Doom: Unrated Extended Edition Review

A sense of déjà vu washes over the viewer during Doom.

There’s a familiarity to the proceedings; the concept feels hollow and tired, the characters merely stock. We follow a team of marines, who are sent into the far-reaches of space to investigate strange goings-on at a research complex. Those savvy to the sci-fi genre will immediately think of James Cameron’s Aliens. Throughout Doom, director Andrzej Bartkowiak tips his hat to that horror masterpiece, yet never once matches its pulse-pounding vitality. As the credits begin to roll, one thing is clear: Bartkowiak is no Cameron. While it isn’t the first movie to steal elements from that classic, Doom feels doubly generic. It is, after all, based on ID Software’s innovative videogame (in particular, the most recent entry Doom 3). The developers were, in some respects, inspired by Aliens; giving the motion picture a third-rate feel. We’ve seen this concept before. Not only that, we’ve played it! You can almost hear the filmmakers scraping the barrel…

That isn’t to say Doom is a complete waste of celluloid, since it manages to rise above other films in the oeuvre. It certainly carries a fair amount of cinematic baggage; following in the footsteps of several dire videogame adaptations. The Tomb Raider films scuppered a great premise with dim-witted plots; Resident Evil and its sequel lacked the pant-wetting fear of their source, and “master of the inept” Uwe Boll delivered the awful one-two punch of House of the Dead and Alone in the Dark. While Doom treads into the depths of mediocrity, it never falls into the abyss. It’s by-the-numbers filmmaking, designed to please fans of the game, and offer a few cheap thrills. There’s enough evidence to suggest that the filmmakers were well-aware of how bad Doom is - a self-mocking tone permeates the film, making it shamelessly entertaining. The only thing missing is a joystick!

During production, the writers received a fair bit of flack for altering the games story; resulting in several script rewrites. Originally, Doom was set to take place on a fictional planet, but the ruckus scared the filmmakers into switching back to Mars; where the hugely successful Doom 3 takes place. Yet, screenwriters Dave Callaham and Wesley Strick had their way with other elements, choosing to drop the “demons from hell” scenario, and replacing them with mutated scientists. Set in the year 2046, when a portal known as the Ark is able to transport humans to Mars in a split-second, a space station is consumed by a toxin which transforms humans into monsters. A crack-squad of marines are sent in to deal with the threat, led by the determined “Sarge” (The Rock). Along with his colleagues John Grimm (Karl Urban), “Destroyer” (DeObia Oparei), and “The Kid” (Al Weaver), Sarge must quell the outbreak, and carryout his orders. One of the survivors happens to be Samantha Grimm (Rosamund Pike), John’s estranged sister, who might be able to find a solution. A fight for survival ensues; which includes a great deal of gunfire, a few explosions and plenty of scattered limbs…

As you’d expect, Doom is free from any substance whatsoever. Bartkowiak and his writers strip the storyline and characters down to their barest essence. The cast members are given a single character trait each, which they milk for the entire runtime. These are the same hard-asses we saw in Predator. There’s even a character called “Duke”, which is probably a reference to the John McTiernan film. But we don’t care for them like we did for Hicks or Hudson (or Ripley, for that matter). As a result, the movie lacks any dread. Bartkowiak fails at building suspense, as his walking stereotypes stumble around the darkened corridors. And boy, is this film dark! Not since The X-Files has a director taken such relish in shooting dimly-lit scenes. You’ll be squinting to see the creatures; so much of Doom occurs in the darkness. Whether or not this was an attempt to hide the poor special effects is anyone’s guess, but the photography left me under whelmed (which is odd, considering Bartkowiak made his name as a gifted DP). Technically, the picture just about satisfies, despite the horrendous - and blindingly obvious - CGI.

Rescuing the movie from oblivion, is The Rock. He has an uncanny ability to carry weak films on charisma alone, and proves to be Doom’s saving grace. His performance as the gruff Sarge is never-less than entertaining; clearly taking great pride in brandishing the BFG (“Big Fucking Gun”). He also has a story arc which was certainly unexpected - a portion of the film best described as Aliens meets Casualties of War. Surprisingly, Sarge isn’t the lead role. That goes to Urban, who mumbles through his turn as Grimm. He isn’t called upon to do much other than look moody, fire his weapon and argue with Pike. The latter barely registers in yet another good-looking scientist role (think Tara Reid or Denise Richards), and is largely forgotten during the effects-heavy denouement. But those going into Doom with lofty expectations should look elsewhere…

At least the movie succeeds in delivering the blood-splattered goods, right? Yes and no. For the most part, the make-up effects (supervised by Stan Winston’s team) are strictly average, with very little designed to shock or repulse. Much of the creature stuff is just plain goofy. Thankfully, the violence is so over-the-top you won’t care, and the action is pumped-up and frenetic. Bartkowiak had to ruin it by employing an industrial score, but I’ll forgive him for that. Regardless, it leads to the now-famous “first person perspective” scene; taken directly from the game. Amazingly, it’s the best sequence in the picture - a furious onslaught of sight and sound, that makes great use of the game dynamics. In my review of Resident Evil: Apocalypse, I commented that it was like watching your mate play his PS2. With Doom, such a critique rings true. It’s the one true highlight in the film, and probably worth the rental price alone.

Doom is a lazy, poorly-executed piece of work. That much is obvious. But I can’t deny the entertainment value it possesses, limited as it might seem. The Rock makes this recommendable to fans of action cinema, although there’s little here for those not weaned on the videogame. To put it simply, Doom is like a McDonald’s hamburger - enjoyable, but free from substance. Slim pickings indeed…

The Disc

I never got to see Doom in theatres, so when it comes to the “Unrated Extended Edition”, I’m left in the dark. According to Universal, 3-minutes have been reinstated. Whether it’s a few flashes of claret, or snippets of dialogue, I haven’t a clue. Doom-ites will probably salivate at the prospect, but I doubt it makes the film any better. So what about the DVD?

The Look and Sound

It’s pretty common for unworthy films to be given first-rate transfers, and Doom continues that trend. There are problems with this transfer, although the anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) presentation is as robust as you’d expect. Detail is high, and the picture is consistently sharp, although the darkness of the cinematography remains. This was a creative decision on the director’s part, and no fault of the transfer. Surprisingly, the disc manages to overcome the bleak colour palette well, and handles contrast levels with aplomb. The print is free from heavy grain, with no dirt to muck up the picture. Colour, while not bright, is clean, and the steely-look of the production design has been transferred faithfully. Aside from some compression artefacts, and a slight instance of macroblocking (particularly during effects shots), the movie looks great. The geeks should be satisfied.

Wow! Surpassing the video transfer, the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (in English, French or Spanish) is outstanding. Drawing the viewer into the Doom universe, the track is an abrasive and exceptionally loud audio assault. While industrial music is hardly my cup of tea, I’m happy to report that the track is close to reference quality. Each channel boasts an array of sound effects, while the dialogue is projected from the centre-stage in clear fashion. The track is consistently active, with good bass-response. It’s pitched rather high, although a film like Doom demands a bombastic track. If only the film was this good…

We also get subtitles in English, French and Spanish.

The Menus

Showcasing a futuristic look, the menus ape the computer interfaces seen in the film. The animation is pretty decent, if under whelming, but the transitions don’t outstay their welcome. As you’d expect from a studio release, the screens are anamorphically-enhanced, and fully scored. A fitting prelude to the film.

Bonus Material

A forgettable round of special features, that adds little to the experience, the Doom DVD will leave fans wanting more. There’s no insight here, and it’s disappointing to see Universal putting in so little effort.

The brief featurettes begin with “Basic Training”, a bog-standard piece, in which we observe the actors getting in shape. They had to behave like real marines, and we seem them going through the paces. “Rock Formation” is more intriguing, thanks to Dwayne Johnson himself. He did quite a bit of preparation to play Sarge (from playing the video game, to learning military procedure), and as ever, he’s an affable presence. “Master Monster Makers” is self-explanatory, and features Stan Winston’s team creating the various nasties in Doom. They tried to stay faithful to the game, although I’ll admit ID Software did it better!

“First Person Shooter Sequence” follows the creation of the famous scene, which took a couple weeks to film, and several months to conceptualise. There’s a nice look at the CGI effects that made the sequence work, but it’s far too brief, and the featurette glosses over the films one true highlight. “Doom Nation” is the expected look at the video game itself; charting its effect on pop-culture and the gaming industry. Some of the designers from ID Software are on hand to offer their two cents, which are dubiously positive. The last vignette, “Game On!” is perhaps the most enjoyable - the actors discuss the first time they played Doom, and some of the ID boys return to reminisce about their greatest achievement. It comes across as pure promotion, but anyone who ever played the original game will feel twangs of nostalgia.

Finally, if you pop the DVD into your XBOX, you can play a full level of Doom 3. While it’s better than a trailer, I would have preferred a detailed account of the production, and less marketing hoopla…

The Bottom Line

Doom is a typical video game adaptation - silly, vapid, and entirely forgettable. But it’s also the best one yet. As a slice of cinematic schlock, it’s enjoyable, and sweetened by moments of inspiration (the FPS sequence feels innovative, despite its lineage). There’s enough cheap thrills in Doom to satisfy fans of the source, but it’s a vacuous experience. The DVD from Universal boasts an excellent presentation, but obliterates the extras. You’d be better off playing Doom 3 again…

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