“Resident Evil” is an abstraction in the film world.
It’s a franchise based on a videogame that not only has found an audience, but also continued to build on it with each release. That’s a feat “Tomb Raider” couldn’t manage, even with Angelina Jolie filling out Lara Croft’s short shorts.
The hit-to-miss ratio of game-based films is not a good one. For every film that does well at the box office, there are legions of flops.
With “Resident Evil,” writer-director Paul W.S. Anderson’s choice to center the films on a protagonist not featured in the videogame — Milla Jovovich’s Alice — proved a masterstroke. It allowed him include characters from the game world that players identified with, but still have a focal point without preconceived perceptions. It was a big risk, and one that paid off. Many other gambles haven’t been so lucky. (Look no further than 2005’s “Doom.”)
The decidedly mixed reception of most game-based films has led several videogame publishers to more aggressively protect their intellectual property in recent years — to mixed effect.
Microsoft saw plans for a film based on its flagship “Halo” franchise fall apart when it refused to compromise on anything from creative approval over director and cast to the high budget. The company has since decided to produce a series of Web shorts on its own, that it then plans to compile into a direct-to-video release that will coincide with the release of “Halo 4” later this year.
That series, produced by former Warner Bros. exec Lydia Antonini and directed by Stewart Hendler, is being used as one of the chief marketing tools for the game, which is key to Microsoft’s holiday season.
Ubisoft is also being cautious about potential bigscreen ventures inspired by its top franchises, such as “Assassin’s Creed,” but not to the point where it’s scaring off studios. Unlike Microsoft, Ubisoft has a better understanding of how Hollywood works — and owns its own production studio. “Prometheus” star Michael Fassbender is attached, but the film is still very early in the production process.
Electronic Arts, meanwhile, is letting studios do most of the heavy lifting on upcoming adaptations of several of its games, but hasn’t taken a complete hands-off position. Casey Hudson, who has shepherded the “Mass Effect” series along since its creation, is involved with the Legendary Pictures project. And the company is working with DreamWorks for a planned 2014 bigscreen version of “Need for Speed,” which will coincide with the series’ 20th anniversary.
Like Anderson, producers George and John Gatins plan to invent a protagonist for the film. Then again, the game franchise has never been real story-intensive — beyond driving really, really fast and avoiding the police.
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