Mike Rubino often takes up a lot of dead space.
Our review of Dead Space: Aftermath (Blu-Ray), published January 28th, 2011, is also available.
"The end was only the beginning."
As a second entry in Electronic Arts' successful space-horror videogame series Dead Space looms, a new animated straight-to-DVD tie-in claws its way on to store shelves. Everyone saw it coming.
Facts of the Case
Dead Space: Aftermath takes place after the events of the original Xbox 360/Playstation 3 game, and its prequel animated film Dead Space: Downfall. The crew of the Ishimura are dead, having gone bonkers shortly after discovering an alien artifact called The Marker during a "planet-cracking" (that's fancy for "mining") gig on Aegis VII. The Marker, a magical relic beloved by Earth's Unitologist cult, was to be brought back for studying; instead, it was dropped on the Aegis colony and destroyed along with much of the planet.
Now, the USG O'Bannon arrives at Aegis VII to survey the crumbling planet, rescue survivors, and recover shards of the artifact. They only find four colonists: Nick (Christopher Judge, Stargate SG-1); Alejandro (Ricardo Chavira, Desperate Housewives); Isabel (Gwendoline Yeo, Wolverine and the X-Men); and Nolan (Curt Cornelius). Each has a different account of the events leading up to the planet's destruction.
The Dead Space franchise is a clever combination of Hollywood recycling and ingenious marketing. The story is an amalgam of classic sci-fi tropes, mashed together and resold as something fresh for modern gamers. Rather than just put out a new $60 videogame every year and a half, EA has been supporting the series with direct-to-DVD films, comic books, and paperback novels. My experience playing the various games in the series has revealed two things: the Dead Space mythology is better than most of the crap that passes for videogame stories nowadays; and the producers are dangerously close to stretching this meager story too thin.
Aftermath takes a different approach than the previous animated film, Downfall. It's like a space-geek version of Rashomon: The four colonists have a different perspectives on the events post-Marker crash on Aegis VII, and the full picture comes into focus as each are interrogated. The finished picture just isn't all that interesting. Due to the film's odd beginning, there's no central, sympathetic character to hang the framing story on; all eyes, therefore, point towards the storytelling mechanic itself, which merely reveals the same information about Aegis and The Marker that fans of the series already know from playing the first game. There's little development or contradiction between the characters' testimonies, so the mystery goes stale quickly. Gamers will probably get a kick out of the fight scenes (they are pretty sweet), but the franchise's normally taught, suspense-driven storytelling is missing in action.
The framing story is presented with cheap, cell-shaded animation that's neither attractive nor appropriate for the mood of the film. The clean, simple characters look more like an episode of The Incredible Crash Test Dummies cartoon than a gritty, space-horror bloodfest. Each of the four flashback segments were directed by different Japanese animators, a la The Animatrix, but their style and character designs vary too much to be anything more than novel. While the early segments range from decent to impressive, the fourth is almost too ugly to watch. Seriously, not every character needs a triangular chin and pecs that could tear a shirt in twain. That's the risk you run when you switch up styles for each segment, and none of it is as engaging and consistent as Downfall's more traditional approach.
Despite its varied animation, Dead Space: Aftermath looks good overall. The colors are vivid and the anamorphic widescreen helps with the film's epic planetary landscapes. The Dolby audio track is sufficiently spacey with a dramatic film score and plenty of cool sound effects. Surprisingly, the disc is devoid of any special features (aside from a trailer for Dead Space 2). If EA is trying to build a franchise, some featurettes about what the heck happened in previous games/films would help.
I like the mythology EA is trying to create with the Dead Space franchise, but this latest movie tie-in doesn't add enough. It's supposedly leading in to the next blockbuster videogame in the series, and that's all well and good if this were packaged with the game. But it's not. It's a standalone film that doesn't really function as one. Only fans who really care about catching the whole story need apply.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Game Trailer
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