Thursday, June 17, 2010

Abandon Hope, Part Deux: "Doom" Review

Film: Doom (no, you don’t have to typeset the movie in capitals. Nor does it deserve it)
Director: Andrzej Bartkowiak
Genre: Sci-Fi / Horror
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Karl Urban, Rosamund Pike
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Running Time: 100 minutes
Release Date: October 20th, 2005
Budget: $70 million

Y’know, I realize that it’s only been about a week since I tore into DOOM 3’s bloated carcass like a pack of starved hyenas…but after sitting through the Doom movie again, I almost feel like I owe it an apology. Yes, it’s trapped in the gameplay equivalent of a mid-life crisis, and aptly suffers for it, but even when it strays the farthest from the path, DOOM 3 at least can remember what DOOM should be about. It’s about Hell quite literally breaking loose. It’s about one man standing alone but unperturbed against a seemingly endless army of assailants. Strip away its vestigial features, and even DOOM 3 is about such things. What it is NOT is everything that Doom the movie IS; a molasses-slow soft-sci-fi tale with less respect for the integrity of the franchise than Jack Thompson. I wouldn’t be surprised if the reason DOOM 4 hasn’t been released yet is because whatever little dignity that the series retained after this movie has locked itself up in the bathroom and refuses to come out until John Romero says he’s sorry.

Not an easy task. He’d rather make you his bitch.

Then again, it’s not like anyone should be surprised by the film’s poor quality. It is a video game movie, after all, a subgenre of cinema universally notorious for sucking more balls than Lindsay Lohan on a drinking binge. There are a number of theories as to why seemingly no one can create compelling movies out of beloved video games, but there’s two that really stick out in my mind as the root of the problem, both of which Doom demonstrates quite well. And the first of these is simple to understand: the makers of these films are lacking in appreciation. In a film adaption of any sort – but particularly the rabid, attentive, and critically-inclined fanbases of subcultures like video games – respect for the integrity of the source material is vital, and the lack of it is a death sentence. This should have been apparent a couple decades ago when some idiot decided that the best way to bring the universally-adored Mario Bros. to the silver-screen was to give them rocket boots and ray guns in order to battle subterranean dinosaurs. Hell, arguably the closest a video game movie has come to capturing the essence of the games themselves was the Silent Hill movie, and even that film missed the point so badly that merely mentioning it around Silent Hill purists (such as myself) induces more blinding fear and personalized pain than a trip to the Otherworld. Or maybe that was the point.

Pictured: the murder of Dennis Hopper’s career.

But Doom doesn’t even come close, and it knows it damn well. You don’t even need to see the movie to understand how loosely it grasps the basic tenants of the classic it’s based on, because even reading the bare-bones plot synopsis leaves the impression that a most vital component is missing. There is no Hell in the Doom movie. There is no Satan, no demons, not even zombies (well, not in the traditional sense, anyway). Every single reference to the occult and the damned – y’know, the basis for the ENTIRE CONFLICT OF THE GAMES – is siphoned out for theatres. It’s just about the least necessary and most confusing plot perversion I can think of. Why did they do this, to piss us off on purpose?! The film didn’t even intend to make the grab for a profitable PG-13 rating, so that certainly couldn’t have been the motivation. The only reason I see for why they would have done this was to avoid any potential controversy, at which point I have to ask: you guys do realize what made the first game so famous, right?

HINT: It wasn’t the fluffy bunnies.

So what’s the origin story for our flesh-eating monstrosities if Beezelbub is out of the picture? Well, fasten your seat belts and strap on your helmets, my beloved readers, because here comes a brand new crash course in stupidity.

In the film, as it turns out, Mars happened to be home to an ancient, advanced humanoid alien race; granted, this is a silly plot point that even DOOM 3 brought up every now and again with the Soul Cube malarkey, so we can let that bit slide. Unlike in the game, however, this species was essentially genetically identical to humanity, with one small twist: a synthesized 24th chromosome that granted them superhuman capabilities, including immunity from disease and the ability to heal from grievous wounds almost instantly. However, the chromosome is apparently attracted to unmapped centers of the genome which correspond to genetic indicators of both good and evil; people exhibiting a genetic predisposition for good retain their human traits, while the more psychotic and immoral individuals become transformed by the gene into mindless monsters who can, in turn, infect their victims with the chromosome. Inevitability, the Union Aerospace Corporation begins tampering with this 24th chromosome, and predictability, these genetically-enhanced mutants start a panic on the Martian facility.

You got all that? Good. Now, please take a moment to take out your repressed frustrations of idiocy-induced rage upon something other than your computer screen. Once finished, you may choose to continue reading, OR, because you should recognize by this point just how hopeless this movie really is, you can stop now and exit your browser before the remainder of your faith in the artistic spirit has evaporated. Just hit the little red X in the corner.

That one.

For those of you still with us…hoo-boy, where do we even begin to discuss how monumentally brainless this concept is? First of all, the idea of a gene being affected by ambiguous and conceptual establishments such as “good” or “evil” is astoundingly foolish, without question. Sorry. Secondly, I don’t know just how many of the writers working on this film passed any sort of biology class in high school, but they should all at least have a general understanding about how the human genome works. Chromosomes aren’t a fucking virus; they can’t be injected through a hypodermic needle, they can’t be passed on through fluid transfer (seriously, when was the last time you were bitten by a dog and had your DNA structure remapped?), and they sure as hell don’t cause mutations over the course of a few minutes. Thirdly, and perhaps most glaringly…uh, 24th chromosomes already exist, guys. Except those individuals with an added pair usually don’t inherit superhuman traits or transform into monsters. No, they usually end up with less cinematic and more legitimately horrifying conditions, like Trisomy 18, Trisomy 13, Down Syndrome, Triple X Syndrome, and Klinefelter's Syndrome, among others. Congratulations, makers of Doom, you’re all a bunch of insensitive dicks.

Of course, this pitiful revelation doesn’t fully unravel itself until much later in the movie, so the uninformed might hold out through the beginning in the false hope of seeing some kick-ass, demon-flavored action. Even so, you’ll probably have your hopes dashed in the first few seconds when you see a flock of bad actors…er, I mean scientists running around plasticine sets stolen from Ridley Scott’s backyard, trying to escape from some unimposing camera angles. Of course, this disaster calls for some backup, so the UAC calls in a troop of marines to quarantine the base, search for survivors, and retrieve their valuable property. You may notice that I said marines – as in more than one – and you may find that odd considering how you can count just how many notable human characters exist across all three major games of the series on one hand. Well, that just brings us to the second major reason why video game movies don’t work: because the two mediums are incompatible with one another.

A video game tells its story in a much different fashion from a movie. Because of the power of audience interactivity, you don’t need a large cast of characters nor long exchanges of dialogue to explain the plot; properly done, it is possible to tell winding and epic tales through a game even when no one is speaking, and at the player’s own pace, no less (the Silent Hill series, Portal, and Shadow of the Colossus are all great examples of this). Games like DOOM serve as an even more alarming revelation that games can remain entertaining even with little-to-no plot at all. Films, by contrast, cannot function this way. Transmuting a story (or lack thereof) intended to be told through a considerably less linear and structured medium towards a complete different format, as you might imagine, causes issues; it results in restructuring the essence of the narrative to the point of unrecognizability just so that it can fit onscreen. And there are few better examples of how devastating this transformation can be than the Doom movie.

So yes, there is now a cast of characters in the DOOM universe (if you can really still call it that). All you really need to know, however, is that one of the marines is played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and another is portrayed by the guy who played Eomer in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings. Pretty much everyone else is a bit player destined to serve as an expositional dump truck or to be brutally murdered for our, ahem, amusement. The other soldiers are particularly unmemorable because they encompass almost every one-trait stereotype to be found in the ranks of cinematic military forces. The young, inexperienced rookie with the heart of gold? Check. The hollering adrenaline-filled warrior who treats lethal combat like a game? Check. The silent religious nutjob? Check. The asshole? Oh-ho-ho, you better believe that’s a check. Seriously, around the time this motley crew of clichés was boarding a dropship and exchanging insults with one another, I was starting to question whether or not I was actually watching Predator by mistake.

“C’mon guys, this pose will be great for the trailer!”

And perhaps I wouldn’t have been bothered so much by this if they had used the expanded cast to tell a compelling tale. But as we’ve established, DOOM never really had much of a story to begin with, and the aforementioned, blisteringly-idiotic changes they brought to it aren’t exactly enough to pad out the size of a feature length epic. So what exactly does our badass clique of heroes do when they arrive at the monster-ridden lab?

NOTHING! You get NOTHING! About 75% of the Doom experience is about watching these battle-hardened soldiers stumble about in the dark searching in vain for plotpoints and the occasional ineffective scare (oh yes, Doom thinks it's a horror film, isn't that cute?). Every now and again the agonizing boredom is punctuated by a line or two of mildly significant dialogue explaining the soft-science nightmare that is the plot, and the marines certainly are trigger-happy, riddling shadows with bullets at the drop of hat. But honest-to-God action sequences are few and far between, and everything in between serves as mind-numbingly dull filler. Do you want to know how long it takes before a marine is attacked by anything resembling a monster (slightly crazed zombie-like survivors not-withstanding)? 40 fucking minutes! Seriously! And even then you’ll be reeling from the abysmal special effects of the baddies far too hard to enjoy it. It’s like the filmmakers modeled their movie directly off of the complaints about DOOM 3, rather than the game itself.

In one of the more accurate scenes from the movie, The Rock wonders where the hell all of the duct tape is.

As if it wasn’t bad enough that the urgency of the story is slowed to a slug-like crawl right from the word go, it gets worse. The scenery, like I mentioned, seems pulled straight from Aliens or Blade Runner, only about 50 times less interesting. Compounding the problem, the laughably small number of sets and the poor, choppy editing leech all sense of scope from the UAC base; hell, we rarely even get a reminder that most of the action takes place on Mars, so the film practically feels like it’s taking place in a two-story house that forgot to pay the electric bill. Meanwhile, the script is pathetic, yet another symptom of converting a largely plotless game into theatric form. You probably wouldn’t believe me if I said that one of the marines tells another, “I gotta take a dump” without any sort of provocation, but yep, it happens. It’s even worse when, a few minutes later, that same marine drops his rifle’s magazine and spends about thirty seconds of the completely tensionless scene retrieving it…only to be killed for completely unrelated reasons a few seconds later. For goodness sake, the DOOM comic was better written than this!

OK, maybe that was a lie.

There are, of course, the few shameless occasions where the director throws a bone to the game’s fanbase in a futile attempt to keep their interest. As far divorced as the movie is from the game, it does sneak a reference or two in there. One of the scientists, for example, happens to be named Dr. Carmack, an obvious nod of the head towards id Software’s co-founder John Carmack. The Rock also happens to stumble upon the infamous BFG…although the movie attempts to retcon the weapon’s official name to “Bio-Force Gun”, it shoots a blue glob of caustic goo instead of a green irradiated explosive, and the only target he manages to hit with the damn thing is a group of unarmed civilians off-screen (seriously movie, fuck you). And course the monsters are pulled from the game’s roster, though thanks to the religiously-cleansed new background only about three different kinds show up, and they rarely do more than swipe at the marines for a bit before running away, lest there be any intense fight scenes in this movie.

And then there’s the famous POV section, Doom’s purported coup-de-grace. For about five minutes towards the end of the movie, we inhabit the first-person perspective of our protagonist as he trudges through corridors, blasting everything in sight. In all fairness, it’s probably the closest the movie ever comes to feeling like DOOM, but it’s all too little, too late. The cheesy special effects and shoddy camera work simply inhibit the effectiveness of the sequence, not to mention that it appears out of nowhere, has nothing to add to the story, and slows the build-up to the climax of the movie (which, if you can believe it, is essentially a Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon style fistfight. In a DOOM movie!). And apparently our good friends Mac and Bob were stationed at the UAC’s Ark complex as well, because during the sequence our hero stumbles upon not one, but TWO chainsaws lying about haphazardly in the research facility, one of which he uses to brutalize the Pinky demon (pretty much the only interesting monster design plucked from the games).

Well…at least it kind of LOOKS LIKE the game…the decade-old game…

Overall, it comes across as a rather desperate last-ditch effort to make the Doom label seem appropriate, even if it is the most interesting and action-packed scene of the whole thing. Here’s an idea, filmmakers: maybe the next time you want to attract movie-goers with a neat gimmick, maybe you should try to utilize it for most – or maybe even all – of your movie instead of just the last few minutes. It would be difficult, sure, but I guarantee you it would sell better than the bland, soulless turd you ended up making, and I can think of at least one other movie that pulled it off.

I never thought I’d see the day where I would reference one of my all-time favorite films in comparison to the Doom movie, but…there ya go. Maybe just watch this instead?

So that’s Doom, the movie: yet another forgettable relic to inscribe upon the pantheon of terrible video game adaptations. At least Uwe Boll movies are watchable with a big bag of popcorn, a group of friends with good taste, and a running MST3K-style commentary; by contrast, the only ways you can make fun of this movie just remind you how generic, inaccurate, and unnecessary it truly is.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to wash my hands of this whole debacle by playing the first good ol’ DOOM. Those hell barons aren’t going to gib themselves!

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