Let it be said: the history of the 7th Art is punctuated with examples of unfinished film projects for various and varied reasons, sometimes obscure or not. Witness for example the adaptation of Dune that Alejandro Jodorowsky cared to make, before his pharaonic project fell through. A story brilliantly recounted in the formidable documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune, released in theaters in March 2016.
A list of unfinished projects to which must be added the version that George A. Romero could have made of the adaptation of the video game license resident Evil, whose new film component, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City, has just been released in theaters. The story on Romero’s aborted project is all the more tasty as the new film directed by Johannes Roberts synthesizes the story of the first and second part of the video game saga.
Resident Evil 2, from Live advertising to (almost) movie
The beginning of the story, however, takes place under good auspices. In 1998, the filmmaker was contacted by the video game publisher Capcom to carry out an advertisement Live intended for the Japanese market, in order to promote the release of the new title of its now famous license: Resident Evil 2.
Calling on the author of Night of the Living Dead, the quintessential founding film of the zombie subgenre, is all your stuff. Taking place in the cell corridor of an abandoned police station, this 30-second advertising spot features two actors, the late Brad Renfro and Adrienne Frantz, whom Soap Love, Glory and Beauty fans know well.
Below, the ad in question …
“Every detail mattered to him” told Adrienne frantz at Variety; “I remember he even showed me how to cock the shotgun correctly!” The actress was indeed struck by Romero’s concern to faithfully recreate certain aspects of the video game license, even for a 30-second commercial.
Anyway, the result ended up catching the eye of Executive from home. Sony Pictures, to the point that the Major ordered a script from him for a future adaptation of the license on the big screen, which Romero would also produce.
At the time, the choice of such a director for this future adaptation made sense. “Having Romero attached to this project gave real legitimacy to horror movie fans. Back then, if you thought of zombies, you automatically thought of Romero. see such a movie “ explains Rob Kuhns, who also signed in 2013 a documentary on the influence and importance of Night of the Living Dead in Pop culture with Birth of the Living Dead.
We must also add to this that the first game resident Evil also pays homage to the filmmaker, if only in the choice of framing and its atmosphere; the Game Designer of the game, the legendary Shinji Mikami, has never hidden it, he who discovered Romero’s film at the age of 15 and was permanently marked by this discovery.
For Romero, this project is also timely and should put him back in the saddle. He worked for nearly ten years on behalf of New Line Cinema, to develop scripts and projects, which unfortunately never saw the light of day. At that time, his last production dates from 1993, with La Part des ténèbres, an adaptation of Stephen King’s work.
Romero finally got off the project
Romero writes his script in six months. Set in the famous Spencer mansion, part of the plot of the first part of the video game saga, the film must also feature two emblematic characters of the franchise: Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine. Contrary to what will be the film of Paul WS Anderson, the script of Romero remains extremely faithful to the universe of the game, and this even in the choice of certain creatures which must be present on the screen, like the giant snake ( and genetically engineered) Yawn, who we face twice in the first game and who gave players a cold sweat at the time. It is all the more surprising that, not having played the license, Romero notably worked a lot by dissecting the video of an assistant filmed playing over long gaming sessions.
Yet despite this loyalty to the mythology of the license, Sony and Capcom torpedo Romero’s storyline. The reason ? It will be given -and simply- later by Yoshiki Okamoto, producer at Capcom: “Romero’s script was not good, so Romero got fired”. The filmmaker seems it all the more badly lived this rejection that the video game license took again – not to say looted – without complex ideas and elements of his zombie films …
Either way, the film ended up landing in the hands of Paul WS Anderson. Produced with a budget of around $ 30 million, the film will bring in just over $ 100 million. Rather profitable then, even if the fans howled at the betrayal of the license.
Ironically enough, the success of Anderson’s film – in addition to getting the green light for a sequel – also helped rekindle viewers’ interest in zombie films. This is one of the reasons why George A. Romero was able to make his Land of the Dead in 2005, rather successful.
In 2019, Capcom will accompany the release of its formidable remake of Resident Evil 2 with a live trailer, thought of as a tribute to the one produced 21 years earlier by the master of horror, who unfortunately left us in 2017 at the age 77.