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Notes from the Underground: Doom, games, and movies

It could have been the most interesting game-2-movie adaptation, but Andrzej Bartkowiak's Doom is, simply put, a missed opportunity. Far from being the best of its genre " as IGNFilmForce recently wrote " the movie is a big disappointment for both casual viewers and fans of the original game." Besides their superficial divergences, Doom and Resident Evil share many affinities: Resident Evil is a horror film that borrows sci-fi conventions, while Doom is a sci-fi film constructed as a horror film.

What is remarkably similar is their cinematic use of space. Game-2-movie adaptations tend to emphasize the act of traveling through space by displaying digital maps: Resident Evil and Doom are not shy when it comes to visualizing cartographic interfaces onscreen. The viewer is constantly reminded of the position and/or trajectories of the characters. Similarly, both Doom and Resident Evil's narratives are constructed as a mission-based journey: specifically, the actors " who are nothing more than the viewers' avatars " move from point "A" [the safe base] to point "B" [the dangerous zone, being the Umbrella laboratory in Resident Evil, Raccoon City in Resident Evil: Apocalypse or the Olduvai facility in Doom) to fix a 'major problem' [usually, an epidemic caused by man's greed and irresponsibility]. Having accomplished that goal, they need to safely return to point "A". Along the way, the group usually implodes, losing most of its members, in a way that is reminiscent of the infamous Napoleon's Russian campaign.

Moreover, both movies successfully replicate the logic of opening/closing doors of the games, an action that is performed over and over again during gameplay. Both Resident Evil and Doom are the bastard children of James Cameron's Aliens: the true nemesis our heroes face is the generic, ruthless corporation aspiring to planetary/intergalactic hegemony. Aliens, Resident Evil, and Doom share similar environments: hi-tech laboratories, dark tunnels, and metallic corridors. Doom perfectly recreates the ludic iconography: monitors, weapons, creatures are faithfully cut&pasted from id Software's game(s). More interestingly, both Resident Evil and Doom try to emulate some of the stylistic conventions of the games. Paul Anderson's use of weird camera angles, for instance, successfully evoked the eerie and spooky visual atmosphere of Shinji Mikami's survival horror. Andrzej Bartkowiak's use of a relatively long first-person sequence literally incorporates the game's aesthetics, albeit the inclusion here feels paradoxically incongruous. The quintessential 'Doom moment' consists in a character running a gauntlet of monsters and dispatching them with his rifle. It would have been much more interesting if the director used this cinematic convention more extensively throughout the movie. On the other hand, single first person shoots abound: I would be interested in watching an edited version entirely constructed with these shots (something like "Doom: The FPS Edit"). Such 'hacked' version of Doom would become a long sequence of cut-scenes loosely linked, while still remaining fairly 'readable' (some would argue that the movie just released in the theaters is already nothing more than a tech demo " it would be hard to prove them wrong). Alas, Doom seems an amateurish machinima video created with footage from Doom 6 for the PlayStation 4 or Xbox 720.

In pure cinematic terms (if one can still talks in these terms in an age of transmedia interplay), Doom fails miserably. This is ironic for a game that was originally conceived as an adaptation of Aliens with Evil Dead-like black humor (see David Kushner's brilliant expose', Masters of Doom, 2003, pp. 122-123). Even the title of the game, Doom, has cinematic roots (precisely, in Martin Scorsese's The Color of Money, 1986). You can easily spot the influence of Doom, the game, in such movies as Jason Isaac's Jason X (2001) and John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars (2001). Jason X is set in 2455 on a gigantic space ship, whose intricate network of metallic, shiny corridors quickly turns crimson red after the immortal serial killer Jason is awaken from cryogenetic sleep. Here, however, Jason is the indestructible cacodemon, the ruthless Minotaur who slaughters, one by one, the marines and scientists. The roles are reversed. Jason X is to Doom what Dungeon Keeper is to Dungeons & Dragons. The videogame iconography is frequently evoked in Jason X: the crew members 'kill time' by playing a holodeck-like videogame " later on in the movie, the device will be used to slow down the killer's brutal march. Moreover, the marine's most powerful weapon is called BFG, although the acronym is not explained (as every Doom player knows, BFG stands for ‚"Big Fucking Gun‚"). In Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars, the viewer is faced with many of the narrative and iconographic motifs of Doom: the setting (Mars), (a rescue mission that involves going from point A to point B, and back " and the means of transportation is either a train, as in Resident Evil or an elevator, as in Doom), a terrifying plague that turns man into zombies (both in Doom and Ghosts of Mars, the epidemic is the result of the planet's exploitation, although Carpenter's movie is ironically more faithful to the game because in Bartkowiak's adaptation the scientists do not actually open a portal to Hell), satanic symbols, gore and violence, shameless glorification of weaponry (see the worshipped phallic BFG), frequent use of first person shots, etc.

The movie works only on an intertextual level, that is, the best thing about Doom is the sheer number of in-jokes, e.g. some characters such as Dr. Carmack ("He always puts logic before emotion") and Dr. Willits are named after id Software's John Carmack and Tim Willits, developers of the series of games the movie is based on. The dialogues constantly suggest that the film should literally be read as a videogame session: "We've got ourselves a game," says Sarge (*), referring to the suicide mission to the Red Planet. Early in the movie, Reaper explains to Sarge that he wants to go on the Mars mission to face his demons: Doom fans instantly realize that this is not a trite cliche, but rather a joke " or, if you prefer, a tired joke. The movie also suggests that drugs " namely, stimulants, but one might also think of hyper-caffeinated energy drinks " are indispensable for 'winning the game', although two of the characters that use them, Destroyer (DeObia Oparei) and The Kid (Al Weaver), die miserably. However, Bartkowiak suggests that the only way to beat the game, e.g. killing the monsters, is through genetic manipulation. In the crucial scene of the movie, the lead character Grimm Reaper (Karl Urban) receives a dose of a mysterious 24th chromosome found in the remains of Mars's inhabitants from his sister, Dr. Samantha Grimm (the inconsistent Rosamund Pike " whose shallowness betrays the chauvinistic nature of the source material, i.e. a game created by male designers for male players " she plays the damsel in distress for the pleasure of testosterone-fuelled viewers/players). After the injection (**), he becomes the ubermensch, a super human soldier whose strength and healing-abilities allow him to overcome the demonic menace. Doom (in)directly suggests that the players of first person shooters are unlike other gamers or, for that matter, unlike other human beings. Anybody who attended events like the World Cyber Games knows that professional FPS players are similarly exceptional characters.

(*) Sarge is played by Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson, his character's name is an homage to Master Sergeant Thomas Kelly, one of the main characters from Doom III

(**) A metaphor for steroids? Or even heroine? Interestingly, also in Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars, drugs play a significant role: the main character survives only by injecting drugs into her body.

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