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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Van of the Dead DVD Review: Dead Space: Aftermath

Dead Space: Aftermath
2011 Anchor Bay Entertainment
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

In most cases, film ventures connected to games are not only suspect, they're dreadful. Mortal Kombat: Annihilation comes to mind, as does Super Mario Brothers and Double Dragon. The Tomb Raider films have their fans and detractors and um, the Dungeons and Dragons movie? Yipe. Normally the protocol in the modern era of film and video game enterprising is to whip up a game in conjunction with the movie's release. In the case of EA's award-winning Dead Space video game series, the game serves as inspiration for the film, even if these direct-to-video animated gorefests hypothetically serve as gamer pre-launch PSA's.

2008's Dead Space: Downfall was a surprisingly well-exected sci-fi/horror hybrid taking inspiration from the Alien and Predator films with a tweak of the core haunted galaxy tale in Event Horizon. The bloody fate of the spaceship Ishimura in Dead Space: Downfall was actually pretty memorable, as an undiscovered race of mutants hosted by human DNA diced up a nervy animated cast believing they'd found an ancient artifact linking evidence to God.

For Dead Space: Aftermath, the folks at EA zip together a linking tale which is connected to Downfall, as well a trade paperback self-contained "beginning" story, Dead Space: Martyr, by B.K. Evenson. All in preparation for the Dead Space 2 game. Also keep in mind there are two other Dead Space novels, the most recent being Salvage, not to mention an associated comic book series and the Dead Space: Ignition mini-game. You have to appreciate their moxy, because EA is building themselves a a slowly-evolved empire from the concept.

Dead Space: Aftermath, a bridge story between both video games aside from a logical sequel to Downfall, is told courtesy of both CGI and standard animation.

In this film, a new ship, the USG O'Bannon (yes, they do love those Alien films, since there's also a character named Ripley in Aftermath) is sent out to the same coordinates as the Ishimura and Isaac Clarke, both having lost contact from Earth. Naturally, if you've been following this series, both ships' crews were chewed to pieces by augmented killing machines, known in the series as Necromorphs. In fact, this is how Dead Space: Aftermath opens up, with torn body parts floating in space around the decimated O'Bannon, discovered by another Marine craft, Braxus.

The O'Bannon's primary purpose is a clandestine assignment motivated by greed and the inherent suspicion of the same power which drew the Ishimura in Dead Space: Downfall. Aftermath takes us a little deeper into EA's long-drawn concept as the O'Bannon's crew meets the same fate as the Ishimura and Isaac Clarke. However, the difference in this story is it's told through the perspectives of four survivors, security officer Kuttner, Borgas, an engineer who has lost his arm, Cho, a psychologist and physician, and Stross, chief scientist and ultimate linchpin to the destructive finale of Aftermath, who happens to be cheating on his wife (brought on board the O'Bannon with their infant son) with Cho. They are interrogated with brutality set on a seven-hour timetable by an emperor-like sovereign called The Overseer, and their recollections edge out the tale in sequential order.

Drifting down to the uninhabitable planet in the vicinity of all the previous carnage, Aegis VII, the crack team of geolosists and accompanying grunts are ordered to the planet's surface to retrieve samples which are reported to be worth millions. As Aftermath unravels its tale, we learn the planet is host to a shard inhabiting a higher intelligence which corrupts most who come into contact with it. We also learn it reanimates the dead with sinewy extendables and projectiles, the Necromorphs. Shall we consider The Thing (or its original writing title, The Thing From Another World) a part of the brain stew pot for Dead Space?

The key sends Kuttner, a former Marine, onto a killing frenzy by playing on a psychosis stemmed by the loss of his daughter. Soon the shard will exploit the susceptible Stross into a homicidal rage of his own and, slave to the shard's power, sets off the germination effect triggering the Necromorphs onto their limb-tearing death march.

Perhaps not as spectacularly bloody as Dead Space: Downfall, Aftermath opts for deeper storytelling--once it gets past an interminable series of blatant cursing designed to connect with its teen and early-twenties demographic. The dialogue takes too long to establish a point until the survivors are coerced by fragmental illusions of their worst fears and then they begin telling the film's story. At that point, Aftermath becomes a more engaging film, even if the video game-esque CGI sequences unfortunately do little justice to the hand-crafted anime. Fortunately, a large chunk of Aftermath is done in standard animation, so it's more digestable overall. You do remember EA is pimping a game at you with the animated switchovers, so take that caveat as you will. With Dead Space: Downfall, it was so self-contained to its purpose you forgot it was a 74-minute commercial.

Regardless, this second Dead Space film does show EA has a lot more lurking behind its bloody mayhem in space premise. As Aftermath concludes with two survivors who have come into contact with the key, you just know there's going to be a lot more coming. If they expand upon this course, the Dead Space franchise ought to be worth staying on top of, though doing a little research, the diehard gamer and sci-fi fans are holding it to a higher standard with each new product. If you're EA, you can't buy better press.

Rating: ***

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