When the three-minute trailer for the "Dead Island" video game hit the internet a few days ago, it was to near universal acclaim. The trailer features no game footage and none of the main characters, but rather a computer-animated scene from the game's zombie-infested universe. It's essentially a three-minute short made to sell the "Dead Island" concept, portraying the graphic death of a little girl and her parents when they fall victim to a zombie attack. With a Christopher Nolan-style structure that intercuts pieces of footage that are running backwards and forwards from the same timeline, the short is unusually cinematic and effective. Immediately, rumors began swirling that Hollywood was ready to pounce on the rights to the game in order to turn "Dead Island" into a film.
These rumors proved to be wildly overblown, but considering that Michael Bay's Platinum Dunes just acquired the rights to something called "Zombies vs. Robots," it's understandable why so many industry watchers pegged "Dead Island" as a desirable property. Having watched the trailer a few times now and reading up on what the game actually entails, I don't think there's really anything special about the "Dead Island" concept that would be worth the effort to acquire. The game follows people stuck on an island with zombies, more or less the same idea behind the proposed sequel to Zack Snyder's remake of "Dawn of the Dead," which happened to end with its survivors stuck on an island with zombies. Plans to pick up the story from there never panned out, and the next film in the series, "Day of the Dead," dropped the continuity entirely and started over.
Credit for the excellence of the "Dead Island" trailer should really go to its director, Stuart Aitkin, and the creative team from Axis Animation. Having sat through a lot of crummy, sub-par game animation, I know it takes a lot of effort to make realistic CGI human characters like this seem compelling. I think it only works here because the trailer is short, there is no dialogue, and the narrative gimmick hasn't been applied to zombies before. If the characters were required to do more than run around in a slow-motion panic, and get themselves eaten, I think they'd hit Uncanny Valley territory very quickly. Notably, the opening shot of the dead girl is really the only time we have a close-up of any character's face for more than a second or two, and the CGI graphics are actually very helpful in making the kid look all dead-eyed, stiff, and lifeless.
If the "Dead Island" trailer is proof of anything, it's that Stuart Aitkin might deserve a shot at directing something bigger - maybe a full length animated feature or the next live-action installment of the "28 Days" franchise. Maybe Michael Bay could use some help with pitting zombies against robots. Unfortunately, much as I wish that things were different, I think a straight animated adaptation is out. By all indications, mainstream audiences are not ready for dark animated horror films after the abysmal performances of "Beowulf" and "9." Animation is one of the few ways you could get iffy content like graphic child murder on the big screen without a major fuss, but I doubt enough horror fans would show up for literal cartoon violence to make it profitable. But if it were filmed in live action, the material would have to be compromised.
I certainly don't mean to disparage the trailer, but I've seen a lot of people jumping to conclusions about why it worked as well as it did and the kind of potential it has to be parlayed into future projects. I think it makes a wonderful short, but I have serious doubts as to whether you could stretch out these three minutes of slickly presented footage into a feature film. The visuals are impressive, but this is because they're well directed, not because they're particularly distinctive or well animated. The story it tells is touching, but only because of the interesting way it's being told. We haven't even seen the "Dead Island" game yet, and there's nothing to indicate that it's going to be any different than any other zombie game that's already on the market. The trailer did what it was supposed to and put the title on everyone's radar, but that I'm not convinced that we're looking at the hot new horror franchise here in any medium.
On the other hand, "Zombies vs. Robots"?! Michael Bay, have you no shame?