More noise than signal


Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

Of course, based on the iconic video game of the same name, although perhaps stylistically closest to the previous year’s Doom 3. As often mentioned videogame adaptations don’t have the strongest track record, and Doom did not help this well deserved reputation.

The military-corporate colossus UAC has set up a base on Mars, involved in some top secret research when things go south. They call in a squad of elite space marines to investigate why they’ve lost contact with the deepest, darkest, most top secret lab. The group, headed by Gunnery Sgt. Asher “Sarge” Mahonin (Dwayne “Flex Kavana” Johnson) and Staff Sgt. John “Reaper” Grimm (Karl Urban) jump through the mysterious teleportation portal to Mars, seemingly left by an old Martian civilisation, and meet up with Grimm’s sister Samantha, Rosamund Pike, who holds a Doctorate in All Science Required For The Film. Something like a major in genetics, a minor in zeno-archeaology.

Dr. Samantha tells them, after a bit of arm-twisting, what the UAC bods have discovered – the Martians were very much like us, down to the genetic level, with one exception – they added in another gene pair. This small addition resulted, seemingly, with a 50/50 chance of giving you super-powers or turning into a slavering bloodthirsty mutants. Apparently enough of them liked their odds on the coin toss enough to wipe themselves out, so of course the first thing our best and brightest minds think to do it replicate this, leading to the current situation.

Cue the science team turning into monstrosities and running amok, infecting other scientists and the other one-dimensional team members and so on in something closer to a zombie film scenario rather than the game’s specific “actual demons from actual hell” remit – not, really, that this makes a blind bit of difference, and on a theoretical level at least there being a story behind these monsters deeper that “the devil did it” should make for a more interesting narrative. In theory.

The actuality of Doom is rather different, of course. As with many terrible films, and Doom is a terrible films, there’s a draft or at least a pitch of this that had potential. It very much wants to be Doom flavoured Aliens, which is a laudable aim, but one that rather exceeds the capabilities of, well, everyone involved, really.

There’s not much point criticising the supporting actors, who while excruciating, aren’t really given anything to work with, but I’d have hoped for more from the usually charismatic Johnson and the certainly much better than this, at least these days, Urban, who together have close to zero chemistry. However it’s the dumb as a box of rocks writing, vastly sub-par action and effects work that sinks this vessel.

It’s interesting to read that the producer went for a balance between CG and practical, prosthetic effects, for much the same reasons that we are occasionally called upon to critique CG heavy works – they don’t look believable. There is, however, a flip side to the argument that we’ve not had to use in our podcasts so far, and that is that while I have no trouble believing that the prosthetics used in_Doom_ are real, physical items, I can’t believe how amateurish, low budget and stupid they look.

As a result, the action scenes are ruined before they get started. While the dancers inside the zeno-suits in Aliens lent credibility to the monster’s movements, somehow Doug Jones detracts it in this film, which already suffered from character design of the “melted candle” school of thought. And, while the first person perspective sequence is perhaps the only original element in here, it’s way too slow to feel anything like the game – of course if it was the multiplex would have been awash with vomit, so I suppose we should thank it for merely being dull, rather than inducing motion sickness. The trick was recently spun out by Hardcore Henry into a full motion sickness picture with similar quality results.

I remembered this film as being absolutely terrible, however on re-evaluation I’d say this was merely terrible. There’s at least a few interesting points, mainly in seeing Rosamund Pike slumming it, and Dexter Fletcher’s hilariously bad CG robo-wheelchair. But perhaps the best moments come from Johnson’s heel turn in the final reel, as he issues some terrible orders with a steel that would see him be a really effective antagonist in a film, should he ever decide to go that way. Unfortunately after two minutes of this it devolves into a horrible CG fight that looks much worse than the game ever did.

I take it back. Doom is absolutely terrible. Avoid.