This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com
If you had a PC and a vague interest in gaming back in the mid-nineties you can’t possibly have missed Doom and it’s immediate sequel, the first person shooters that cast a shadow over games design that lingers today. It wasn’t the first FPS, in the same way that Command & Conquer wasn’t the first real time strategy, but there’s a solid case for calling it the first person shooter, an all-conquering engine that spawned a number of imitators so close to infinity that only a pedant would distinguish betwixt the numbers. It’s deathmatch culture became legend even if the storyline didn’t, urban myths having it as being conceived in a lunchbreak and given that it’s essentially “Demons from Hell slaughter everyone on a Mars colony apart from you. Kill all demons” that’s not an unbelievable claim.
Doom went away, in time, only to recently come back in the woefully disappointing shape of Doom 3, a graphically impressive, albeit poorly lit and utterly soulless piece of drudgery masquerading as a game. Should you ever find yourself designing a Martian research base, I recommend redundant backups on the emergency lighting system. It’ll save so much on Duracells for the Maglites. This ill-advised cinematic outing seems based aesthetically at least on Doom 3, although here there are no demons apart (WARNING: A HEAVY HANDED METAPHOR IS APPROACHING) from those we take with us. Oh yeah, that’s what I’m talkin’ about.
The Human Genome Project might currently be packing their genoscopes and DNA agitators away believing that their work is complete, but in the far flung future of Doom on the far flung planet of Mars the last ten percent has just been mapped. This was hidden underneath the toenails of the left foot, and therefore easily missed. Perhaps this ludicrous statement was supposed to refer to the more pertinent matter of studying the ancient, long dead Martian race, although if we’re going to pick bones over every scientific inaccuracy or oddity we’ll be here all day. Anyhoo, turns out these Martians had an extra chromosome genetically engineered into them that had a fifty – fifty chance of turning them into super-strong, super-Martian good guys or super-strong, super evil Martian beasties. Hence the current absence of Martians. Thus, the UAC brain trust decide to synthesise a similar treatment for humans, because in the future everyone is very stupid indeed.
Oh look! The evil things have escaped and started killing everyone in the base! Who’d have thunk it? Cue a Marine Corp insertion on a search, rescue and contain mission. Being an elite group of single minded professionals they all have cute codenames such as Sarge (The Rock), whose the Sergeant of the team, Reaper (Karl Urban), whose surname is Grimm (clever, no? Yes? No!), new guy The Kid (Al Weaver), who is a fresh faced youth, and Destroyer (Deobia Oparei), who is actually the H.M.S. Edinburgh.
There’s a protracted period of stalking where our heroic marines and their ludicrous plastic guns are picked off by the beasties. Things get under control of sorts while Reaper’s sister Samantha (Rosamund Pike), who seems to be working a jobshare as an archeologist and genetics expert works out how to affect superhumanism, and then Sarge has to go and issue an order that Reaper finds unethical. Both wind up taking the funky power potion and having a suitably silly rumble, but not before a suitably silly first-person perspective sequence that no doubt seemed to be a clever idea at the time.
Doom would desperately like to be Aliens, but in reality it’s an imitation so pale as to be classified albino. While Cameron’s work had a perfectly balanced mixture of balls-out, gung-ho action and the siege mentality of Zulu, Bartkowiak’s effort is more akin to Stealth, but on Mars. Actually, for all the capitalisation that’s made on it’s location it might as well be set in Arizona, or Croydon. Early rumours suggest that this wasn’t originally going to be set on the red planet, and if you nipped off to buy some popcorn during the stylistically natty transportation device sequence you’d be forgiven for thinking this to be one of a hundred terran lab outfits.
Roger Ebert gets sidetracked in a recent letter page claiming, broadly, that games cannot be art because you aren’t being led by the hand through someone else’s vision. The obvious way to call bullshit on this claim is by examining the implied inverse, that all films must therefore be art. If anyone else would like to claim that Doom is art, please send us your name and as soon as we’ve finished our prototype Idiot Cannon we’ll have you fired directly into the sun. Round these parts we don’t care about art, we care about entertainment. This is largely why we don’t care about Doom.
There’s a couple of moments where it cuts loose and has a bit of fun, usually The Rock spouting some ridiculous phrase, and a few where it’s exceedingly duff, usually The Rock spouting some ridiculous phrase. Most of the time it’s just really dull, essentially any time Karl Urban is on the screen. As anyone who’s seen his breathless media press puff pieces could tell you, Karl Urban’s not going to lie to you. Karl Urban loved it. That makes one.
About the most interesting thing in Doom is that motion-sickness inducing first person bit, which is very sad. Yes it looks somewhat like the game, but then so did the game, so the film doesn’t particularly need to repeat this. It’s certainly silly but for the most part not awful enough to be offensive, and therefore worth the bother of getting particularly worked up about. I think. In the few days since watching it Doom has faded from my memory so completely that all I can remember particularly clearly is the aforementioned first person bit and it’s odd giggling zombie-things. Director Andrzej Bartkowiak, veteran of grade A turkey fodder Cradle 2 the Grave and Exit Wounds misses the points that made Doom Doom, the building of tension, the grunts of distant demons from round the corner when you’re on a sliver of health and low on ammo, the cathartic release of grabbing an ammo pack and releasing a bullet hell at these demons. When you’re playing Doom, you’re fighting for your damn soul with no-one to help you. In this pseudo-Doom, there’s a bunch of folk shooting a few mutants then fighting each other. The stakes have changed in a way conducive only to suckage.