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Anderson, Paul W S

Entry updated 25 October 2021. Tagged: Film, People.

(1965-    ) English film-maker who has worked primarily for Hollywood. Aside from his UK-made debut Shopping (1994), all his films have been action-driven sf. He has worked as a director, producer and screenwriter, with a particular specialism in Videogame adaptations, a despised form which has made him easy to dismiss, but which he often transcends with inventive exploration of the distinctive narrative forms and adrenaline delivery structures of gameplay. He has also steered some stubbornly unmade genre projects to the screen, and has latterly emerged as a, perhaps the, premier director of action cinema in 3D. His longstanding custody of the Resident Evil film franchise has been contentious with fans of the games for its cavalier treatment of game mythology, though Anderson (unlike most directors of videogame adaptations) is at least an enthusiast of the form who takes the trouble to play the games he films.

His American debut, based on a very successful and particularly violent Videogame, was Mortal Kombat (1995). Anderson replicated the game's inane plotting and bloody action well enough to move on to more challenging scripts. His next project was Soldier (1998), a high-profile production from the co-writer of Blade Runner (1982) and set, in the event somewhat irrelevantly, in the same universe. When production was delayed, Anderson made the haunted-Starship sf/Horror film Event Horizon (1997), the best of his early movies, whose atmospheric screenplay owed something to Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris (1971), though with copious gore added to the mix. But the young filmmaker's career stalled badly when Soldier proved an expensive misfire. These earlier films were credited simply to Paul Anderson, but after Soldier he asked to be credited as Paul W S Anderson to avoid confusion with his celebrated fellow filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson.

Following the failure of Soldier Anderson was quiet for four years, directing only The Sight (2000), a made-for-television haunted-house movie set in London, which he also wrote and produced; from this point he would write nearly all his own screenplays as director. He returned to familiar territory with Resident Evil (2002), based on the Japanese video game Biohazard (known as Resident Evil in the West). Ironically for a director who had already made two movies about hauntings, Anderson's adaptation largely jettisoned the creepy mansion setting in favour of an emphasis on the science-fiction elements within the story, which in the game were revealed only in the finale. The film was quite serviceable, and for fans of the zombie genre, entertaining; Anderson wrote and produced, but did not direct, the lacklustre sequel Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004) and the more interesting Resident Evil: Extinction (2007), but returned to the director's chair for the extraordinary fourth instalment Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010), a relentless and often exhilarating exploration of the emerging technologies of 3D action cinema, which was followed by a 3D Steampunk version of The Three Musketeers (2011) with Airships.

By this time Anderson had attracted the regard of James Cameron, initially through his writing and direction of the comics-sourced crossover studio project AVP Alien vs Predator (2004), which Cameron pronounced the best Alien film since his own Aliens (1986), though the film met with a mixed reception and Anderson was not involved in the Brothers Strause's dismal sequel AVPR Aliens vs Predator: Requiem (2007). Cameron made his 3D camera systems from Avatar (2009) available for Anderson's Resident Evil: Afterlife. In the same period years Anderson took an increased interest in producing: financing the horror film The Dark (2005) and video-game adaptation DOA: Dead or Alive (2006), an absurd action film in the vein of Mortal Kombat, but with a lead cast entirely made up of big-breasted women, as well as the strikingly Andersonian sf feature Pandorum (2009). He also, after a long struggle, brought a cherished personal project to the screen in his remake of Roger Corman's Death Race 2000 as Death Race (2008): Anderson's strongest work to date, and a darkly ironic culmination of his career-long reflection on the relationship between first-person gaming and commercial big-screen spectacle. Anderson also produced and took joint story credit on the straight-to-DVD prequel Death Race 2 (2011).

Often depreciated as a bottom-feeding hack in the lowliest of genres, Anderson is a consistently skilful and inventive exponent of genre tropes and an accomplished visual entertainer, with few pretensions to more but an evident passion for genre and an acute appreciation of the videogame form; Soldier apart, all of his films deliver above generic expectation in one way or another. [JN/PN/NL]

Paul William Scott Anderson

born Newcastle upon Tyne, England: 4 March 1965


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