Dead Space: Downfall
Starz / Anchor Bay // Unrated // $26.97 // October 28, 2008
Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted November 12, 2008
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As a point that's hammered home in Video Game Talk's review for Dead Space, Electronic Arts' stellar game shares a lot in common with Ridley Scott's sci-fi horror film, Alien. Well, Dead Space: Downfall can be attributed to Dead Space much in the same ways that James Cameron's Aliens connects with Alien: all lurid action, lots of swearing soldiers, and very little concentration on terror as a result. Film Roman anime house certainly gave it plenty of visceral energy and bloodshed, along with a dash of back-story flesh that many of the game's fans crave after the experience, but it seems to exists purely for the indulgence of all its merry hack-n-slash mannerisms.

The Film:

Downfall tells the story of the Ishimura, a highly-populated mining ship fresh off of a planetary excavation job. With it, they've uncovered an important religious relic: a tall, twisted monolith that has divided the ship's crew. On one side, there's the practical bunch who think that belief in such evidence of God borderlines on idol worship; on the other, the Unitologists firmly belief in its power and their reverent need to keep it safe. When our focal group of "soldiers", led by saucy red-haired renegade security officer Alissa (Nikki Futterman), go to investigate a rogue vessel that crashes into the Ishimura's loading dock, they find themselves knee-deep amid a series of ghastly creatures -- scythe-armed, razor-toothed beasts with eerily humanlike faces. From there, it's nothing but an act of survival for them and the rest of the ship's surviving crew as they slice, dice, and fire their way through waves of these things seemingly powered -- and transformed, by way of the ship's passengers -- by this odd black artifact.

Blood, blood, and more blood everywhere becomes the lifeforce behind Downfall, painting an image of unbridled carnage that splatterpaints floor to ceiling in a whirlwind of chaos. Squeamish need not apply, yet if you're remotely interested in this addition to the story of the Ishimura then you've fought through the same sort of voracity from it originator -- which means it'll all seem fairly familiar and, more than likely, not all that intimidating. All this violence becomes its draw once you've discovered that, outside of new characters and a few quips here and there, most of the material in Downfall merely outlines already-known material about the universe -- leaving very little new substance to reveal. It's an enlightening, shocking experience to see the preciseness of the Ishimura's deconstruction, but it's nothing more than a crimson nightmare with a foreseeable (and certain) demise.

Downfall stands on feeble legs purely to support all the gratuitous bloodshed, explosive violence, and darting obscenities flying from the crew's mouths. To keep this pressing along at a degree that'd maintain interest, the roster of lead and secondary characters would have to be at least moderately faceted and intriguing -- which they aren't. First off, the voice-acting for all roles in Downfall does get the job done with talent ranging from Futterman to Jim Cumming, if in a bit of a haughty,stage-ish fashion. Alissa's also not a bad lead, though she is unquestionably one-dimensional. Most of the other characters, however, lack even the gusto to stand out from the crowd in ways outside of screaming "#[email protected]" this and "*$%^" that. They're nothing more than fodder for the praying-mantis like beasts, and all their tossed language almost begs for the brutality; the only character that becomes even a little compelling is the beefy sage-like Unitologist Samuel Irons. He adds at least a meager amount of blurred compromise between the firmly-defined zealots and renegades.

Thankfully, Film Roman's animation makes the whole experience at least visually engaging. It reminds me a little of the lanky body models and facial expressions from Aeon Flux, only to more grounded levels without all the rich, vivid personality of Peter Chung's work. All of the character and monster templates are streamlined and avoid too many textures, but they all fit the bill with apt enough textile personality. The effort the artists spent into constructing the bizarreness of the mangled creatures can clearly be seen, especially considering their grotesque nature in the game -- though some of the scenes, like a few of the highly-clustered feeding scenarios, showed a rushed roughness about the animation. Their models differ a bit, seeming more human than the ones in Dead Space, yet they exhibit the same sort of ferocity. Added on top of the animation is a bounty of clever sound work which, aside from the purely serviceable voicing, gives all the bloodshed a lot of personality. Film Roman makes certain to irk and churn stomachs with all the grotesque feeding sounds from its beasts, sloshing around blood like it's nobody's business.

Dead Space: Downfall isn't a bad way to ride the adrenaline for hour and a half after wrapping up Electronic Arts' viscerally unyielding game, but it's little more than scene after scene of narrative-light creature fury. Those looking for something akin to an enlightening dose of story canon won't find it here, but its grueling nature still makes it marginally entertaining enough to not regret the time. Beholding the events occurring directly before the game's lead character Isaac hops on board the Ishimura proves to be wedge of gory animated titillation, yet it's certainly not a strong enough story to lure those disconnected from the game to its excess. It's for gore hounds and Dead Space enthusiasts, to which Downfall should satisfy both.

The DVD:

Anchor Bay brings the direct-to-video Dead Space: Downfall to home entertainment in a standard keepcase presentation with a nice, glossy slipcover adorning the outside. Inside, a promotional insert for the game has been included

The Video:

Presented in anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen, Dead Space Downfall looks fine, if a bit flat and bland in the color department. First to note is the diffused patches of ghosting present in the animation during any scenes involving motion. There are also a few patches of edge enhancement halos against many dark lines, which seem odd since they still come off with a veiled blurriness. But color saturation looks nice, especially the varied hues of brick, crimson, and bright reds present ... well, across about thee-quarters (3/4) of the picture. It's a flawed but sufficient image.

The Audio:

The boisterous Dolby 5.1 presentation fares much better, as it provides a nice surround experience that serves up plenty of clamoring surround effects for your listening pleasure. The lower-frequency channel only receives hits in varied spells, but the mid-range and higher pitched effects rang through well. The varied scenes with more discreet dialogue don't suffer too much, while the louder blurts from the vocal cast never pitch too high. Optional subtitles are available in English and Spanish.

The Extras:

Isolated Soundtrack:
It's not as cool as it might seem, as my expectations were weakened when the directions popped up for this Isolated Soundtrack. Instead of accompanying the film -- essentially, cutting out the dialogue -- the Isolated Soundtrack instead occurs in pitch black on-screen. It's a shame, because the music paired with all the visceral animation on-screen could've been a very cool feature.

Deleted Scene: GraveRobber:
A four-minute (4) storyboard deleted scene is featured, which also shows the solid animation utilized in pre-production for the film. Sound effects and vocal talent accompany the scene, which features Alissa fighting a mammoth three-headed beast.

The Art of Dead Space Photo Gallery:
Here, several sketches and conceptualizations are available -- from branding and logos to full-blown renderings of the air ships from the universe. There's a ton of artwork available here, but the best pieces are the blueprints that etch out Isaac's suits and several other mechanical devices.

Also included are a Movie Trailer, a Game Trailer, and an Easter Egg that reveals a code for the game.


Final Thoughts:

Dead Space: Downfall works much like a brutal monster-infused flashback scene from the Electronic Arts' video game, stretched out for nearly an hour and a half -- which isn't a bad thing for fans of both Dead Space and of unruly amounts of violence in their anime. Sadly, the concentration on gross-out ferocity steers the focus from supplying strong connective characters or mythos to the Dead Space canon. It's worth a Rental, though, just to soak in the intense preceding events that took place just before the incredibly terse horror survival game.

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