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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Dead Space: Downfall (Blu-ray)
Dead Space: Downfall (Blu-ray)
Manga // Unrated // October 28, 2008 // Region A
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted October 25, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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"This is deep space. Weird shit happens."

EA's survival horror
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game Dead Space is so cinematic in its own right -- think of some disturbing hybrid of Aliens, Event Horizon, The Thing, and Resident Evil -- that it seems kind of appropriate that its backstory would be fleshed out in a feature length film.

Dead Space: Downfall opens with the discovery of some sort of religious relic on the otherwise barren world of Aegis-7. The USG Ishimura -- a colossal mining ship that splits entire planets down the middle to extract the minerals and rare ores housed inside -- takes this enormous artifact onboard for further study by church scholars on Earth, further dividing the different religious factions on the ship. Shortly after this relic is removed, an unusual spike in violence and suicides ravages the colony and soon spreads to the Ishimura. Technicians once cold and detached start slaughtering one other, and muttering something about how "they" want warm bodies to house them, crewmen mutilate themselves.

This is just the first stage of the outbreak, though; the bodies of the dead are soon consumed...mutated into necromorphs with dozens of razor-sharp fangs, two-foot-long bony spikes jutting out of their palms, and spade claws bursting out of their abdomens. With the Ishimura stranded in a remote stretch of space and its dozens of emergency craft jettisoned, the few surviving crew members are trapped with hundreds -- maybe thousands -- of the ravenous, unrelenting undead. There is no escape. There is no hope of salvation. A small group of security officers would just rather die fighting than succumb to this virulent alien attack, and they're hellbent on keeping the few scattered survivors on the crew alive as long as they can.

Dead Space: Downfall is unflinchingly graphic and violent. Zombies
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are carved in half with laser saws. Mutant babies that put the twisted creatures in It's Alive! and Basket Case to shame swarm the crew. Jaws are ripped off. Spade-like claws tear through intestines. Limbs are lopped off at every turn. One psychologically ravaged young woman nearly takes her own head off with some sort of electric blade. The language has teeth -- chances are that if you're watching everyone and everything around you carved into bite-sized chunks, you're probably going to opt for something harsher than "gosh" or "darn" -- and there's even an unexpected bit of nudity. Downfall had to be an unrated, animated direct-to-video release -- a live action movie on this scale would carry at least a $60 or $70 million price tag, and the imagery is too gruesome to slink by with even an R rating.

As a lifelong gorehound, I appreciate that Downfall isn't watered down to pander to the E-for-everyone crowd, although even with all of that gruesome imagery, it does feel more like a video game than a brutal horror movie. The crew members have fluorescent blue 'life meters' on their backs, and the attacks by swarms of these mangled creatures seem to be nicked from Halo or something skewing more towards guns-blazing action than a claustrophobic, unnerving horror movie. Once the infection spreads to the ship, Downfall refuses to let up, but I can't help but think something more suspenseful -- even something as simple as a stray member of the security team being slowly, quietly stalked by one of the creatures, for instance -- might've made a bigger impact. It seems like Downfall wants to be so enormous in scope and scream along with action on an epic scale that it steps over a more intense, suspenseful horror movie in the process. It's actually more tense and disturbing in the early stretches of the virulence when the colonists are still recognizably human and butchering themselves and each other in paranoid, rambling fits. The story and its characters don't have the same hook as, say, the crew of Nostromo in Alien, so all Downfall really has to lean on is its action, and I'm not sure that's enough.

Dead Space: Downfall captures the unflinchingly graphic violence of EA's survival horror video game, but it misses out on the suspense and intensity that leave it standing out as one of the year's best. Downfall is good enough, but this animated prequel is kind of a hard sell to anyone who's not already a die-hard fan of Dead Space, and unlike the EA game, I'm skeptical it'd hold up all that well the second time through. Rent It.

Video: The crisp, clean linework throughout Dead Space: Downfall looks pretty much perfect on Blu-ray. There's a much stronger sense of clarity over a traditional DVD, and the texture work in the CG graphics scattered throughout is impressively detailed. Colors are deliberately subdued -- reflecting the dark, unrelentingly bleak tone of the movie -- and the image is bolstered by deep, robust black levels. Since this is a direct digital transfer, no wear or speckling ever creep in. I spotted some light banding a couple of times -- once in a murky gray sky and again as a group of security officers darted across a floor -- but it's nothing all that distracting. Dead Space: Downfall has kind of a low-key visual style, and this isn't the sort of Blu-ray disc that's going to leave any jaws scraping against the floor, but it looks to be a near-flawless representation of the original material.

Audio: Dead Space:
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Downfall
is backed by a 24-bit Dolby TrueHD soundtrack, but the sound design is kind of a mixed bag. Taking some of its cues from other horror flicks, this is an atmospheric mix, with howling winds, dripping water, and hellish snarls screaming from every speaker. Some of the sound effects amp up the tension, particularly the unsettlingly wet, squishy sound of flesh being carved off. The lossless audio frequently feels immersive, and it's brimming with subtle touches like barely-discernable chatter in the background on the bridge, but some sound effects have a tendency to be repeated in several speakers at once, leaving that immersion coming across as kind of artificial. The effects aren't always directional, either. One instance that stands out is violent pounding against a buckling metal door; the thuds are rooted in the surrounds while the door itself is on the other side of the security team.

Bass response is kind of limited. Some effects pack a wallop -- the colossal Ishimura rattling when the first signs of catastrophe rear its bloodied, dismembered head, for instance -- but using tractor beams to rip what amounts to a small mountain out of the ground and the relentless streams of gunfire sound fairly thin. Oddly, slamming doors seem to pack more bass than pretty much anything else in the movie. Still, the effects and dialogue are rendered cleanly and clearly, and all of the elements seem to be balanced effectively in the mix.

There are no alternate soundtracks, although subtitles have been provided in English (SDH) and Spanish.

Extras: Not much. The climax
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of Dead Space: Downfall is further fleshed out with a frenzied chase from a colossal mutant, tearing through a series of low-res, black and white storyboards for four minutes. Right at a hundred high resolution conceptual paintings, rough pencil sketches, CG models, comic book pages, background art, and schematics are featured in the interactive gallery "The Art of Dead Space". An isolated soundtrack is included in Dolby Digital 5.1, playing over an enormous assortment of artwork as well as a seemingly non-functional interface to pause, resume, and adjust the volume. Trailers are offered for both the movie and the video game, with Downfall's two minute clip presented in high definition. Finally, the switch for Dead Space's BD Live interactivity hasn't been flipped on yet, but this Blu-ray disc does include a "My Downloads" section, so presumably they're planning on doing something online.

Dead Space: Downfall also includes a portable copy of the movie on a second disc. The set comes packaged in a traditional Blu-ray case with a glossy, embossed cardboard sleeve. The flipside of the case lists "cheat codes" as an extra, but I didn't stumble across anything like that.

Conclusion: Dead Space: Downfall is a lean, vicious, and blood-spattered animated prequel to the EA survival horror game. As violent and cacklingly gory as it is, I think it might've been more effective if it were more intensely focused on horror and suspense -- the religious and ecological bent is kind of a distraction, and the characters and overall story aren't especially compelling on their own. Downfall is worth seeking out for gamers who've torn through Dead Space and want to see more of its dark, bloodied backstory, but I don't think this Blu-ray disc is something I'm going to wind up watching more than once. Rent It.
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