Wednesday, 2 August 2006

Wednesday, 2 August 2006

DIRECTOR: Andrzej Bartkowiak WRITERS: Dave Callaham & Wesley Strick
CAST: The Rock (Sarge), Karl Urban (Reaper), Rosamund Pike (Dr Grimm), Ben Daniels (Goat), Raz Adoti (Duke), Deobia Oparei (Destroyer), more...

If imitation is indeed a form of flattery, then James Cameron must be in a permanent blush. In 1986, Aliens set the benchmark for sci-fi horrors involving testosterone-fuelled grunts hunting down alien creatures in confined spaces with high-tech weaponry. Cameron practically made this set-up its own sub-genre!

7 years later in 1993, Doom became a video game phenomenon; a First Person Shooter that paved the way for dozens of imitators, like Quake and Unreal Tournament. A movie adaptation had been mooted since Mortal Kombat (1995).

Now, 12 years after Doom spearheaded a gaming revolution, the movie belated appears starring professional macho men The Rock (Walking Tall) and Karl Urban (Lord Of The Rings). The plot is disappointingly similar to the countless Aliens rip-offs and modern zombie movies, with a research station on Mars becoming infested with marauding creatures, and a ragtag group of Marines, led by The Rock's "Sarge", being tasked to eliminate the threat.

If you're adapting a video game into a movie, you already have inherent problems to overcome; the fact remains that watching a faithful game writ large is nowhere near as fun as playing said game. Games are only adapted because studios know there's an inbuilt audience for the product, and most game's premises are increasingly cinematic (i.e. they steal ideas from the movies). As such there's a vicious circle going on, as even a faithful Doom movie would merely be a pale imitation of Aliens...

However, Doom isn't even particularly faithful to its source anyway. Another gripe with adaptations is that the writers obviously want to put their own spin on the concept. Nobody really wants to see an exact duplicate of the game on the big-screen (except diehard purists) because you may as well just play the game. That said; Doom does excise story elements that were integral to the game's success –- primarily the origin of the creatures has been changed from Hell to a laboratory. They're not demons; they're genetic aberrations from an experiment that went wrong. Sigh...

I suppose they thought a Hell-based plot wasn't plausible enough (snigger), but by shifting the emphasis onto genetics, Doom disappoints the hardcore gamers, loses its one faintly original pulp sci-fi component, and becomes not only a pale imitation of the classic Aliens, but also the poor cousin of Resident Evil!

The Rock is undoubtedly a charismatic man who should be this generation's Arnold Schwarzenegger, but he just can't seem to find the iconic role to catapult him to stardom. Doom marks a low-point even for him, as Sarge is a paper thin creation that could have been dumb fun, but winds up being exasperating and clichéd. He needs his own Terminator, fast.

Karl Urban grunted through Lord Of The Rings in a forgettable beefcake role, but proved to be quite a cool villain in The Bourne Supremacy, so it's frustrating that his character in Doom is underwritten and implausible. As John "Reaper" Grimm (all the cast have silly names) he's actually the only character with anything approaching a back-story and personality, but that's faint praise...

Rosamund Pike is, quite simply, atrocious in this. Pike is hardly an acclaimed actress anyway, famous mainly for a supporting role in Bond adventure Die Another Day, but you can usually rely on British actors to elevate material like this. But Pike is totally miscast as Dr Grimm, spending half the movie looking perplexed and locked into the same vacant expression. She quite clearly can't take any of this seriously, so why should we?

The supporting cast are your typical amalgam of weirdo's (Ben Daniels' self-mutilating Goat), one-note grunts (Raz Adoti's Duke), the teen newcomer (Al Weaver's The Kid), etc. All of them are just meat for the killing, with only Dexter Fletcher's wheelchair-bound Pinky proving to be a memorable presence.

Of course, with a movie like Doom you don’t expect much in the way of plot dynamics and character relationships. At its core level, Doom should provide kinetic action, gore and quips aplenty. Unfortunately, it barely succeeds on even those moderate terms. The special effects are shrouded in darkness (to hide their shoddiness you soon realize -– no idea what they spent the $70 million on!) and the editing during the attacks is so bad you can't really grasp what's happening, or to whom most of the time!

The production design successfully apes Doom 3, even throwing in a few direct links for fans (most notably the presence of the BFG -- a phallic gun filmed as the ultimate penis as The Rock strolls around it). It's a well-judged moment of silly gun eroticism that quickly evaporates when said gun is only fired a few times in the entire film, and never kills anything!

Even stupid teens with little time for plot and characterisation will likely be disappointed. The game's premise is bastardized, the variety of creatures sorely limited, and the weaponry nowhere near as eclectic as the games, resulting in a formulaic mess of a film with faint traces of the game sprinkled here and there.

There is one sequence toward the end of the movie when the action shifts to the real-time POV of a lead character, effectively transforming the movie into a photo-realistic version of the game. It's here that the film's budget seems to have been spent; the monsters are better realized, the iconic chainsaw appears, as does the Pinky "demon", and there's a sense of vibrancy and dark humour that was missing everywhere else. It's an oasis in a desert of a bad movie, and even then it just made me want to play the game and turn this soulless enterprise off.

To summarise, Doom fails because it's a decade too late, doesn't adhere to the game's mythology to please the core audience of fans, and lacks the requisite scares and laughs that general audiences demand from such trashy films. The truth is, while Doom the game was cutting edge in 1993, the 2005 movie arrives amidst a slew of doppelgangers with their own ominous prologues, macho soldiers, secret labs and zombies. It's all been done to death already...

I'm not a snob about movies; even "bad" movies can entertain on their own terms as cinematic junk-food, but Doom just fails to recapture even a fraction of what made the games such a hit... and for that it can't be forgiven...


Doom is released as an Unrated Edition DVD, which means 13 extra minutes of "goodness" sprinkled here and there. The disc comes in a keep case with one of those pointless cardboard slip-cases. A pet peeve of mine.

The menu screens are that familiar use of futuristic displays, seen countless times on similar DVDs, although the opening shot of Mars is quite cool.

PICTURE: The 2.34:1 anamorphic picture isn't particularly good. The movie is totally filmed in darkness or dull metallic rooms, and the blacks are blurry, with the image lacking punch. Detail levels are okay, and there are no artefacts, but there are noticeable smears and ghosting sometimes.

SOUND: The best aspect of the movie is definitely its sound mix. The DD5.1 audio puts the emphasis on the rear speakers and sub-woofer, with sound almost constantly pumping out from the rears. A nice level of bass is omnipresent and proves quite effective.


The disc's menu screens are your typical futuristic menus seen countless of times in hundreds of similar titles. A little disappointing, but the load times are good.
To make up for it, there are some pretty decent featurettes on this release, most of them more entertaining than the actual movie...

Basic Training Featurette: a look at how the cast were put through their paces with military training by a Special Forces veteran. Very entertaining, particularly when the effects of a blank round on a styrofoam head is revealed...

Rock Formation: an mediocre look at the make-up required to transform The Rock into a half-demonic creature. Occassionally interesting, but hardly earth-shattering.

Master Monster Makers: this featurette overstays its welcome, but it's quite an enjoyable look at how the movie's creatures were designed and performed. It's worth noting how little CGI was used, but it's a shame the film's cinematography was so poor that half the work was obscured by darkness...

First Person Shooter Sequence: by far the film's best moment, it's enlightening to see that this 5-minute sequence was actually directed by a Second Unit and took weeks to complete. It's certainly good work, and the sequence is included for viewing.

Doom Nation: a 15-min featurette about the Doom video games themselves, packed with interviews and clips of the iconic Doom, its sequel Doom II and the quantum leap that was Doom 3. Interesting to see the parallels between game and film, but this is a little tiresome...

Game On: only diehard gamers will enjoy this -- a series of tips and tricks for playing Doom 3.

Rounding out the disc are trailers for Serenity and Jarhead. But not Doom itself! Anyway,
overerall this isn't a terrible release, with the image quality not impressing me. On the plus side, the sound mix was good and some of the extra features are quite diverting.