It is a little known fact that Christian charity shops are actually gateways to hell (judging by the unholy DVDs and books in most of these places). As I entered one such shop last week in the Arsenal area of North London, my nostrils were greeted with the pungent smell of marijuana. The smell was due to the tenant upstairs, I was assured indirectly by the shop owners, who watched me suspiciously – presumably they were appalled by my ability to first recognise the smell of weed, and second, my uttering the drug’s name out loud. The shop wasn’t exactly a welcoming place, but those unholy DVDs – rows upon rows – held my attention for a good ten minutes.
This particular charity shop visit ended with me grabbing two videogame documentaries – a definite first. Another first on this here blog is a post that attempts to compare the two. But there’s a first time for everything, so I present you a comparison of Capcom’s Resident Evil mockumentary promo, Wesker’s Report, and Gametap’s 10 Years of Tomb Raider documentary.
First, Wesker’s Report (originally a Japan-only mockumentary released to hype Code Veronica). I was fully expecting it to be terrible. I like terrible films though, and the idea of a mockumentary presented by Albert Wesker sounded like comedy gold. The same charity shop had Resident Evil: Degeneration on DVD, which I didn’t get… from the looks of things Degeneration is a feature length film of Resident Evil 4 cutscenes. Yes, really.
Wesker’s Report is really strange. Wesker has probably had five or six different voice actors over the years, and for this twenty minute long promo piece the random voice actor decided Wesker was now English. The documentary contains no original footage that I can see. Instead it recycles footage from the previous games in the most inconsistent fashion conceivable.We go from the live-action FMV which opens the original Resident Evil, to gameplay footage of RE, to cutscene footage from RE2, back to live-action footage from RE, within about the first two minutes.
All the most dramatic moments are present, complete with glaring contradictions courtesy of Wesker’s voiceover. A brief spoiler here: remember in the original RE (and the REmake) when Wesker reveals his “baby”, the Tyrant, only to be killed by it? Well according to the voiceover he did that on purpose. That’s right, “what are you doing?! Stay back! Noooo” was him acting, he assures us. Best worst acting I’ve ever seen – it’s like a triple bluff.
Wesker won me over in the end. It’s strange, it’s convoluted, it’s absurd. But the fact that the game makers take the canon of the Resident Evil series so seriously – so seriously they devoted an entire promo DVD to it – is really endearing. It comes off like a fan tribute: the convoluted backstory feels straight out of the mind of a zealous fanboy, and the video source material has the hallmarks of a devoted amateur.
Which brings us to the Tomb Raider documentary, which is anything but endearing. There is only one thing about the documentary that even comes close: the interview with Lara’s original designer, Toby Gard. He’s the only one in the whole programme who comes off as actually giving a shit about the games, the character, the mythology. In fact he’s a bit like Dr Frankenstein – he clearly loves his creation and hates what Core/Eidos did with it. With that awkwardness out of the way the documentary can get on with the real business: what Core/Eidos did with it. Everyone else, from balding men to identikit blonde women, has dollar signs in their eyes. Prepare for puns-a-plenty in this captivating tale of advertisers, licensees and tomb raiders for hire!
The resulting film portrays the ins and outs of Lara Croft’s history with licencing. We’re privy to a photoshoot with former Lara Croft models used to advertise the games, and a day at a games convention with the then-current Lara Croft lookalike posing for photos with fans. We also get the creepy, sleazy boss of Eidos explaining what made them bankroll Tomb Raider in the first place: “What would gamers rather look at? A blue hedgehog, an Italian plumber, or Lara’s sweet behind?” I wish I was making this up.
There’s also a “feminist debate” over the ins and outs of Lara’s representation. One pretty lady (magazine straight hair) appears on-screen and says it’s good, and if you’ve got it, flaunt it. Another pretty lady (messy intellectual hair) says it’s bad, it’s unrealistic. The documentary narrator concludes, “one thing’s for certain: Lara’s here to stay”. Right…as long as there’s money to be made, I guess!
My expectations for these documentaries should have been reversed. Wesker’s Report was a far more entertaining romp through the convoluted Resi mythology than it had any right to be. The Tomb Raider doc, which comes as part of the Tomb Raider Anniversary Collector’s Edition was a depressing, a sanitised, PR-tastic history of Lara Croft, The Brand™.
Let’s sum up these two docs then: both narrators are clinical, English and evil; the East loves mythology; the West loves PR; both docs make excellent charity shop fodder; I’ve had enough; I’m going home.