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Doom Print E-mail
Wednesday, 01 November 2006

Image Universal had high hopes for “Doom.” An international consortium was put together to make this moderately expensive movie, based on a home video game wildly popular the world over. But the movie tanked at the box office—has ANY movie based on a video game done particularly well? It’s possible that they tend to make their money in ancillary markets—that is, on video.

But even if that’s true, if a customer has a choice between a standard DVD of the movie and this high-definition DVD, there’s no compelling reason to go with the more expensive disc, as high-definition adds very little to this movie—which needs all the help it can get.

Occasionally, studios have fun playing with their logos, as when with movies with winter setting, we see the logo covered in snow. Universal has had more fun with the image BEHIND the logo—the Earth itself. (So shouldn’t the name be Planetary rather than Universal? Go figure.) In “Waterworld,” the oceans on the globe gradually filled until, as the title said, it’s a world of water. Here, the globe isn’t even Earth: it’s Mars, the single witty touch in the whole movie. And, actually, just about the only image in the film enhanced by being shown in high definition. The mountains, plains and canyons of the Red Planet can be seen in detail. Unfotunately, then the movie starts.

We’re told that a “portal” to Mars was found in Arizona; as the movie begins, the portal has been taking people back and forth to Mars for some time, and there’s a large scientific base there. But things have gone wrong. People begin going berserk—and worse. They gradually transform into monsters, but evidently guided by the game, they don’t all turn into the same kind of monsters. One even becomes a nearly featureless beast that’s all mouth, neck and legs, no nose, no eyes, no ears. Others are somewhat standard upright monsters with fangs and claws. None of them except the crawling mouth are seen very clearly, but this is not a complaint. Yes, it’s another variation on/ripoff of “Alien,” or more specifically, “Aliens.” A team of gung-ho Marines headed by, of course, Sarge (The Rock), is teleported to Mars to see what the devil is going on up there. The teleportation device looks like a flying glob of mercury, and isn’t entirely consistent in how it behaves; one of the scientists (Dexter Fletcher) arrived without his legs and lower torso. Of course, there are people with Issues. Sarge’s right-hand man, Reaper (Karl Urban), turns out to really be John Grimm, estranged brother of Samantha Grimm (Rosamund Pike), one of the scientists on Mars.

There’s essentially no plot. It’s run run run through metallic corridors, then shoot shoot shoot in those same corridors. There are lots of sliding doors. There are occasional electrical explosions. Sometimes monsters grab people. Repeat as necessary. Marines are killed, some Marines turn into monsters, and we never know why this is happening. There isn’t the faintest clue; this isn’t a story, it’s just a situation—which is fine for video games, but terrible for movies made with as little style and panache as “Doom.”

There is plenty of monsters, and Stan Winston’s team (occasionally augmented by CGI), does skilled, professional work—but we’ve seen this same kind of thing so often before; the monsters have no characterization at all (their sole driving force: kill kill kill). Sometimes they spit out their tongues, which attack like frenetic slugs. There’s just nothing to this combat except more of the same. The only way to tell any given ten minute section of “Doom” from any other ten minute section is by how many Marines are alive. The theatrical release ran 100 minutes; this DVD is 113. Surely the main thing this film didn’t need was to be longer.

The most amusing and interesting sequence, and also the one in which the high-definition process really is an advantage, is based directly on the video game. We see Reaper’s gun in front of us as he dashes down clanking hallways encountering monsters. He whirls on a room, and we whirl too; there’s another monster, bang bang shoot shoot. There’s even a special short in the additional material that shows the very clever ways in which this hero point-of-view shot was created.

But the rest of the movie simply isn’t very exciting, though it is very, very busy. Andrzej Bartkowiak formerly was a skilled cinematographer, but made the transition to director with Jet Li’s “Romeo Must Die.” He’s handled other action movies since then, another with Jet Li and one, for his sins, with Steven Seagal. He’s never likely to rise very far above these routine, studio action movies unless he can get financing to go in another direction. (That may be happening; his next film is supposedly about Columbian drug king Pablo Escobar.)

There’s a lot of gore splattered through the movie; the hi-def process allows you to see each droplet of blood with crystal clarity, but it’s hard to identify that as an advantage. It’s like having one of Sarge’s crew a cynical, sex freak religious fanatic—it’s a detail, sure, but it doesn’t really add a damned thing. On the other hand, when a monster gets its hands on a chain saw, at least we’re looking at something new. (But why would anyone need a chain saw on Mars?)

The Martian setting is merely a colorful detail. The physical reality of Mars plays utterly no part in the proceedings; there isn’t even the slightest attempt to emulate Mars’s lower gravity. The thin air is all outside, as is the red dust. These people could just as well being running around metal corridors in Romania—which is where they actually were.

Toward the end, Sarge is Infected and takes on some slight monster traits (fangs, weird eyes), to go mano-a-monstro with Reaper. The outcome is wearily predictable. So is just about all of “Doom.”

There are some interesting ancillary features. There’s a boring documentary on “Basic Training,” with the Rock and other crew members undergoing, like it says, basic training. “Rock Formation” is more of the same. “Master Monster Makers” is about Stan Winston’s team and how they made the monsters work—a combination of suits and audioanimatronic heads, with some CGI tweaking. “Doom Nation” is about the original game, with gamers Kevin Pereira, Morgan Webb and others bragging about their prowess. “Game On” is hints for playing the game; I didn’t look at this as I’ve never played the game. It may be useful for “Doom” enthusiasts—who are probably the only real audience for this clunker of a movie.

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