We Talk ‘Resident Evil: Retribution' with Paul W.S. Anderson

Paul W.S. Anderson must be a proud papa. Ever since Resident Evil invaded theatres in 2002, he's nurtured and cared for the resulting film franchise. On top of producing and writing all the films, Anderson directed the original, as well as one of the sequels, Resident Evil: Afterlife. Now back behind the camera for the fifth installment, Resident Evil: Retribution, Anderson took a break on the Toronto set to discuss with me the successful zombie saga.

You've always been an integral part of the Resident Evil franchise, having written all the episodes, but now you are directing back-to-back sequels, as opposed to handing them off to another director. What's keeping you excited?

That hasn't changed. I've always been really excited about it and it's always been a painful decision not to direct the two episodes that I didn't direct. If I'd been given my druthers, I would have done Apocalypse and Extinction. At the time, it was conflict with other studios and other movies and other commitments. A movie is not an art form where you get to come and sit in your artist garret and paint. You don't do that. You're spending a lot of somebody else's money. Like I said, given my druthers, I'd have directed every single one of them. I'm just happy to have been able to do the last one and this one.

How has 3D changed since doing both Three Musketeers and the last Resident Evil in 3D?

I think we've just become more adventurous with each movie. I mean, taking the cameras out on location a lot more. Obviously, not here, because we're not going to go out into the packed ice. It has nothing to do with 3D. We are trying to become more adventurous with it, I think. You know, more location work, more camera movement and more aggressive camera movement. I think the camera work on this is pretty aggressive for 3D. I think people's tolerance for what they can watch in 3D is obviously becoming stronger, so we've probably got more muscular camera moves in this one.

The ending of the fourth one was a climactic ending. We heard this one starts, if you will, with a flashback. What was your motivation for not jumping right into the action?

This one starts off with the payoff from the last one. We start on the deck of the Arcadia. It's a direct continuation of that.

So the flashback is later in the movie?

I can't possibly talk to you about flashbacks.

Can you talk about the decision to bring in Barry, Ada and Leon?

That was kind of fan-driven. All the fans were vocal about these were the characters they really wanted to see. We really tried to cast actors who brought those characters to life as close to the video game as possible. You have no idea how difficult it is to find someone with Leon Kennedy's hair. He has to be manly and has to have these long bangs. Geez, could you have made it more difficult for us here? But, I'm very happy with the actors we have.

How do you know these are the characters that fans want?

Basically, from being on the Internet and going to… I do a lot of press. I have a very close and open relationship with Capcom, who have their own Resident Evil forums, as well. It's through a lot of communication.

Are you finding it more difficult to draw inspiration from the game?

Not really. There's such a wealth of stuff in the games. We're going back to Resident Evil 4 and there's elements of Resident Evil 5 in this, like we have this big car chase that I'm very excited about. In Resident Evil 5, there was this awesome Hummer/ motor bike/ heavy machine gun battle with rocket launchers. I'm like, "This is so great!" We've taken inspiration from that. There's so much cool stuff from the games and it would be a long time before we ran out of material.

We heard from the cast that when you were writing this one, you were already thinking of a sixth instalment, and possibly filming them back-to-back. What happened?

There was an early discussion about that, but then we decided to focus on this movie. If it is that we made another one, I do know where it would go. Obviously, it would be great to make two full trilogies and then bring everything to an end.

That's the thing your significant other was mentioning, that she [Milla Jovovich] could only play the character so long. In your mind, is the sixth film the finale?

Yes, definitely. That's unless, of course, no one goes to see this one and this will be the finale, except not a very satisfying one.

Do you see yourself continuing with your involvement in Resident Evil?

I've always said we really take the movies one movie at a time, because we put so much effort into them. And while I have an idea of where I'd like the franchise to go, it really is a movie-by-movie thing for us. Quite often filmmakers think so much about what the franchise will be and sometimes neglect their effort into the movie they are actually making. So for us, it's 150 per cent into this one entry right now.

How do you feel the style of action, your directorial approach and some of your choices, make this one stand out apart from the rest?

Like I said, the camera work for the 3D is very aggressive and the action is just different for a Resident movie. It's not different from the games because like I said, we've taken a lot of inspiration from action sequences in the games. But to do car chases in 3D with cars and motor bikes- because the Las Plagas undead can use weaponry- that's a whole new aspect that hasn't been in the movie franchise before. That's pretty exciting.

I don't know if you're working with the same DP on this film as previous films…

Yes, it's Glen MacPherson, who did Afterlife.

Can you talk about the visual tone of the movie, not the action or the violence, but the overall look and the color scheme? Is there a certain palette you are going for?

It's an epic, undead movie and really is a globetrotting thing. We physically shot in Washington, D.C., Red Square and Shibuya in Tokyo. We're obviously recreating snow and ice sequences, but we've actually gone out on snow as well. It's really got a globetrotting feel to it and each one of these different places, we've tried to invest with a different feel. I'm excited about the snow and ice, obviously, as you can probably see with Ada lying with the red dress against the crisp white snow and the black Umbrella submarine. It's very graphic novelly, so that's very stark. But then the Red Square sequence is completely different. It's all at night and very, very gritty. The idea was to make the movie like a nightmare where you tumble from one bad dream to another, but you can't quite wake up. Each part of the dream feels very different, but also very unpleasant. It's almost like the visual look of three or four different films packed into one movie. Deliberately so, because each scenario you go from is radically different than the next, both in the way we shot it, and the way we lit it. So it's been driving Glen, our DP, crazy, because normally you get a DP and you set one look for a move. For him, every two weeks is different.

With all the different looks and globetrotting, and also the non linear narrative, is there a unifying theme that you're leaning on to bring that all together?

It's hard for me to explain what that is without giving away the plot twists and movie, but yes. It really has some cool twists in it, kind of inspired by the video game. It should be a very surprising narrative. I'm excited to put the whole thing together and I'm super excited to be working with returning actors from across the franchise, as well. That's been one of the really fun things, to bring Michelle [Rodriguez] back, bring Colin [Salmon] back and bring Oded [Fehr] back. Not just to work with them as people, because they're all really nice people, but also to have those familiar faces in the franchise, is really exciting.

Have you figured out where the Umbrella Corporation ultimately is, or, in each movie, are you sort of like, "Eh, we don't have to worry about it yet."

They are just this web of evil, totally ever growing with fantastic graphic design and lack of detail [laughter]. They build these incredible facilities with these amazing machines, but never manage to use them in the correct place. They always build too many vents and access shafts.

You mentioned you could see the sixth film as the series finale. Have you always thought the actual final headquarters is in Barcelona?

No, I have a very definite idea of where their final lair would be, so yes. Also, it will look beautiful, but easy to get into!

Are we going to see what happens to Chris and Claire in this one? Obviously, Wentworth Miller and Ali Larter are not back. Or are they?

No, Wentworth and Ali are not back, but their characters are still in the franchise.

We saw Bad Rain take a shot of something in the neck. Michelle Rodriguez was explaining it makes her stronger or more impervious to bullets or something. Is that the case?

She injects herself with the Las Plagas parasite. There's a moment in the game where one of the characters injects themselves. We built exactly the same injection device and are framing the shots exactly the same way. So there will be an unpleasant parasitic creature in that colored vial that you'll see squirted into her veins. It's a theme in all of the games. Some characters inject themselves and develop their superpowers, but they pay the price for it.

We heard in the next eight or nine days, you're going to be doing a lot of action stuff. Can you talk about what's coming up with the filming?

It's all fighting on the packed ice. We've got the dialogue out of the way. It's all done so from now on, it's all the fight stuff.

We see the sub coming up through the ice. How much time do you guys spend in the sub during the movie?

You see the sub a lot, but there's not really much inside the submarine. It's more of a getting from point A to point B.