Doom is Dumb!
My, my, how bad things have become. “Doom” is without a doubt the worst film I’ve seen this year. Director Andrzej Bartkowiak wants to give us the ultimate sugar rush, but all we get is the rush with none of the sugar and the come down is headache inducing. Action with nothing to hold onto, blood and gore with no feeling or emotion, a movie without a story. Do you get the picture?
“Doom” the movie is loosely based on the one of the original first person shooter computer games. First person shooter, if you don’t know, involves the player taking on the perspective of the man in the game with three dimensional graphics employed to provide depth to the role. Around about 1993 or 94, I played it like everyone else and was fascinated by the prospect of investigating another world and blowing it all the way to Hell.
But as a video game (in this case, originally, a computer game), “Doom” worked even with the clichéd (ala “Alien”) story premise. Playing a video game is, after all, a proactive activity; a movie, by contrast, is largely a passive one. Therefore, a movie inspired or based on a video game must beef up the story in order to fully engage its audience (even its gaming audience). Sadly, “Doom” the movie makes no effort to build anything credible around the game’s original premise leaving the non-gaming viewer completely in the cold.
Here’s what little story is offered by “Doom” the movie: a group of scientists are attacked by something while conducting top secret experiments on Mars. The scientists were able to travel to Mars using a mysterious device known as the Ark. When communication with the scientists is cut off, a hardened group of space marines led by the intimidating Sarge (The Rock) are mobilized to secure the facility. But no matter how hardened and armed these marines are (well, they don’t even wear helmets), they are likely no match for the monsters that await them on the other side of the Ark.
On its face, “Doom’s” story is pleasantly familiar possibly providing a good campy action/sci-fi thrill ride. Instead, no new ground is explored; in fact, all the interesting elements of the story (like the origin of the Ark and Mars itself) are kicked to the curb in favor of just another zombie movie. Yes, ultimately, “Doom” is a zombie film with little more than a different locale to differentiate it from every other zombie film (frankly, it would be a bottom of the barrel example of the genre that contains some classic gems). John Carpenter’s “Ghosts of Mars” is actually far superior.
The amazing thing is that the writers of the movie “Doom” appear to have missed one of the marvelous things about the game itself. This is the refreshing prospect of being able to explore another world through your computer, and, yes, at the same time, carry a large gun. The game had levels with complex pitfalls that had to be negotiated with a measure of skill and intelligence. But the movie paints most of the characters as brutish or pathetic not capable of finding their way to the bathroom in the dark. Oh, yeah, well, one of the marines has to take a dump and manages to find the can (wow, was that scene a waste of celluloid). The beauty of the first person shooter format was that the player’s talents (or lack of them) were so exposed and put to the test. This film does not credit anyone who played the game with any particular talent or intelligence. In a way, it’s insulting to the gaming populace.
But from a filmgoer perspective what pained me most about this movie was that the Rock’s larger than life personality is so misused (compare “Be Cool” where he effectively parodied himself). With a small amount of character development, and back-story, the Rock’s physical acting abilities would have worked well. Instead, the entire film is one slash and dash after another with little rhyme or reason to explain anyone’s actions. We can’t root for anyone because we have no idea who they are or what their intentions might be. And when some of those mysterious intentions are revealed, it’s way too late because the audience has checked out and disbelieves everything on the screen.
“Doom” the video game was a derivative of “Aliens” and its progeny. In the early 1990s, the story still had some freshness to it and when put into a proactive first person shooter format, a terrific game was born. It helped that, at the time, personal computers were getting more powerful and the three dimensional illusion could be sold so well. But the movie version is limp and dumb, a sad closing chapter to a storied game classic.