Dead Space 3 is just over a week from release, and rather than playing the demo, I’m busy exploring its intricate backstory. To cut to the chase, today’s offering is the second animated film, Dead Space: Aftermath. Rather than bore you a second time with the various reasons that I love this series, I figure I’ll just jump right in, so to speak.
Dead Space: Aftermath
Director: Mike Disa
Producer: Joe Goyette
Studios: Film Roman, Starz Media, Pumpkin Studio
Distributors: Electronic Arts, Manga Entertainment
Release Date: January, 2011
Dead Space: Aftermath was released in January of 2011 to coincide with the release of Dead Space 2. I distinctly remember seeing it on store shelves in the cold winter months of 2011. The packaging is really attractive, so I remember being instantly interested. For whatever reason, I chose not to buy the movie until recently. I seem to remember that it had a fairly high price point, so as I’ll soon explain, it’s probably a good thing I didn’t purchase it at its original cost.
Set in the year 2509, Aftermath takes place one year after the Ishimura incident, and two years before the events of Dead Space 2. That places it firmly in prequel territory, which is funny, because nearly every media tie-in with Dead Space is advertised as a prequel. There are considerably more DS prequels on store shelves than products that advance the story forward. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but lets just hope you like Aegis VII and the Ishimura, because the creative heads in charge of the series sure do.
As you may remember, the events of the first DS ended with Isaac returning the red marker to the surface of Aegis VII, which in turn disrupted the gravity tethers that had been holding the planet together. Isaac then killed the main necromorph baddie, and escaped the destruction of Aegis VII on a shuttle craft. One year later, the USG O’Bannon (likely a reference to Dan O’Bannon, screenwriter of Alien) is sent by the CEC (a mining corporation) to investigate. It should be no surprise that the crew of the O’Bannon is sent under false pretenses, and that the CEC, in combination with EarthGov, is merely interested in monitoring the effects of the marker on hapless humans. It turns out Aegis VII wasn’t totally destroyed by Isaac, so the investigation team are able to navigate the surface of the planet, albeit with some difficulty. As expected, the crew encounter a fragment of the marker, they bring it on board the O’Bannon, and all hell breaks loose.
Aftermath is told from the perspective of the four crew members of the O’Bannon who survive the introduction of the marker fragment to the ship. An EarthGov ship intercepts the O’Bannon, retrieves the four survivors, and brings them to the Sprawl, which you may remember as the location of DS2. En route to the Sprawl, each survivor is individually interrogated; each one telling a portion of the events that lead to the deaths of the O’Bannon’s crew. Circa 2013, flashbacks aren’t an entirely unique storytelling device, but in Aftermath they add some flavor to what would otherwise have been a standard linear narrative. Unfortunately, the creators decided to take the flashbacks one step further…
Aftermath is a mess of movie, thanks to the decision to use five different animation styles, one for the present day events, and one for each of the four flashbacks. I can’t emphasize how badly this decision ruins the movie. Although it’s difficult to find the specific details, it seems that Film Roman contracted the animation to five different Korean studios. By far the worst offender of the five, the present day events are animated in some of the worst CG I’ve seen this side of the 90’s. To put it bluntly, the CG looks like total crap. Remember the show Reboot from the late 90’s? The CG in Aftermath quite literally looks worse. In all seriousness, I compared still frames from the two, and Aftermath loses. There’s almost no texture on each surface, and the environments are as clean, sparsely detailed, and lifeless as that guy’s apartment from the last short in the movie Creepshow. When I first started Aftermath, I didn’t realize the CG would transition into conventional 2D animation; had it stayed CG the entire time, I may well have stopped the film.The CG is so awful that I’m hesitant to even include any images of it on this blog…
Thankfully, the CG eventually ends, and gives way to some pretty decent 2D animation. Had the entire movie been done in 2d, I would have a much higher opinion of it. EA would have been wise to scrap the CG and start fresh. They have a reputation for sacrificing quality for the sake of making an extra dollar, and I can only imagine that’s what happened in this case. Sorry to bring up the example of Halo a second time, but the comparison is apt. Frank O’Connor, the man in charge of maininting the consistency of Halo‘s creative image, explained in the Halo Graphic Novel‘s forward that they waited until they had the perfect team before crafting a Halo comic. EA on the other hand, a company who can financially afford to handle their properties properly, seem content to shovel money at the cheapest options available. There are hentai studios that release better looking CG, not that I would know…
Returning back to the animation, the four 2d segments all look great, with the possible exception of the fourth. The backgrounds are detailed, the character models are nicely proportioned, the movement is fluid, and the angles are dynamic and interesting. Each one is superior looking to the animation from Dead Space: Downfall. The third 2D section, in particular, is beautiful. The style is fantastic, and the animation is as kinetic as any of Japan’s best offerings. I wish so badly that the entire movie had been done in this style. Had this been the case, we wouldn’t have to deal with the jarring differences in animation. To add weight to my statement that the movie is a mess, each character looks completely different in each of the five sections. Different to the point of skin color changes.
Aftermath‘s story is fairly interesting, and does a nice job of tying off a few loose ends between the events of DS1 and DS2. Like Downfall, nothing particularly important is added to the cannon, but we do learn a few new interesting details. For one, I was never very clear on how exactly the markers turn humans into necromorphs. Downfall explains fairly explicitely that the markers reanimate dead tissues. Necromorphs then spread the infection to other humans as they rack up kills. This still doesn’t explain the necromoph variations, but perhaps those questions have been answered elsewhere in the fiction. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no DS expert. Another addition to the cannon is that we learn Nolan Stross’ backstory. Apparently there was a time when he wasn’t a raving lunatic. Finally, we’re introduced firsthand to EarthGov’s “Overseer” (the chief of the marker conspiracy), who to the best of my knowledge has never appeared directly in the games. Perhaps my biggest issue with the plot of Aftermath is that the necromorphs are introduced fairly late, and only get about ten minutes of screen time. Then again, this serves to emphasize that the humans are the true evil; an idea which is explored every time EarthGov appears.
Once again, the voice acting is quite good, other than one of the characters who can’t seem to stop awkwardly dropping the f-bomb. If you’re familiar with TV actors and voice actors, you’ll likely recognize the cast. Personally I’m not, so I won’t waste your time by pretending I’m knowledgeable. All things considered, the only strong detractor from Aftermath are the offputting animation changes and z-grade CG; other than that, it’s pretty watchable. The story isn’t excellent, nor does it add significantly to the cannon, but it’s pretty good. To summarize, I would only really recommend this to the most die-hard Dead Space fans, everyone else will probably turn it off after seeing the CG. To any non-DS fans, this Aftermath a pretty tough sell, even if you’re into sci-fi horror.
The Dead Space 3 hype train will continue in the next post. As a small hint, I have a certain comic in my apartment. Here’s to hoping that it will be less mediocre than the movies. As always, please check out the facebook page, I’ve been posting lots of DS news.
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Clicking any of the following thumbnails will open a gallery of my favorite images from Dead Space: Downfall