There’s a comment to be made somewhere about the fact that there are almost as many movies based on video games in production as there are literary adaptations (not counting Jane Austen, who – like Tupac Shakur – continues to generate output from beyond the grave). Designers have been churning out games based on popular films for years, but it’s only been in the last decade or so that game-to-movie efforts became big budget efforts starring someone other than John Leguizamo or Christopher Lambert. Then again, as anyone who’s sat through the likes of “Alone in the Dark” or “House of the Dead” can tell you, that doesn’t mean much. The latest of these efforts, “Doom,” isn’t going to revolutionize the genre. “Doom” doesn’t break any new ground – it actually steals from half a dozen other sci-fi movies – but it’ll make enough at the box office to justify further game flicks.
In the movie, which takes place in a “not too distant future” (though if current space travel events are any indication, maybe all of the main characters should have been Chinese), something has gone awry at the Olduvai Research Station on Mars. Something called the Union Aerospace Corporation had been conducting archeological research there, and now they’ve lost contact with one of their science teams. It’s up to the Marines’ Rapid Response Tactical Squad to go there and sort things out, hopefully with lots of explosions and messy disembowelments.
The RRTS is made up of the usual multicultural, shallow-as-a-wading-pool suspects: Sarge (The Rock) is the steely-eyed squad leader, while Reaper (Karl Urban) is the Brooding Killing Machine with a Past. There’s also a psychotic Bible thumper, a pervert, the inscrutable Japanese guy, and two black dudes – one a stoic badass, the other a jive-talking pussy hound. Fascinating, I know, but let’s not forget that “Doom” wasn’t exactly a video game that focused on character development (the movie, in fact, would’ve been more accurate if it only had one guy). Knowing that the majority of these dudes are demon food tends to take the edge off any artistic outrage.
Once the Marines arrive, all Hell breaks loose, right? Not exactly. Sarge and company spend a good chunk of the movie early on checking out the research station and hearing spooky noises. However, unlike the original video game or the movie “Doom” is most actively ripping off (“Aliens”), when the monsters finally do make their appearance we aren’t treated to nonstop Marine-on-demon action. First we have to figure out what the scientists were really up to at the dig site, then decisions have to be made about how to deal with the possibility of the monsters making it back to Earth (via something called The Ark, which reminded me of nothing so much as the transporter technology in “Galaxy Quest”). By the time we get to the “thrilling” climax, it’s hard to ignore the fact that we’ve only seen about half a dozen actual monsters and a smattering of mutated humans.
The “first person shooter” perspective, so prematurely maligned (by yours truly, as well as others) actually isn’t as bad as you might have heard. That it’s used at all speaks more the legitimacy of using games as source material than any sort of technical innovation. After all, watching the character shoot demons and reload (while your fingers twitch in muscle memory) sort of brings the association out into the open. It doesn’t entirely work, but the way it’s used is understandable given the context of the scene, which only lasts about five minutes anyway. No, the reason “Doom” disappoints is not because of gimmicky camera tricks or even its predictable nü-metal soundtrack, but because it’s dull. There’s a minor plot twist towards the end, and some amusing gore, but in the end I wanted to ask everyone involved: if you’re going to make a video game adaptation this boring, why not just call it “Myst” and be done with it?