The old movies we choose to revisit and write articles on here at ScreenGeek get classified into one of two categories. In the case of a film that one of our writers loves, but posterity has chosen to utterly condemn, that piece will be pitched as an ‘Underrated Movie’. For the others, where our writers fully agree with history’s judgement, these get presented as a ‘Retro Review’. 2005’s DOOM sadly falls into the latter of the two.
There’s always some reason, however random, that my editor sends me an old movie to revisit. Sometimes it’s the result of a new sequel or rebooted version of the original offering due for an imminent release. Other times it’s because one of the actors in the old movie has been cast or attached to some other big forthcoming project. In the case of Doom, it’s because the intervening 12 years have seen Dwayne Johnson evolve from his ‘The Rock’ persona into a true Hollywood A-Lister, who will be seen starring in Rampage on its release this weekend.
After receiving my assignment, and draining a mug full of truly awful coffee, I tried to desperately recall any lasting impression that the film had made on me when I had first watched it. I remembered that it had been bad. Very bad, and so prior to firing up my Netflix account (other streaming platforms are available) I did a quick fact-check on the internet. The results were painful, to say the least. This piece would definitely be falling into the ‘Retro Review’ category.
If you’ve never heard of director Andrzej Bartkowiak, it’s because Doom essentially killed his career dead in its tracks. He was given control of the project off the back of a trio of fairly mundane, but profitable martial arts flicks. The chances are that out of Romeo Must Die, Exit Wounds and Cradle 2 The Grave you’ll have seen at least one of them at some point since their release, and subsequently totally forgotten all about it.
Despite a huge amount of hype, Doom only made back $56m from a reported $60m production budget, and was classified as a complete Box Office bomb. Which leads us to the first question to be raised by this evening’s follow-up viewing. What the hell did they spend all that money on? The movie’s acting line-up is sorely lacking in big names (padded out with journeymen such as Dexter Fletcher and Richard Brake), and none of the principal cast had yet to hit the big time.
Even by the standards of 15 years ago, the CGI is nowhere near up to scratch, totally undermining the half-decent practical effects and prosthetics used for the creature-closeups. Dimensional travel is achieved via a spinning ball of mercurial snot. Dexter Fletcher’s legs have been replaced with a set of digital tank tracks right out of a Doctor Who episode, and the team access their destination in the fakest helicopter since the one that chased Guy Pierce in Lockout.
The poor quality of the script is immediately noticeable in the movie’s opening titles. The writers put even less effort into generating a backstory than those in the original computer game, which really begs the question about who this movie was aimed at. It’s too drastically different from the game to appeal to the gaming community, and too fantastic or believable to appeal to mainstream audiences.
Our band of plucky protagonists, the catchily-named RRTS, are an utter waste of skin. All swagger and sexual harassment, they lumber in and out of shot touting their stupidly oversized guns. Not one actor is convincing as a solider, with one character having to be nicknamed ‘Destroyer’, in order to justify the carrying of his ludicrously sized firearm. The overall use of tech here is also all over the place. From pointless ‘nano-walls’ rather than ‘doors’, and the presence of a ridiculous BFG (Bioforce Gun), it’s clear they tried to pull the bits of the original game out that they thought might work well. A tactic that fails, painfully.
Literally nothing in the film’s first half hour makes any sense. Why does Dwayne Johnson like to sit around with his top off, when everybody else is dressed up to go out. What are they playing on a shit early 80’s handheld? Why play baseball with fruit? None of these actions matches the allegedly macho reputation of the characters, with absolutely nothing produced to make you want to engage with them.
It’s odd to see Johnson and Karl Urban looking so damned young here. Both were on the verge of breaking into the big time, having put in appearances in several franchises. Urban’s work on the Lord of the Rings movies was complemented by appearances in Riddick and Bourne films, Johnson had appeared in the Mummy movies. Both would go on to big things, as indeed would future Gone Girl actress Rosamund Pike, on hand here just to scream in a shrill manner in order to let you know the person standing near her is about to die.
The project tries to combine the body horror of The Thing, with the claustrophobic fight sequences from Aliens, and the sets off Total Recall, and none of it works. The characters are utter cliches (nervous first-timer, self-harming zealot, shady drugs dealer), and the only two laughs to be had are the reasoning behind their ludicrous surnames.
When beset by a hoard of beasties and zombies, at one point, a plucky protagonist defends himself by swinging a computer monitor around his head. With predictable results. And twenty minutes from the movie’s bland climax, we’re treated to five minutes of uncomfortable POV footage. A desperate attempt to trade in on the legacy of the original computer game, all this misjudged sequence does is further alienate the audience, and highlight the shortcomings in the CGI.
With Johnson’s token wrestling moves in the bag (their presence providing a clear visual representation for where this movie sits on his career trajectory), we’re all done and dusted. We have pointless destruction on a massive scale. A load of dead characters we had no emotional investment in, and no real morals or lessons having been explored. It’s rare I make this appeal having reviewed something old, but honestly. Don’t rewatch this movie. It’s a real waste of your time.