JANUARY 10, 2011
OK, I don’t keep up with anime – is this “let’s have 5-6 different animation teams do a single narrative” approach the common thing now? The first Dead Space animated movie, Downfall, had just the one team (at least for the characters), but now the 2nd, Dead Space: Aftermath follows the Dante’s Inferno-style method of knocking you right out of the narrative every 15 minutes or so by changing animation styles. And it’s a shame, because it’s otherwise a pretty good movie, and got me even more pumped to play the game (which is the only reason it exists, I’m sure).
Luckily, it’s not AS jarring as Inferno, because there’s at least some sort of rhyme and reason behind the animation shifts, whereas in Inferno it just happened every now and then without fanfare (sometimes even mid-scene). Aftermath’s narrative employs flashbacks, as the four survivors of a space disaster recount their tale one by one. So one team handles all of the present day stuff, and then each time someone tells their part of the tale, we get a new team. However, it’s still disorienting, and often difficult to tell which character is which at first, especially in the case of the Borges character, who becomes black in one team’s version. If not for the fact that I recognized the actor’s voice (it’s Carlos from Desperate Housewives!), it probably would have led to a lot of confusion as the film went on.
Also, the flashback animations all looked really good, but the “wraparound” stuff (3D CGI) seemed looked a bit too simplistic, like they were barely past the animatic stage – no detail on the faces, bland backgrounds, etc. This makes the shifts even more awkward – you go from a detailed cel-based version of a character to something that looks like a PS1 cut-scene. I understand that animated films require a lot of folks and that these things probably don’t have the biggest budgets, but the first movie didn’t suffer from this problem, and now Dead Space is a proven IP – surely they could have gotten the money required to make the thing visually consistent. But as I said, I don’t follow anime much – maybe this is just how they do things now.
I do follow movies about space monsters though, and this is a pretty good one. The flashback structure actually works quite well – they don’t waste much time on the characters we know didn’t make it, and the journey showing how they got from the beginning of the story (on a planet that’s about to implode) to the end (on a spaceship not unlike the one you were on in the first game) was more complex and interesting than I expected at first. It goes into surprisingly morbid territory too – one guy snaps and kills his wife and baby, and another keeps seeing the ghost of his daughter (who was seemingly hit by a car – another grim moment) wandering around everywhere, which usually causes him to freak out and kill someone.
It also does a good job of fitting into the existing universe without being impenetrable to those who are new to the Dead Space franchise. Game hero Isaac Clarke is only mentioned at the very end of the film, and as far as I can tell, all of the characters we follow are specific to this story (they take a while to explain why one dude is missing an arm though – until that point I figured he was from one of the other stories but he explains about halfway through that it was a mining accident). The Dead Space universe has spanned five games, a comic, two novels, and now two animated films – there’s a lot of backstory and mythology to work with, but even though I’ve only played the first game and seen the other movie, I wasn’t lost or even momentarily puzzled as to what they were referring to. However, the stuff involving the “marker” might be a bit vague to newcomers; I’d suggest at least reading a few Wiki entries to get up to speed on that aspect, if time is short and you don’t have time for the game.
And it has a lot of references! The ship is called the O’Bannon, which better be an obvious reference to anyone watching horror movies set in space. One of the minor characters plays Dante’s Inferno on his space-PSP (and points out that the movie is better – heh), and the ending is pretty much an homage to Armageddon, as someone has to stay behind and press a button manually in order for the mission to succeed. With the animation shifts annoying me, these minor moments of levity helped even things out.
I could have done without the profanity though (I know, ironic). The occasional F-bomb is fine (the movie IS R-rated after all – there’s even some nudity), but it sounded excessive at times; Ricardo Chavira’s character would often drop it twice in one sentence (like, “Stop fucking around or I will fucking kill you!” or whatever). I also wouldn’t have minded another action scene with the monsters; they have less of a presence here than I remember from the first movie.
The DVD and Blu are pretty bare-bones though; the only extra is a trailer for the game, which shows off some of the (awesome) new monsters and reveals that Isaac actually talks this time (he never uttered a word in the first game, even in cut scenes). I didn’t love the first game, due to that and the repetitive nature of the missions, but it looks like those issues have been fixed for this one (there’s also multiplayer), and I never got too tired of shooting up Necromorphs once I had maxed out my weapons. So I’m certainly feeling the itch to play the sequel, and the movie certainly played a part in that. It’s a bit short (only 76 minutes, including lengthy end credits and a full minute or so of “ so and so company presents” at the beginning), but it’s an enjoyable blend of psychological and monster action (shades of Pandorum), and I think animation buffs will enjoy seeing how different teams interpret the characters.
What say you?