Created to coincide with the EA title of a similar name (the game is titled simply Dead Space), Dead Space: Downfall is a prequel that fills in some of the back story that the game itself is wrapped around. Although the game will have been out for two weeks by the time this prequel hits shelves, those who have lapped up the games intense story and next-gen graphics will no doubt be intrigued to learn more about the origins of this brutal sci-fi story. So put down the controller and pop in this disc instead and discover for yourself the origins of Dead Space’s chilling world.
For the crew of the USG Ishimura, this is how the horror begins: On a deep space mini mission to a remote planet, an ancient religious relic – thought to be proof o the existence of God – is unearthed and brought aboard. It is worshipped by some, scorned by others. But when the unholy artifact unleashes a long-dormant alien race, its glimpse of Heaven transforms the ship into a living Hell. The chaos is immediate. The carnage is uncontrollable. And an onslaught unlike anything ever witnessed by mankinds had now been set free to rip this world apart. Prepare yourself for the disturbing opening credits of the new EA game that takes adult animation to graphic new levels of bloodshed and terror. This is Dead Space: Downfall.
Immediately as the film starts out (which has some odd Terminator like musical cue to start it off…rather strange) you feel completely lost. By the time we descend upon the relic, the film becomes even more like a joke you aren’t in on, but feel you should laugh at anyway because everyone else is having a good time with it. Sci-fi dialogue supercharged with new terminologies that are completely alien to our ears is tossed around willy nilly and we aren’t given much time to assimilate the history of Dead Space’s world before we’re throw into a world of extreme violence and gore. Just as well, I suppose, as I don’t really think this world would have impressed me too much more if we weren’t treated to some gruesome visuals.
And gruesome it is. I knew this film was going to be gory going in, but I honestly and truly believe this to be one of the bloodiest and entrails-infested pieces of animation I’ve ever seen. I’ve referenced Planet Terror as the level of extreme gore that I’ve witnessed and in my book this is the animated equivalent. From the people sawing off their own heads with some kind of strange combination of lightsaber/chainsaw devices to the zombie like creatures simply tearing and shredding people all over the place, Dead Space: Downfall is one bloody film to witness and that makes it all the more fun. If, in some strange alternate universe, red pixels on a TV screen equated to money, then this film would be a billionaire several times over. I mean for crying out loud, there’s some zombie flesh eating baby creature that bites a guy’s eyeball out of his face, falls down, and then attempts to attack again before being sliced in half. Who comes up with this stuff? Whoever they are is brilliant.
So while the action and dismemberment is surely some of the best I’ve seen, what of the rest of it? While the setup for the film is, as previously stated, a bit poorly cobbled together, the main characters in it are even more uneven. Our lead character is heavy handed in the fowl mouth department and she alone starts the torrent of vulgar words that come out of the characters mouths later in the film. I don’t care about cursing as a whole, but when it’s used in such a way that it’s meant to make the audience go “Oh wow, a cartoon character said s***!”, then I object to it. The first curse word uttered in the film is a close up on our main character, looking all bad ass and staring straight into the camera, and saying “About f***ing time!” I could do nothing more than roll my eyes, as I knew this would be the “one of those” films that pandered to an audience. Despite having a solid makeup of voice actors (with Kevin Michael Richardson, Jim Cummings and Kelly Hu being the notable talent), no one here really delivers worthwhile performances. I know the production of this film was rushed, but a little bit more time on the voice work would have made it go a long way. As is this is easily the weakest area of the film and since everyone is so intent on surviving these hellish creatures, all we get is a series of strange dialogue (“Do you have a boyfriend?” “Uh huh” “You want to see him again don’t you?” “Yes” “Good girl!”—what the hell? It may not sound bad when you read it, but when you hear it it’s so haphazardly delivered and rushed) and volumes of cursing.
Despite the story and voice acting being seemingly rushed, the animation for this film is admirable. With a job done by Film Roman, the animation is consistent throughout and blends in some CGI work as well. Sadly the CGI work is almost too clean, as the animation used for the film is given a slight haze to it so it’s not quite so crystal clean (think Batman: Gotham Knight if you saw that—clear, but not exhaustingly so). Unfortunately this same effect wasn’t applied to the CGI, so it’s a bit jarring switching from standard animation to the CGI because of this. Aside from that, the animation for the rest of the piece is quite fantastic, and even though it’s animated, the violence and gruesome visuals will no doubt turn your stomach if you aren’t prepared for what’s coming.
Overall this is actually a lot better than I thought it’d be, but its story is really just too vague to get into and the dialogue is laughable. Still, the efforts made by the cast and crew on this is admirable for the short time this feature had to come together. If you enjoy violent animation and want to see some of the most gore intense animation to come down the pike in a long time, then at least give this a Rental. Unless you’re a huge fan of the video game (which has gotten pretty solid reviews from the press), I wouldn’t pick this one up right away…but if you can find it in the bargain bin, then it’s worth a quick look, if for the brutality alone. I mean c’mon…zombie baby? Too awesome.
The Blu-ray Dead Space: Downfall arrives on DVD and Blu-ray from Anchor Bay and for this review I’ll be tackling the Blu-ray edition. The title receives a reflective foil embossed slipcase over the standard two-disc Elite Blu-ray casing (the second disc is the digital copy) and inside we have the two discs and an advertisement for the video game as well as another insert for some Anchor Bay Blu-ray releases (this advertisement appears to be quite old as it lists titles that all came out in 2007. There is no key for the digital copy; that is requested online (it appears there are two keys available for request, so you have a chance to have two copies of the film digitally). Menus for the set are fairly simple in structure, but simple and easy to navigate, although the sliding animation done is a bit jittery and not as smooth as other Blu-ray menus I’ve seen.
Video for this Blu-ray release comes in an AVC encoded 1.78:1 aspect ratio and is quite impeccable looking. I didn’t notice a speck of compression throughout the entire film and Blu-ray really is a format that makes animation look even more beautiful. The clarity it offers is fantastic, although it does highlight animation errors or oddities a bit more (a distance shot of a nurse and doctor talking showed off some very strange lip movement for the nurse, which I don’t think you’d notice so much on a standard definition transfer). Still, the CGI and animated sequences all look fantastic and any issues you have with the film itself will not stem from this transfer. Unfortunately the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio isn’t quite as impressive, as even though it’s sending to five channels, it remains largely focused in the front channels. I rarely heard any surround chatter, which is a shame as a horror film like this really would have been made even scarier with some surround zombie creature chatter, but…no dice. There was some decent LFE output, but aside from some serious front channel action, we didn’t get too much immersion into this scary world.
The extras for this release are a bit weak, with only a few goodie to look at. "Deleted Scene - Graverobber" (4:13, 480p, storyboard w/ voice over) is quite and doesn’t add a whole lot to the film (surprise, that’s why it was deleted!) and…well actually that’s about it. "Movie Trailer" (2:01, 1080p), "Game Trailer" (1:25, 480p), an isolated soundtrack (an odd choice, as I barely remembered any of the music in the film) and some BD-Live features that I was unable to test out due to the servers not being live are all that remain. I’m going to assume that’s where the cheat codes listed on the back of the box are, as they aren’t anywhere else on the disc. It would have been nice if there was a demo of the game included but…nada. There isn’t even a demo of the game on the Playstation Network either, so that’s even more bewildering.
Update (10/21): Apparently the cheat codes are hidden somewhere in the menus and, I quote, "You’ll have to check out the movie to unlock these codes, but here’s a tip: for each system, there are two cheats and two codes for each cheat. Happy hunting!" That comes straight from Anchor Bay, so...I guess they're hidden in the movie somewhere.
Overall this Blu-ray edition should be picked up strictly for the videophiles, as there isn’t a drop of anything else worthwhile here that makes it worth picking up over the DVD edition. The TrueHD track simply doesn’t impress…but the 1080p sure does. Give this one a Rental.
Dead Space: Downfall arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on October 29th.