Film Review *1/2: Knee Deep in the Dead
Space Marines Doomed in Lifeless Film Adaptation
By Andrew Guerra
Directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak
Written by Dave Callaham and Wesley Strick
Starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Karl Urban, Rosamund Pike
There’s a scene early in “Doom,” where Reaper (Karl Urban) explains to Sarge (The Rock) that he wants to go on the Mars mission to face his demons. Those in the audience new to the “Doom” universe might see this as another example of the film’s clich dialogue. Those who know the premise of the “Doom” computer games, the popular first-person shooters, know that the marine literally does face Hell’s demons on Mars. While this pun isn’t particularly clever or funny, it is fun for fans of the games to catch such references throughout the film, and it is emblematic of how “Doom” was made primarily for these fans, leaving everyone else to suffer through what is essentially a mindless action flick.
The film opens with a group of eight marines sent to investigate a disturbance at Olduvai Research Facility on Mars, site of experimental biological research, and coincidentally, an ancient civilization’s abandoned settlement. Soon after the marines arrive on Mars, trouble begins and, of course, the body count begins to climb. The investigation reveals a cringe-inducing back-story involving the aforementioned ancient civilization, a 24th chromosome pair (humans have 23), and the unmapped portion of the human genome.
This contrasts with the plot of the computer games, which involves researchers actually opening a portal to Hell. As the movie progresses, several subplots are introduced, including one involving Reaper’s tragic childhood and estranged sister, a debate over the decision to call for reinforcements, and a hinted-at love story, but all of these subplots are either ignored or casually cast aside as characters begin to die. One can almost see the writer’s furrowed brow as he tries to decide whether to keep the subplot involving a call for reinforcements. Better to keep it in, he figures, it might be useful if a deus ex machina ending is required in a future rewrite.
Of course, even when a character is killed, the loss isn’t deeply felt, as all characters conform to stock stereotypes. Male scientists are all small, nerdy, and emasculated. Female scientists are beautiful and must be protected. Each marine is only distinguishable beyond a common testosterone-fuelled, gun-toting hyper-masculinity by one personality trait — there is the religious one, the inexperienced one, the creepy one, the horny one, etc.
Of course, one shouldn’t go to see “Doom” for an intriguing plot or character development. The main attraction here is the action, and while not always original, it generally manages to be entertaining. Things certainly begin quickly, with only 10 minutes between the beginning of the movie and the arrival on Mars.
Like the game, the movie is dark, which adds atmosphere to the proceedings. The locations of the action could have been more interesting, however, with obligatory fire fights in immaculate steely hallways, sewers, and a bathroom, although these locations are faithful to those in the computer games. Most of the weapons in the game make appearances in the movie as well, including the chain saw, pistols, machine guns, the chain-gun, and the BFG (use your imagination). The utilization of the bigger guns is somewhat disappointing however, especially in the case of the BFG, which is almost worshipped during its introduction, yet is only used twice on screen. The film does get credit, however, for one inventive scene in an electrified holding cell involving use of a computer monitor.
Perhaps the most distinctive feature of “Doom” is a sequence towards the end of the film in which the camera takes the first person point of view of a marine as he battles against the monsters that have infested the facility. Here again the film pays homage to the games by having its footage mimic gameplay. While Bartkowiak should be credited for directing in the spirit of the source material, he should also be criticized for using a camera angle that limits view of the action, separates the audience from the characters, and is actually boring, as a movie isn’t interactive. Fans of “Doom” will appreciate the sequence for the tie-in, but otherwise the action is less exciting than it could have been.
Fans will be impressed by references to the games and probably won’t be bothered that the movie has no plot. As a result, they might find “Doom” enjoyable. Anyone else should probably give it a miss.