OCTOBER 22, 2008
You’re on a platform, there’s a little brown mole thing coming at you, and some bricks above your head look like they can be reached with the top of your noggin provided you utilize a running jump. That’s pretty much all the backstory you got with Super Mario Bros. But nowadays, that simply won’t do. Now you need tie-in products to flesh out the backstory! Hence, Dead Space: Downfall, which is a prequel to the game of the same name (and a sequel to the comic book series, which fleshed out the backstory to the backstory).
And now that I’ve played thru some of the game, all I can say is “Thank Christ” that EA has licensed out their game to other mediums, because the game is a bit short on story so far. Like a lot of modern games, I often have no clue as to why I am doing the things I’m doing (Halo being the worst offender of this), but at least I know why the ship that the game has me fighting monsters on came to be the way it is, thanks to Downfall.
Even as a standalone movie, it’s actually pretty good, all things considered. No one’s going to pretend that it exists for any reason other than to promote the game, but everyone clearly put some time and effort into it, and after a slow start, it’s actually a pretty exciting addition to the “spaceship is under siege by monsters” genre. Also, the animation, and the inclusion of a religious angle (shades of Scientology) makes it stick out even more. I particularly like the 2nd half of the film, which contains a bunch of badass spaceship types taking on some pretty original monsters. There’s a bit in which a girl takes a laser cutter and chops off the front of a monster’s head that ranks as one of the best alltime kills in this type of movie,
I only wish I knew a bit more about the “crew” that the girl was a part of, since most of them are literally introduced in the middle of an action scene, and not given much further characterization either. The first half of the movie is rather dull at times, and focuses a lot on characters who aren’t important in the long run, so I wish they had restructured it a bit more like Aliens (an obvious influence) and given us a chance to get to know these guys before they spring into action. I guess since anyone who knows their alien movies also knows that they’re not long for this world, and thus it isn’t “necessary”, but still.
There is a moment that made me laugh out loud too. If you’re a fan of Eric Fensler’s GI Joe cartoon parodies, you will definitely appreciate a scene late in the film when a bunch of monsters appear and seemingly surround our heroes. One of them yells “Fuck! We’re all dead!”; an oft-quoted line from one of the episodes (my personal favorite one in fact). Whether it was intentional or not, I don’t know, but it’s awesome.
Speaking of cartoons, as this IS an animated film, part of the enjoyment stems from how much you enjoy the artwork. I am not a big fan of the anime-influenced design, but it didn’t bother me much. What DOES annoy me is when they blend the rather crude 2D stuff with incredibly gorgeous 3D models and backgrounds. Especially on Blu-ray, the various spaceships and landscapes look phenomenal, and you can really see how much detail and care was put into their design. So when it gets obscured by a flat, not very exciting drawing of a guy in a spacesuit, it’s kind of disheartening, especially when cut corners are apparent (such as when someone is talking and nothing on their body is moving except their lips).
More importantly, the movie does a good job of laying down some of the “rules” of the game. The game has no traditional HUD (heads up display, i.e. your health bar, ammo meter, minimap, etc.); instead everything is worked into your character’s suit. Most prominent is a turquoise bar that runs vertically on your guy’s back, which is your health meter. When the bar gets low, you’re almost dead. This is explained in the movie (though rather oddly, a guy is killed and then his bar vanishes all at once; it should appear half “full” on an injured character for the idea to really come across). You also learn a bit about the dismemberment idea that the game introduces (enemies need to be dismembered in specific ways to be killed, as opposed to the usual sort of “shoot it in the head to kill it instantly or shoot it anywhere 5 times” concept), and there are other little minor things that both pay off stuff from the comic book and set up things in the game (the game begins literally the second that the movie ends). And it’s worth noting that these things feel organic to the film, not shoehorned in for the purpose of aiding would-be game players.
The DVD is rather slim with extras. A “deleted scene” is actually just some animated storyboards, and there’s also a photo gallery. No making of or commentary type stuff is included, which is a shame as it would be an interesting thing to discuss, having to make what is essentially the middle part of a trilogy and yet make sure it works for those who don’t care about the comic or game. There are also a couple of cheat codes included for those gamers who aren’t aware of the existence of Gamefaqs.
In the end, it fares far better than other animated tie in properties (such as the abysmal Riddick cartoon, which I think is by the same animation studio), likely due to having a script by seasoned comic vets Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray (though oddly, they did not work on the comic). A slow start is redeemed by a pretty great 2nd half, and while the extras are pretty worthless, the 3D images look amazing on Blu-Ray (I assume the 2D stuff doesn’t benefit from a high def presentation), making it definitely worth a rental, or a purchase if you love the game and want to really explore the world of Dead Space. I wish there was some sort of deluxe package with everything (movie, game, comic) included, but the Blu-Ray is pretty cheap on its own.
What say you?