Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

Twenty years after a portal was discovered in the Nevada desert, leading to an ancient city on Mars, there has been an incident at the Olduvai Research Station, built over the Martian archaeological site. A small squad of Special Ops marines, led by the overly zealous Sarge (Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson), is sent in to seal off the area and secure the laboratory's data. Marine John "Reaper" Grimm (Karl Urban) tags along, hoping to exorcise ghosts from his past and be reunited with his sister Samantha (Rosamund Pike), a biologist working at Olduvai.

As the Marines search the quarantined facility for any signs of life, something nasty and not quite human awaits them in the darkened corridors. It soon becomes clear that there has been more than mere archaeological work going on at Olduvai and the Marines must face monsters that lurk, not only in the shadows, but also in themselves.

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Although this film is set in the year 2046, anyone expecting a Wong Kar-wai retro-futurist meditation on time, memory and melancholy is bound to be disappointed (and not a little confused). Andrzej Barthowiak's Doom has all (which is to say none) of the subtlety of the absurdly addictive demon-slaying computer game, upon which it is based.

Id Software's Doom first appeared way back in 1993, launching a whole new genre in immersive gaming, the so-called First Person Shooter, in which players see everything from the point of view of the soldier whose moves they control. This may have been a gaming experience of unusually intense immediacy, but anyone who has ever had to wait their turn to play knows how unengaging it can be to watch from the sidelines. Doom the game had no characters to speak of and a plot reduced to the most basic of don't-stop-shooting dynamics, which is all very cathartic when you are the one controlling the trigger, but deadly dull for anyone else.

Fortunately, the film avoids the first-person format (save for one lengthy sequence towards the end, filmed entirely from Reaper's POV), instead introducing the Marines as a set of hard-assed personalities (of sorts), each with their own weapon and defining "quirk" - one is a religious fanatic, another a drug dealer, another is quite tall, two are, er, black, etc.

Unfortunately, screenwriters David Callaham and Wesley Strick have got just about everything wrong in their adaptation. I'm no purist and I certainly have no problem with the hell demons from the game being "rationalised" into virally mutated humanoids. In any case, the game's apocalyptic underpinnings have at least half-survived in a script that is peppered with references to "hell". Still, the supposedly new material in Doom has all been seen before, and done better, in The Thing, Aliens, Stargate and Resident Evil - failing to outdo the already below-par Resident Evil is not a good start for a games-based franchise.

At its core, this is a monster movie with far too few monsters (and precious little else) to recommend it. Those unfamiliar with the original game will not lament the absence of airborne fire-shooting eyeballs, or giant mechanical spiders, but even the creatures that remain relatively intact (primarily "imps") are rarely seen and barely frightening. Some of Id Software's team may have contributed to the design of "all new" monsters on display in the point-of-view combat sequence, but they will seem strangely familiar to anyone who has played The House Of The Dead and can manage to see through all the shaky camerawork. Most of them are little more than bog standard post-Romero zombies, something that we have seen a lot of lately in much better, far gorier films.

For some time, I have been an admirer of The Rock's charismatic brand of larger-than-life heroics, but he just does not have the guile, or the menace, to play a villain and his climactic duel with Urban's Reaper is something of a fizzler in a film that ought to be far bigger, brasher and bloodier. Who knew that a life-and-death struggle in the dark with psychotic hybrids could end up being so, well, bland?

Reviewed on: 01 Dec 2005
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A futuristic Marines vs monsters video game adaptation.
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Kotleta ***1/2

Director: Andrzej Bartkowiak

Writer: Dave Callaham, Wesley Strick

Starring: Karl Urban, Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson, Rosamund Pike, DeObia Oparei, Ben Daniels, Raz Adoti, Richard Brake, Al Weaver, Dexter Fletcher, Brian Steele, Yao Chin, Robert Russell, Daniel York, Ian Hughes, Sara Houghton, Blanka Jarasova, Vladislav Dyntera, Petr Hnetkovsky, Jar

Year: 2005

Runtime: 110 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK/Czech Republic/Germany/US


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