Dead Space: Downfall

Dead Space: Downfall (2008)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Cast: Bruce Boxleitner, Kelly Hu, Jim Cummings, Kevin Michael Richardson
Extras: Deleted Scene, Photo Gallery, Isolated Score, Cheat Codes, Trailers

The guise of a feature film correlating with a video game is frequently suspect, although if you've been on the ground long enough, you'll recall the "Super Mario Brothers" movie from 1993, much less the Pac Man cartoons series that ran on ABC in 1982. "Double Dragon" was pretty much a waste of time, Alyssa Milano or no, while in more recent times we've seen film adaptations of popular video games such as the two "Mortal Kombat" and "Tomb Raider" movies, which have both their fans and their detractors. In this writer's opinion, Angelina Jolie was birthed to play Lara Croft; only her title role in "Gia" was sexier. Of course, did anyone really expect the "Resident Evil" films to go a whole three rounds? Hell, while we're at it, we can flag the two "Dungeons and Dragons" movies (one live action, one computer gen), though that's more relegated to tabletop gaming than those projected via boob tubes.

The premise of a movie introducing a forthcoming video game isn't quite so much unprecedented as it is potentially chary. There's been plenty of accompanying movies created for video games, much less toys. The whole proposal smells of gimmick, which is going to be what first strikes you when coming to "Dead Space: Downfall." If you're not a gamer, you're probably going to about face and further browse the manga shelves to see if they've created any new "Bubblegum Crisis."

The severed arm on the cover of the DVD shouldn't be taken lightly, nor should parents allow their young'uns to partake of "Dead Space: Downfall," much less its high-tech video game companion and originating comic book series. This is brutal stuff in the vein of "Alien," "Aliens" and "Starship Troopers" set to the anime vibe (though this film is grade-A American), and its purpose of existence is by way of introduction to the affiliated video game "Dead Space."

Yeah, the marketing ploy is obvious and it would normally be offensive, however the folks assembling "Dead Space: Downfall" are obvious fans of "Heavy Metal," the magazine and the classic 1981 animated movie, one that bears the honor badge as being one of the first adult-themed cartoons, "Fritz the Cat" notwithstanding. That alone makes "Dead Space: Downfall" worth your invested time. Seriously, you know the folks at Anchor Bay almost never attach their name to anything trendy or below risqué (they even released the entire series of "Three's Company," one of the subliminally bawdiest shows of all-time).

Despite the fact "Dead Space: Downfall" borrows liberally from the first two "Alien" flicks, "Starship Troopers" and John Carpenter's take on "The Thing" (namely the gruesome defragmentation of the Necromorphs), this film actually rocks kinda hard, mostly due to unchained gore sequences that drips all over the 74-minute film. This outer space vehicle almost drives on the same course of "Alien," yet you somehow forgive the film because of its gross-out spectacle that keeps "Dead Space: Downfall" moving at a lawless speed.

Our plotline is this: A space mining expedition, led by the USG Ishimura, uncovers a towering relic believed to be a direct channel to God. Unitologists (obviously borrowed from present-day Unitarians) are despised by the less-than-progressive militaristic crew overseeing the mining colony mission housed on the surface base Aegis 7. Consider the former space-age Jehovah's Witnesses who are perhaps more zealous to commune with the immense religious talisman than the commanding officers of the Ishimura. In their error to hoist and transport the artifact back to Earth as a key element for societal advancement, the Ishimura unleashes a bestial alien race that whisks like bats and carnivorously tear apart humans, implanting their spores into their dismembered hosts for future growth. (Sound familiar?) To up the ante, these aliens are masters of mind control, usurping dominion of their victims and forcing them into committing acts of violence.

Chief of security Alyssa Vincent abruptly finds herself leading her paltry band of martial guards into the bowels of the Ishimura, where a colony escapee bearing his slaughtered wife (who cuts her head nearly clean off in front of him once the aliens have seized her membrane) forces himself into an emergency landing aboard the ship. Of course, an alien has stowed itself on board, and thus "Dead Space: Downfall" is set upon its splatter-filled course.

Bruce Boxleitner and Kelly Hu lend their voices to this quick-paced project and not to harp on the similarities "Dead Space: Downfall" hoists liberally unto itself, but the connections are beyond obvious. Nevertheless, "Dead Space: Downfall" is chock full of mayhem, blood, foul language and superb animation that actually makes you forget you're watching the prelude to a video game. When Vincent drifts into outer space after forcing open the hangar bay with a handful of the bestial Necromorphs (at least Ripley managed to hold on in both "Alien" films), an echoed lullaby trails behind her suspended corpse, while a new pod approaches the alien-infested Ishimura, which is where the video game is supposed to pick up.

Far from being a novelty companion piece to a game that already has a cult following, "Dead Space: Downfall" plays to non-video game fans as much as it does the console junkies. As a standalone piece, "Dead Space: Downfall" is a balls-out salute to the comic series that gives it life, but just being a fan of horror and over-the-edge sci-fi is all you need to approach this. It doesn't hurt the movie's would-be heroes make mincemeat out the Necromorphs with an ultra-cool vibro-blade that throbs like a chainsaw. Leatherface would undoubtedly love such an upgrade…