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We're Doomed: Game Over, Man, Game Over

WARNING: Spoilers follow, but if finding out what happens in the Doom movie stops you from seeing it, I'll consider it a job well done.

Deej at Tied the Leader already did a pretty good job at pointing out how the Doom movie failed to live up to even its own modest goals. For the most part, I agree with his criticisms. He points out a lot of the plot holes and unanswered questions. Therein he sees a conservative conspiracy of sorts. For my part, I don't-- I think that a conservative ideology is just one thing one might propose to make sense of a story that otherwise makes little sense-- rather like making out the shape of Jesus in a spot of mold growing on a refrigerator door.

Like many fans of the Doom franchise, Deej gives it to the film on the chin for messing with the key elements of that world, nonsensically exchanging demons from Hell with some genetic mumbo jumbo.

I'd like to take a look at that for a minute.

The real reason to license a property like Doom is because it has a built-in audience. If you're going to license a property in order to access it's audience, you should probably at least try and please that audience a little bit. You might have to make adjustments to widen your target audience, but if you change things too much, you might offend the original audience.

Sadly, it does not appear to me that the changes made to Doom were made for this reason. In fact, I cannot for the life of me imagine why these changes were made, or why anyone would consider them improvements. These changes seem to have been made purely for the sake of change.

As Deej rightly points out, the Doomiverse has never been big on context. The original game had a scant few pages of poorly-written text as interstitials between levels. With Doom 3, Id Software had a chance to really flesh out the universe around the game's conflicts: the UAC base, the people working there, the demons, and other characters. They added a mad scientist character, so there's a more personalized fight going on. They added a fellow marine who turns on you (Sarge) to vary up the boss battles a little bit. They kept all the action, the creepy atmosphere and the satanic imagery that the first game was famous for.

The film took all of that and threw it in the rubbish. If they meant to say that Doom's story was trite, hardly original, and needed a rewrite in order to create some compelling emotional drama and drive a two hour movie watching experience that is, by very definition, more passive than blasting your way through Doom on your own, I would have to agree with them.

Except that what they replaced it with was far worse.

When it leaked that the movie wasn't even going to be set on Mars, the trouble started. Spin control went into action, and now the movie is, in fact, set on Mars. The fact that it is set on Mars has absolutely no impact on what happens. The strongest visual evidence that it is on Mars comes at the beginning of the movie, with the display of the Universal Pictures logo in front of the red planet. After that, you get a mere few seconds of uncompelling external views of red dust.

In later portions of the film, the vague phrase "this planet" is used a few times (at least in the translation I heard) instead of "Mars" leading me to believe that the film basically underwent no modification at all to put the events back on Mars.

Teleportation is kept in the movie; except now, rather than the teleporters being the experimental mistake that open the gates of Hell, it's what allows humans to travel to Mars at all. Apparently, a teleportation gate to Mars was discovered in the Nevada desert, providing a link between Martian and Earth cultures that, aside from the appearance of a genetically enhanced, but otherwise human-appearing skeleton on Mars, the film makes no use of.

In fact, the only reason the teleporter seems to exist is to provide one of the film's only two special effects. Although to anyone who saw James Cameron's "The Abyss" way back in the day, there's nothing "special" at all about this effect.

What's even more inscrutable is the security doors in the UAC base, which are unlike anything seen in the games. It's a special kind of force field, that is translucent when open, opaque when closed, and is naturally devoid of any and all safety features, such that when it closes on an object passing through it, said object is frozen in space with a door through it's head-- much like the elevator in the movie's opening sequence, which is such an advanced elevator that, unlike the primitive lifts of today, it completely fails to detect when a human limb is trapped within its jaws, and blithely takes said limb to the floor of its choice, sans owner.

As for the force fields, somebody should have sent a note to the filmmakers that there already is a kind of device that is transparent when permeable, and opaque when impermeable: it's called a frigging door, morons. Unless it's lost on you, the reason why science fiction universes sometimes imagine force fields used as doors is because such fields have an inherent advantage over regular doors, especially when used for incarcerating prisoners. Unlike a normal opaque door, you can see what the prisoner behind it is doing (usually, trying to escape). Not so these magical Doom doors. When it's open, you can see through it... sort of. When it's closed, you can't. Completely useless.

Once the marines arrive on Mars, we see that the UAC base strongly resembles the arcade of a shopping mall, especially in being populated primarily by what appear to be civilians completely unawares of what is going on. At times, the marines shuffle to and from dark, wet, dangerous hallways where they fight slimy monsters by going through this lobby. After a few trips, some of the civilians seem to catch on, but not enough to save them all (including those back home in Nevada) from being turned into zombies themselves.

Deej called the Pinky demon "terrifying". I have to take exception to this. Frankly, I thought it was cool, perhaps the only cool-looking thing in the flick. The idea of having the wheelchair-bound techie turn into Pinky was perhaps the only ounce of imagination in the entire film. Plus, wheels are easier to animate than legs.

Terrifying? Hardly. It couldn't have been less terrifying than if it had emerged from a monster closet. Almost any random encounter from a good horror survival game, such as Silent Hill 2 or even Fatal Frame 2, is scarier than the scariest moment in the Doom movie.

What's wrong with that sequence is that it's really the only recognizable thing from the Doom game that made it into the movie at all, aside from the game's titular logo and the UAC computer interfaces everywhere. None of the relatively few and rather unimpressive looking monsters the marines have to fight look anything like anything from the game, and I've seen more impressive looking blood and gore in ten-year-old X-Files episodes. The Doom movie's bad guys look like a few hundred pounds of latex rubber soaked in Karo syrup. Which might be scary as a dessert, but not as a horror movie.

Remember the Cacodemon-- the huge, floating, spiked eyeball? Yeah, he's not there. The Lost Souls-- flying, flaming skulls? Yeah, they're gone, too. The ubiquitous, fire-flinging Imps? Gone. Barons of Hell? Well, they're there, sort of-- except seemingly half as tall and impotently dripping slime instead of wielding green fireballs. And forget about any of the more exotic characters, either from the Doom 3 remake or from the original series: revenants, mancubus, cyberdemon... all gone. If there wasn't a mask for it down at Wal-Mart, it didn't make the cut for this movie.

Of course, the stellar lack of variety in the badguys is consistent with the movie's change of direction. These aren't demons from hell, they are human beings infected with the mystical 24th Chromosome, which turns bad people into monsters and good people into supermen. As Deej pointed out, it appears that status applies only to our hero. And the only thing different about him, compared to the rest of the cast of characters, is that his parents were killed on Mars.

Not that we care. We never see them, alive or dead. We're treated only to a few seconds of flashback during a short external shot of Mars, and some echoing screams. If we're supposed to somehow empathize with this guy, I have to say the filmmakers failed on this count, too. Even if they had, why this qualifies Grimm "Reaper" to be the only human on Mars who successfully survives the infection by the 24th chromosome without turning into a monster is really beyond me.

That mechanic alone seems not to have been thought out at all. How the heck is this supposed to work? And why such a change from the more detailed plot of the third game?

In Doom 3, the scientists working for UAC, as well as most of the marines who are sent to Mars afterwards, are victims of Hellspawn arriving to Mars from Hell as a result of a gate unwittingly opened by teleportation experiments. The real bad guy here is the mad scientist, Betruger, who it seems has been possessed by some force while he was in Hell, and he's come back to Mars for the purpose of helping the demonspawn make their way to Earth.

Yes, it's true that the UAC was trying to collect specimens from Hell for research-- there is the whole monsters-as-biological-warfare angle there, right out in plain view, ripped straight from Alien and Aliens. Doom 3 managed to put an interesting spin on it by positing an ancient Martian race that once endured such an attack from Hell, by inventing a weapon and investing it with their souls. Perhaps not genius, but at least you don't hear that every day.

That idea? Gone with the Martian breeze. There's no "mad scientist" in the celluloid version. The chief scientist, named Carmack after the game's developer, views the opening sequence's elevator accident and apparently goes catatonic at that point, only to turn into a monster later. There's no evil plan here, just the least compelling version ever of the infection-as-enemy story.

The conversion of Sarge from a marine, to an asshole, into the game-- ahem, the movie's-- final Boss is one of the few non-computer-interface elements taken from Doom 3. It was the least interesting sequence of the game, and it fares no better here. In fact, here it's done on the cheap. Whereas in the game, Sarge becomes fused to an automated tank that takes on the player inside an enclosed arena with a shifting floor, The Rock takes on our hero at the climax of the film with nothing but his muscles and his acting ability, with predictable results.

The movie makers here took a straightforward, if perhaps unimaginative, scenario for a shoot-em-up with a few satanic visual touches and turned it into a worse-than-pedestrian, uninspired, confused mess of an uninteresting story with lackluster special effects, virtually no solid thematic links to its original source material, and little respect for the few links it keeps. Much has been said about the penultimate sequence, shot in the first person perspective. It's not overlong, not at all interesting, but not as painful as the rest of the film leading up to it. The bigger problems are that the story has no emotionally compelling characters or conflicts, creature effects and sets that look far cheaper than the film's budget would indicate, and a cast of marines and scientists that obviously stand no chance of surviving because they've already been turned into zombies by the script.

Head for minimum safe distance, Doom fans. Then nuke this film from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.