Judge David Johnson got the chainsaw.
Our review of The Rock Collection (Blu-Ray), published February 13th, 2009, is also available.
All Hell breaks loose…sorta.
Oh what a sordid and lamentable history you have, video game-to-movie translations! Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, Street Fighter, Resident Evil, Super Mario Brothers, House of the Dead, Alone in the Dark, and who knows how many duds to come (fingers remain crossed, however, for Halo). Here now is the latest entry into the genre, the feature adaptation of the big dog of first-person shooters. And the verdict is…
Facts of the Case
Mars. The future. A scientist runs through a darkened hallway. Something is after him. His assistant is on his heels, screaming. He manages to slip into his lab, slamming the doors shut, just as the woman trailing him slams into the entrance. Her arm is caught between the doors, and is severed at the elbow. Sinister growling sounds can be heard from outside. They don't sound human. Frantically, the scientist sends a distress call back to Earth.
Enter the Rapid Response Tactical Squad (RRTS). Led by the hulking Sarge (The Rock, The Rundown) and staffed—of-course—by a gaggle of idiosyncratic soldiers, the RRTS is an elite fighting force, sent in to mop up what ever needs mopping up. Also part of the squad is the enigmatic Reaper (Karl Urban, The Bourne Supremacy), who is at first reluctant to return to Mars for family reasons (his sister works there and they dislike each other). But duty calls, and Reaper locks and loads with the rest of his cronies.
When the squad arrives at the Mars station (through some weirdo transportation device) they are met with mobs of panicking inhabitants. Sarge immediately issues the orders, the grunts file into the abandoned station, tasked to save the leftover scientists and bring back classified research data. For that second job, Reaper's sister, Samantha (Rosamund Pike, Die Another Day), the smarty-pants doctor, comes with.
Unfortunately for everyone, violence awaits, and the soldiers will soon be exchanging gunfire with huge, horrific monsters, disembodied demon tongues, flesh-eating zombies, and a touch of mutiny.
All hell does break loose in this flick, but, sadly, it's of the lower-case variety. Let me ask you this: If you have a mega-popular video game franchise that bases its entire plot around a solitary Marine blowing up demons from Hell, and you remove that "demons from Hell" part what are you left with? Not the plotline of the game, that's for sure.
This is one of the three big complaints I have about Doom: its abandonment of the "dimension to Hell" storyline. The other two: an over-reliance on action clichés and, frankly, its tedious pacing. I'll tackle those in a bit.
Now, I can understand the various difficulties in translating video games to films. Obviously, you can't have Sub-Zero ripping out some dude's spinal column in a PG-13 film. And verbatim translating a plot-less fighting tournament with Brazilian man-beasts and skinny dudes from India with expandable limbs and fire-breathing capabilities will hardly fill the seats. I get that. But to completely remove the major plot point from a series—in this call, the whole Hell thing—just strikes me as asinine. Here's what the filmmakers came up with instead: a convoluted storyline where people are infected with some kind of ancient bio-engineered virus that will either turn its host into a superhero or a gigantic, slimy monster, depending on what's in the person's soul. Don't ask me, I'm still trying to work through this.
I don't understand why a perfectly acceptable plot was abandoned for such overly complex, blatantly done-to-death, borderline ridiculous hokum. Sure Hell-spawned hordes menacing innocents isn't necessarily cutting-edge, but it's certainly more interesting than yet another viral outbreak story. And, you know, it is what Doom's all about!
As a big fan of the franchise, and particularly Doom 3, which I found to be particularly kick-ass, I was just crushingly disappointed that I didn't get to see a bad mofo tearing through (real) Imps and Hell Knights and Revenants and Cyberdemons. And how cool would it have been to see Karl Urban head into Hell and lay a serious smackdown?!?
Speaking of Urban, I thought he was pretty cool. He has the look and the demeanor, but next to The Rock, his charisma was lacking. Granted, his character was supposed to be a stick-in-the-mud, but my man just wasn't bringing the juice to the role. Surrounding these two guys was an assortment of quirky soldiers, indicative of my second complaint, the beaucoup clichés. Why is it that every elite squad of fighters has to have team members who so obviously shouldn't be on the team? Tell me, how did The Kid, a jittery rookie who can't be older than 19 and freaks out at the first sign of action, make the cut? Or Portman (Richard Brake), an obnoxious jackass who pisses off all of his teammates and refuses to follow orders? How is he still getting a paycheck? Let's see some professionalism here, Hollywood! For once.
Finally, the action. You'll probably find no bigger fan of big, dumb fun on this site than me, and my standards are pretty low when it comes to judging the quality of said fun, but this flick could manage only two engaging action sequences. Now that puts the "doo" in Doom. The first is the vaunted "First Person Sequence," which was actually pretty damn cool—gimmicky as all get-out, but a creative marvel and easily the most exciting stretch of the film. The second is the final battle, which I won't expound on due to spoilers. Unfortunately, both of these set-pieces come right at the end. What fills the space? Lots of scenes with soldiers skulking through deserted hallways and dark, subterranean sewers, red herrings galore, an Aliens-type autopsy scene, and feeble attempts at building character development. It isn't until an hour into it that we get our first sniff of soldier/demon combat. This, to me, is unacceptable. The game Doom is all rampant gunfire and exploding demon heads. This forced suspense did not work.
All in all, I wanted a mind-numbing rollercoaster of violence and dead demons. Substitute "rollercoaster" for "tea-cup ride" and that about sums up the film for me. I = sad.
This flick is dark as in "Why is it so dark in here?" The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is okay, though I did have trouble tracking the action during the darker scenes. But detailing was sharp, and the gritty look is well-served. The 5.1 Dolby Digital mix wasn't as atmospheric and aggressive as I would have liked, and the soundtrack was often too subdued. That last one may be a benefit though, considering how awful the soundtrack was.
For this unrated edition, several making-of features are included. "Basic Training" shows the preparation the actors had to go through to learn their soldiering techniques; "Rock Formation" is a look at the hours-long make-up process for The Rock; "Master Monster Makers" all too briefly highlights the impressive creature work by Stan Winston's crew; "First Person Shooter Sequence" is a nice bit documenting the pain-in-the-butt detail that went into crafting this sweet scene; "Doom Nation" analyzes the story of the hit game, sporting interviews with programmers and nerds alike; "Game On!" offers strategies for the actual game; and, finally, the disc can be put in your XBOX, where a playable demo of Doom 3 awaits.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
A few kudos before I leave: a) the creature effects are really quite good, and the CGI is better than decent, b) the BFG is ballsy, though we never see it explicitly used on a monster, and c) this film earns its rating with a good amount of blood and guts.
Two sequences. This film delivered only two worthwhile sequences. I wanted to like this flick, and I went in almost sure I would, but the cautious pacing and the abandonment of the Hell plot pissed me off.
BFG: Big #$%&@*# Guilty.
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