Directed by: Andrzej Bartkowiak
Written by: Dave Callaham, Wesley Strick
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Karl Urban, Rosamund Pike
Released: 2005 / Genre: Science-fiction/Horror / Country: USA / IMDB
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In one of the great self-reflexive moments of Kevin Smith’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Ben Affleck tells Matt Damon: “You gotta do a safe picture, then you can do an art picture. But then sometimes you gotta do the paycheck picture because your friend says you owe him.” It’s a great little moment in a great little movie, and fittingly, describes the sentiments of Rosamund Pike who turns up in Doom surely because she either has bills to pay or she owes a friend. The Libertine, Pride And Prejudice, and the Devil You Know actress surely knew what a mess she was getting herself into when she read Callahan and Strick’s script. I’ll just backtrack for a second – did I just say it took two people to write this awful film – I think I did.
Essentially, Doom is like a high-budget TV movie with nothing resembling conflict, characterisation, or originality. Any videogame conversion to the big-screen can be forgiven for a lack of original material but the film struggles to find any conflict within its rocket-scientist mumbo-jumbo and over-complicated plotting. For a film that concerns a group of combat marines going into battle (after a distant planet issues a distress call), you’d expect a certain amount of tension, but director Bartkowiak seems either unable or unwilling.
There’s a silly moment when The Rock tells his marines “it’s game time” as they exit a helicopter to go into a building. The marines check the area for danger as an elevator opens with the audience half expecting something nasty to appear. Alas, it doesn’t and the men enter the elevator. Danger must surely be close? Not exactly, as the marines find their floor, we learn they’ve entered a building that acts, much like an airport, and transports them to the planet that needs their assistance. Essentially, they’re at a futuristic airport. So, we wonder, why all the gun-ready, macho-posturing as they first got into the elevator, because there was no danger whatsoever. Retrospectively, it’s laughable, as you could see the Wayans brothers or the Zucker’s using such a gag as parody, not serious, supposedly tension-building drama. In fact, I countered at least three false starts for The Rock and his gang of idiots before they face any real danger. By then, I’d switched off and began reading my own palm, which is hard to do in the dark, and made even more difficult by the fact I have no clue how to read palms.
Fundamentally, Doom is a complete failure because it doesn’t do the one thing it should. That is, to offer exciting and dramatic action, underscored by a relevant and overpowering threat. You think about the films it wants to be – Aliens and Predator – and they both had what was required in abundance. In Aliens, even before the marines face any direct threat, tension is created because they go to a planet they and the audience know could be populated by evil, unstoppable monsters. The fact that when they initially get there, everyone on the planet has disappeared, heightens this level of suspense (What happened? Why? Where are all the people?). The soldiers are faced with desolate corridors, artificial lighting beginning to fade, and the obvious signs of struggle, a last stand. Likewise, in Predator, when the soldiers find another slain group of marines, they begin to question what exactly they are up against. Can they defeat an enemy another group of soldiers could not? Both these scenes appear well before any proper combat and yet the audience is left excited in anticipation. Doom is far too confused in its pedestrian-paced build-up and makes the mistake of trying to align itself with far better films.
Perhaps, the film’s main problem is Bartkowiak, a cinematographer-turned-director, whose credits at the helm include Romeo Must Die and the Steven Seagal film Exit Wounds. He paints Doom in stylish blacks and greys, with futuristic colour flourishes, and doesn’t allow himself to show too much of the excellent production design, wisely keeping it in shadow. Yet, his control of off-screen space is less refined. He struggles to focus our attention as the messy plot sees caricature, paper-thin characters scatter all over the place. Bartkowiak doesn’t know whether to stick or twist, and we’re left with a languid pace that meanders on a very confused course. He draws too much on what other filmmakers have done before, and can’t overcome the cliched script with its uninventive plot and awful dialogue. The film is also devoid of humour, something that has certainly helped other videogame and especially comic book adaptations.
Maybe I went into the film with higher expectations than I should have had. I didn’t expect an especially great action film, but I did expect a sense of adventure. When Bartkowiak goes to Doom-vision (filming the shot in much the same way as the game is played in first person perspective) I felt it was inspired. At the very least it celebrated the film’s roots, and gave the videogame fans something intrinsic to enjoy. It was also a very good piece of filmmaking (but arrives far too late in the movie), probably attributed to Bartkowiak’s cinematographic background, as he uses fast-paced edits and a claustrophobic mise-en-scene to place the audience directly into the action with danger all around. Yet, unfortunately, it’s one bright spot in a great expanse of humourless, tensionless black. Doom is uninspired, big-budget Hollywood. Where have we heard that before?
Review by Daniel Stephens – See all reviews