Film adaptations of videogames seldom work. Whilst the film industry has finally cracked the comic book superhero genre, videogames still elude them. What doesn’t help is the fundamental differences each medium has with storytelling. Film is typically succinct with a philosophy of show don’t tell, meanwhile, videogames are longer paced affairs with a play don’t show philosophy. Therefore, Re-telling a game’s story within a film is very difficult to translate.
This is one aspect of Dead Rising: Watchtower that works particularly well: taking the setting from the games but weaving its own tale within it. In fact Watchtower achieves several noteworthy feats when it comes to creating a film based on a videogame, and although it doesn’t quite come together in the end, it’s a strong attempt that’s well worth watching.
Dead Rising: Watchtower is set between the second and third Dead Rising games, following the traditional Dead Rising storyline of a location suddenly overrun with zombies while a group of survivors fight to escape. Additionally, concerns over infected humans that need frequent shots of the zombie virus suppressing Zombrex drug plague the cast, along with a military presence that might have their own agenda, and a biker gang enjoying the chaos. All the ingredients are present for precisely the kind of Dead Rising tale you’d expect.
And indeed, Watchtower combines these story threads together impressively to successfully capture the tone and narrative flow of the games. The Zombies are bloodthirsty and look terrific, the survivors are intractable and mysterious, the humour is excellent and silly, cobbled together devices and weapons as well as the desperate usage of everyday items make up the arsenal, and the gore is over-the-top and grotesque. There are even multiple, well placed references to the games, such as weapon combinations, a zombie variant, and even Frank West punctuating the tale through a TV interview. It’s a great homage to the games that stays true to their formulas.
Moreover, the cast is excellent. The leads, Chase (Jesse Metcalfe) and Crystal (Meghan Ory) are absolutely spot on in comparison to what the games have delivered so far with their lead characters, and their supporting cast is superb with a standout performance from Rob Riggle as Frank West. Watchtower also goes so far as to cast a couple of internet personalities in the form of Epic Meal Time’s Harley Morenstein as a crazed pyro bikers, and Film Riot’s Ryan Connolly as a zombie, which is a terrific way to connect with the target audience on a slightly deeper level. However, despite how well it captures the game, it doesn’t do enough.
The aforementioned problem of long form storytelling condensed to short form creates another victim here, with Watchtower failing to capture enough of what makes the Dead Rising games so popular. Zombie variants and desperate survival against overwhelming numbers is barely present, with only the odd zombie variant beyond your standard, shambling undead and seldom few zombie filled scenes. There is an excellent, one continuous shot, moment that successfully captures the spirit of the games, but once again we needed to see more. Additionally, the game’s main attraction – beyond a screen full of zombies to hack through – is the numerous, crazed pyschos, and whilst the biker gang are good human adversaries they just aren’t crazy enough for Dead Rising.
The fight choreography also doesn’t quite have the impact or impressiveness as productions such as Arrow or Daredevil, and the occasional switch to shots that look as if they were captured with a GoPro, look completely out-of-place and pull you out of the experience. However, one of the biggest let down is the ending, which, whilst avoiding spoilers, simply doesn’t tie up all loose ends, setting up, it seems, for a sequel that we might not ever see.
Dead Rising: Watchtower has a great set of characters, played by an exceptional cast, has a terrific setting, great use of gore and superb zombie special effects, as well as the right tone and attention to detail to capture the game’s personality. But it needed to go further, with more zombies, more pyschos, more peril, and a more complete story. It’s certainly worth watching if you’re a Dead Rising fan, and you’ll get a kick out of the references and how it stick to cannon so smoothly. Let’s hope there’s a sequel to finish the story and deliver more of what makes the games so great, and one that avoids the GoPro shots.
TiX purchased their own copy of the film for review
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