Not to sound too harsh, but 'Doom' is the kind of movie that, quite frankly, adds nothing to the sum of human consciousness. It is not so much a film, as a filmed deal. Based on the hit videogame of the same name, 'Doom' is merely a series of action set pieces, monsters, gore and an incessant industrial-rock soundtrack, strung along something hardly approaching a plot. That it also has characters that speak dialogue is incidental.
The Rock stars as Sarge, the leader of the Rapid Response Tactical Squad, who are brought in by the military to find out what has gone wrong at a remote scientific research station on Mars. All research has ceased, communications failed, and what messages have come through are far from comforting. The only hope its inhabitants have is Sarge and his hardened band of Marines. but even armed with the latest hi-tech weaponry, it will be a bloody battle to the death with the unseen enemy far more terrifying than they ever imagined.
I have nothing against the idea of taking a videogame's concept and expanding upon its mythology to create a new cinematic world, but the problem with 'Doom' is that it doesn't even bother to try. Instead, it just recycles the worst elements from other, better videogame-esque films, and hoping the audience won't notice -- see if you can't spot all the borrowed parts from 'Final Fantasy,' 'Underworld,' 'Resident Evil,' 'Dawn of the Dead' and what I suppose is now the granddaddy of the monsters-attack sci-fi subgenre, 'ALIEN' and 'ALIENS.' Unfortunately, Ridley Scott and James Cameron knew what most of today's new generation of music video-trained whiz kid directors still haven't realized -- if a film doesn't have characters we can care about and root for, it is pretty hard to give a shit.
I suppose on a surface level, 'Doom' is a competent film. It has nice lighting and production design and plenty of whiz-bang special effects (though even all of these elements feel far from original, or unique). I also liked the fairly snappy editing and bone-crushing soundtrack, which at least kept my pulse quickening however tiresome it became. But I still couldn't help but fall into a stupefied gaze by the halfway point of the film. There are really only three scenes in 'Doom,' each repeated over and over until the end credits: 1.) The Rock barks orders to his military grunts, and says,"Not everyone is gonna make it out of here alive"; 2.) terrified victims run screaming through dark corridors, chased by unseen monsters; and 3.) The Rock blows lots of shit up real good with his big videogame gun. And really, that's about it.
Oh, I suppose I should mention this HD DVD presents the film in its Unrated Director's Cut, which adds a few smatterings of gratuitous gore to its already ample amount of gratuitous gore. But really, once you've seen one infected radioactive zombie chowing on a severed limb, you've seen them all.
Even at this early point in the HD DVD format's lifespan, it is pretty much a foregone conclusion that any film of remotely recent vintage is going to look pretty great. And 'Doom' certainly does. I was struck right from the first frame how "rock" solid (har, har) the image is. It is absolutely pristine, with nary a dot of film grain to be seen. It is also sharp as a tack, with excellent contrast and clarity in every frame. Blacks are pure, deep perfection. And despite the grungy milieu, the color palette is invigorated by frequent splashes of bold reds, acidic yellows and midnight blues and purples.
However, I did feel the visual presentation still suffered from a couple of drawbacks. Perhaps it was an aesthetic choice, but I felt the film was just too dark. I know, it is supposed to be scary, the film is so bathed in black I almost had trouble making out what was happening in some scenes. Fine details frequently appear to be lost to the shadows, and even the more dynamic sequences with flashing lights, etc., lacked the three-dimensional pop of the best transfers I've seen.
Also a detriment to me is that I noticed a bit of "flickering" in the image, mostly in the opening star field shot and on the film's opening logo, which exhibited some stairstepping on the logo's sharply contrasted lines. I wouldn't expect to see that on high-def material, though that may be a result of our Toshiba HD-XA1's ability to only output 1080i. Hopefully, when the next-gen players arrive, we will be able to take advantage of these early HD DVD disc's native 1080p encoding, which should provide a smoother, more film-like picture.
Well, at least the soundtrack rocks. 'Doom' is almost wall-to-wall action, with plenty of aural activity to keep your ears engaged (I can't say the same for the film's dialogue, but nevermind).
This disc comes with English, French and Spanish Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround tracks, and right from the get go, the entire 360-degree soundfield really come alive. The rear channels are almost never quiet, with plenty of sounds emanating from all speakers, from bombastic explosions and gunfire to discrete uses of subtle atmospheric sounds and even some dialogue. But more than just being gimmicky, I liked how the rears often cued me in on the location of the film's monsters, or added to its hoped-for shock moments with bursts of music or sound effects. Sure, it is all just as stupid as the movie, but it works.
Also impressive is the soundtrack's wide dynamic range, from the very spacious mid- and high-range, to powerful, striking bass. This is definitely one of those soundtracks to give your subwoofer a workout, and at one point, during one of the film's umpteenth "screaming victim runs into vicious monster" moments, the shock stinger was so deep my cat leaped off the couch and ran for the cat door. Now, that's a true sign of a rockin' soundtrack.
Another direct port of the standard DVD release, the extras on 'Doom' consist primarily of four production and two game-related featurettes running nearly 30 minutes. Unfortunately, none transcend typical EPK fluff, and the fact that the movie isn't all that good doesn't help matters much.
Things kick off with "Basic Training," a standard look at the weapons in the film and military training of the actors; "Rock Formation" examines the prosthetic make-up applied to The Rock for the film's climactic duel; "Master Monster Makers" visits the effects team and their various creature creations; and the last and best is "First Person Shooter sequence," which examines in-depth the challenges the filmmakers faced in recreating the first-person perspective popularized by the videogame.
Also included are a couple of game-related featurettes: "Doom Nation" explores the impact the original game had on the industry and its fans, while "Game On!" offers tips to novice Doom players. There is also a short 'Doom 3' XBox 360 demo.
Like all of Universal's HD DVD releases so far, unfortunately no theatrical trailers or promo spots are included.
I can't say I was particularly fond of 'Doom.' It is a videogame-inspired movie that is even more two-dimensional than the game that inspired it -- no small accomplishment. As for the HD DVD, it delivers a great soundtrack, the same bevy of extras as its standard DVD counterpart, though for me the image is a bit on the dark side. Not much here that makes this worth an upgrade for anyone who owns the current DVD, but if you're interested in the flick and haven't bought 'Doom' yet, you might do well to pick this one up.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.