Genre: Action, Adventure, Horror
Director: Andrzej Bartkowiak
Screenwriters: Dave Callaham, Wesley Strick
Starring: Karl Urban, Rosamund Pike, Dwayne Johnson
So, let’s see: the prominent film adaptations of video games have thus far been entrusted to filmmakers like Paul W.S. Anderson, Uwe Boll, and now Andrzej Bartkowiak, who makes this his first project not starring Jet Li or Steven Seagal. The most reputable director to have been assigned to a video game adaptation to date is probably, uh, Simon West, who at least made Lara Croft: Tomb Raider watchable (the sequel was given to Jan de Bont, who utterly screwed it up). At the lower end of the scale we have Boll, whose versions of House of the Dead and Alone in the Dark have already earned him a nigh legendary reputation for Ed Wood-like incompetence. Falling somewhere in between are guys like Anderson and Bartkowiak, who’ve tended to exhibit only a mild ineptitude combined with a uniform lack of inspiration.
Why is that? Would it be prohibitively expensive to get a skilled hired gun to turn one of these movies into something competent? God knows, there are plenty of them floating around. Because, you see, I look at a movie like Doom, and I try hard to like it; this time around, there are even a number of reasons for me to give it the benefit of the doubt. But I resist, and soon I realize why: this is not a well-made film. It has its strengths, but it’s clunky, awkward, and repetitive every step of the way.
On the other hand, it has its strengths. This may be surprising to those who expected a debacle of the magnitude Uwe Boll would be proud of, but it’s true. Even more surprisingly, one of those strengths is the script, which isn’t uniformly praiseworthy but goes in a few directions I wasn’t expecting, doing a minor about-face about two-thirds of the way through that nicely confounds some of what we thought about the movie and its star.
That star is The Rock, who remains a reliable action hero with an utter inability to choose projects. I cannot think of a Rock performance I’ve disliked, but I’m also sure that he doesn’t have a single bona fide good movie on his resume. I liked him again here; his character has to undergo a rather well-written transformation that is logical, kind of sneaky, and founded on the way the character is initially set up. The Rock is up to the task; pay attention to the way he delivers the macho, archetypical military dialogue he is given, barking words like “soldier” and “men,” and then watch what the movie does with that.
What I hinted at in the last paragraph is far and away Doom‘s greatest pleasure. The rest of the film fails, by and large, because it is founded on a series of action and suspense set pieces that just don’t measure up. We get endless, monotonous sequences of the characters wandering through dimply lit corridors and dank sewers, to the point where it’s easy to forget that they are on Mars, and surely there are more interesting things to show us than this. Bartkowiak gets off a few decent jump moments, but never quite taps into the terror of the scenario which, in any case, has been mined in countless better movies, some of them with the word Alien in the title.
What some will view as the film’s crowning achievement is the extended first-person action montage, emulating the format of the video game. On its own merits, the scene is pretty cool; the animation is impressive, and I enjoyed watching an action sequence filmed from that perspective. In the context of the rest of the film, it is abrupt, not terribly well-integrated, and it doesn’t add much. At least they’re trying for something, I suppose, but it is also clear that this was a gimmick someone thought of beforehand and then simply inserted at a more or less arbitrary point.
I must insist, in the end, that Doom is well above average in its sub-genre. A good director could have made a coherent whole of everything here that is good, and fixed, or at least mitigated, all that is bad. Perhaps, with the built-in brand names of the video games, producers think that they can skimp on talent. When the movie winds up a disaster, I really couldn’t care less, but these near-misses are a shame.