The Theory of Chaos

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

From the Archive - MOVIE REVIEW - Doom

Originally published 11/9/05
Full review behind the jump


: Andrzej Bartkowiak
: Screen Story by Dave Callaham, Screenplay by Dave Callaham and Wesley Strick, based on the videogame by id Software
: John Wells, Lorenzo DiBonaventura
: The Rock, Karl Urban, Rosamund Pike, Deobia Oparei, Ben Daniels, Razaaq Adoti, Richard Brake, Al Weaver

William Shakespeare used a technique where he’d try to make sure that an important piece of setting information was provided three times in close proximity during a scene. He’d do it very poetically so it never felt static, but it had a simple purpose – so the actors could direct each piece to one side of the theatre, left, center and right, ensuring everyone had a chance of catching that the sun was rising or somesuch.

Doom, we see a steel door ripped open by some kind of mutant monster. Later we revisit the door, which is still ripped open. And one of the characters, on seeing it, declares “F---, something ripped that door open!” It can’t really be argued that they’re directing each iteration of that fact at a different side of the theatre – we’re all getting it loud and clear. I think it reveals more about what the filmmakers think is the comprehension level of their target audience – if something isn’t done repeatedly, at ear-splitting volume each time, they think there’s a chance we’ll miss it.

Twelve years ago when the original
Doom videogame debuted, running down darkened 3-D corridors in a first-person perspective while nightmarish things leapt out at you and you fought back with an arsenal of absurdly ‘roided up weaponry made for good entertainment. It was still a fairly new and novel game mechanic that relied on envelope-pushing technology, and it’s justifiably one of the most influential games of all time, though I must confess only passing direct experience with it.

There must be at least 300+ loving tributes and references I didn’t understand contained within the running time of this movie – but one which will fly over no one’s head is a climactic sequence shot to look identical to the game. Yes, the camera roams down hallways, things charge towards the audience and all we see is our gun (and, briefly, a chainsaw) taking care of business. The filmmakers have thus spent a great deal of money to create a version of Doom which is less fun than the original, because we’re watching someone else play.

I’d like to say Doom has a very simple story, but I don’t know what that says about me, since I left bamboozled. The action unfolds at a research facility on Mars where “something has gone wrong”, as they do. Scientists flee unseen monsters, unsuccessfully, and you can always tell when a chase is going on because a horrible generic guitar-and-drum jam kicks in. For some reason I thought of that scene in Sling Blade where Dwight Yoakam gets drunk and decides to invite the band over. What I’m trying to say is – this music honks.

A team of Marines led by the autocratic Sarge (The Rock) leaps into a blob of Digital Effects (which were also novel twelve years ago) that transports them from Nevada to Mars to investigate. I wondered where said blob came from, later on in the movie it’s tossed off that the Martians made it millions of years ago so they could flee to Earth and become us (I think, I could be wrong here). Which begs the question – did they also build the computer that activates it; and if so, why does it speak English?

Moving right along. Sarge has a team of toughs identified by poetic nicknames like “Destroyer” (Deobia Oparei), who is tough, and “The Kid” (Al Weaver), who is young. You can generally predict their fates by comparing their personalities to characters from the Alien franchise. There’s also the soulful soldier with morals, Reaper (Karl Urban), who is reluctant to go because (the movie points out three times) his parents were killed there during an accident at an archeological dig. In one unintentionally-hilarious moment, Reaper gazes out at the spot where the accident happens and we hear a long flashback-echo of the whole thing play out in his mind. Immediately after, Sarge finds him and asks – “Is this where it happened?

The mission is to secure the area, lift the quarantine so personnel can be evacuated, and retrieve the research data from whatever mysterious project this corporation was working on. Assisting them is Dr. Samantha Grimm (Rosamund Pike), who is Reaper’s twin sister. Pike is a British actress and seven years younger than the New Zealand-born Urban, at times it sounds like they’re struggling to split the difference in their accents. Dr. Grimm says she is a “forensic archaeologist” by trade, really she is a “Scientist” in the grand tradition of schlock creature features. If you can do one Science-y thing, you can do them all – as evidenced by her ability to perform triage medicine, autopsy a mutant, and analyze DNA in seconds.

As near as can be explained, what’s happening is that something the scientists on Mars discovered and tampered dangerously with has unleashed a force which attacks certain people and transforms them. There is no consistency as to what the end result is, you change into what the plot requires of you in the moment. Sometimes you become an old-fashioned dull-eyed zombie. Sometimes a zombie that lets out sinister laughs. Sometimes a super-sized slimy beastie that looks like a Halloween-costume knockoff of the Alien that can just barely escape litigation. And on some occasions this mutation does you the courtesy of resurrecting you and giving you a few minutes of consciousness to put your affairs in order before you cross over.

There’s a small handful of moments where dark humor and shock succeed (I like when Dr. Grimm traps a mutant in the infirmary, and in the next scene we see she’s given it an I.V.), but in general the filmmakers wear proudly their lack of need to try hard. The patchwork dialogue of clichés and shouting, the sweaty overacting, none of it matters much as long as they fit in the running around in dark corridors. And this facility has so many you lose all sense of geography and just accept characters can go from one room to any other room any time they feel like it. Then there’s the creatures who leap from the dark into the camera frame – well, not so much leap as lean very aggressively.

Some attacks are no more sophisticated than some grip wearing a monster glove reaching in to grab someone’s head. In the 50’s Roger Corman could have filmed this story for $60,000 and it probably would have been more fun because it would be aiming at drive-in teenagers, not 11-year-olds and people with the emotional maturity of same. Why you spend $60 million today to achieve the same effect is a historical curiosity.


Post a Comment

<< Home