Universal // 2008 // 113 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // August 1st, 2008
Humanity has an expiration date.
Genre success is a double-edged sword. Creating a minor, monster-movie masterpiece (as Neil Marshall did with Dog Soldiers) earns the filmmaker instant acclaim, but at a price: expectation. Now he or she is under the gun to produce another exceptional film or risk fanboy wrath. This often leads to a rote recitation of the first film as a second offering, pleasing most fans of the first film, but failing to garner a wider audience. Luckily, Neil Marshall took the other path, creating a left-field psychological thriller that didn't entirely abandon the gory monster roots of his initial success. In fact The Descent garnered enough of an audience to get Marshall a substantial budget for his third outing, Doomsday. Again taking the left-field approach, Marshall gives us a post-apocalyptic homage to movies past. The film tanked at the box office, but this Blu-ray disc is the perfect way to experience this adrenaline-fueled slice of action fluff.
In near-future Britain, a nasty bug called the Reaper virus infects the northern part of the island, necessitating a modern-day Hadrian's Wall. No one is allowed to travel beyond the wall, where the infected (and potentially infected) are left for dead. Fast forward a few years, and the apocalyptic fit has hit the English shan: the Reaper virus has come to London. Naturally, the government has been hiding something: there are survivors north of the wall. The Prime Minister (Alexander Siddig, Kingdom of Heaven) hopes to save political face by sending in a covert team to track down the research of former plague specialist Dr. Kane (Malcolm McDowell, A Clockwork Orange). Heading that team is Major Sinclair (Rhona Mitra, Hollow Man), and she'll need all her training to get the cure and get back alive.
I have deep childhood attachments to the films that inspired Doomsday. I remember falling in love with the Mad Max series young, and having my eyes opened to John Carpenter's Escape from New York. Obviously these films have gone on to influence a whole host of other filmmakers, which often results in poor imitations. With Doomsday, Neil Marshall attempts to overcome the imitation blues with an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to his heroes. Rather than simply cribbing from one of the greats, this film borrows from them all, filtering them through Marshall's impressive style.
Let's go back to my childhood love. I wanted to dislike Doomsday, and spent the first 15 minutes annoyed at Marshall's thievery. But then, slowly, it dawned on me that the movie was pretty good, and the more I opened up to it, the more fun I had. Once I had let down my guard (about 30 minutes in) the rest of the film breezed by on a rail greased with blood and gunpowder. By the end of the film I was completely enjoying myself; Marshall had me hooked. From the first the film seemed effortless, and once I was onboard it was all smooth sailing.
In addition to its effortless pacing, Doomsday is my kind of gore movie. I (like many) hate when the camera cuts just before impact, but I equally loathe being treated to 15 seconds of unnecessary Karo syrup. Doomsday is right in the middle, providing a substantial visual "crunch" and just enough grue to get the point across. The fact that the gore is often unexpected heightens its impact. This isn't a film to watch specifically looking for gore, but it's obvious that this is the same guy who gave us Dog Soldiers. To go along with the gore (and bigger budget), Marshall provides the audience with plenty of carnage. Whether it's a stadium full of post-apocalyptic punks, a medieval gladiatorial bout, or a Mad Max-style road chase, you should watch Doomsday for the action.
The acting in the film is also worth mentioning. I was totally surprised that Rhona Mitra could pull off a convincing bad-ass, but she does. Malcolm McDowell, although given little to do, does bring his usual gravitas to his role as the plague doctor. Bob Hoskins is surprisingly paternal in his role as Sinclair's boss. David O'Hara deserves special creep points for his portrayal of the political manipulator Canaris. All the other actors do a fine job, playing their roles well despite the sometimes lax character development.
Another notch in Doomsday's favor is the excellent audiovisual presentation on this disc. The source print is pristine, with no apparent damage. The transfer suffers from no obvious errors or compression difficulties. Detail was high throughout, and color saturation was excellent. Because of the visual style of the film it's probably unsuitable as demo material, but it will certainly show off a system well. The audio is equally impressive, handling the numerous explosions while still maintaining atmosphere in the film's quieter moments.
For what they are, the extras aren't bad either. The big supplement is a commentary with Marshall and a number of people from the production. The group was recorded together, and their commentary is a chatty affair, covering the production and technical details. There are some moments of silence, as well as parts where the participants talk over one another, but listeners will still glean a fair amount of information on the film. The other extra is Universal's U-Control feature. These are a series of text and picture-in-picture based extras. I'm not a huge fan of this sort of thing, but the trivia and footage have some interesting tidbits. I was definitely left wanting a more comprehensive documentary, but the stuff here isn't bad.
Despite my enjoyment of Doomsday, it suffers from some problems:
* Half-assed political commentary. The film starts out strong, with something (apparently) to say about panic and fascism. Once we're over the wall, however, it's time to turn off your brain. There's a hint of a message in the film's ending, but it's pretty trite.
* The ending itself. While I grant that the whole film borrows from other movies, the ending seems like Marshall didn't know who to crib from anymore and just took the most convenient way out. It's not a horrible ending, but it seems out of step with the rest of the picture, wrapping things up to neatly without really explaining enough.
* Sheer implausibility. I'm used to a little suspension of disbelief, but Doomsday takes it a little too far. The Reaper virus is a little too convenient, the parallel societies over the wall are both pretty stupid upon consideration, and the Bentley is just hilariously silly.
* The extent of the "homage." I can see a certain section of the viewing population being more annoyed than appreciative of all the borrowing that Doomsday does from other, much beloved, films. It's a fine impulse to steal from the best, but many of the inspirations for Doomsday have earned rabid cults that will defend their favorite films to the detriment of their enjoyment of this film.
These problems were really only apparent once the film was finished. While Doomsday played, Marshall had me, and it was only upon reflection that I realized that some of the film didn't quite work.
Lower your expectations and fill up your popcorn bowl, and Doomsday will likely be an enjoyable cinematic romp. Forget that you love John Carpenter and the Mad Max films and accept Doomsday as a giant fan letter. With the top-notch presentation of this Blu-ray disc, it won't be hard to lose yourself in Marshall's take on the apocalypse film.
Doomsday is guilty of being big, messy fun. Neil Marshall and Co. are free to go.
Review content copyright © 2008 Gordon Sullivan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 113 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* "Reaper Virus Files"
* "Tech Specs"
* Picture in Picture
* Feature Commentary with director Neil Marshall and Cast Memebrs Sean Pertwee, Darren Morfitt, Rick Warden, and Les Simpson