Great news. A very good video game has been made into a movie. At least I know I am guaranteed a well-made, well-acted and well scripted film as all game to movie ports are put together with respect for the original property and with their core target market in mind. Oh, wait, that is all nonsense isn’t it. In fact it is usually the opposite. Here we go then. Fingers crossed but this is probably going to be terrible.
Dead Rising Watchtower is a film based in the universe of the very popular video game, Dead Rising. A review of that first game can be found here – Dead Rising XBOX 360
The film was directed by Zach Liposky and was released in March 2015. It is set in a town/city called East Mission which is in Oregon and focuses mainly on the story of Chase Carter, played by Jesse Metcalfe, who is a reporter for Hit Point News. Chase and his camera woman, Jordan (Keegan Connor Tracy), are covering news from the quarantine zone of a zombie outbreak. FEZA (Federal Emergency Zombie Agency) are controlling the scene and are inoculating survivors from the outbreak with Zombrex which is a drug that needs to be taken daily that will stop infected victims from ever turning into actual zombies.
While Chase and Jordan attempt to interview a few of the survivors, it is very apparent that this is nothing new and they actually see a zombie outbreak as a normal part of life. The virus is already out there, FEZA are fully set up and more and people are getting inoculated with Zombrex daily. Chase makes it clear that he isn’t over the moon about being sent to cover this “non-story”. Zombrex has basically turned the zombie virus from a terrifying possibility into a boring reality that is more akin to taking your daily vitamins then a grisly and gruesome death.
So now that the film has played on the dullness of this latest apocalypse and lulled you into a false sense of security suddenly these apparently inoculated survivors start turning into zombies and killing/turning everybody around them. Chaos ensues and in the bloodbath, Chase and Jordan get separated, Jordan makes it to their news vehicle but in a blind panic, drives off to head for the city border leaving Chase behind. Chase runs for shelter, following one of the original survivors that he was trying to interview, Crystal LaRourke (Meghan Ory) who is a lot more skilled at this sort of thing having survived one already. En route to shelter, they come across a woman crying and cradling her dead daughter who we learn is named Maggie (Virginia Madsen). It is a grim and sombre reminder of the horror that surrounds them after what seemed a light hearted start to the film.
Eventually Chase, Crystal and a reluctant Maggie make it into a loan store where they lock up and gather their thoughts. While doing this, they have a run in with a nutty biker gang who claim ownership of the zombie ridden city and announce their intention to help the spread of the infection passed the quarantine zone. They see it as the larger the problem, the larger the zone of lawlessness will be for them to run riot in.
Meanwhile, outside the walls, Jordan is mixing her time between trying to help Chase get out of the area by arguing with FEZA and the military while also helping to guide Chase by way of a mobile phone as he moves from one safe place to the next. Jordan soon realises that the military may have an ulterior motive while Chase soon finds out Crystal is infected and is now out of Zombrex. On top of that, the military announce plans to firebomb the whole area.
What you end up with from now is essentially a chase with Chase, Crystal and Maggie trying to make it out of the infected zone, a countdown to the firebombing, Jordan trying to find the truth about what is going on outside the wall, Crystal needing to find Zombrex before she turns, the biker gang trying to reach the wall to destroy it and of course, the hordes of zombies just looking for their next meal.
That sums up the story pretty well and while not the most intense or thrilling story, it does a reasonable job of keeping the film chugging along with a purpose. There is plenty of death and carnage though a lot of it feels very CGI. The story, especially Jordan’s hunt for the truth is probably the least appealing part of the film. It is a little slower than the rest of the film which really comes good in a few different ways but these are interrupted by these “conspiracy” sections. One of those ways where it does work well is in the camera work, the shooting and/or editing. There are some very pretty wide shot city images, a great wide zoomed out scene of the main characters on top of a school bus as well as some intense close up of footage of actors in tight and perilous spaces. One of the best parts of the movie though is that it is broken up by live news bulletins which are provided by UBN broadcasting a feature an anchor giving a live interview to none other than Frank West, played by Rob Riggle. Frank is arrogant, matter of fact and very badly behaved which drives the news anchor absolutely nuts throughout but is very funny to the viewer. He constantly references himself from his own video game while commenting on Chase’s situation.
Another thing done very well, though I imagine only appreciated by those who have played or know the video game, is the huge amount of “Easter Eggs” or nods to the original intellectual property. From a zombie who ends up with a traffic cone on its head to a Servebot Helmet t shirt, there are subtle nods everywhere. There are also plenty of not so subtle ones such as a big scene where Chase, at a workbench, mixes a few items together to make a crazy looking weapons such as a shotgun machete thing and there is even a brief scene when walking through a room of a guy playing the actual video game.
For me, and for many people who are watching this purely because of the video game, these nods are great but for anyone not a fan or not in the know with the game may find these moments to be a little confusing and a little odd.
In fact there may be quite a few things in the movie that feel a little much. There are a lot of plots and sub plots going on and with those, and the attempt to squeeze in as many video game moments as possible, I have seen it mentioned in other reviews that the film is confusing and bloated. I kind of get their point with that, I mean we have the main plot of Chase trying to escape, Jordan trying to uncover a conspiracy, the Zombrex failure, the biker gang and their attempt to free the virus, we have the army trying to bomb the city and FEZA trying to exert control all with stops for news bulletins so there is a lot going on but I was okay with it and found it all to be reasonable but not coherent. The only two things I took real issue with throughout were Chase and his never dying mobile phone. Needing to charge it would have been realistic after being in there for a few days but little moments like this were ignored by the film makers to allow the film to continue at pace and, while it isn’t meant to be a realistic film in any way, a few moments like the phone running out of battery would have been sensible. My other gripe was with the amount of zombies, there are a few and there are some scenes where there are plenty about but in the game there are hordes upon hordes of them and it never feels like that here. Maybe it was budget restrictions but a few more extras would have made a huge difference in some of the scenes.
Minor complaints maybe but it is often the little things that can really affect the quality of a movie. I do think that Dead Rising Watchtower can get away with it too an extent because it never feels like they are trying too hard to be taken seriously. It looks and feels like a very glossy B movie rather than a poor blockbuster and while none of the acting will be anywhere near award worthy, they have managed to do something I didn’t think was possible.
They have actually made a bloody good video game adaptation.
If you are a fan of the games, I think you will really enjoy this. As a standalone movie, I would probably have rated this as a 4/10 at best but it isn’t a standalone movie and they clearly have no desire to distance themselves from the game. Instead they embrace it at every opportunity. I may be forgetting a few right now but from what I can remember, I think this may be the best video game to movie adaptation I have ever seen and that was not what I expected at all. I was expecting the usual tripe which ignore the core video game to try and be marketable and instead I got a movie that ignored the mainstream market and made a movie for the gamers.
Dead Rising: Watchtower