“Doom” is one of the most important titles in videogame history. It practically invented the popular “first person shooter” genre that so many games now utilize. The idea of an FPS is that you are inside the main character, looking out through his eyes. The effect makes some people (like me) intensely motion sick, but devotees love the way it draws you into the game. Suddenly, it’s you on the mission. Because of its success, Hollywood has been trying to make a “Doom” movie for years. I hesitate to say that they’ve finally succeeded, because Doom is a success on no level whatsoever. What I can say is that there is, in fact, a motion picture based on the game. You could fit the number of great game-based movies onto the head of a pin and still have plenty of room left over, but this is one of the worst.
The Rock plays Sarge, the leader of a team of Marines sent to Mars when six scientists mysteriously disappear inside a giant space station. Sarge’s right-hand man is John “Reaper” Grimm (Karl Urban), whose sister Samantha (Rosamund Pike) is one of the few not to disappear. The team finds most of the victims have been mutilated by slimy, ugly monsters that are running loose. Samantha declares that a deadly virus has been set free, turning humans into demons, who then eat innocent bystanders. Naturally, this is all a result of the scientists trying to play God by experimenting with human DNA. (Anyone else as sick of this plot device as I am?)
That’s all there is to tell about the story. Really, that’s all there is. Nothing else happens, but more on that in a minute.
I’ve gone on record as being a fan of The Rock. How can you not like this guy? Unfortunately, Doom doesn’t play at all to his strengths. Sarge gives him zero opportunity to display his trademark charisma or sense of humor. The character merely barks orders and swears. Too many pictures like this and The Rock may find his movie career going down the drain, which would be a shame since he’s the real deal, action hero-wise. He needs to choose better projects – like The Rundown, which was smart, exciting, and funny. At least The Rock comes off better than the rest of the cast. Karl Urban (Lord of the Rings looks dismayed to even be in whole film, and Rosamund Pike (Die Another Day) gives what is hands down one of the worst performances of the year. The actress has exactly one expression – alarm – throughout the entire film…even when there’s nothing going on for her to be alarmed about!
As bad as it is, the acting is not the problem here. Neither are the writing and direction, although both are undeniably atrocious. The problem is that basing movies on videogames is fundamentally flawed. You’re taking two entirely separate things and trying to put them on the same playing field. While films and games have certain things in common, they differ in a single, crucial way: one is interactive and the other is not. That flaw is the serious undoing of Doom. There is no plot here. None. The characters walk from room to room and through hallways. They look around and perhaps shoot a monster if one pops up. Then they walk down the next corridor to the next room. The process repeats for 100 minutes. Nothing else happens. This is exactly what you do in the videogame version of “Doom.” And it’s fine when you’re playing the game, because you’re interacting with it. You are the one deciding whether or not to open the door. You are the one searching the room. You are the one taking aim at the monsters. A movie, however, is a passive experience. Watching these things take place – from a decidedly non-interactive theater seat – is deadly dull. You want to pick up a controller and start playing rather than just watching the movie play itself.
The centerpiece of Doom is an extended sequence that exactly duplicates the game’s first-person perspective. We suddenly see the world through the eyes of Reaper as he goes on a monster-killing rampage of carnage. We can see only what he would see: his own hands, the barrel of his gun, the creature right in front of him. When I saw a snippet of this scene in the film’s trailer, I thought the idea was cool and wondered why no one had thought to do it before. Seeing it play out for four minutes in the context of a movie answers the question: it’s almost laughably bad. The scene reeks of desperation. In their attempt to faithfully recreate the game, the makers of Doom have utterly missed the point. You’re supposed to watch a movie and play a videogame; they want us to watch a videogame (which is not fun) and feel like we’re playing a movie (which is not possible).
Why, then, are there so many game-based movies? Well, for starters, games these days are very cinematic. They have “directors” who dictate the pacing, the visual style, and the action. They sort of seem like movies in that sense. Games also have plots but – and here’s a big “but” – the plot is secondary to the interactivity. It comes in snippets between bursts of playtime. A film, on the other hand, needs a plot that moves continually. Without one, the audience loses interest. You’d think that Hollywood would understand this, especially after so many game-based flicks have crashed and burned. Apparently they have not.
The creatures in this picture are admittedly cool to look at, but so what? Doom is devoid of the very things that constitute a movie. It has no story, no characterization, no ideas. It’s a video game that you can’t play, projected onto a giant screen. Fanboys will no doubt have more fun parking themselves in front of their PCs for some “Doom” action, while everyone else will rightfully not care one bit about this movie.
( out of four)
Doom is rated R for strong violence/gore and language. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.
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