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Dead Space: Downfall on blu-ray

November 2008 SITE MAP   SEARCH

Dead Space: Downfall
voice cast: Bruce Boxleitner, Nika Futterman

director: Chuck Patton

74 minutes (18) 2008
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Manga DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 3/10
reviewed by Michael Bunning
Convergence and meta-stories and multi-media franchises are big business these days. At the end of just about all the Marvel Comics' films there's a coda in which a character from an as-yet-unreleased film appears. The Matrix films spawned a dreadful videogame, which took place in between the second and third films and continued the story. The Dark Knight had a series of animated shorts (Gotham Knight) that fleshed out the Batman myth. And now, videogame publishing behemoth Electronic Arts has decided to get in on the action, releasing a comic and film to support their new action-survival horror game, Dead Space.

Downfall is the animated film prequel to the Dead Space game, and theoretically fleshes out the universe that the game takes place in, and fills in some of the backstory so that the player feels like they're playing in a bigger, more realised world. As such, it's not an ideal standalone watch, since it's designed to be a complimentary (though subservient) piece to the videogame.

This puts the film in both a good and a bad position. It doesn't particularly have to bother about being very good, as the videogame has been hyped and advertised to eager gamers for months, and it's guaranteed an audience. On the other hand, the film is supposed to support the game, and some part of that must involve persuading people on the fence that buying the game is a good idea. Unfortunately, it does a dreadful job of that.

The animation is only of average quality, and although the voice actors do their best, they're working from an appalling script: the dialogue is leaden and peppered with gratuitous swearing, which feels as though it is included simply to ensure an 18 certificate. There's a debate raging in videogame circles at the moment, which centres on whether so-called mature games actually deal with mature themes, or whether they're just full of swearing, gore, and the occasional salacious bit of flesh. Well, aside from the flesh part (which is conspicuous in its absence), Dead Space: Downfall is firmly in the latter camp. It's the sort of 'mature' that's designed to appeal to immature teenage boys, with gore and cursing a-plenty, but very little in the way of substance.

This is a shame, as Dead Space's universe seems quite interesting, when the viewer's allowed a (all-too-brief) glimpse at it. Humanity has expanded into the stars, but has found evidence of extra-terrestrial life. With an ever-increasing need for resources, entire planets are being mined, using a new technique called 'planet cracking', in which a huge section of the crust and mantle are cut out of the planet in order to extract ore. (This is one of those 'glimpses': aside from the name and that brief description, it's never made clear how this is possible without the planet exploding and destroying the mining ship, or what happens after the planet has been cracked.) There's a new-ish religious cult which is quickly gaining numbers and which opposes planet cracking. Called the Unitologists, they believe that the universe itself is a living thing, and that destroying planets is damaging it. Again, an interesting concept, but one that's never explored any further.

The plot of the film deals with events onboard the USG Ishimura, a planet-cracker mining ship. While surveying the planet prior to starting mining operations, a strange twisted artefact is discovered. Despite this incontrovertible proof of alien existence, the decision is made to continue with the mining and to transport the artefact back to Earth. The artefact is stored in a mining camp for a week, and immediately, the camp goes crazy, with everyone in the camp turning paranoid, murderous and psychopathic. Amazingly, the link between the madness and the artefact is never made, and the artefact is brought aboard the Ishimura, along with several bodies, which quickly turn into monster-zombie-creatures and begin killing and infecting the crew. A small team of survivors must try to contain the zombie menace, by chopping them to pieces with fusion cutter weaponry.

And that's it. Most of the film is given over to fight sequences, which are effective if you're into mindless violence. The story never reaches a conclusion, as it finishes at the exact moment at which the game begins, so in order to get any resolution, you'll have to play through the game. The nature of the artefact is never explored (for the same reason), and since the film makes no effort whatsoever to draw the viewer into the universe (relying instead on copious amounts of blood to entertain), the already-slim running time feels a good half-hour too long.

As someone who enjoys games, I was actually looking forward to Dead Space: Downfall. I intended to play the game, and wanted to know more about the universe before I did so, so that my gaming experience was richer. In other words, I'm squarely in the target audience. After watching Downfall, I was left feeling apathetic towards the game, since the movie insulted my intelligence by jumping straight into lowest-common-denominator blood-and-cussing territory, and didn't even do a particularly spectacular job at that. Avoid.

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