“First and foremost, this script is much more faithful to the video game in that it is essentially a movie adaptation of the first game” blogger Arrow84 notes in his review of the script for Channel Awesome. “However, the speed that the script moves along with is also a detriment to it as some concepts and ideas that could use a bit more explanation or exposition are really just glossed over. Strangely enough, most of what works well for the script could also be considered as working against the movie. It features the characters from the game but alters them, some in minor ways, others is major ways. The script has a very diverse group of monsters to the point that they are really only around for one or two scenes before we move on to the next threat. Other than the zombies, hunters, and Tyrant none of the creatures are in more than one scene.”
Romero felt that Capcom were very happy with the script that but Eichinger had reservations. While he knew the script needed to be gory to pay tribute to the games, Romero’s vision for Resident Evil was far too NC-17 for his liking. As AintitCool’s Quint notes in his 2000 review of the script, “There’s a horse that tries to stand after it’s been mauled and its intestines fall out. There’s about 50 zombie headshots, there are legs ripped off, animal body parts which are trying to crawl, a zombie dog eats out somebody’s heart through the poor bastard’s back. Lots of zombie bites. Another zombie appears suddenly biting out the muscle between the shoulder and the neck. A zombie bites someone’s cheek off. Hunks of flesh are torn from arms, legs, etc. There’s a zombie that gets melted by acid, but still comes after the group because the acid hasn’t reached its brain yet. A man is half digested by a huge snake. The Hunters go to work on an unlucky bastard with their metallic claws. The Tyrant skewers a few people with his huge, bionic hand. The wonderful world of Romero.” While it may have been in-keeping with the video game, Eichinger was simply not a fan of violent movies. “Romero does indeed let heads burst like melons, something you don’t see every day,” he said in an interview with German magazine Spiegel Online. “Seriously, I will put it into context, it is of course in the nature of the genre, that there’s a lot of violence going on. Violence for me [is] something else; if pointless blood spurts out [of a decapitation] and is done as if it were real, I hate that. Equally when hands are cut off people with chainsaws in films.”
Progression on Resident Evil went cold after Romero penned a couple more drafts of his script. In 1999, he told The Chicago Tribune that, “it’s just been a mess. I did a bunch of drafts of the script and, you know, the same Hollywood story. I don’t know if it’s dead or what.” Just a few weeks later, Capcom producer Yoshiki Okamoto told Electronic Gaming Monthly that Romero had been officially fired from the project, but several websites noted that he was still involved in some capacity. Several names cropped up to replace him including Blade’s Steve Norrington and Urban Legend’s Jamie Blanks as well as Paul W.S. Anderson, who was best known for his adaptation of Mortal Kombat in 1995. “I didn’t want to do another video game movie because Mortal Kombat had been such a huge success, and I didn’t really want to revisit that territory, but I just fell in love with the games,” Anderson says. “And not just the games themselves, but also the source material the games were based upon.”
Romero confirmed with DGA Magazine in February 2000 that he was no longer working on the Resident Evil movie, and said that a difference of opinion is what finally pushed him out. “We thought it was a shoo-in,” Romero says. “I thought Capcom loved it, everybody loved the script. But the guy that runs Constantin, it just wasn’t the way he wanted to go. I don’t think he knew anything about video games, or anything else. This is the guy that made House of the Spirits and I don’t think he knew [what] the spirit of the video game was meant to be.” Alan Bryce, editor of horror magazine The Dark Side noted to British newspaper The Independent that Romero directing a movie based on Resident Evil was essentially redundant and felt he was better off moving on. “As Resident Evil is, in effect, the game of Night of the Living Dead, making a film of it seems a fairly pointless exercise,” he said. “And as the computer game audience is made up of young people, the companies which produce them are going to want a movie that gets a 12 or a 15 certificate. They won’t want someone like Romero to make a really horrific, scary, terrifying film that can only be shown to people over 18 and would run into censorship problems in some countries. I’d bet that the film of Resident Evil will never get made.”
Without knowing it, Bryce was nearly correct as Constantin Films were getting ready to let go of the option to Resident Evil following Romero’s exit from the project. However Anderson convinced them to keep hold of them. “There was another option payment they were about to make, and they had kind of lost faith in the property,” he recalls. “They had decided that it just wasn’t going to become a movie. They were about to let go of it and I said, ‘no don’t do that – I really love it let’s do it together’. And they said, ‘well that sounds great, but we’ve spent so much money on it and we don’t want to spend any money’. And I said, ‘that’s okay, I’ll write the screenplay on spec’.” Anderson penned a script titled Undead, which follows the same basic premise of the story that would become the first Resident Evil movie, and sent to Eichinger to see if he wanted to option it. “I said that if they liked it, we can rename it Resident Evil and we can go and make it,” he says. “And if not, I’ve got a good Undead movie and I’ll go and make it with other people. So I wrote the screenplay and they loved it and we moved forward on that basis.” Happy with Anderson’s draft, French producer Samuel Hadida and his company Metropolitan Filmexport stepped in to pay for the new rights fee. When it came to writing Undead, Anderson had decided not to read Romero’s script as he wanted his take to be as different as possible. “I felt that if they liked the earlier drafts, they would have made them,” he says. “I didn’t want to get into too much detail on why they didn’t like them, because they had spent money on them and no one likes to throw money away. And I didn’t want to read something they were unhappy with.”
Luke Owen is the Deputy Editor of Flickering Myth, the co-host of the Flickering Myth Podcast and the author of Lights, Camera, GAME OVER!: How Video Game Movies Get Made (which you can pre-order from Amazon UK and Amazon US). You can follow him on Twitter @ThisisLukeOwen.