Joined: 30 October 2004
This adaptation of the top-selling computer game "Doom" is minimalist in the extreme. Plot, character development and dialogue are so sparse that the screenwriters are fortunate they're not paid by the word. But this basic approach doesn't render it ineffectual. There's so little to go wrong that those who like their entertainment mindless and violent will find little fault.
"Doom" is targeted at a tight demographic of computer gamers and young men. It makes concessions to no one else. Fans of the shoot-'em-up game -- and there are many -- will doubtlessly troop into theaters out of a mixture of loyalty and curiosity. A wider male audience will be attracted by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson in a hard and mean role. But uninspiring action sequences and a lack of shocks could be sticking points at the boxoffice.
"Doom," the game, is a first-person-perspective shooter. It allows players to pick up increasingly huge weapons and blast invading demons. Each player is part of a military-style unit roaming through a high-tech underground setting, where the aim is simply to kill as many monsters as possible. The movie version does a good job of replicating the claustrophobic look and feel of the game while constructing a story line that seemingly draws ideas from the superior "Alien" film series.
The script by David Callaham and Wesley Strick has hard-headed Sarge (Johnson) lead a commando squad to investigate strange happenings in an underground settlement on Mars. Sarge's team consists of the usual action stereotypes, with only John Grimm "Reaper" (Karl Urban) -- the yin to Sarge's yang -- being fleshed out to any degree. Aided by Grimm's scientist sister, Sam (Rosamund Pike), Sarge and Grimm discover a group of marauding mutants. Men and mutants then fight it out.
Committed gamers are notoriously protective of their games, but they're likely to be impressed by the faithfulness of this adaptation. Uniforms, scenes, weapons and monsters look about right. A major difference is that the satanic element of the game has been excised -- the original enemies were demons, not mutants. But the film's prime directive is the same as the game. As one character emotes, "Kill 'em all, and let God sort 'em out."
The filmmakers wisely refrain from trying to muddy this scenario with any distracting material like a romance. The sole female character is Sam, and she's quickly placed off-limits to even mild flirtation. One problem with such a sparse story is that it leads to a saggy second act. There are no character conflicts to be worked through in the gaps between the action sequences. Realizing this, the scriptwriters manufacture an ethical conflict between Sarge and Grimm very late on, a change that is very jarring.
The best films about computer games -- David Cronenberg's fascinating "eXistenZ" and Mamoru Oshii's stylized "Avalon" -- have tried to replicate the unique qualities of the medium. "Doom," of course, isn't trying to succeed on that plane. But the most effective part is the one scene where it adopts the first-person perspective of the game: The camera takes Sarge's POV as he picks up different weapons to kill mutants in a good approximation of the gaming experience. A subjective POV is rare in mainstream cinema, and it's a striking, if gory, watch.
Apart from that sequence, the action is surprisingly uninspired. Director Andrzej Bartkowiak, a former cinematographer, likes to get in very close during the action scenes. This makes it difficult to see what's going on. He might intend to provide a visceral impact, but the recent popularity of stunt-driven Asian films means that viewers now like to see more of the action than these close-ups and quick cuts allow. Veteran Hong Kong action import Dion Lam, who handled action choreography, doesn't seem to have been given much of a free hand.
The original "Doom" is an extremely violent game -- the Columbine school killers reportedly made a "Doom"-style map of the school -- and a film devoted to large guns could trigger some debate in the mainstream media. But the most mind-boggling aspect of the movie isn't the violence; it's the minimalism of the dialogue. The macho men of '80s actioners like Schwarzenegger's "Commando" seem loquacious compared to Sarge and his linguistically challenged team.
By Richard James Havis
Joined: 06 April 2005
Joined: 02 June 2005
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