In the pantheon of video game movies, the bar for entry is set rather low. This leaves a lot of room for middle of the pack releases; with few successful releases, getting by, or even getting to DVD, is often just enough. It's sad, hard truth. Video game movies just plain suck. Doom is one of those that almost made it (and by almost made it, I mean almost made it's budget of 60M back). With two strong B-list (at the time) stars, a foundation laid by one of the founding fathers of the First-Person Shooter (FPS) genre of games, it had all the trappings of an at least monetarily successful attempt, maybe even a decent action/horror movie. Unfortunately, it turned out to be none of these. Why? There are probably dozens of reasons, only some of which I'll touch on, but the fact remains that the finished product just wasn't very good.
The first knock against it is the fact that it's called Doom. The name itself brings with it all kinds of preconceived notions. People who know the name are going to expect to see things that are Doom-ie, not just Doom inspired. Guns? Preconceived Notion: There had better be a chain gun, a shotgun, and a BFG. Demons? Preconceived Notion: There had better be monster closets full of demons, in all of their snarling, walking, floating, or bloating glory. Do those demons come from hell, and do we follow them through the hell-mouth? Preconceived Notion: We had damn well better.
Did the movie deliver on any of these ideas? Only Partially.
Were there demons and did they come from hell? Umm... no. With Doom 3 as the main point of inspiration for the film, the RRTS (Rapid Response Tactical Squad) led by Sarge (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) and Reaper (Karl Urban) are sent to an archaeological dig site on Mars, by means of a teleportation system called the Ark, because a Level 5 quarantine has been enacted. After some exposition regarding Reaper and his scientist sister, the crew finds that the researchers have been turned into monsters/zombies thanks to an infection/genetic experiment that naturally went awry. A couple not so well written plot twists later finds the monsters/zombies having moved through the Ark system back to Earth.
So... yeah. No Hell, and no demons, though the monster design leans heavily towards the Doom 3 Imps. While life on Mars is compared more then once to “Hell,” these are clearly not the monsters from the video game. While the end of the movie begins to deliver on the number of baddies, it comes no where close to the variety (no Cacodemons!) the game presents.
Was the Gun expectation met? Umm... kinda. Of the 8 members RRTS, 7 carry what amounts to their version of a standard assault rifle, as well as something called an ST Grenade (for which no explanation of ST is ever given). The 8th, nicknamed “Destroyer,” carries a chain gun. Sarge does find and eventually use a “Big Force Gun,” which is clearly marked BFG on the identifying view screens found at the dig site's armory, and it's even given the monicker of “Big Fucking Gun” by Sarge upon seeing it. There was no shotgun to be found, though it did sound like the assault rifles were able to perform a shotgun like blast.
I say sounds like instead of looks like, because the movie is so poorly lit, you really can't tell. For some reason or another, the makers of Doom felt that the only thing they needed to create tension and horror was darkness, because everything is dark, with most action scenes taking place in rooms lit by flashlights. Did that work for Doom 3? Depends on who you ask. Does it work for this motion picture? Not in the least.
What makes the visual issues even more of a downer is the time spent by make-up and effects to really try and deliver quality to the production. I purchased the Blu-ray to do this review, and watched the featurettes that were included regarding the make-up team and the work they did on The Rock's character transformation (re: easy plot twist), and the putting together of one of the movie's big selling points, the FPS scene.
It's easily the most memorable thing about Doom. Put together as one continuous shot over a period of 14 days, the scene puts the audience in Karl Urban's shoes, with the camera serving as his eyes as he makes his way through the base on Earth, blasting human zombies and cutting through fully mutated monsters with both an assault rifle and a chain saw. It uses a series of whip cuts and hallway shots to hide takes, and outside of the insanity it took to put this idea into action, is really something to see. Does it work outside of the context of the movie being based on an FPS? No, but then this is really the only scene in the entire movie that delivers on the promises made by the movie's name.
Would this have been a better movie if it wasn't named Doom? Probably not. I don't think it would have been looked at as harshly though. It would have simply gone on to be another sci-fi/action title, and maybe even one with a cult following. Yes the dialog is bad, and the character arcs are really poorly done (The Rock's arc especially) but there is some decent action, some OK effect work, and some camera magic that worked better as an homage then as a direct call back. In fact, the whole movie would have been better served with just an “Inspired by” tag in the credits. The name Doom, front and center, damns it to an eternity of being simply not good enough.
Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!