Doom: Unrated Extended Edition DVD Review

Written by Eric Strauss

DVD released by Universal Home Video

“Tell me you didn’t let a fine-looking piece of ass like that get away from you, Reaper.”

 “She’s my sister.”

Directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak
Written by David Callaham and Wesley Strick
2005, Region 1 (NTSC), 113 minutes, Unrated

Starring:
Karl Urban as John Grimm
Rosamund Pike as Samantha Grimm
Raz Adoti as Duke
and The Rock as Sarge

Review:

Movies based on computer and video games have one inherent problem: There is often not enough plot to go around, meaning the film must depend on a script that fleshes out its thin world.

And, plot-wise, few video games are as thin as a first-person shooter.

But few are as popular, so it was probably inevitable that the mother of all “FPS” games, “Doom,” would eventually be made into a movie.

The trouble with this box-office flop is, of course, the fleshing-out went about as smoothly as the experiment in genetics that set the whole film in motion.

By “experiment in genetics,” I’m not talking about former professional wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, the biggest name in the cast. But it is the Rock upon whom the film often rests. And as anyone who has seen his underrated performances in films such as Walking Tall and The Rundown knows, that’s not a bad thing.

That’s because, while the Rock may never be confused with Sir Laurence Olivier — or even the steady Karl Urban, his co-star — he has an undeniable charisma that easily endears him to fans. There’s a reason he was dubbed “the People’s Champion” back when he was the future of World Wrestling Entertainment.

Frankly, as an actor (and that’s what a professional wrestling star is, in many ways), he puts one-note martial artists like Jean-Claude Van Damme to shame. How the Rock measures up to the granddaddy of all unlikely action stars, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is probably a matter of preference, experience and script choice (edge: the Governator), but it’s not out of the question that he could one day be that kind of fan favorite.

 

As evidence of his acting ambitions, reports mentioned he was offered the lead role of John “Reaper” Grimm — eventually played by Urban (The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Ghost Ship) — but chose instead the role of “Sarge” because he felt it was the more interesting part.

 

Unfortunately, that’s where the script lets the Rock, and the movie, down.

 

Because after 90 minutes of entertaining, if by-the-numbers, action horror, Sarge’s personality doesn’t evolve so much as it takes a 180-degree turn, and the unexpected and abrupt character transition heralds Doom’s descent from shallow entertainment into cartoonish cliché.

 

It’s a fine line, to be sure. “Doom,” the game, had a simple plot: You’re some kind of soldier, sent to Mars to kill some kind of monster. You run around a dark building, shooting things. And Doom, the movie, follows in its footsteps: A team of “rapid response” Marines is sent to Mars after some kind of containment breach, with strict orders to find missing scientists and kill whatever it is they let loose — only to find they may be in way over their heads.

 

 

The movie’s Marines are a mix of familiar one-note archetypes and bipolar now-I’m-this-now-I’m-that confusion. (Sarge isn’t the only character mishandled this way, which to me points the finger at writers David Callaham and Wesley Strick, not the Rock’s acting talent or any lack thereof.)

 

Speaking of the Rock’s acting talent or lack thereof, to their credit, the filmmakers don’t make the mistake of surrounding him with vastly superior performers, allowing their headliner to stand out. But that’s not to say they didn’t fill Doom with solid actors.

 

Urban and former Bond Girl Rosamund Pike (Die Another Day) are low-key, but undoubtedly the most polished as the leads, giving the cast a solid core. And, unlike another lovely former Bond Girl, Denise Richards, Pike does not seem the least bit out of place playing a scientist.

 

But it’s role-players Raz Adoti (Resident Evil: Apocalypse), as the grinning horn-dog Duke, and Richard Brake (Batman Begins), as the leering pervert Portman, who darn near steal the show — they’re the comic relief, and they get the best lines. The rest of the team is solid, but young Al Weaver, playing the appropriately nicknamed “Kid,” is saddled with another mood-swinging character, and should be singled out for handling it well.

 

 

 

As with any action horror movie — particularly one based on a “shooter” — the guns, monsters and cinematography often take center stage, and Doom comes through on all three counts. Weapons and villains are mean-looking, realistic and distinctive.

 

And the fight sequences range from the near-comical to the downright brutal, while director Andrzej Bartkowiak and his crew usually avoid the too-quick cuts that have plagued many recent actioners.

 

The highlight for “Doom” fans will undoubtedly be a five-minute sequence near the climax of the film that is shot in over-the-shoulder first-person, effectively and entertainingly mimicking the game as one of the Marines blasts his way through a military complex in true “search and destroy” fashion.

 

Of course, that’s sandwiched by Sarge’s character meltdown and the ridiculously over-the-top ending brawl. But after enjoying so much of the film, it was nice to see the filmmakers take such a risk, even as the movie came apart around it.

 

Why Doom was a disaster in its theatrical run is anybody’s guess. It had not one, but two built-in fan bases — the game’s and the Rock’s — and it is certainly no worse than a typical action film. In fact, it’s got a better cast than most, and more money and polish. Yes, it’s flawed, but they’re not fatal flaws. I suspect this is a movie that, like many recent run-and-shoot flicks, will wind up in plenty of DVD collections. Two months after its release, it’s already a lot closer to the top of some online sales charts than it ever was to the top of the box office.

 

 

Video and Audio:

 

The anamorphic widescreen image is generally excellent, as befitting a very recent film. It’s a dark, dark movie, and blacks are solid and images remain sharp and clear at almost all times. The only flaws are some occasional softness and the presence of some faint grain in the backgrounds of several of the darkest, smokiest scenes. Disappointing, considering the general quality, but likely a fault of the source material — no compression issues are noticeable at all.

 

 

Typical of an ultra-modern action film, the Dolby Digital 5.1 track is superb. Doom hits all the marks on volume levels and dialogue clarity, and the surrounds are well-used for both the multitude of gun battles and the general atmosphere.

 

French and Spanish 5.1 tracks are also available, as are English closed captions and French and Spanish subtitles.

 

 

Special Features:

 

The extra features consist of six featurettes that add up to nearly an hour of runtime. Although Doom doesn’t get special-edition treatment — undoubtedly due to its poor theatrical showing — the extra footage in any “unrated” blood-and-guts shooter is almost a special feature unto itself, and Doom has 12 minutes of it.

 

If the highlight of the film for fans is the FPS scene, the highlight among the special features will probably be the inside look at that “First-Person Shooter Sequence.” The creation was every bit as challenging as you would think, and the featurette, every bit as interesting. The featurette is followed by what’s implied is the “full” sequence, but it mirrors the one in the extended version of the film. Oddly, this featurette is exclusive to the unrated DVD, so it’s not like the sequence is there to show buyers of the theatrical version what they missed. Still, it’s nice to be able to see the scene right with the featurette, and not have to try to remember back to the film.

 

“Basic Training” is Doom’s version of the latest trendy action-film featurette: A look at the training several of the actors went through so they would move and fire guns look like genuine soldiers. I enjoy these training clips, and this one — featuring a British commando-turned-technical adviser — is no exception.

 

Two of the clips cover the film’s makeup effects: “Rock Formation” is a short look at the techniques used to transform the Rock’s face for one crucial scene. “Master Monster Makers” is more wide-ranging, covering the movie’s “imp” and “hell knight” monsters and how they were created — a challenge, given that the full-body suits were based on popular game creatures. And it’s nice to get a look at the monsters under good light; it really shows off the effects artists’ hard work, which isn’t always so apparent in a low-light film. (Define irony: Many of the monsters that began life as pixels in a computer game were not created with CGI.)

 

 

“‘Doom’ Nation” is the longest featurette, nearly 15 minutes long, and covers the phenomenon that is the computer- and video-game series. It’s a nice look at the classic games that inspired the movie, which went from cult hits to cultural icons — imagine, historical perspective for a shallow popcorn film! (It should be said that, to the featurette’s credit, even though I’m nowhere near a hardcore “Doom” player, I found it quite interesting.)

 

If “‘Doom’ Nation” suggests the DVD is aimed squarely at fans and/or potential buyers of the game, “Game On!” makes that completely clear. It’s seven shallow, but funny, minutes of basic tips for “Doom 3,” the game’s latest incarnation. Xbox owners can go yet another step further, since there’s a “Doom 3” demo included.

 

One gripe from a DVD standpoint: Doom continues the disappointing trend of lacking the movie’s theatrical trailer.

 

 

Grades:

 

 
Movie: 3 Stars – Unquestionably entertaining popcorn action. But the film’s shaky writing gets a little too out of control for its own good.
Video: 4 Stars – Honestly, Doom’s lack of consistency is more of a psychological detriment than a visual one.
Audio: 5 Stars – To describe a Marine movie with an Army phrase, the soundtrack is all that it can be.
Features: 2.5 Stars – Several capable and interesting featurettes, but that’s all — and that’s a little underwhelming in this day and age.
Overall: 3 Stars – Unlike the game, it’s tough to cite anything that elevates the Doom movie from the pack, but guns-and-guts fans should give it a try — they’ll be pleasantly surprised.

 

 

 

Conclusion:

 

Doom got a bad rap when it was released, and it died quickly. But that fate seems a bit unfair — it’s easy to focus on what Doom isn’t. It isn’t very deep, it isn’t very well written, most of it isn’t anything action horror fans haven’t seen before. But Doom has several good things going for it — first and foremost, the Rock and his castmates. And for the most part, the film does what it sets out to do — entertain fans, with big weapons and bigger monsters.

 

 

(Weapons of Choice: Mitsubishi 1080 series 42” TV, Sony DVP-CX995V DVD player, Bose Lifestyle 25 Series II speakers and, in certain situations, Panasonic 27” TV, Panasonic A110 DVD player and Bose TriPort headphones.)

 

Want to comment on this review? Head over to the Horrortalk Review Forum.

 



© 2006 HorrorTalk.com. No use of this review is permitted without expressed permission from HorrorTalk.com.

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