Thursday, January 18, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW: Doom (2006)

Back in 1993 or thereabouts, the video game called Doom popularized a brand of game-play I relish to this day, the first-person-shooter. However, this 2006 movie adaptation of the computer game harkens back to earlier, cinematic sources. First and foremost, the 1986 James Cameron epic, Aliens.

So here's my succinct review of Doom: Sir. I've seen Aliens. I've reviewed and analyzed Aliens. You...are no Aliens.

Snark aside, Doom is an amalgamation of at least a half-dozen "space monster" movies from the 1980s (all of which were likely inspired by Ridley Scott's 1979 film Alien. Which in turn was likely derived from Planet of Vampires. Which may have been inspired by It! The Terror from Beyond Space. Which might have been inspired by...).

Whew! Anyway, the opener in Doom, featuring doomed scientists on the run in darkly-lit corridors, reminded me of the prologue to Roger Corman's cheap-jack Galaxy of Terror (1981). The central setting, an archaeological dig on an alien world, was highly reminiscent of Inseminoid (1982), known in some circles as Horror Planet. The gung-ho military types on display here will remind you of Hudson, Hicks, Vasquez and the other characters you loved in Aliens (but will hate here...) Why, there's even "one tough hombre" here who makes bad "pussy" jokes while riding in helicopters...a not-so-subtle homage to Predator (1987), I guess. Although Klaus Kinski - sadly - is not in Doom, the knowledgeable viewer may also detect resonances of Creature (1985) in the screenplay...particularly in the way the dead return to life here, with a new and evil agenda.

And did I mention the similarities to Warning Sign (1985)?

All right, all right, stop it! Man, a movie doesn't have to be original to be good, right?.And truth be told, the "send in the marines" alien warfare movie-type is one of my all time favorites in the genre anyway. Lots of hardware. Lots of drool. Lots of gun muzzle flares. What's not to love? There's esprit-de-corp, and you feel like you've run the gauntlet with the characters who survive. Shucks, I can groove on this as much as the next guy. I can dig Deep Star Six, Leviathan or any other film of this type (though not, sadly, AVP...).

But in the case of Doom, the problem is - simply - that you've seen and heard every piece of this cliched tale before. If it were handled exceptionally well this time, or the film felt exceptionally tense and frightening, we could forgive the hackneyed story instead of laughing at the predictable chestnuts that get dropped in.

Doom's plot involves a search and destroy mission on Mars in the year 2046. A research laboratory working on "archaeology," "genetics," and "weapons research" issues a quarantine after some weird monsters break loose and kill off a lot of white coated scientists. The space marines - an outfit called RRTS (or is it S.T.A.R.S.?) - led by Sarge (The Rock) are thus assigned to head to Mars via an alien stargate called "The Ark" and keep the monsters from coming through and thus invading Earth.

The characters have names like Kid, Destroyer, Reaper and Goat, and wear "killcams," etc. As this kind of plot requires, they are differentiated only in the most rudimentary terms. Portman, for instance, is an asshole. He's the group idiot/betrayer (think Ash in Alien, Burke in Aliens, Kinski in Creature, etc.) All the soldiers also get hysterical a little too easily once faced with monsters, as though the writers have forgotten that these fellas are professional soldiers. Where's the level-headed Ripley when you need her? Despite the cardboard cut-outs on hand in the film, I must admit I did enjoy the impressive scene in which Destroyer fights a monster in a holding cell - in hand-to-hand combat! Particularly fun is the moment in which he uses a computer monitor like a bola and whacks the drooling beast with it.

There's little genuine suspense in Doom; less plot development, and the cinematographer seems to know precisely one move: the lunge! Whenever The Rock and the other macho men get in each other's faces about how bad things are going, the camera lunges forward approximately three steps; so as to make the confrontation seem more powerful. This dance step gets old after about the twentieth time...

Doom's dialogue is atrocious too. "I guess you gotta face your demons some time" is the kind of wisdom offered up. Worse, the film's idea of romance is to have The Rock stare lovingly (eyes bulging...) at an over sized machine gun ("a big fucking gun," as the script calls it), while the camera circles them. Have we been reduced to this in our science fiction films?

Of course, let's face it, nobody sees a movie like Doom for dialogue or romance. Just some good old fashioned monster killing! Accomplish that modest task with a modicum of cleverness and action, and I'm pretty much satisfied. Yet in Doom the monsters look really rubbery and stupid. They inspire no fear and have no menace. And the film suffers from poor pacing. Most of the fights aren't exciting..

An inordinate amount of Doom 's running time is spent with the camera (and characters...) navigating dark corridors. The sounds of heavy breathing, creature snarls and guns cocking dominate the soundtrack. Then...nothing happens. The game was never this dull...

But if any of this sounds like your idea of a good movie, by all means see this one.

Still, I recommend you rent Aliens again.

3 comments:

  1. The Rock has so much potential as an actor. It's a shame to me that he picks some of the worst projects out there. Sadly, this movie has two aspects that indicate how bad it will suck. The first is it's based on a video game. The other is it stars The Rock. So far every movie he has made has been awful. I think they need to go ahead and make a Duke Nukem movie!

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  2. joey_bishop_jr1:53 PM

    Now, this might be blasphemy coming from me, but I really wanted to love this movie, but it just didn't quite get me there. Everyone knows that i loves me some guns and monsters, but...Doom just doesn't have enough backstory for a movie in my eyes. Resident Evil, Mortal Kombat, and Silent Hill (incredible movie, and a great review, by the way, John), all have a deep mythology to them that can carry a film.

    another beef is that to me, some of the best monsters were not used. Where were the zombies, let alone the Barons of Hell? All we got were half glimpses of what appeared to be an imp. (God, i am such a game geek...) And where was the payoff to the Rock's transformation? he got pointy teeth, and yellow eyes, and that's about it.

    I will say, though, that if the whole movie was first person, it probably would have been a lot better- I feel that they did that scene wonderfully, and that it captured the spirit of the game.

    Maybe they can try castle Wolfenstein next?

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  3. Shawn Neal12:20 PM

    I just started playing Doom 3, and I'm excited to play the game Dead Space. Both put you in a first person perspective and both center around you surviving an invasion in outer space. But Doom 3 has more suspense, more plot and more depth then this movie. Yes! Where are the zombies? Where's the underlying feeling that Hell is actually coming through? Why is this movie so boring? If only the movie gave us more of a feeling of claustrophobia with the darkness, more of the suspense through off screen screaming, chanting, whispering as in the game, better creature creations (is this de-evolving? How is older Stan Winston creatures 100% better?)and dialogue that actually has some substance.

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