A Review by Noah Antwiler
Before "teh Intarweb," software pirates were a lot more like black marketeers. Right now it's just Bittorrents and file servers humming in solitude in a dark room, but before, pirates operated on the Sneakernet; they copied that floppy and handed it to a buddy. The really industrious ones had a BBS, offering a cracked version of Wolfenstein 3D when they weren't running a multi-user dungeon. DOOM was the game everybody pirated, the game that your friend shoved into your hand and said "forget about what you're doing, just install this." It was one of those revolutionary games that ushered in a new era of gaming, and simultaneously became the symbol for parents and politicians of all that is wrong with this country. Children committing illegal activities to acquire this ultra-violent murder simulator? Why that's outrageous! We should ban all violent content from videogames at once! Our kids were so well behaved until id Software existed.
Today, DOOM is this year's biggest Halloween box office blockbuster. What's it about? Well in the not-so-distant future, on a remote Martian scientific outp--
IT DOESN'T MATTER WHAT THIS MOVIE IS ABOUT!!
Is there any point at all in explaining this movie's plot? Do you really care? Were you expecting deep characterization? Rich dialogue? Any dialogue? I realize I don't have a lot of credibility as a critic, and it's quite fair to say that I often appear to pick on easy targets. Yet here I am with DOOM, a gamer's movie if I ever saw one, and yet a movie that-- by its very nature-- can't be good. This isn't freaking Deer Hunter here. We're talking about a genre without a single good film attached to it: Super Mario Bros., Resident Evil, Wing Commander, Street Fighter: The Movie, Alone in the Dark, and (my masochistic favorite) House of the Dead. It's strange to consider that I owe Uwe Boll a lot for his cinematic conga line of progressively worse movies; without him, I might be out of a job! I'll be sure to thank him if I can ever get within swinging distance. I tend not to review movies with little stars, bundles of drowned monkeys or half-full popcorn buckets, because movies aren't created equally. They're made with different goals and intentions, and so it's not fair to apply a single scale to movies. The best I can do is to tell you whether or not a movie works as intended. Did it accomplish its goal of being entertaining?
No. It's because of the plot. There is one.
I don't mean that the plot is weak, or badly-written, or filled with hammy dialogue and lame plot contrivances. Well I do, but not really. DOOM has a script. That's the problem. The DOOM game's plot can be summarized with a bottle of Bawls and a barely-coherent series of spittle-spraying sound effects. Three words, and three words only: Marines. Mars. Demons. Just three simple checklist items. And they still screwed it up. They tried to apply characters and a plot to this? It's DOOM! People play DOOM to get away from talking. We only liked it because it was all about blowing stuff up REAL GOOD. The game was made during an era when people didn't care a kangaroo's nipple about plots in a first-person shooter. In fact, at the first sign of plot or text screens, our left hands would jerk spasmodically to the ESC key SO WE COULD GET BACK TO THE SHOOTING. DOOM should have opened up with an exterior shot of Mars, panned over to The Rock stepping out of a teleporter, who raises the People's Eyebrow at the camera and proceeds to blast stuff for 100 minutes, nonstop, without uttering a single solitary word. Throw $40 million and three dozen stunt coordinators at this thing, and just let them make the most ungodly loud stunt reel in history. Sort of like Navy SEALs. Oh it would have been one of the worst movies ever made, repetitive and wretchedly shallow. But it would have been DOOM. That's what DOOM is: mindless, repetitive blasting, usually with Pantera screaming on your CD player in the background.
Point is, we all knew this movie was going to blow, we just wanted it to blow REAL GOOD.
"If thou smellest what Ye Rocke doth cooke, he shalt layeth the smacketh downeth on thine candy asses!"
The Rock plays The Sarge, a hardassed slab-o-beef whose dedication to the mission is second to none. It's a tribute to Rock's unparalleled charisma and magnetism that elevates an emotionless and easily-characitured role into a likeable person. His performance is both authentic and playful, seeming to exude an authentic military discipline and a gamer's giddy glee at having officially acquired the Biggest F***ing Gun in the galaxy. In fact, he does such wonders for the role that I found myself agreeing with Sarge's brutal and soulless "Shoot everything that moves, and when it's down, shoot it again to be sure" policy when all of the other protagonists think him a monster. Despite his star power and his top-billing for the hilm, the "hero" is codenamed Reaper, played by Karl "Eomer" Urban, who seems in a hurry to appear in as many movies as he can before he becomes typecast or his Lord of the Rings fame fades.
The other characters are your standard lineup of cannon fodder marines, unique only in their immediately-obvious character flaws that will lead to their inevitable deaths. For instance, there's Psycho Religious Guy who flagellates himself with a knife every time he sins, Perverted Gingivitis Man who leers cartoonishly at anything with breasts, Token Hip-Hop Guy who exists only to stare goggle-eyed at the monsters and say "Daaaaaaaaamn!", Stone Cold Killer With Minigun, and Panicky Private Hudson Ripoff (a.k.a. "The Kid"). I've been told that I tend to look and act exactly like Panicky Private Hudson Ripoff, an accusation which might seem cool at first, but has completely failed to draw in the chicks. In fact, like The Kid, most of DOOM rips off Aliens in some fashion. No matter how hard one might try to avoid it, we're talking about two movies where space marines are creeping around dark, dank corridors and take every opportunity they can to split up and get picked off from the shadows and dragged to their screaming bloody ends. None of these characters or the jabronis who play them are good enough or deep enough to warrant any kind of interest, but that's nothing new. The only movie where the cannon fodder soldiers ever made any kind of connection with the audience was Predator, and to a lesser degree, Dog Soldiers.
Again, I wouldn't care about the disposable characters if the action was hot. DOOM commits its worst sin by being just plain boring. The writers made the poor decision to emulate the sub-standard game sequel DOOM 3 when they made the movie, which changed the gaming experience from extreme violence to paranoid pawing around in the dark, always looking for the creature that rather unfairly spawned behind you and is shredding your kidneys. It almost seems like a conscious attempt to purge all of the fun out of the genre when they change the enemies from Hellspawn demons to yawner Resident Evil mutants and zombies. Seeing The Rock brawling with demons in Hell might have been interesting, but they never leave the sterile steel insides of the research facility. It takes far, far too long for the action to pick up, and the climax isn't good enough to warrant 70 minutes of "slow-burn" style tension building.
The mutant monsters come from genetic experiments performed on Martian fossils. An ancient civilization built a magic portal between Earth and Mars deep beneath the ground (how did they find it?) for no easily explainable reason. My theory is that the Martian pizza companies pooled their resources and constructed the portal so they could deliver within 30 minutes, even to Earth. These Martians were much like us, but they developed an extra 24th chromosome that transformed some into super-cool guys, and others into clawed, slathering beasts. If the monsters don't like you (and they don't), they'll bite you on the neck and infect you with the extra chromosome, which turns you into a zombie, which turns you into a monster, which turns you into Jack Thompson. "But that's stupid!" you say, but the egghead scientist of the movie brushes off any criticism by saying "Ten percent of the human genome is unmapped. Some say...it's THE SOUL!!!"
"Wasn't the Human Genome Project completed years ago?" you ask incredulously. It is then that movie ushers escort you from the theater for talking to the screen. Don't worry, it's better this way; you're too smart for this movie. Take for instance that the marines actually do have flashlights attached to their weapons, but they always cease to function at the worst possible times. The lights in the science installation are minimal, and fail completely whenever monsters are about to attack. The marines carry gigantic guns around, only to have them jam after they fire three rounds. Trained soldiers abandon their posts to take a poop in the dark, filthy bathroom alone. The scientist merrily starts hacking into the corpses of slain monsters with no apparent scientific goal in mind, seeming completely unafraid despite the monsters' habit of repeatedly getting back up when killed. Dangerously heavy pressure doors that have no safety features and automatically slide shut, crushing any limb someone might accidentally have in the doorway at the time. Particularly lame is the introduction of the "nano-wall," a wall that turns incorporeal when a security code is entered, and solid again when a button is pushed. Of course, if you happen to be halfway through the nano-wall when someone closes it, you'll be instantly trapped and sliced in half. Why bother with nano-walls? Wouldn't it just be cheaper to put in a locked door? And why such a blatantly dangerous device? Any joker could accidentally stumble into the button and slice your leg off by mistake!
"Know your role and shut your mouth!" says The Rock, "It's time to layeth the smacketh down on some mutants' candy asses, if ya smeeeellllllll..." and then monsters attack everyone. The movie adds an artificial and contrived deadline to the action, too, just so we can watch a digital countdown and feel tense as it approaches 00:00:00. The facility is under a six-hour quarantine, and if The Rock doesn't kill all the monsters, then they'll shimmy up the elevator shaft into an unsuspecting Earth. Why six hours? I don't know. Maybe Rock wants to be sure he gets back home in time for Deadwood. The much-vaunted first-person shooter sequence isn't nearly as long as you'd think, and it's played more for laughs than thrills. It might have been an interesting experiment to attempt the entire movie in this perspective instead of a marketing gimmick. It probably wouldn't have worked, but it would have been very Doomish. DOOM settles for creeping around inside a giant Ridley Scott cliché machine, watching bad actors play Indian Poker with their character traits amidst steaming pipes, backlit industrial fans, and miles of steel grating.
There's better ways to spend your time and money. I think that's the one good thing DOOM made me realize: how much fun I had playing those old games, and it's not difficult to revisit them. You can buy the old DOOM games on CD-ROM now, and it can't cost you more than ten bucks. I'd personally suggest Half-Life 2 over DOOM 3, but there's no shortage of good shooters on the market. There's even a DOOM board game now, and let's not forget one of my favorites, FRAG by Steve Jackson Games. I'm one of the best FRAG players you'll ever see, and it's all because of this one secret: Always pick on the idiot who puts only one point in Health. With 1 HP, a swift breeze will gib a player all over the place. Whatever you do, crank up some loud devil music and get to fraggin', and you'll have a better time than sitting in a theater watching Karl Urban strafe around corners looking for a quad-damage rune. Find that old Quake disk. Look around for your copy of Duke Nukem 3D and show those pigs that nobody steals our chicks...and lives.
That's an idea, Duke Nukem: The Movie. I'm thinking Stone Cold Steve Austin. What?
All images blatantly stolen from a terrific RottenTomatoes Photoshop contest. Unfortunately I don't have the creators' names, so if you'd like to take credit for your work, e-mail me and I'll make sure your work is recognized.