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Dead Space: Downfall (2008)

Anchor Bay Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 10/28/2008

All Ratings out of
Movie:
Video:
Audio:
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/22/2008

For some older readers, or for those out of touch with the industry, the term "video game story" may not make any sense, may seem like an oxymoron, or may indicate a story in which someone plays a videogame. Those individuals need to learn that modern video games do indeed have narratives, some of which are quite deep and complex. (It was a little game called Resident Evil which introduced me to this concept over a decade ago, and that remains my greatest gaming experience.) These stories have a beginning, middle, and end, and as the game progresses, the player not only experiences the story, but manipulates it as well. Sometimes, the story is so big that the game can't cover all of it. That's why we get side projects, such as Dead Space: Downfall, an animated movie which offers a prequel of sorts to the Electronic Arts game Dead Space.

Dead Space: Downfall is set in the outer reaches of space, where a mining colony is exploring a barren, uninhabited planet. Workers Colin Barrow (voiced by Bruce Boxleitner) and his wife, Jen (voiced by Lia Sargent), unearth a huge alien artifact, which is covered in odd hieroglyphics. The miners are informed that a ship will be coming to retrieve the artifact and that officials of the Unitologist Church are interested in it. Soon, the Ishimura arrives in orbit to claim the artifact...and to take a huge chunk of the planet with it. However, things in the colony have gotten dicey and the homicide and suicide rate has gone through the roof. Ishimura security director Alissa Vincent (voiced by Nika Futterman) urges Captain Mathius (voiced by Jim Cummings) to rethink their orders of bringing the artifact on-board, but he proceeds with the mission. Not long after Ishimura claims the object, the crew begins to act weird. Soon, the personnel are transforming into hideous monsters whose only goal seems to be killing everyone in sight. As the creatures begin to overrun the ship, and conditions on the bridge deteriorate, Alissa rallies her staff to battle the aliens.

Having a completely separate side-story for a video game is not unprecedented (Several Resident Evil original novels were published), but nor is it the standard. Typically, a gameís backstory is revealed through an CG animated opening of the game itself. So, Dead Space: Downfall is somewhat of a unique item. However, that novelty soon wears off when one realizes that this backstory is so simplistic that it could have easily been placed into the game.

Dead Space: Downfallís 74-minute running time contains only about 15 minutes worth of story; miners find artifact, artifact makes people loopy, artifact brought on-board spaceship, chaos ensues. Thatís the entire story. The whole thing could have easily been condensed into a brief intro to the game. The lack of a complex story raises two problems with the movie. First, there are long stretches where things are happening, but they donít propel the story. The last 1/3 of the film is essentially an extended fight scene between the security staff and the monsters. (More on this in a moment.) Secondly, the movie leaves many questions unanswered. Iím not talking about things which are being set up for a reveal in the game, Iím talking about very basic concepts. There is no character development here. Is Alissa anything beyond the stereotypical ďtough space chickĒ? We never learn. Who are the Unitologists? What are their beliefs? And the whole notion of the Ishimura carrying away half of the planet is never fully explained. Are there resources in there?

Once again, as the movie isnít focusing on story, there are many battle sequences. Perhaps the makers of Dead Space: Downfall wanted to re-create an exciting video-game like atmosphere. The problem is that scenes begin to run together. From what Iíve seen, the game will operate on suspense as well, but thereís none of that here. Itís wall-to-wall violence, and this is the bloodiest animated film that Iíve ever seen (keeping in mind that Iím not into anime). The monster transformations are very graphic and the creatures have no problem ripping limbs and heads off of the crew members. This movie isnít rated, but itís definitely adults only.

As for the animation itself, itís a disappointment as well. When this title was first announced, I was hoping that weíd get CG animation which resembled the various game trailers which have been released. Unfortunately, Dead Space: Downfall features a very traditional anime look. And as with many of these projects, the level of detail wavers. At times, human faces look as if they are based on real people, but then some shots seem to be made up of simple lines and dots.

I have yet to play Dead Space, but I am looking forward to the game, as it fits into my very narrow window of ďvideo games that looking interestingĒ. I was a bit hesitant going into Dead Space: Downfall, as I didnít want the story ruined for me. Iím no longer concerned about that. What does concern me is that I spent time watching this lackluster movie when I could have been playing the game.

Dead Space: Downfall blasts onto Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment. The movie is letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. This was my first experience with anime on Blu-ray, so I wasnít sure what to expect. The image is nicely detailed, and in the more precise scenes, we can see the labor which went into the drawings. On the other hand, it also reveals where corners were cut. The colors look good, especially the red blood which fills the movie and the blue lasers. There was some mild video noise in some shots, but otherwise it looked fine. The Disc offers a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.7 Mbps. This track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is a somewhat odd track. The stereo effects are very good and highly detailed, as we here very distinct sounds from the front channels. The movieís score sounds fine as well. However, the surround sound effects are very subtle, and are often comprised of only musical cues. With all of the action and the fact that there are monsters everywhere, we should hear a multitude of sounds from the rear. Explosions provide solid subwoofer effects.

The Dead Space: Downfall Blu-ray Disc contains a few extras. The Disc contains one DELETED SCENE which runs about 4 minutes. It's presented in a series of stoyboards and contains dialogue but few sound effects. This scene depicts a monster not seen in the finished film. The "Isolated Soundtrack" option leads to a slide show of concept art which is indeed accompanied by music. Quite odd. "The Art of Dead Space Photo Gallery" is an interactive piece which contains many images. Lastly, we get a TRAILER for Dead Space: Downfall, as well as a TRAILER for the Dead Space game.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long