The only thing that terrifies Judge Dan Mancini more than zombies is space zombies.
Our review of Dead Space: Aftermath, published January 21st, 2011, is also available.
Twinkle, twinkle, little star…
Feel free to take my opinion with a grain of salt since I only dabble in gaming and have limited experience, but Dead Space is easily one of the most enjoyable videogames I've ever played. It is eight solid hours of creepy atmosphere, outer space thrills, gallons of virtual blood, jump scares terrifying enough to make you go fetal, and surprisingly compelling (albeit derivative) science fiction storytelling. The game is set 500 years in the future on the USG Ishimura, an intergalactic mining vessel on a mission in orbit around a planet named Aegis VII. After sending out a distress signal, the Ishimura is located by the crew of the USG Kellion. Engineer Isaac Clark and the rest of Kellion's crew find disaster aboard Ishimura. Most of the crew is dead, the ship is severely damaged, and twisted zombie-like creatures called Necromorphs are roaming its decks. As Clarke, the player completes a series of missions in an effort to stabilize the ship, find out what happened to the crew, and escape in one piece. Much carnage ensues as Clarke uses space-aged mining gear like plasma cutters and laser-guided circular saw blades to decimate the tentacled Necromorphs trying to tear him to pieces. Eventually, he learns that the catastrophe is linked to the discovery on Aegis VII of a massive, 65-million-year-old monolith called the Marker, which has meaning for the fanatical Church of Unitology that believes human life was created by aliens.
The release of Dead Space in October of 2008 was accompanied by the release of a mediocre direct-to-video animated prequel movie called Dead Space: Downfall that told the story of the terrible events on Ishimura prior to Kellion's arrival. Now that Dead Space 2 is debuting on Xboxes and Playstation 3s, we're treated to another mediocre direct-to-video animated feature set after the events of the first game and before those of the sequel.
Four survivors rescued from the CDC O'Bannon—a ship sent to stabilize Aegis VII after the catastrophic events of Dead Space—are taken to The Sprawl, a space station built into a remnant of Titan, one of Saturn's moons. From there, the flick transitions into a quartet of flashbacks as each survivor relates the group's experiences on Aegis VII to a team of government bureaucrats with mysterious motives. Former O'Bannon security chief Nicholas Kuttner is haunted by visions of his dead daughter, Vivian. His delusional state appears connected to his discovery of a shard of the Marker on Aegis VII. One-armed engineer Alejandro Borges provides more insight into Kuttner's violent insanity, and the destruction caused on O'Bannon after the explosion of Aegis VII. Senior science officer and Unitologist Nolan Stross details his investigations into the nature of the shard, and the presence of Necromorphs on O'Bannon. Finally, medical officer Isabel Cho tells of her team's encounter with Necromorphs and their go-for-broke attempt to destroy the shard.
Dead Space: Aftermath occupies an untenable position: It is a science fiction horror movie that has exactly zero hope of matching the intensity of the thoroughly immersive video game series on which it is based. Ostensibly, its goal is to fill in some of the gaps of the Dead Space mythology, allowing us a broader view of the game's futuristic world. The movie is so dull (as was Dead Space: Downfall), however, that it feels more like a crass marketing ploy than an honest-to-goodness scifi-horror adventure. This is only exacerbated by the fact that the movie doesn't end so much as fizzle into a lame teaser for Dead Space 2.
Dead Space: Aftermath aspires to be a Rashomon-like, perspective-bending mystery but its four stories unfurl in chronological order with little overlap and few conflicts in details. One never questions the truth of any of the tales. What you see is what you get, and what you get isn't all that compelling. The straight-forward nature of the narrative renders the shifts in animation style (each of the four segments has its own look) not only unnecessary but annoying because of the time spent acclimating to each character's new look at the beginning of the segments. The hokey 3D computer animation used for the framing segments on the Sprawl don't even compare favorably to cheap television animation let alone the stunning visual design of the games.
In addition to those fundamental problems, the movie suffers (as did Dead Space: Downfall) from an endless cascade of needless profanity, included only to remind viewers that this isn't a cartoon for kiddies (as though the space zombies and buckets of blood weren't indication enough). The swearing isn't offensive so much as pointless and lame.
Whatever its flaws, the movie looks great in high definition (with the exception of the 3D computer animated material, which would look weak at any resolution). The transfer is 1080p in the AVC codec, and framed at 1.78:1. Colors are bold and vibrant, while motion is artifact free. Audio is presented in a decent Dolby TrueHD mix that gets the job done, but isn't nearly as atmospheric as the game, which makes brilliant use of the rear soundstage to amp up the creep factor and occasionally scare the snot out of you.
The only supplement on the disc is a trailer for Dead Space 2 that'll only make you wish the movie looked as fantastic as the game.
If you want to experience the world of Dead Space, stick with the games. This animated movie is entirely forgettable.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Game Trailer
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