Doom (United States/Czech Republic, 2005)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

(Insert appropriate remarks about how Doom is the perfect name for this motion picture.)

Although I am not averse to wasting a few hours playing computer games, I have never tried my hand at Doom. Judging by sales figures and testimonials, playing the game has to be an infinitely preferable experience to watching this pathetic excuse for a movie. Otherwise, not only would Doom never have become a phenomenon, but it would have lain gathering dust on store shelves. Doom (the movie) is a dreadful, hackneyed piece of cinema - a D-grade mess that's more a rip-off of Alien than an attempt to tell a compelling story. It's unfathomable how many times Hollywood has struck out in attempts to convert popular video/computer games into movies. This is the kind of misfire that reinforces negative stereotypes.

The story is stripped down and straightforward. A group of marines takes a trip to Mars, where something in the deep, dark innards of a lab has been filleting scientists. After a lot of wandering around in gloomy tunnels, the marines discover what's been making a mess. This leads to a lot of screaming and dying, followed by "shocking" revelations about genetic manipulation. If you stay awake long enough, you may even be mildly surprised by the movie's big twist (which, aside from the opening CGI sequence, represents the only watchable element of Doom).

It says a lot to admit that the best acting job is turned in by The Rock, who plays Sarge. He's all business, without a hint of mockery or self-parody. For what it is, it's a decent performance. Karl Urban, who played Eomer in a couple of The Lord of the Rings movies, is given enough of a backstory that his character of John Grimm (a.k.a. Reaper) stands out from the pack. Rosamund Pike plays John's sister, Sam. She's notable because she's the only female in the cast. (Like Kiera Knightley, she has gone from Austen - she plays Jane Bennett in the new Pride and Prejudice - to awful.) Everyone else is just waiting to fill a body bag.

Similarities between Doom and Alien/Aliens are too obvious to ignore, down to the parasites that climb inside a human host. But director Andrzej Bartkowiak is no Ridley Scott or James Cameron. He has replaced the taut suspense and intense action those filmmakers brought to their projects with boredom. For a while, Bartkowiak allows only half-glimpses of the monsters. This is more a case of necessity than style, as we realize when we finally get a good look at one of the creatures, which looks like a refugee from a '70s episode of Doctor Who. The action sequences are not well choreographed. Frequently, because of the dim lighting, it's difficult to figure out what's happening. On those rare occasions when we can keep things straight, we wish we couldn't. As a Valentine to the game's fans, Bartkowiak includes a five-minute sequence presented from the "first person shooter" perspective. It's a nice idea, I suppose, but it runs on for too long and will leave a non-gamer in the audience perplexed and frustrated. Not that there will be many viewers in that category.

Doom's box office receipts will be a testimonial to the popularity of the game, whose position near the top of the pyramid has been supplanted by newer, hotter titles. (I am told that Doom uses elements from Doom 3, which was released in 2004.) Undoubtedly, there will be a game based on this movie, which creates an environment that is part-recursive and part-cannibalistic. At any rate, crossover appeal is minimal. There's almost nothing here for an average movie-goer, even one who likes dumb action and bloodsoaked horror. Doom is a waste of time and money. Of course, there is one element of the movie that invites interactivity: talking back to the screen about the stupidity of the characters, the screenwriters, the director, and yourself for wasting $10 and two hours.

Doom (United States/Czech Republic, 2005)

Run Time: 1:45
U.S. Release Date: 2005-10-21
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1