Inside Pulse 12

Anime Review: Dead Space: Aftermath

Dead Space: Aftermath
Run Time: 78 Minutes
Studios: Starz
Publisher: US Manga
Genre: Horror
Release Date: 01/25/2011

All right. 1/25/2011 was all but officially “Dead Space Day,” with the release of Dead Space 2 and Dead Space: Aftermath. Dead Space: Aftermath is the second animated movie based on the Dead Space video game franchise, the first being Dead Space: Downfall. I recently reviewed Dead Space: Salvage, the third graphic novel spin-off for the series and found it to be lackluster compared to the first two. It didn’t provide any new information about the Marker, Unitology or the Dead Space universe in general. It was just a throw away read that would lose people new to Dead Space and be underwhelming to people like myself who have picked up every piece of the puzzle simply because it’s been a far better franchise in terms of story and continuity than other survival horror titles out there. However, because of Salvage coming across as nothing more than a forgettable cash grab, I was afraid the same would befall Dead Space: Aftermath. After watching the DVD, I’m afraid that’s true.

First, let’s look at where Dead Space: Aftermath fits on the Dead Space timeline:

1. Dead Space: Martyr (Novel about Robert Altman and the beginning of the franchise. Long before the rest of the series.)
2. Dead Space (Original limited series comics)
2.5 Dead Space: Extraction (Video Game. It actually starts part way through the comics and ends partway through the first movie, so I’ve thrown it here.)
2.6 Dead Space: Extraction (One-shot comic about Nicole, Isaac Clarke’s girlfriend. It starts at the same point as the video game, but concludes earlier. )
3. Dead Space: Downfall (DVD/first animated movie)
4. Dead Space (First Video Game)
5. Dead Space: Aftermath (This takes place three weeks after DS1, but a few months or years before Deep Space Salvage and three years before Dead Space 2
6. Dead Space: Salvage (A forgettable graphic novel that shows the eventual fate of the USS Ishimura)
7. Dead Space: Ignition (mini game for PSN/XBLA that takes place right before DS2)
8. Dead Space 2 (The most recent piece storyline wise. It just came out so no spoilers here. )

As you can see, Dead Space: Aftermath is roughly the mid-point of the series. I will warn you that people new to Dead Space that watch this will be lost as many things about the series are left unsaid, as the writers of the film expect you to know who Issac Clarke is, what the Marker is, what the Black Marker is, what Unitology is, and pretty much everything about the DS universe in general. For those that know the series, you’ll be fine and you’ll catch several subtleties, but you’ll also be annoyed with the fact things are explained for your less Dead Space oriented friends and the explanations you have to give.

The basic plot of the movie is that a rescue crew of marines comes to save the remnants of the ship known as the U.S.S. O’Bannon. Once on board, they see a massive amount of death and dismemberment and that only four of the 137 crew members are still alive. The marines try to save them, but one survivor has a psychotic break, killing a marine with a Plasma Cutter (The iconic weapon of the Dead Space series). The surviving marines knock them out and drag them back to an interrogation ship. From there, each survivor is interrogated in a series of flashback and then disposed of once the information is processed. It turns out the O’Bannon was on a secret mission to keep Aegis VII from fully exploding until a recovery crew could get pieces of the Red Marker. I should point out the Red Marker isn’t explained at all in the film and unless you’ve played DS1 or read Dead Space: Martyr, you won’t know why this thing is important or what it does. Only one member of the O’Bannon survives until the end of the movie (Yes, that includes the survivors that managed to get off the ship) and you’ll be seeing them in Dead Space 2. Like all Dead Space pieces, the true evil are not the undead necromorphs, but the government who is actually behind all the death, destruction and even the markers themselves.

Each of the survivors has their own personality, but very little of it. The characters are amongst the most two-dimensional in the series yet, tying with Salvage in terms of everyone being unlikeable and predictable. You have Kuttner who is both the token angry black guy and the token crazy guy who goes psychotic from contact with the Marker. The Marker uses hallucinations to communicate with him, but it just drives him into killing friends, co-workers and himself. In every other instance of the Marker actually communicating with someone in Dead Space continuity, deaths and suicides are accidental. Here it is on purpose and with malice, which shows that screenwriter Brandon Auman didn’t actually pay attention to what the Marker is or why it does what it does. Basically he didn’t read or play any of the source material. The next survivor is Alejandro Borges, who is part cyborg (He has a robotic arm due to losing one in an accident years earlier). He’s the token hot headed Latino who is unaffected by the marker and pretty much the only rational person in the movie, even if he screams and punches things a lot. You have Dr. Isabel Cho, who is the token Asian character (Korean to be precise) who is the chief medical office on board the O’Bannon. She never develops any real personality, but that’s due to appearing both physically and mentally different in each of the four flashbacks. Finally you have her lover Nolan Stross who is married and has a child. He is also the main science officer on the O’Bannon and a spy for the government who sets up the Marker remnants recovery mission in the first place. He makes contact with the marker and goes insane, but rather than psychotic, he becomes the token guy who goes insane Unitology style and of course unleashes necromorphs on the O’Bannon to kill everyone by accident because he is misreading what the Marker is saying.

Basically you have an exceptionally generic horror story with poor characterization, a flimsy plot and a story that could just be an horror movie rather than something specifically Dead Space oriented. The writer neither paid attention to the set continuity for the series, or even what he set down in his own screen play. For example, at one point the O’Bannon is specifically stated to have 137 crew members. Then in the fourth and final flashback, you see several hundred necromorphs in just one room of the ship. It’s things that this that will elicit a groan even from the most ardent Dead Space and shows that this was just a spin-off money making attempt rather than something that adds layers to and/or unlocks secrets of the Dead Space mythos.

Finally, there are two different animation styles in the film. You start off with some of the worst CGI I’ve seen since the early 1990s, to the point where all the character models look like something out of an early Playstation One or Sega Saturn game. These things look like mannequins and it’s downright laughable computer animation of this low quality would be allowed to represent the Dead Space series considered how amazing the video games look. The second style of animation is in the same vein as Phantom 2040 or Aeon Flux. It’s the same style used in Dead Space: Downfall and really, the whole movie should have been done in that style considering how seriously awful the CGI is in this. I get that they were doing it to show the differences between past and present, but it’s just very poorly done. Even the hand drawn animation has issues as times Dr. Cho looks very Asian and at others she looks like a generic Caucasian woman. It’s very jarring. Worse yet is that the models for the four characters look VERY different in the CGI from how they appear in the cell based animation. It’s like no one bothered to check that and it’s very annoying. T’s also indicative that no one on this project actually cared about making something of quality.

I honestly can’t recommend this to anyone. People new to Dead Space just won’t get it while people who have devoured all the offerings so far will find this to be poorly done and a disappointment unless they have some severe fanboy blinders on. It’s a noticeable drop in quality from Downfall, which until now was my second least favorite piece in the Dead Space mythos. Congrats Dead Space: Aftermath, you’re now second to last on the Dead Space quality barometer.

Downfall can currently be seen on Netflix Streaming and it’s been up there for a long time. No doubt Aftermath will be there in a few months as well. My recommendation is to watch it that way. It adds nothing to the Mythos and it’s a poorly done low budget animated flick, so you’re not missing anything by avoiding it. There’s several contradictions with the established nature of how the marker works and what it is, along with some really bad writing and acting. It’s not a truly abysmal film or something you will curse yourself for watching afterwards like severely edited softcore porn from the old “USA: Up All Night show, but Dead Space: Aftermath isn’t very good by any means, unless you’re exceptionally forgiving, are a fanboy to the level where anything Dead Space can do no wrong, or you’ve been paid to say how good it is. If you want to get something Dead Space related that isn’t a video game, I suggest picking up the first graphic novel (simply titled Dead Space) or getting the book Dead Space: Martyr. Both of those are actually better than either game in terms of characterization and storytelling. They’re also much cheaper.

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