Thursday, 22 September 2011

Guest Article: Jenny Barber on "Alice in Zombieland"

My guest today is Jenny Barber - someone who has written several pieces, fiction and non-fiction, for as esteemed publications as Dark Horizons, the BFS Journal and Graveyard Rendezvous. She has been involved with Fantasycon for many years now, and you can usually find her at the registration desk!

Alice in Zombieland

I can forgive a story a lot if there’s a kick-ass female character somewhere in it, and for all the cheesy dialogue and occasionally contrived plot-necessary stupidity, the Resident Evil films and their accompanying novelizations by Keith R. A. DeCandido score a permanent place in my heart due to the awesomeness that is Alice Abernathy. Not that there aren’t other excellent characters in the films – Resident Evil #1 (subtitled Genesis in the DeCandido novelizations) has Rain Melendez, there’s Jill Valentine in Resident Evil: Apocalypse and Claire Redfield in both Resident Evil: Extinction and Afterlife; but Alice is the hero of the stories, and it’s her evolution through the growing zombie apocalypse that sets the pace for the plot related shenanigans.

Resident Evil: Genesis gives us, quite naturally, the beginning of both Alice and the apocalypse. Here she starts out as the evening-dress clad amnesiac head of security of the evil corporation that is very soon going to destroy the world. She knows about the atrocities Umbrella were engineering in their labs, and was working to help expose them; and even when she loses all memory of both this and the vast array of useful combat skills she’s packing, she rises to the occasion. On instinct she takes up the leadership role with the remaining survivors, rediscovering neat tricks like how to run up a wall and drop kick a zombie-dog’s head. (Always a useful skill to have!)

In Resident Evil: Apocalypse, she becomes the soldier returning to battle. After being experimented on by Umbrella, she’s loaded with a few extra powers that let her heal faster, hit harder and generally do slightly deranged things like running down skyscrapers and killing Lickers with her poor innocent motorcycle.

Again, she’s immediately thrust into the leadership role, though given Jill Valentine’s unrepentant alpha female-ness, it’s a close run thing. As comrades in arms, leading their ever diminishing troop of survivors through the zombie-torn wreck of a city, they both kick serious ass, but it’s Alice who makes the deal to get them out of the city and Alice who has to act as exposition fairy for the rest and explain the technicalities of the T-Virus infection. It’s also Alice who is of most interest to the evil scientists who use the disaster to test the extent of her new powers against Nemesis and later tag her and release her back into the wild.

Resident Evil: Extinction turns Alice into a lone gunslinger travelling the dusty roads of the post-apocalyptic US, with powers so immense that she can fry the chips in satellites and incinerate a sky full of infected crows. Not a bad set of powers to have, although Umbrella’s attempts at hacking into her brain and controlling her are somewhat problematical.

While the details of their control over her is passed over quickly in the film, focussing on a temporary loss of motor control during the Vegas battle and hijacking her vision with Alice-cam, DeCandido’s novelization gives the deeper reveal of the unfortunate deaths Umbrella ordered Alice to commit and both the limitations of the programming and her early attempts to bypass it.

This gives her an extra air of tragedy as there she is with the perfect set of skills to protect her friends and she doesn’t dare go near them in case she loses control and kills them.

In Extinction, it’s Alice who finds the hope of a sanctuary and brings it to the roaming survivors and, by virtue of her being Umbrella’s favourite target, it’s Alice who provides the means for the rag-tag bunch to get there. But she’s also the cause of the heightened danger. It’s a serum produced from her blood that produces the new faster nastier style of zombies that Umbrella throws into the arena, and, thusly, the extreme mutations experienced by Dr Isaacs when he becomes the end-of-film monster Alice is tasked with killing. That her blood is apparently the key to a cure for the T-virus as well can hardly come as a surprise at this point.

And then there’s the clones. Because, why not. What girl doesn’t want an army of clones at her back. Originally created to provide experimental fodder for the evil scientists, it takes two Alices to put down the Isaacs monster in Extinction, but it’s going to take a whole army of them to hit Umbrella where it hurts.

With the potential cure storyline seemingly dropped, Resident Evil: Afterlife brings us several iterations of Alice. She’s the leader of the clone army who attack Umbrella’s Tokyo facility – events which provide the plot-handy extermination of all the clones and the neutralisation of the superpowers. And yet, an Alice without crazy genetic superpowers is still a formidable woman, walking away from plane crashes with minimal damage, jumping off rooftops with hoards of zombies chasing her and generally doing serious damage to anyone who tries to threaten her and those in her charge.

She takes on something of an Amelia Earhart vibe as she flies around looking for life, picking up an amnesiac Claire Redfield and pulling a near-suicidal landing on the top of the L.A. prison where the next clutch of potential zombie-fodder and survivors await. And, yet again, she falls into the leadership role, taking charge of the escape plans, leading the fights and the exploration of the Arcadia and setting up the reworked broadcast in hope of helping more survivors.

Like the T-virus she was once infected with, Alice adapts herself to each new environment without hesitation. She’s resourceful, insanely courageous, capable of surviving on her own but still able to accept the help of other survivors and trusting them to back her up when necessary. She’s a force of a nature that will not be stopped despite the continuous attempts by Umbrella and their creations and even at her weakest, Alice is still a completely kick-ass character who makes you want to see just how she’s going to get out of the latest trouble and what they can possibly find to throw at her next.

Thanks for an ace post, Jenny!

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