I can’t really work out why I was so excited to see this. I could put it down to the fact that, yes, I’m a gamer, I played the original game in ’93 and it scared the 12 year old pants off of me (I was 12, not the pants) so much that I could barely play it. But, to be honest, I think it’s probably because I saw the trailer and it made it clear they they’d put some kind of ludicrous ‘first-person’ segment into the film to make it seem like the game (which is played entirely in first person). Therefore promised the spectacle of a director trying to directly translate game techniques into his cinematography (rather than just lazily stealing them), and the prospect of the Rock doing that thing that he does with his eyebrow several times during the film, I was sold.
I could probably review this film for 3 different audiences.
On one hand, there’s the gamer and rabid Doom fan. Are the references correct? Is the story as similar as possible? Did Uwe Boll definitely not get within a mile of the set?
On the other hand, there’s the serious film student – how’s the cinematography? Did that first person bit work? Is the story cohesive and well written? Are we sure Uwe Boll didn’t come by, even just to rake through the bins?
And finally, on the freaky demonic third hand that’s sticking out of your chest (and is attached to the imp who just totally killed you) there’s the person who has come to see a movie and left his brain switched off at home. Did the Rock do that thing with his eyebrow several times during the film? Are there some good one liners? Does stuff die, or explode, or die while exploding? Is there a fight that goes on for a ridiculous amount of time? Who’s Uwe Boll?
I’ll be straight up – only the guy who switched his brain off is going to be particularly pleased with Doom. But if anything, I’m all three of them, and I had a great time watching this, even if I couldn’t be sure why.
The film opens with Dr Carmack (a nice little reference to John Carmack, co-founder of ID software) in a nicely stereotypical ‘on the run from something oh god what is it got to call home for help’ set up, before leading to a scene where the Rock, who for no reason at all is stripped to the waist and greased up, takes a call from his commander that they are SHIPPING OUT. Even though his rag tag group of losers and freaks that make up the best damn elite core of Marines this side of Saturn were due a vacation!
As much as I hoped the short glimpse of a greased up Rock would mean this was a film in the classic homoerotic vein of 80’s actioners, sadly it never really reaches the heights of kitsch self parody. It’s neither too aware of the fact that it’s a dumb action flick, nor completely unaware.
Despite that, the rag tag group still includes a creepy weirdo, a religious nut, a quiet guy with a SECRET PAST that messes him all up, a wiseacre, and most stereotypical of all – a green behind the ears rookie who’s crapping his pants at the idea of the Rock doing that thing he does with his eyebrow, never mind firing a gun.
They proceed to go to Mars, where they meet DEXTER FLETCHER. This is insane, certainly if you’re British, anyway. Dexter Fletcher was the presenter for season 3 of ‘Gamesmaster’, a much beloved video games show of the mid 90’s, as well as being in Press Gang, which was really great but unrelated.
Doom, released in ’93. Dexter Fletcher, in a TV show about games, in ’93. It’s like kismet or something. Dexter even plays ‘Pinky’ who is very much a direct reference to the games (certainly at later points in the film) so his entire role is one for the anal games obsessive (like me).
Back to the plot, the motley rag tag crew whose shtick has already worn thin then meet Rosamund Pike, who is quiet guy with a SECRET PAST’s sister. Like quiet guy (known as John Grimm, or by his call sign ‘Reaper’ throughout the film) she has a terrible ‘American’ accent. It’s awful. Just gob smackingly bad. How they managed to make this film and pick 3 actors (Dexter Fletcher, Karl Urban, and Rosamund Pike) that couldn’t do an accent to save themselves I don’t know. (Fletcher even played an American in Press Gang, fact fans!)
So, anyway, there’s the traditional level of squabbling - conflict between the marines, conflict between the marines and the sister, and there’s a bunch of shocks and scares and glimpses of monsters. These monsters are the core of the biggest difference between Doom 3 the game and Doom 3 the movie – the reason for their existing is entirely corporeal. While the game maps a descent into a literal Hell, here it’s figurative (even if a huge amount of hints in the first half seem to make you think otherwise). Though I’m personally disappointed with the choice, I can see how it makes sense. For one, ‘Hell’ is kind of a hard thing to not make look ridiculously crappy, particularly if you’re trying to be serious. You only have to look at Spawn, where the Hell shown was universally derided as looking worse than a Doom level.
The plot change does at least allow the film to keep going at a fair pace once this initial ‘twist’ is revealed. The film begins very slowly, with far too much time given to the squabbling and dark grey corridors (the sets are a superb recreation of a Doom level, there’s no doubt), but once the marine’s orders change from ‘containment’ to ‘KILL EVERYTHING’ the film becomes far more fast paced and starts to be really fun.
Karl Urban, Reaper, the closest character the film has to the game’s main character ‘Doomguy’, is as flat and boring (well, ignoring his terrible accent) as you could expect the man you are expect to ‘be’ in a game would be, leaving the Rock, playing the strict but clearly utterly bananas ‘Sarge’ to have a whale of a time lifting his eyebrow all over the place. The Rock easily gets all of the best lines, and while at my count there’s really only 2 really good lines, that’s better than the drought of quips and one liners action films have seen since Arnie quit the biz. The Rock also gets to take part in a fight scene not quite but nearly worthy of a Kung Fu film, with short moments of not only bone crunching moves but Kung Fu style leg kicking ‘flying’ during the absurd escalation in the violence that makes up the fight.
The climax of the film comes before, however, and is the part of the trailer which originally forced me to go in the first place – a 5 minute first-person sequence. It is utterly, utterly gimmicky – something that would be visceral and terrifying if you were in control turns into a hilarious ghost train ride when control is gone, with zombies lurching out ineffectively left right and centre. It’s tremendous fun, or horribly idiotic depending on what mood you're in - especially the pixel spazz ‘boss’ encounter at the end, as is Reaper’s constant looking in the mirror (anyone whose ever played a first person shooter will know how you have the urge to do that constantly).
Of course, it’s interesting to the fact that if you pay close attention to the cinematography up to and after that point, the camera itself has a very concrete feeling throughout the film, often creeping about or panning or moving, in a way that belies the influence of gaming in a way that I feel many other films have shown without such an oblique reference. But the first person gimmick, fun it may be, is shown clearly to be that, a gimmick, by a later scene featuring a point of view shot from Reaper with none of the trappings – demarking ‘First Person’ as something quite separate from traditional cinematic POV shots.
Doom is not a ‘good’ film. As you can see from merely some of the points I picked out, it’s got some terrible acting, awful plotting and gimmicky stylistic choices. It is, however, one of the only game to film transitions that succeeds, as despite changing the plot a great deal the monsters, costumes, weapons and locations are all adapted perfectly, with some real love shown for the source material in the depth of the references, and the reverence held for some objects (most noticably the BFG "Bio Force Gun", given it's proper Christian title by a gleeful Rock).
Doom can stand on it’s own two feet as a big dumb action film, and as a big dumb adaptation, so it’s the most fun I’ve had at the cinema seeing a big budget film in a while, even if I did have to turn my brain off for it.