'Doom' and gloom

This silly adaptation of an electronic classic doesn't rise to the entertainment - or intellectual - level of the game.

Published October 21, 2005

The easy thing would be to brush off the latest video-game movie adaptation Doom as another piece of fluff. But that would be missing the point.

The point is, Hollywood is missing the point.

By adapting Doom to film, Hollywood is taking on the video game that changed entertainment and sparked a revolution that challenges movies for billions in discretionary spending. According to some news reports, video gaming is a $10-billion a year industry, topping or nearly topping movie box office revenue. And more than any other game, id Software's Doom led to modern gaming.

Introduced in 1993 as "shareware," downloaded free to millions diving into the Internet on dial-up connections, Doom put players in the game with a perspective that came to be known as "first-person shooter." Incorporating breakthroughs in mapping, graphics and stereo sound, Doom deposited players in a scientific outpost on a faraway planet overrun by demons escaped from hell through a portal scientists opened by mistake.

Gamers explored tunnels, listening for monsters in adjacent rooms, spinning just in time to catch a demon creeping up behind. It was all very spooky, all very surreal, all very complex.

Enter Doom, the movie. All very stupid.

David Callaham, who wrote the screenplay, was 15 when the game burst on the scene. One would think he might have played it, at least once, and would understand why it was important.

Callaham seems to think people still play Pong. His one nod to the first-person shooter comes way too late in the film and lasts only a few minutes - the best few minutes of the movie.

Starring Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson as a Marine Corps sergeant of the future, Doom sends a squad of Marines to a scientific base on Mars to uncover what is terrorizing the crew. Callaham decides the demons are within us, released by scientists tinkering with a 24th chromosome (found on the base in clear vials cleverly marked "Chromosome 24").

What's so insulting is the lack of respect for viewers. One Marine is even nicknamed "the Kid." That's his official military nickname. Seriously, because he's the youngest. Never mind that supposedly super-dedicated "Sarge" (played by the Rock) calls his men "soldiers" repeatedly, something no real Marine would ever do (members of the Marine Corps are called "Marines."). And never mind that Marines of the future don't wear helmets, ever, even though they keep getting bonked over the head by monsters.

And never mind that the squad's military operations are based on the tactics of Mystery Inc.: "Shaggy, you and Scooby go down that hall while Daphne and I check the attic."


Doom's plot is thin and tired. The potential for good scares is ruined by the clumsy lack of suspense and reliance on the "cat jumps out of the air duct" trick from Alien. The potential for quality horror is lost in an ocean of fake blood and rubber limbs. The potential for solid action is obliterated by bad lighting that reduces firefights to flashlights-in-the-dark.

And then, at the end, our hero, John "Reaper" Grimm (Karl Urban), drops his gun to fight hand to hand with Sarge after he mutates into a monster. With no prior notice, filmmakers turn to spinning combat lifted from The Matrix. Huh?

Video gamers are not stupid. Modern games challenge them intellectually with plots and tactics that are deep and interwoven. Doom, the movie, misses that. Nothing in the film makes sense, and nothing is clear.

Except that Hollywood will continue to lose ground to video games that don't treat gamers like mushrooms.

Chase Squires can be reached at 727 893-8739 or squires@sptimes.com His blog is www.sptimes.com/blogs/tv

Grade: F

Director: Andrzej Bartkowiak

Cast: Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson, Karl Urban, Rosamund Pike, Raz Adoti, Al Weaver, DeObia Oparei, Richard Brake, Yao Chin, and Ben Daniels

Screenplay: David Callaham and Wesley Strick

Rating: R; gore, language

Running time: 100 min.