Doom (2005)

Rating: **
Release Date: 10/21/05
Cast: Karl Urban, Rosamund Pike, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson

A genetic experiment in a research lab on Mars gets out of control, unleashing a horrible monster. A team of U.S. marines led by Dwayne Johnson are sent to the facility to contain the situation and salvage the research. The movie then plays out as a by-the-numbers horror film as each character meets their grisly demise. The best review I've read called it "Aliens for dummies," which really hits the mark.

First of all, the film is laughably absurd and socially reprehensible. Based on Id Software's classic shooter "Doom," it's movies like this that give video games a bad name. It's also R-rated and exceedingly violent, and I have to seriously question all of the people who brought their eight year old daughters to the theater to see the film. This is NOT a movie that children should watch, and it's no wonder that the youth of today have such a skewed perception of violence and its effect on society. Secondly, why are video game movie adaptations always so bad? It seems like it would be the easiest thing in the world to do, since you already have the story, characters, and dialog written for you, not to mention the entire game is an animated storyboard. All you have to do is film it. And yet, Hollywood writers feel compelled to throw out the original material in favor of their own dumbed down clichés, alienating the only audience that would appreciate the work. It's a shame to see the rich content of some games getting reduced to mindless fluff. However, that's not the case with "Doom," which is a completely content free game in the first place. Which brings us to the most compelling question of all: Why does this movie even exist and who in their right mind thought it would be a good idea? There are so many games out there brimming with great stories, ideas, and characters, and Universal decides to make a movie solely about faceless people shooting monsters. I can only speculate that it's all about brand recognition.

On the plus side, there are numerous things that "Doom" does admirably, or at least adequately. Most importantly, it's not directed by Uwe Boll. The atmosphere is consistently tense and creepy, but unfortunately undermined by cheap shot scare tactics and inappropriate dialog. It's also unclear why they don't just turn on all of the lights in the facility, instead of creeping around in the dark with their flashlights and constantly giving away their position. They obviously have power, since they always turn the lights on AFTER a confrontation. The two central characters, John Grimm (the always enjoyable Karl Urban) and Samantha Grimm (intensely beautiful Rosamund Pike), are very likable and engaging, and lend the only sense of humanity to the proceedings. Urban's sensitive and silently pained face speaks volumes, while Pike's fierce and fiery persona proudly stands up to the macho testosterone fueled bullshit of the characters surrounding her. To their credit, the marines treat her with respect instead of contempt, which is what invalidates so many other would-be female protagonists. The most compelling thing about the movie is its moral ambiguity, and Dwayne Johnson's admirable performance is pivotal to that. As "Sarge," he starts out as the sympathetic and respected leader of a troop of misfit and uninteresting characters. He's smart, cool-headed, and tough as nails, but sensitive and compassionate at the same time. However, as the movie progresses, your perception of him changes, even though his character traits remain more or less the same. He embodies the whole conflict of right and wrong, which raises awareness about the moral issues in the film (not that they're overly deep, by any means). A bold and interesting turn for the actor, who's most recently been starring in "good guy" roles.

Not surprisingly, the film totally falls apart in the final act which is boiled down to a completely uninteresting fist fight between two super-powered individuals. It immediately reminded me of "Soldier" (1998) more than anything else. Not surprisingly, the crowning set piece of the film is its only nod to the source material, which features an extended first person perspective tracking shot as one of the characters is trying to escape from the monster filled facility. It's a one trick pony, but it's a good trick and it's fortunately used only once. Sadly, the sequence goes on WAY too long, which ultimately invalidates it as a cheap gimmick, but the first minute or so is quite intriguing from a technical standpoint. The motion of both the camera and the gun is exceedingly smooth, making me wonder how they actually filmed it. It seems inconceivable to me that it was just a guy with a steadicam holding a gun. I could easily see the gun being a composite element, but it looks extremely real and the lighting effects perfectly match those of the environment. Very well done, regardless of being silly. And finally, I just have to say that the film features the most irritating closing credits I've ever seen, accompanied by a tastelessly offensive onslaught of heavy metal lyrics screaming at me "do you know what the fuck you are?" Gack.