Universal // 2008 // 113 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Michael Rubino (Retired) // July 29th, 2008
"If you're hungry, have a piece of your friend."
Doomsday feels like a movie Roger Corman should have his name all over. It's a super-violent, meager-budgeted amalgam that borrows from some pretty revered material. And while it certainly has some flaws, it's generally a very enjoyable B-movie.
British filmmakers are clearly concerned about becoming overrun by a terrible virus. In a twist similar to 28 Weeks Later, Doomsday begins with the British government sealing off Scotland with a large, impenetrable wall after the Scots become stricken with the Reaper Virus. The Scottish are left to die as the rest of the island moves on. Flash forward 30 years, and the people surviving behind that wall have built a lawless, tribal society that believes the rest of the Earth has been destroyed.
Meanwhile, in civilized England, the Reaper Virus begins to reappear, causing the government to send in an elite group of soldiers behind Scotland's wall to retrieve some sort of cure. Leading the troops is Eden (Rhona Mitra, Shooter), a deadly gal with a robotic eye and a love for cigarettes.
When they go behind the wall, however, they find much more than just a cure for the virus...
You could technically save yourself a lot of time by watching Doomsday. When you're done, you'll have sampled the ideas and themes behind great films like Escape From New York, The Warriors, and The Road Warrior (or any film in the Mad Max series, really). But having great influences doesn't make something inherently equal to the source material -- thankfully, it can still be very entertaining.
Doomsday's premise isn't anything new, as I alluded to earlier. The idea of a virus ravaging the United Kingdom has been addressed from plenty of angles before. Here, it's fairly simplistic. No one is trying to figure out what the virus does, or how to beat it with genetics. In fact, the virus is merely a MacGuffin, pushing Eden and her gang of soldiers past the Scotland wall and into what is essentially Thunderdome. And it's only at this point when the movie truly becomes interesting; because really, they can try and make me care about the plight of the suffering British, but all of the characters in the "clean" world are so corrupt, I didn't really care to see them live.
Then again, perhaps liking any of these characters is asking too much. Eden is a flat, emotionless killing machine who at one point finally exclaims "I've lost my mind." Little did she know that I said the same thing a few scenes earlier when a medieval knight rode into the film on horseback. For every dull character and borrowed plot point, the movie still managed to surprise me with sparks of originality. Adding an entire community of medieval serfs holed up in a castle was certainly inspired, and allowed for one of the cooler gladiatorial bouts in the film. In fact, the movie sort of coasts from confrontation to confrontation with little going on in between.
Doomsday plunks down all of its most exciting moments in the lengthy second act. The first act, which is riddled with more exposition than a cheap detective novel, is a muddled bore. The final act is brief and pretty nonsensical, given the progression of the characters. But if you're in the mood for a science fiction/apocalyptic/fantasy/horror/adventure/thriller...then this is a good choice.
The film was written and directed by Neil Marshall (The Descent), who has no qualms with talking about Doomsday's influences. For the most part, he handles things well, providing some cool framing choices and well-choreographed chase sequences. The film's hand-to-hand combat sequences don't fair as well thanks to his Tony Scott-on-acid editing style. But I have to admire his talent, alongside the visual effects team, for filming most of the movie's stunts in-camera. The film has a very clever way of handling special effects -- the visual effects team would film multiple elements on a green screen and then layer them together to create the final shot. Doing so not only reduced the movie's budget, but also gave it a legitimacy that CGI-laden movies lack.
The Doomsday DVD comes with both theatrical and unrated editions on the same disc (the unrated edition only adds about four minutes to the runtime). The picture quality is fairly high, although some of the nighttime establishing shots (which employ various forms of matting and visual layering) look a little washed out and fake at times. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround is very good, but I can't say the same for the film's actual soundtrack. There's a tad too much Brit Pop for me, thanks.
Don't let the vague description on the back of the box fool you, this unrated edition has a fair amount of special features. Included on the disc is a commentary track with director Neil Marshall and actors Sean Pertwee, Darren Morfitt, Rick Warden, and Les Simpson. The track is merely okay, with a lot of people talking over one another and reminiscing about the shooting process. I preferred the three production featurettes: "Anatomy of a Catastrophe;" "The Visual Effects and Wizardry of Doomsday;" and "Devices of Death." Each of these focuses on the stunts and artistic design of the film, which rightfully deserves your full attention. I was pretty surprised to see that the majority of the car stunts were real, and that there were so many old-school prosthetics and puppets used. Overall it's a nice set of extras that make this a worthy package.
Doomsday is filled with cheesy dialogue, flat characters, and a meandering plot, but, man, is it a lot of fun to watch. If you're already a fan of the early films of John Carpenter, The Warriors, and the Mad Max trilogy, then you'll surely find something to like here. At the very least, watching this will make you want to go back and re-watch that stuff. Doomsday is a B-movie through and through, and I'm perfectly fine with that.
Review content copyright © 2008 Michael Rubino; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 113 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Audio Commentary with Director Neil Marshall and Actors Sean Pertwee, Darren Morfitt, Rick Warden, and Les Simpson
* "Anatomy of a Catastrophe"
* "The Visual Effects and Wizardry of Doomsday"
* "Devices of Death"
* Theatrical Trailer