Doom (2005)

Starring Karl Urban, The Rock, Rosamund Pike, Deobia Oparei, Ben Daniels, Razaaq Adoti, Richard Brake

Directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak

Consume too much liquor and your stomach will reject it. You’ll spew that bottle of hooch you tried to put down along with whatever bile and flavorful fast food was clinging to your insides. Some day, and I’m waiting for it, the same reaction is going to occur after watching too many movies that fall under that impervious category “guilty pleasure.” Entertainment was to be had. Brain cells die. Shallow fun overall in spite of the notion the film wasn’t all that good – but hey, it had a few good scenes that made you feel something, no matter how ridiculous they were. If brain cells could be vomited, I’d be wrapped around that porcelain god in my bathroom after watching Doom until the sun came up knowing full well later on…I’d do it again. But maybe not so soon.

Never been much a of a gamer myself. All I knew of Doom came second-hand through friends discussing cheat codes and strategies in hushed tones like spies during a World War. Boy, did I ever feel out of the loop. When I was eventually allowed into that secret circle one day after school and given the chance to experience the FPS (truncated video game vocab for “first person shooter”) game play of the first Doom, I was surprised by just how much it felt like I was in the middle of James Cameron’s Aliens. Except I wasn’t taking down Giger-inspired xenomorphs, I was nuking the shit out of demons from hell. Fair enough. I was hooked.

So it comes as no surprise that Doom story-wise has nothing original to offer after a trio of opening gags. Following the requisite introductory voice over to tell the audience how far into the future the story takes place – here, far off enough that we’ve colonized Mars and can reach the planet through the Arc, a silver little blob thing that sucks you up and spits you out at your final destination – the famed Universal Studios logo appears, except the familiar revolving Earth has been replaced by cinema’s favorite distant red planet. Slam cut to a bunch of running, screaming scientists down a metal grate-lined, scarcely lit corridor, chased by an unknown “thing.” One white coat makes it, another…not so much, her arm cleaved from her body by a closing door. Begin title sequence.

More gruesomeness ensues. An ear is torn off. Someone’s attacked by a slinky-fied detachable tongue. Then the plot grows from a Stan Winston effects reel to…well, a Stan Winston effects reel with a considerably stale story.

A Rapid Response Tactical Squad is sent from Earth to the Olduvai Research Station on Mars to get to the bottom of a pretty serious quarantine problem. The Rock heads up this indiscriminate group of Marines as Sarge and their mission is about as unambiguous as the tough guy “Semper-Fi” tattoo emblazoned across the former wrestler’s back: go to Olduvai, find out what’s going on, kill anything bad, head on home. For John Grimm, a.k.a. Reaper (Urban), the trip to Mars is a chance to stir up past drama with his braniac scientist sis, Samantha (Pike), who he hasn’t seen since their parents died and their career choices divided them. A proper family reunion is hardly in the cards, however. Once inside the quarantine zone, the Marines, with Pike as their guide through the facility, are attacked by lumpy, jacked up humanoids and zombies. Yes…zombies. And the introduction of the walking dead feels every bit like an opportunity to jump on the zombie movie bandwagon.

Outside of that mistaken identity snafu, Doom knows exactly what it is. Or at least what it’s trying to be – an intelligent, hyperactive rival to Aliens. The biggest problem rests on director Bartkowiak’s shoulders. He doesn’t have the chops to sustain the action and keep it exciting. A chase-and-be-chased narrative lugs us through a somewhat confusing second act during which our Marines run in and out of the quarantine zone. New characters are introduced, some are picked off, groups of Mars residents are evacuated and you lose your grip on where anybody is really located in the research facility. You also begin to question the purpose of the “nano-walls” – walls that act on a timer and can disappear allowing someone into a room – other than to trap one of Doom‘s Imps. The ugly chap is caught half in and half out of the wall. A great effect, but whatever happened to doors in the future?

From what I’ve heard, the original video game centered on a portal to Hell that is accidentally opened. It’s the whole reason Mars is plagued by demons. Its filmic counterpart nixes the supernatural bent in favor of something vaguely scientific and hard to swallow (the answer to Doom‘s mystery concerns Chromosome 24 and superhuman research). However, it’s peculiar that writers David Callaham and Wesley Strick establish one of Sarge’s men as a religious freak, a “cutter” who tends to slice himself whenever he takes the Lord’s name in vein. It’s a terrific touch – most of the Marines have their own exclusive manners – but it’s one that leads to nothing but the character’s untimely cliché death. Callaham and Strick had every opportunity to blend science and religious faith, but like most of the film, there are a few cool ideas, a number of decent set-ups…but there is never any satisfying follow-through.

The build-up, of course, is to get Doom‘s core audience to the FPS centerpiece which comes across like a fairgrounds haunted house ride that whisks you along on a rickety track. From the POV of Reaper we push through Olduvai’s corridors blasting monsters and avoiding rat-infested corpses that drop down from the ceiling. It’s a wad-blowing scene and I truly believe it robs the ending of the film of what it needed the most: a giant monster. It’s Queen Alien, if you will. I won’t tell you what exists now, but it ain’t pretty.

The Rock, Urban and the rest of the cast are all appropriately over-the-top although Urban’s Reaper is the most generic, underdeveloped hero of the lot. You’ve also got to love any movie where a monster uses a man in a wheelchair as a weapon (this flick earns its “R” rating). Stan Winston’s rage-filled creatures, when you do get to see them, don’t boast the most inspired designs but given their origins, they‘re adequate. And composer Clint Mansell’s (Darren Aronofsky’s main man on Requiem for a Dream) guitar wailing, cymbal crashing score has a guaranteed place in my CD player. I liken it to John Carpenter and Anthrax’s work in Ghosts of Mars. Not everyone’s going to dig it. I do.

It’s interesting to see Doom on the big screen now after turning on a spit over the fires of development hell for so long because it’s a blatant case of cinematic cannibalism coming full circle. A movie inspired by a video game inspired by a broad range of action/horror flicks. The snake is eating its own tail again. We’ve seen this trick before.

2 out of 5

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Jon Condit

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