DVD Review: Doom

For some reason I've had a hankering to see Doom for a while now. Last night I rented it via RedBox, and while it's certainly not great cinema, I enjoyed it a lot. I've played the game on which the movie is (probably very loosely) based, but not all the way through, and I think I've only played the original. My understanding of the game's plot is that somehow a portal to Hell gets opened up on Mars, and You Have To Do Something About It. Mostly this involves running around in the dark and being startled by things that are trying to kill you. The game was a brilliant, ground-breaking piece of work. It built on the more bare-bones "Castle Wolfenstein" 1st-person shooter by adding lighting effects to more fully immerse the player in what was to become the biggest new genre of games. And thus ends my abbreviated and oversimplified lecture on the dawn of 1st-person shooters. The movie has no hope of comparing. It's not ground-breaking, it's not brilliant, and since it's a video-game movie it has no hope of being taken seriously. We watch it and know that since there was only ONE person of importance in the game (the player), none of the interesting and sympathetic characters to whom we're introduced will survive. This tends to cut down on your emotional attachment. Still, I liked it. And now I'll spoil it for you. Karl Urban, who you may remember as Eomer, the blond captain of the Rohirrim in The Lord of The Rings, plays alongside The Rock, who you may remember as an angry wrestler who can raise one eyebrow and look tough. They and the rest of their "Rapid Response Tactical Squad" or RRTS are called to Mars through a re-activated alien portal in order to rescue researchers who, we can only guess, are being mauled by something their research into these aliens has unleashed. The inevitable squad attrition follows, and presages the equally inevitable "squad members come back as zombies" thing. The beautiful lady-scientist (sister to Urban's character, in an unlikely but important coincidence, played by Rosamund Pike, who reminds me of Laura Dern) tries to recover the research. And after all the running around, shooting, killing, re-killing, and panicking a Big Nasty Thing manages to get through the portal back to Earth. And that's when we discover that The Rock's character is actually a bad guy. He insists upon killing the uninfected, innocent evacuees, and barely quells a mutiny on his team by killing a team member (one of the last four surviving ones) who disobeyed an order to shoot women and children. Before the mutiny can finish playing out, the monster shows up again, and there's lots of shooting, during which a horde of infected folk show up, and then The Rock (do we CARE what his character's name is?) is dragged through a "nano-wall" (those were very cool) shouting "I'm not SUPPOSED to die!" That was possibly the best moment in the film... we THOUGHT that HE was "Player One" in the game, and it turns out he's NOT. And to drive that home, we then follow Urban's character for 5 minutes in 1st-person mode. It's jerky, the shots are poorly composed, you can only half-see what's attacking... it's everything the game was, compressed into a much more tolerable time frame. And then The Rock comes back as a Doom Zombie, Urban fights with him, and the film ends. Cue the distorted guitar and Roll The Credits NOW you need to watch the special features. I've only watched two of the four so far, and I enjoyed them. The first was "Basic Training," and showed how a recently retired Special Forces soldier turned the eight RRTS actors into a reasonably believable military team. They fired real weapons, including a real 30-caliber, hip-mounted chaingun which had a tendency to make the actors blink. Bad actor, no biscuit. We'll keep pushing rounds through this thing until you can look like you enjoy it. The second feature I watched showed how concept and makeup artists turned The Rock into an expressive Doom Zombie. His transformation was not a CGI debacle, like his Scorpion King character in The Mummy Returns. He used his OWN face, which the makeup guys pointed out was a little too pretty. Those white teeth? Never happen. The film is rated R for violence, gore, and profanity, including lots of F-bombing. And while the video game may have been the defining moment for the FPS genre, in this genre of movies, Aliens was the defining moment, and that happened 20 years ago. Still, I liked it. I'm returning it today, and I definitely got my dollar's worth.