-def trailers are packed on too, including clips for Resident Evil: Extinction and Zombie Strippers.

  • BD Live: Like everything Sony's churning out these days, Resident Evil: Degeneration has some sort of online interactivity. The switch hasn't been flipped on yet, so whether or not anything worth a couple of clicks is waiting in the wings...no idea.

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.
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