After struggling through the lackluster Resident Evil: Degeneration, I wasn’t overly excited to jump headfirst into another animated feature film prequel to a scary video game. Even less inclined was I to watch Dead Space: Downfall because I’d never played the game and likely won’t play it for a very long time, as I do not own a gaming system for which the game is produced. Still, there was no way I was not going to watch, at some point, an animated sci-fi/horror movie, so I figured I may as well get it over with. If nothing else, at least this one was traditional cel animation (or the computer-enhanced version of cel animation that exists today).
It turns out that Dead Space: Downfall is pretty acceptable. Totally generic, yeah. Completely devoid of originality or imagination, yep. Utterly disposable, sure. But after such a rocky road through recent science fiction, horror, and animated films (a road that brought me to Resident Evil: Degeneration, Diary of the Dead, and Heavy Metal 2000), generic formula executed in adequate fashion was more than enough to draw a sigh of relief and unengaged satisfaction from me.
The plot is pretty much “Night of the Living Dead on a space ship,” with some of the cornball mystical mumbo jumbo the Japanese love to cram into their video games mixed in with the Aliens aesthetic that has dominated science fiction, animated and live action, since that film was released. Please, science fiction, no more “stalking down dimly lit metal grating corridors.” Have you seen the space stuff we currently have? It’s cluttered, but it’s still well-lit. Wouldn’t your space zombies movie be a lot cooler if it was set in one of those 60s style all-white, sleekly designed spaceships? Imagine all the surfaces onto which you could dramatically splash blood. There’s a reason John Woo set the finale of Hard Boiled in a hospital, you know.
I know, I know. Deaf ears, right? We’re stuck with dark metal corridors and cargo pant uniforms for a long time still. But a fella can dream, can’t he? A fella can dream.
Anyway, the plot of the movie is simple enough: some off-world miners unearth a mysterious giant relic. There’s a goofy space-religion that thinks it might be a mystical sign, some greedheads who want to exploit it, some scientists who want to study it, and some people who don’t want anythign to do with the thing. A spaceship is dispatched to retrieve the artifact, but no sooner do they arrive to pick it up than they discover that since its unearthing — or whatever you call “unearthing” when it’s the same basic concept, but on another planet — an epidemic of homicidal violence and suicide has swept the colony. When the bodies of the deceased are brought on-board along with the relic, you can pretty much guess what happens. Some alien spirit thing begins inhabiting the bodies, transforming them in Overfiend-style ghouls who rampage through the ship, transforming anyone they attack into similar alien zombies. It’s up to the requisite tough-as-nails security chick who is all antagonistic to everyone (voiced by Nika Futterman) and her team of unprofessional and questionably garbed guards to try and stop the zombies while others in the ship try to deal with the fact that the captain has apparently gone batshit insane.
So, as I said, pretty generic, but it moves along well and doesn’t really try to be anything other than a by-the-numbers exercise in formula. And it succeeds, which is why the movie ends up being acceptable without ever being exceptional. Screenwriter Justin Gray has very little in the way of experience, though his co-writer Jimmy Palmiotti has wracked up some credits for stuff people didn’t like (Ghost Rider and The Punisher) and some stuff that people were indifferent about (the Painkiller Jane television series). There’s not a lot of originality in anything they do, and this movie hasn’t changed that. Still, at least they were smart enough to keep the running time down to a minimum. When I complained that The Punisher was boring and predictable, part of the reason it was so was because they took an 80 minute movie and made it last two hours. Dead Space: Downfall manages to be not boring while still being predictable, and its ability to skirt tedium is thanks largely to its having a running time more appropriate for the material.
The voice acting is decent enough, if a bit wooden at times (as is often the case with these things). Bruce Boxleitner, himself the star of a “dark metal corridors” sci-fi series (albeit a good one, at least until the last, terrible season), shows up in the cast, as does Kelly Hu in a relatively minor role for an actress who is at least somewhat known. The rest of the cast is comprised of voice-acting stalwarts like Jeff Bennett (currently working as The Joker on Batman: The Brave and the Bold) and Nika Futterman (currently doing time on that awful Clone Wars series), most of whom have done better acting jobs elsewhere. No one really does a bad job here; it’s just that some of them do a…let’s say “disinterested” sounding job.
The animation is about on par with what we’ve been seeing from those Marvel Comics direct-to-DVD movies, meaning that it’s a step above the average TV action cartoon but a step below average feature film animation (and below more ambitious television fare, like Avatar: The Last Airbender or the various Justice League incarnations). Like everything in this movie, it’s just good enough not to be bad, but there’s not really much to dazzle someone.
So the end result is that I enjoyed the film, inessential and throw-away though it may have been. That’s never stopped me before, after all. And viewed in the wake of such films as I watched before it, it looks considerably better. No classic of science fiction, horror, or animation, Dead Space: Downfall never the less managed to be pretty all right, delivering exactly what you expect from it in exactly the style you expect from it. Late at night on a rainy Saturday, that was really all I wanted, and really all I got. No complaints.