“Doomed to be average – pity”
The 2005 film “Doom” is based on a popular video game of the same name which was one of the forerunners of first person-shooters. Directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak and written by Dave Callaham and Wesley Strick, this adaption had a reported budget of $60 million which afforded its official version a 105-minute runtime, and an a-list cast which included Dwayne Johnson, Karl Urban and Rosamund Pike to name but a few.
Its 2046, a rapid-response UAC (Union Aerospace Corporation) tactical marine squad is sent to a scientific research facility on the one of the moons of Mars. The last transmission that came from the facility mentioned a level 5 lock-down and since then nothing has been heard. The UAC marines are to infiltrate and neutralize any threats, preserving as much of the scientific research as possible. As they scour the facility it becomes obvious that they are up against something inhuman. The marines are slowly killed off until only a few remain, it quickly becomes a battle to survive and escape.
As a fan of the video game franchise since 1993, I approached this with a lot of fear. Video game to film conversions are not generally done successfully (“Super Mario Bros“, “Street Fighter“, “Mortal Kombat“, “Sonic the Hedgehog“, “Tomb Raider“, “Double Dragon“, “Silent Hill“, “Rampage“, “Hitman“, “Warcraft“, “Assassins Creed“, “Prince of Persia“…. Yuk!), usually something is sacrificed that detracts from the experience that the video game gives you. It is fair to say that games are more of an immersive experience, but it is not even that that I mean – film versions seem to take the subject material and bend it into something completely different and almost unrecognizable. I am afraid that this Doom film falls into that category – the film feels like something which is inspired very loosely on small parts of the video games, rather than something that truly reflects it, or expands the franchise. It takes concepts that at least 3-5 different games have built up, and then changes them for artistic purposes. As an example, the dimensional gates that are established in the games as the reason why hordes of demons are attacking are replaced with genetic experiments and mutations. Instead of demons you are going to see sprinter zombies attacking the marines. There is even something wrong with the marines IMO; in the game it is one man against the armies of hell. Here we have a team of people against the zombies. Sure, interactions and narrative help the audience understand and comprehend, but one mans’ plight to survive might just have made a more gripping film rather than dumbing it down so that kids could watch this. In reflection – it would probably have been better not calling this film “Doom“, instead calling it anything else that reflects the generic content, such as “Space Marines fight zombies in Space” or “Space Zombie Apocalypse”. Linking the film to the game franchise has not done the film, or the video game any favours. So, to be fair to it, I am going to talk about this film as a generic film for the rest of this write up, and not part of Doom canon.
The characters in this film are standard and cliché to any “space marine vs alien” kind of film. The stars of the show are Karl Urban and Dwayne Johnson. Urban gives a gritty “get the job done” attitude which would later lend itself well to his role in “Dredd” (2012). As far as Dwayne Johnson is concerned, at this early point in his career his roles seemed to be remarkably similar: Beefed hard-man who is occasionally funny, put into random situation. The best thing about Johnson in this is that despite it being relatively early in his career, we get to see him being the bad guy for a bit (it could not be any worse than what we see at the end of “The Scorpion King“, could it?). I feel that the script let the cast down a little, it did not do any favours for Urban and Johnson either. At times it felt like the dialogue was as cliché and predictable as the characters being portrayed. As far as Rosamund Pike was concerned, I can only assume she was added to tick a box, or as a narrative vehicle to explain to the theoretical science to the dumb audience. Humour and tension did not seem to hit the mark, because it all felt too, well… it felt too scripted and forced. There was a lot of CGI and a bit of practical effects thrown into the mix too, it generally looked decent to cheesy. Some parts could have been darker and grittier though, particularly the zombies/monsters – I did not feel that they were all that nasty looking.
As far as keeping me entertained, the film just about got away with it. But as far as keeping me fully engaged/absorbed and tense, it failed there I am afraid. IMO the best part of the film comes later on for about 2-3 minutes of screen time when everything goes first-person-shooter style. By which time this is too little, too late.
This is just another example of a film failing to stand up to the video game it was based on. Doom it really isn’t – but what it is through a generic space-marine-fighting-zombies-that-have-been-created-from-experiments film. I expect to see this repeated on free cable channels for years to come. Nothing spectacular, not terrible, but far from great.