Friday, 18 February 2011

Bonus Blog- The Dead Island Trailer: Why Killing Children Is Awesome

So, the trailer for the new game Dead Island has been released. Personally, I love it, it’s a great little three minute zombie movie that is both terrifying and sad.
Watch it here:
It’s already started to kick off some controversy, even from those who are normally the first to defend against moral guardians. The writer of this blog found it uncomfortable viewing, saying that “personally I just can't get away from the fact that I'm uncomfortable watching a graphic depiction of the horrific final moments of the life of a young girl.”
Well, good. Watching a little girl dying a horrible and violent death isn’t supposed to be punch-the-air “Fuck yes!” entertainment. The writer concedes: “Yes, perhaps that's because I'm a dad and have a beautiful daughter.” I don’t have a kid, so I can only take a poorly educated guess at how that affects your perception of the world. Similar motives have been given for Steven Spielberg’s decision to replace the guns with walkie-talkies in E.T.
Walkie-Talkies THAT SHOOT LASERS. I assume.
It’s easy to dismiss this sort of thing as being prudish Mary Whitehouse style stuff. But I think to answer this needs a more robust defence than that. Zombie apocalypse fiction is steeped in violence, and if we get our entertainment from watching bloody death on a mass scale, it’s worth, on occasion, asking what it’s actually for.
Firstly, as anyone who’s been playing the Chris Writes About The End of The World Drinking Game knows, kiddy zombies are not exactly a rarity in the genre. The premise of the zombie apocalypse is that your friends and loved ones are turned into the threat, and seeing some cute adorable little kid running (because even in Romero movies, kid actors never seem to get the hang of lurching) towards you with murder in its eyes is a great shorthand to get that point across.
However, context is everything. It’s one thing to see a zombie kid get killed as part of a longer narrative, with consequences for the characters. It’s another to see it as the entire subject of a film, particularly one as short as this. So the question is, does the trailer manage to justify its child murder?
Well, as you may have noticed, the trailer is played in backwards. I’m not trying to play the Happy Titanic argument here (Where if you rewind James Cameron’s Titanic it has a happy ending), but the order in which you tell a story is every bit as important as the story itself.
The classic example for this is Memento, where most of the scenes are played out in reverse chronological order, intercut with flashbacks that play out in chronological order, until at the end of the film the two storylines meet in the middle where it turns out that $£*()$£*()”$*()£$*£)$(*. In the trailer, the same thing happens. We get the reversed storyline of the corpse magically leaping up through the magically mending window and latching onto her father’s neck, intercut with flashbacks to the frightened little girl running down a hotel corridor.
In Memento, when the backward and forward moving narratives meet, it brings us to the most important part of the film. In the Dead Island trailer, when the backward and forward moving narratives meet, it is on the image of a father reaching out to his child. When we see that image, we know it won’t end well. But that’s not the point, the point is, the video takes a scene of bloody, terrifying violence, then gives the scene context, showing that the survivors are actually fighting for something.
You can see the trailer in chronological order here.
In this version, the story is a straight forward tale of a little girl running away from zombies, then dying horribly. It’s pretty bleak, but it doesn’t carry the same punch as the trailer seen the way it was originally intended.
In the blog link at the beginning of this post, Ben Parfitt argues that the trailer “uses an image of a dead girl and images of her dying to create an emotional bond with a product.”
Well, yes. It does. Although I have to say I find it far less distasteful and manipulative than Paul Whitehouse remaking The Sixth Sense for Aviva.
What this advert does is tell a story, to advertise a game that will also tell a story. Personally I find it refreshing to see a videogame advert that presents violence as anything other than totally awesomeIf the videogame that it’s advertising manages to resemble the tone of this trailer at all, it’s going to be a very special game indeed.
We’ll return to our regular posting schedule on Monday, when I’ll be writing about a romantic comedy. No prizes for guessing which one.


  1. That trailer is fucking sick.

    And that's a declaration of my personal taste, not a statement on the text's value, of course.

    That being said, I think it's a pretty poor trailer and you may be overestimating it. I appreciate the attempt to thread something like a narrative rather than just throwing some game footage out there and calling it a day. But the narrative itself seemed pretty rudimentary. In particular it appealed to very easy tropes to elicit emotion, from the loving family picture to the slo-mo, through the softly tinkling piano. Ever since Gears of War figured out that just about *anything* can seem deeply artistic or moving if you stick a fucking Nyman track over it (, it seems we're getting quite a few wannabe Spielbergs out there.

  2. I think for a narrative that takes place in a little over three minutes it's pretty complex. And yes, throwing a child out a window is a pretty easy way to get an emotional response (We've all found that out one way or another) as is the two hands reaching for each other at the end. And I will give you that things happening in slow motion while sad music plays is vastly overused by games adverts (slow motion and BACKWARDS though?).
    But the main drive of my argument is that the trailer manages to pay for the shocking imagery it starts out with. There are enough details (sparse as they are)given to the characters to make the kid's death an emotional beat in a story, as opposed to just being shocking for shocking's sake.

  3. "Personally I find it refreshing to see a videogame advert that presents violence as anything other than totally awesome."

    The thing is, I don't think the Dead Island trailer is doing anything very different. It changes the tone, but it doesn't change the depth. Dead Rising 2 stimulates very simple emotions with an electrical guitar, Dead Island does so with a piano, but they're still both going for facile emotions.

    In part, I don't see the distinction you're making between an 'emotional beat' and 'shocking for shocking's sake'. You could argue that emotions are there for their own sake, or that shocks are never there for their own sake (even if their purpose is just selling a product). My problem is that for all of its cleverly inverted narrative structure, it's still composed fundamentally of cliches.

  4. Btw, I thought your discussions on the sci-fi and horror genre of the previous post were very interesting. I take a bit of a different slant myself - I tend to insert these genres into historical traditions as ancient as possible - but still, I thought it was a refreshing and stimulating way of approaching them.

  5. The "totally awesome" was referring less to the guitar sound track, and more to the kill-counter in the corner of the screen, the guy wearing a moose head and the motorbike with two chainsaws attached to the handles (which, y'know, cool!)

    The distinction I was going for was the difference between trying to get a reaction from the characters in the story (Which amounted to the, admittedly cliched, need for the father to protect his daughter-cliches aren't always a bad thing) and simply going "LOOK! DEAD BABIES!" The question was, is the use of this traumatic image justified. I'm not judging my a hugely high criteria, but I think the answer is yes.

    You won't catch me arguing that sci-fi and horror *don't* also belong in ancient cultural traditions. As I mentioned in the very first blog- sci-fi writers are thieving bastards.