Director: Andrzej Bartkowiak
Like remakes and films based on true stories, movies based on video games have began springing up more and more. However, only a handful have received better than mediocre reviews, as the majority of them come across as poorly made, poorly acted claptrap seemingly produced to make a quick buck from fans of the source material. For every Mortal Kombat, there's a Street Fighter; for every Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, there's a Super Mario Brothers. And let's not get started on Uwe Boll's movies, because the less said about those giant sweaty turds, the better. Regardless of the quality of many movies based on video games, one of the most expected adaptations was that of Doom. First produced for PCs by ID Software, Doom quickly became one of the most popular and controversial games of the 1990s, and earned recognition as an influential landmark in the genre of first-person shooters. While the movie version had largely been expected since the game's initial release in the winter of 1993, the film rights ended up bouncing from studio to studio for a decade. The movie's tenure in developmental hell ended in 2004, however, when Universal Pictures moved it into production with a release date of October 21, 2005. But was that decade-long wait worth it?
The year is 2046, and at the Union Aerospace Corporation's remote Olduvai scientific research facility on Mars, something is very wrong. Contact with the facility has been lost, and the distress messages coming from Olduvai are less than good. The scientists have fallen victim to a threat of unknown origin, and the station has been locked down under a level five quarantine.
Back on Earth, the UAC drafts the Rapid Response Tactical Squad to secure the facility, retrieve any survivors, and eliminate any threat that may lie within. An elite group of marines, the RRTS crew is comprised of eight men: no-nonsense leader Sarge (The Rock); jaded vet John "Reaper" Grimm (Karl Urban); big quiet guy Destroyer (Deobia Oparei); Goat (Ben Daniels), a religious man who engages in self-mutilation to cleanse himself of even the tiniest sins; cocky ace Duke (Raz Adoti); sleazy sex-crazed redneck Portman (Richard Brake); Chinese immigrant Mac (Yao Chin), called such because it's easier to pronounce than the name his parents gave him; and inexperienced rookie soldier Kid (Al Weaver).
Upon arriving at Mars via a teleportation device called "the Ark," the RRTS is immediately introduced to paraplegic security expert Abraham "Pinky" Pinkowski (Dexter Fletcher) and a doctor and archaeologist from the facility, Reaper's estranged sister Samantha (Rosamund Pike). However, the RRTS's exploration through the facility soon devolves into something much more complicated when they begin encountering a legion of hellish, bloodthirsty monsters. Said monsters eliminate those inside the facility until only Sarge, Reaper, and Samantha remain. As Sarge starts to lose his mind and wipe out every living thing in sight, Reaper and Samantha realize that they not only must contend with both zombies and inhuman monsters, but a psychotic madman as well.
I didn't really know what to make of Doom when I first saw it. I didn't think it was worth getting all that excited for, but for a wild "stuff goes kaboom" action movie, it's not too bad. If a singular weakness can be pointed out, it's the script penned by David Callaham and Wesley Strick. Strick wrote Arachnophobia and Martin Scorcese's remake of Cape Fear, so you'd think with a little spit and polish, he and Callaham could have knocked out something halfway decent instead of the giant failure that Doom's script is. According to IMDB.com, Doom is Callaham's first script, so his lack of experience could be to blame for the screenplay's poor quality. In his defense, he can only improve from here, but when it's all said and done, the movie's script is horrendously bad. From the clichéd, one-dimensional characters and horrible dialogue to the insane changes made in translation from game to movie, Callaham and Strick should be ashamed of themselves.
The saddest part is that they totally changed around a big portion of the Doom story. In the games, the monsters are demons coming to Mars via scientists accidentally opening a portal to Hell. That has the potential to be an absolutely terrifying movie, doesn't it? Yeah, well, Strick and Callaham screw it up. Instead of having a supernatural origin, the monsters are instead the creation of genetic experimentation involving a twenty-fourth chromosome that will either turn you into an evil mutant creature or give you superhuman powers depending on your genetic leanings towards good or evil. That has to be the most ludicrous idea I've ever heard. Seriously. I've seen some pretty outrageous things in movies, but the whole concept of the Doom movie confuses the everloving crap out of me. It's like they saw the first Resident Evil movie and said, "Hey, wouldn't the movie be so much cooler if we replaced Milla Jovovich with The Rock and put the movie on Mars? And what if we took that zombie virus and added a bunch of good versus evil crap? That would be sweet." Because that's what the movie comes across as being. How hard is it to screw up something as simple as "commandos fight demons from Hell on Mars"? To me, that sounds a lot cooler than "commandos fight genetic mutations from a science lab on Mars." The closest they get to referencing the original origins of the monsters are a scene where a dying Goat refers to the beasts that attacked him as "devils," and throwaway lines in which characters tells one another to go to Hell. The movie also owes a lot to Aliens, since both of them involve a small group of space marines investigating a deserted facility on another planet, and fight ferocious beasts that violently kill most of them. There's even an omnipresent corporation that owns the facilities in both Aliens and Doom. But the thing is, I've seen Aliens, and Doom is no Aliens.
What the movie lacks in credible writing is made up for in action, however. Glorious, mindless action. The movie does manage to be very fun if you're into this sort of thing, but what hinders it is the fact that a lot of the movie is dark. Dark like in "I can't see a freaking thing. What's causing all the ruckus?" While the movie had the chance to be dark in tone, it's merely dark thanks to its poor lighting. Director Andrzej Bartkowiak's previous credits include other flashy action movies like Romeo Must Die and Cradle 2 The Grave, so one would assume he'd know that people want to see the action, not sit there wondering what's happening. Outside of a few scenes near the end, the action scenes don't really last all that long either. A combination of being short and edited too tightly really bogs them down, and that's the ones you can actually see. Maybe Bartkowiak took a hint from the very dimly lit Doom 3 game during production. If Universal makes a sequel, perhaps they should invest in a lighting rig for the action sequences so people can enjoy them more. However, there's plenty of people running from vicious monsters while marines blast away at them. If you can get past the MTV-esque editing and the inadequate lighting, it can actually be entertaining on a visceral level.
However, there are some very fun moments in the movie. The movie opens with a cool visual that I thought was a neat touch, with the glowing blue Earth of the Universal logo replaced by the blood red visage of Mars. And if you're a fan of the Doom games, then you'll totally love the scene near the end where we get a first-person view of Karl Urban's character going on a five-minute rampage armed with a machine gun and chainsaw. Thrown in there as an homage to the games, it's definitely the movie's coolest and most memorable scene. It also helps that the monsters (created by effects supervisor John Rosengrant and Stan Winston's studio) are very impressive. A combination of animatronics and makeup (with a little CGI thrown in when absolutely needed), they look pretty darn cool when you can make them out through the darkness. The movie also boasts a very engaging music composed by Clint Mansell, an energized rock score that is befitting of Doom's shoot-em-up atmosphere.
Meanwhile, the cast is mostly unremarkable and forgettable, with everyone but the three leads being random cannon fodder that don't really earn a mention. The standout member of the cast is most definitely The Rock, who plays the movie's only really interesting character. His performance near the end of the movie goes so over the top that you just can't help but follow along and enjoy it. He has enough charisma and screen presence to make even the silliest dialogue entertaining, and with better material, he could drastically improve upon his current standing in Hollywood. On the other hand, Karl Urban isn't totally awful, and Rosamund Pike stands out simply because she's the only female. It's odd when you consider that Pike is similar to Keira Knightly, in that both are British actresses that went from appearing in mediocre films to co-starring in the acclaimed adaptation of Pride & Prejudice. Am I the only one that thanks that's weird? Or that it even matters at all?
Of all the video games that could be turned into movies, I believed that Doom was one that absolutely could not be screwed up. But then I had to go and be proven wrong. Though I did manage to find some entertainment in certain parts, I'd be a liar if I called Doom a masterpiece. As a fan of middling B-movies, it's my belief that Doom is along the same lines as those cheap, low-budget movies that the Sci-Fi Channel airs on Sunday afternoons when they have nothing better to show. But what separates Doom from the "Sci-Fi Originals" is a higher budget with somewhat better production values, along with possessing a certain charm that makes it a little bit better. But all the charm in the world can't save Doom from me giving it a hearty thumbs in the middle with two and a half stars. Maybe one of these days, Hollywood will make a good video game adaptation after all.
Final Rating: **½