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October 25, 2005 > 'D' For DOOM!

'D' For DOOM!

A movie review by Jeremy Inman

by Jeremy Inman

At first, Doom seems as though it might have the makings of one of the great classic sci-fi/horror flicks like Alien or Predator. The formula's the same: throw a group of hardened soldiers into a situation involving a scary space station and any number of creepy crawlies and add a few cheap scares and a dash of blood and guts. Heck, Doom is even based on an original story (visited most recently in the pc videogame Doom 3) with a unique twist. That twist: scientists on a remote research facility on Mars unwittingly tap into a gateway to Hell while studying teleportation. Forces of evil are released on the scientists and soldiers at the facility, slowly merging Hell with our own reality. Space marines are then sent in. Players assume control of the only man standing between the unfathomably evil forces of Hell and its conquest of Earth. Sound like a cool idea? That's because it is!

So what did screenwriters Dave Callaham and Wesley Strick do with such an interesting piece of source material? They completely ignored it. Instead of developing a film that does justice to the original story by, oh, I don't know, basing the movie on it instead of just slapping it with the same title, Doom reverts to a standard genre clichˇ formula. A bunch of soldiers sneak around in dark hallways and eventually get torn apart by horrific zombies and monsters that are the result of, drum roll, genetic engineering gone wrong!

Snore.

What I'll never understand is why film makers feel compelled to alter good source material. Doom the videogame has been around for a long time, and has more than firmly established itself as one of the forerunners of modern action gaming. It has a large and loyal fan base that won't be too happy to see the story so carelessly discarded. Longtime fans of the game who found themselves excited to see how the movie will portray classic characters like the Hellknight or the Baron of Hell will be sorely disappointed when they discover that these characters are either missing from the story entirely, or relegated to mere genetic mutations of human beings.
Here's a brief rundown of the yawn-inducing plot:
A group of ragtag marines, lead by "The Rock," are pulled from leave in response to a distress call from a space station on mars. They teleport to mars using a technology called the "arc" that was discovered on the planet as the result of an archeological dig. Once on mars, the team sneaks through dark hallways dropping F-bombs and firing at shadows for a good 45 minutes. A couple of cheap scares and a few cheesy one-liners later, the film lets you in on the secret of the origins of these monsters: studying the fossil remains of an ancient humanoid life form found on mars, researchers have discovered a 24th chromosome that can be injected into living human beings to alter their genetic structure, creating super humans. Yeah, I know, but it gets worse...
Apparently, the chromosome (C24) only gives you super human abilities if you're pure of heart. If you're a really bad guy, or, say, The Rock, well, then you turn into a nasty monster.

Speaking of The Rock, this must have been a paycheck movie for him, because he certainly wasn't his usual charismatic self. I've always been a defender of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as one of the next good big action stars, even barring his sketchy origin in such yawn-fests as The Mummy Returns and The Scorpion King. Couple The Rock's natural charisma with his origins in pro wrestling (which is at least half performance, anyway) and you've got the next Arnold waiting to happen. Let's just hope he lands some better roles in the future. I know I've got my fingers crossed, especially since his next film, Spy Hunter, is another videogame adaptation. Still, I'm rooting for him. He's certainly proved that he's got at least a little range with his roles as a gay bodyguard in Be Cool, a butt-kicking aspiring chef in The Rundown, and a U.S. soldier turned small town sheriff in Walking Tall.

Doom has its shortcomings, but I for one was tickled at some of the references to the original game. Fans will instantly recognize many of the set pieces and some sound effects from the original game, and they'll be delighted at the inclusion of the "BFG," (Here's a hint, the "B" stands for "big," the "G" stands for "gun," and the "F" doesn't stand for "freakin'."). The names of the original creators of Doom are even written into the script, and an entire four or five-minute segment of the film is shot in first person perspective to mimic the game itself (fans should recognize it as "God Mode" from the original game).

These few tidbits aren't nearly enough to save Doom from, well, doom. The more crappy movies based on videogames that get made, the harder it's going to get to convince the public at large that videogames can be a viable and effective form of storytelling. The closest we've come to a good videogame-to-movie translation are the Tomb Raider movies, which are actually pretty darn good.

What filmmakers need to take into account is the same rule that should apply to any cross-media adaptation: if the source material works, leave it alone! Don't think that it's okay to completely change or discard the story because it's based on a game. The result is a movie that conveys its story or its message far less effectively than the videogame (and yes, games can convey messages). The tragic part of this is that movies tend to reach larger audiences than the games do, at least for now. Thus, the terrifying atmospheric horror of Doom 3 the game becomes the cheesy, laughable cliché-fest that is Doom the movie.

Filmmakers, do us videogame fans a favor and stop making our hobby look bad; don't make an adaptation until you're ready to take the source material seriously.

Filmwatchers, don't see Doom, instead, play the game. Unlike the movie, it's frightening, interesting, and it'll be worth what you pay for it.

 
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