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“You paid money for that?” Doom (2005)

November 15, 2010

(Warning: this post is long and image-heavy)

Occasionally, someone will be flipping through my DVD collection and, pausing at something, will look at me incredulously, and ask, “You own this?” They’re pointing to something like Underworld or The Order and I am forced to think up a reasonable-sounding defense for myself on the spot. Usually, it’s something like “Oh, I got it because so and so is in it.” “Oh, there’s this one scene that is awesome.” Or, if it’s something really indefensible (Bandidas, Johnny Mnemonic) I can usually get away with saying either “It was only $1” or “I was drunk.”

So, in an effort to come to grips for my deep well of affection for horrible cinematic shit, I’m starting a new series on this blog called “You paid money for that?” In each installment, I will visit one of those films in my collection of nearly 170 movies (some of them on multiple discs!) that causes strangers to think I have no taste. Maybe, by working through what I like about these movies, I can either move on or come up with a better in-the-moment defense of myself. I don’t know if these will be biweekly or what; probably less often, since I am the Laziest Girl In Town.*

For the first installment in this series, I’m going to look at Doom, the 2005 cinematic adaptation of the (apparently) insanely popular first-person shooter video game. It stars wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Karl Urban, and Rosamund Pike, and was directed by Andrzej Bartkiowak. Bartkiowak’s other directorial credits include Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li and Romeo Must Die. To his actual credit, he was Director of Photography on the good volcano movie of 1997, Dante’s Peak, and worked with Actual Fancy Director Sidney Lumet on a lot of movies. I am sure that the genesis for this movie came about like any other game/action figure adaptation: a bunch of marketing executives sitting around, talking about what The Kids like these days and trying to capitalize on it.

Marketing Executive A: You know what the kids like these days? First person shooter games.
Marketing Executive B: And WWE’s The Rock, aka Dwayne Johnson.
Marketing Executive C: Let us combine these two things the kids like into one mammoth cash making cinematic event! And let’s hire the DP of Terms of Endearment!
Marketing Executive A: We’re brilliant! Let’s go do some coke.

At any rate, Doom hit theaters in 2005 and promptly set itself on fire, making only about $28 million in the domestic box office and $26 million internationally, for a grand total gross of about $54 million. Considering that Doom cost almost $70 million to make (although none of that was spent on lighting, as you will see later), that pretty much counts as a flop. $15 million of its total domestic gross were made in the first week in theaters; look at what beat it out the next week:

In case you can’t read that, both The Legend of Zorro and Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story beat Doom in its second week. Ouch.

So, why do I own it? Truth be told, I didn’t actually pay money for this one. I’m fairly sure this was a freebin find during college, mint-in-package. Clearly someone either bought it or was given it and thought to themselves “Why the eff would I want to own a movie adaptation of a videogame starring The Rock?” Luckily, I did not ask myself this question and I took it home and cherished it. I held onto it all throughout college and throughout about six more moves, which is a pretty big sign of devotion. It’s one of my go-to “stupid action movies,” something to watch with lots of gunfire and explosions while I’m doing something else. And upon closer inspection, it is terribly, abjectly, almost uniformly bad.

The plot, such as it is: sometime In The Future, scientists discover a portal in the Nevada Desert that leads to an abandoned, hidden civilization on Mars. A research station is set up and Sciency Things commence. Some years later, we see the research staff running away from a nameless, faceless terror down a dark corridor. A scientists makes a distress call, and the Marines are brought in. Now, it is comforting to know that in this future America still exists and that the armed forces are still In Demand, but– I digress. The marine unit in question was just about to go on leave before getting called up for this particular bug hunt, and is comprised of all the most stereotypical military cliches one can imagine: there’s the tough-as-nails sargeant (Sarge), the Jesus freak (Goat), the glib black guy (Duke), the thoughtful black guy (Destroyer), the creepy pedo (Portman), the rookie (The Kid), the Silent Asian (Mac), the Soldier with the Troubled Past & Possible Connection to Mars, Grimm . They set off through the Ark (the portal thingie) and, after hooking up with Grimm’s long lost sister, who is the Hot Research Scientist in Charge, start hunting stuff down. All connection with the rest of the facility on lockdown has been lost, yadda yadda. When things get going it becomes evident that the original residents of the Martian compound had evolved to be super strong, super intelligent, etc, but that in a small subset of the population this evolution caused them to mutate and get crazy violent. One of their group turns into an evil mutant, another gets the benevolent superpower version, and in the end,  only Grimm and his Hot Sister survive. (Spoiler alert!)

I screencapped the shit out of this movie so that I could do a full rundown of the many things that are stupid about it, but that would make this post so insanely image heavy that only the most powerful of servers would be able to load it in a reasonable amount of time. For now, though, I would like to go through the things I think make a good action movie, and then demonstrate how completely Doom fails to deliver.

First, the characters, especially the hero, have to be moderately interesting. John McClane is interesting. Rick from The Mummy is interesting. Indiana Jones is interesting. Grimm, who is the nominal hero of Doom, is a cliche in a flak jacket. Other than a few grimacing looks, there is no indication that he has any kind of interior life–the writing doesn’t give him any.

Second, the writing has to have at least a modicum of nuance. In Doom, the audience is asked to get invested in the tension between the two siblings, Grimm and his sister Samantha. She stayed behind to continue working on Mars after their parents died; he became a grunt. And yet, their dialogue together is always stuff like this:

Grimm: My molecular biology is a little rusty.
Samantha: Does it ever bother you that you could have spent your life looking through a microscope instead of a sniper scope?

Ugh. Ugh. At other points, when she’s trying to describe the genetic mutation that is causing their comrades to turn into ravening beasts, he basically says “It’s not this valid scientific explanation! Its this PLACE! It’s hell, it always has been!” You’re also supposed to care about the marines getting killed. But with lines like “Semper Fi, motherfucker,” you’re kind of actively hoping for their destruction.

In short, dialogue like this doesn’t make you give a shit about what’s going on onscreen. It’s cringeworthy. If I were a big fan of Doom the videogame, and I had seen Doom the movie the first week it came out, I would have said to a buddy who asked me if it was any good “Meh, it was kind of stupid, and also I couldn’t see anything.”

Which brings me to the third quality, and this is the most basic: you have to be able to actually see what’s going on. Doom is literally so dark that it’s hard to see what is going on. People walk down hallways and you can only tell because of the sound of footsteps. Here is a screencap by way of an illustration:

What, they don’t have good lighting in the future? We can build a base on Mars but can’t light the corridors? ALL the interior shots are like this, especially once they get up into the facility. Even when Important Things are happening, such as Grimm’s development of superpowers & the subsequent commencement of the first person shooter sequence, or the discovery of Sarge’s evolution into SuperEvilSarge, happen in half-darkness.

This is the brightest this movie ever gets, pretty much.

People’s faces bob in and out of shadow, you can’t really tell what’s happening, and most of the time I had no idea where they even were. You shouldn’t cast Karl Urban and then cover him the fuck up the entire movie long.

So I guess it helps that Doom was so poorly lit that I couldn’t tell what kind of terrible acting was going on onscreen. Rosamund Pike, bless her heart, is British, and was doing her best Generic American Accent without much success. Karl Urban was glowering as best he could. And the Rock- the Rock, bless his heart, was doing his best Tough Face, although there were moments where his Tough Face was being overshadowed by his bronzer:


Setting aside the minutiae, Doom was ludicrous from beginning to end. There was simultaneously too much and too little going on, and because of the terrible lighting I couldn’t tell what was going on anyway. The dialogue was a joke. The acting was ludicrous. So, why do I own it? Why do I hold on to it? For some movies, like the aforementioned Mummy, I keep precisely because their plot and dialogue are ludicrous. But somehow with The Mummy, lines like “Save the girl! Kill the creature!” strike me as endlessly awesome while things like “You don’t shield a baby from time” make me want to punch my TV.

So, will I be watching Doom again? Probably not, at least not in the near future. There is some entertainment value in watching The Rock attempt to act. And since the movie is all sound, it’s perfect background noise. That’s not a good thing to be said about any movie.


*Complete with theme song.
2 Comments leave one →
  1. Ted permalink
    November 20, 2010 12:32 am

    If you write a long blog post about how you have an affection for cinematic garbage and you haven’t seen GYMKATA yet, I’m going to punch you in the face.

  2. November 21, 2010 1:56 am

    Thanks ted. love these casual threats of violence over the worst film has to offer.


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