Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
November 2005

Stick to the console: Doom fails to buck video-game trend

Doom
Universal Pictures
Director: Andrzej Bartkowiak
Screenplay: Dave Callahan and Wesley Strick, based on the video game
Starring: The Rock, Karl Urban, Rosamund Pike, Raz Adoti, Richard Brake, Ben Daniels and Dexter Fletcher
Rated R/1 hour, 40 minutes
Opened Oct. 21, 2005
(out of four)

I'll resist making the tempting 'doom' pun on the almost-inevitable fate of the screen adaptation of Doom--the near-legendary video game that helped popularize the first-person shooter genre--but the film's failure shouldn't come as much of a surprise to anyone. The simple truth is that console-to-celluloid adaptations almost always fail.

I'll be honest: I had hope for this one. I wanted it to work. As a teenager, I spent many a late night at my cousin Geoff's house feeding my addiction to computer-generated carnage. But more important than that, the movie adaptation stars The Rock, not only one of the most engaging and exciting action-movie stars on the planet, but a decent actor to boot (see his delightful The Rundown for evidence of such).

But even he can't save Doom from the generic entrapments of just about all other movies of its kind.

Fans of the game surely already know of the plot--it takes place on a "remote research facility" on Mars where all hell has broken loose thanks to a genetic experiment gown awry. Sarge (The Rock) leads the typical ragtag group of military officers--including the obligatory young'un, The Kid (Al Weaver), the tortured hero, John Grimm (Karl Urban) and a team of grizzled vets who have seen it all before.

Or at least they thought they had. They've never seen anything like this--enormous, gargantuan beasts whose sole purpose, it seems, is to try to kill every human in sight, thus giving our boys an opportunity to show off their impressive weaponry. Hey, that sounds like a video game.

And, of course, there's also the lone female character, Samantha Grimm (Rosamund Pike), John's estranged sister and scientist whose jobs are to, A) explain all the scientific jargon to the military officers; B) be really hot; and C) act scared. Bravo, Rosamund.

For months, many video-game purists have bemoaned the fact that the creatures aren't from hell, as they were in the game, but instead are the tragic result of a bad science project. I can't say I speak for any of them, but the fact is it doesn't really matter--the creatures are there, and Sarge, John and Co. are supposed to kill them, regardless of their origins. End of story.

The reason I mention this is because the film's greatest success is the creatures themselves. Instead of relying on weightless CGI technology to create the beasts--which is always the cheap studio cop-out these days--the creatures are made from scratch. And thanks to the artistic genius of Stan Winston Studios (The "Terminator" franchise, "Aliens," "Jurassic Park") and the creativity of Carlo Poggioli and talented art and makeup departments, the monsters are way more menacing than anything computers can create.

Director Andrzej Bartkowiak also does the right thing by not letting the characters--or the audience--see too much of their adversaries. They exist in shadows, behind dark corners.

Which makes it all the more unfortunate that the movie doesn't really work. The Rock is always entertaining despite being forced to recite some dreadful dialogue, and I, for one, was a huge fan of the first-person shooter sequence.

But the fact is...well, the movie's just boring. It takes a long time to develop, which might be fine if the writing was any good, but it isn't. The action scenes aren't particularly well-choreographed, few of The Rock's castmates have any screen presence to speak of, the plot stinks and Bartkowiak never creates any sense of dread or tension that might really have made the movie work.

Just once, I'd love to see a studio try to go after a talented filmmaking team to make a video-game adaptation. Sure, most probably wouldn't go for it, and for good reason. But I'm sure there are a few solid action directors out there who might give it a try. Bartkowiak ("Romeo Must Die," "Cradle 2 the Grave," "Exit Wounds) is a better cinematographer than director, and he should stick to that.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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