Monday, June 29, 2009

Monday MUpdate: Where are all the good video game movies?

This weekend I didn't really play all that many video games since I spent it packing and collecting moving materials, as well as doing a lengthy clean up of my ridiculously messy room. While I was doing all of this, I decided it was time to watch all the movies that have been laying around my room or clogging up my hard drive. Two of said movies were both video game related, and I figure what better place to write my snarky commentary and scathing reviews than a blog dedicated to all things video games?

I'd also like to point out as a foreword that both of these movies are not Hollywood movies, but films commissioned by the people who made the game as a way of expanding their own mythos. It is in that that I feel I can be extra harsh in commentary, because while Hollywood films have to take an idea and make it passable for a 90 minute film that non-video game audiences will enjoy, these films are made as an addition for people who are already fans of the video game and therefore do not have to take the same inconsistencies and jumps that your average Hollywood film does. So when I get overly critical in the following two reviews, just try and keep in mind that I'm still a huge fan of the video games. I just don't care for 90 minute films that miss the point.

Dead Space: Downfall

People that have been regular readers for the past year or so know that I praised Dead Space when it first came out. I found it a highly entertaining and quite terrifying survival horror game that revamped some tired ideas and put an entertaining spin on them. It was essentially Resident Evil in space, except the "zombies" wouldn't die if you shot off their heads. You had to more carefully shoot off their limbs. It also mixed in a bit of Bioshock with a story that threw you into an abandoned and dead mining ship, and you had to learn through out the game play what happened to everyone in the past - how they found the artifact on the planet, it released this terror, and everyone proceeded to go insane and get infected with space zombie flu. Awesome.

The movie, however, lacks everything that made Dead Space cool. It comes off more as an Alien prequel that just begs to ruin your imagination. See, part of the fun is that when you play Dead Space, you get to infer everything that happened. Downfall shows it to you, and therefore loses a big chunk of the survival horror aspect that made Dead Space so entertaining. While we are presented with an insanely wide and talented voice cast (such as the guy who does the voice of Mickey's arch-nemesis Pete (seriously)), all of the characters come off as bland and impersonal. We follow our heroine as she tries to survive the ship, but ultimately, who cares? Everyone in the movie treats her like crap and we as the audience never really get a reason to feel otherwise. She's good with a gun and hates aliens, but don't we all? All the other characters introduced as part of the surviving team are about as two-dimensional as they come. Besides, anyone who has played Dead Space knows how the movie will end: everyone dies. When you get to the ship, it's empty, remember? So why bother getting attached to a crew that you know is doomed?

My biggest complaint still lies with the fact that this takes away from the imaginative properties of the sci-fi space survival horror. I really loved the way the story was explained in Dead Space. Obviously, the game's run time allows for a more carefully explained plot, but from the brief moments you yourself get to see on a computer monitor the revelation of the artifact as well as the first attack are what make this game's horror aspect work. Granted, if you were a fan of Alien, then I suppose the set up of the plot can work for you, but having actually played the game from beginning to end I just found everything kind of "matter of fact." There was no plot twist that they could give to me that would make me sit up in the chair because I already knew them all.

So Dead Space: Downfall does somewhat go to flesh out the story of the Dead Space infection time line, it's all in all unnecessary and unwelcome. For those actually interested in having everything explained in front of you, then I'd recommend a watch, but otherwise skip it. Sometimes, a game without a cohesive story that forces you to earn the truth of any mysteries surrounding the plot is much more rewarding than a game that explains it as you go along. Granted, there are obvious exceptions to this rule, but as far as survival horror goes, I'll take a non-linear storyline over a straight forward one any day.

Resident Evil: Degeneration

Resident Evil: Degeneration is something I had incredibly high hopes for. I don't think I need to remind people what a huge Resident Evil fan I am. The game literally pioneered the survival horror genre, and without it we would never have anything like Dead Space. Hell, we wouldn't even have Dino Crisis. So considering this movie is supposed to enter legitimate continuity, it seemed like a winner to me. Possibly another Advent Children, even. What it ended up being was a hilariously bad attempt at gap bridging in the Resident Evil universe.

Now, the movie is supposed to take place in between Resident Evil 4 and 5. The events of Resident evil 2 and 3 have already happened and Raccoon City lies in ruins. It is important to note that there is no way the public is not aware of zombies, especially due to the opening scenes of news reports that consistently mention outbreaks and the fall of the Umbrella Corporation. In fact, one of the main characters is a Senator who okayed the bombing of Raccoon City, and when the movie opens with him at an airport and a protest mob outside, someone is dressed as a zombie as a form of protest. So can someone please explain to me why everyone is confused when the outbreak occurs? And why Claire just doesn't grab a cop's gun and end this within the first five minutes?

My first complaint with the movie was the clear issues of dialogue. Some of what was so insanely stupid, I felt I was reading a 13 year old's fan fiction. Here are two of my favorite moments:

Scene 1:
Squad member into walkie talkie: "Where are you?"
Woman stuck in airport: "We're in the VIP room!"
Squad member into walkie talkie: "Ok, I think they're in the VIP room!"

Oh yeah? Really? What was your first amazing clue to that one? The best part of this is, though, is not the fact of obvious repetition. It's the fact that even though the cops were told where the woman was, they were still somehow unsure.

Scene 2:
Senator: "I hope you have a plan!"
Leon: "We're going to run across the lobby."
Claire: "You should trust him - he knows this stuff."

This is the level of intelligent writing we're dealing with here. I'm not saying that Resident Evil has ever been a great example of award winning writing, but come on.

There is also a moment where one of the character's breasts grow about twenty times in size for no reason, and it's positively hilarious. I honestly spent more time laughing at this movie then I did enjoying it, and this is my second complaint. More than anything, this movie is really dumb. Resident Evil has never really been "about the zombies" so to speak, and more about the virus, evil corporations, and monsters, but there was barely any zombie involvement at all in this movie. Most of it was dialogue about how they wanted to prevent an outbreak during an outbreak. A lot of it just seems so basic and easy to avoid. On top of that, all the plot twists are incredibly text book. Granted, Resident Evil has been pulling out some of the recurring twists for the past couple years, what with the supposed return of Umbrella as well as Albert Wesker repeatedly popping up, but this tries to play out like a thriller more than just your typical Resident Evil story.

All of this is not to say that I didn't enjoy it at all. It was dumb and poorly written but I definitely liked it more than Dead Space: Downfall due to the connections with the games. The animation is really great at points, and there's one scene of running water that I could have sworn was actual running water versus CGI. This is the first time Claire and Leon have been together since Raccoon City, and Resident Evil 2 was always my favorite game so it was nice to have them together again. On top of that, there is a tease of TriCell in the game, the new villainous corporation introduced in Resident Evil 5, which I liked. But while this expands the story in similar ways to Advent Children, it fails in the same way that Advent Children succeeded. The reason Advent Children worked is because it was a straight up sequel that offered closure to many open ends. Degeneration offers no closure to anything because there is no need to try and offer closure. What it does instead is just continue along the evil coporation motif of Resident Evil rather than make it a true horror story, and what works about playing Resident Evil versus watching it is with gameplay you can have as much zombie horror as you want, whereas in a film it needs to be regulated. That's what makes this fizzle around.

So while Resident Evil: Degeneration is less of a disappointment than Dead Space: Downfall, it still is ultimately a disappointment. Poor writing and direction for a story don't save it from being part of continuity. In fact, that's more reason to dislike it, because it should by all rights and accounts take the effort to be well written considering it is essentially fan service. There was no need for this chapter of Resident Evil because ultimately, we gain nothing new, just some amusing one minute teases. In fact, without knowledge of Resident Evil 5, the inclusion of TriCell is somewhat pointless, because all things considered, Resident Evil 6 is supposed to take the whole Resident Evil saga in a brand new direction as it finally wrapped up every loose end about any main character involved in Resident Evil.

So there you have it. Two video game movie reviews in lieu of actual video gaming. To be honest, in the upcoming weeks I probably will not get much gaming done, but I will do my best to make it up to any faithful readers somehow. I mean, Marvel vs Capcom 2 will be out soon, right? And I'm bound to do a report on that.

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