Oct 26, 2005 at 12:00 am

Let’s face it: video games like Doom, Half-Life, and Resident Evil owe a lot to James Cameron’s Aliens. The storylines follow a predictably techno-phobic route: Scientists either discover or create something that results in a new life form; it gets loose in an isolated facility and slaughters everyone. Enter the crack team of commandos, sent in to find out what happened and eliminate the threat.

Since most video games are about action and atmosphere (as opposed to plot and character) the concept works pretty well. But when it comes to adapting this concept into a big-budget motion picture, you’d better have something new up your sleeve. Doom, unfortunately, doesn’t. Screenwriters David Callaham and Wesley Strick have basically thrown Aliens, Predator and Dawn of the Dead in a blender and written something a lot less exciting than any of those films.

The story is what you’d expect: About 45 minutes of skulking around in the dark with hysterical lab animals and corpses jumping out of the shadows, before the hard-to-see action breaks out and insidious corporate secrets are revealed. The commandos sent to investigate — in this case, Marines — are then picked off one by one until only the hero is left to face off against the big bad enemy.

There’s an interesting final act reversal, where jarhead Sarge (Duane “The Rock” Johnson) decides to order his own version of My Lai, which gives the film a moment of unexpected weight. However, it’s quickly discarded for yet another mano a mano showdown between testosterone-laden alpha males.

Doom takes its gamer origins seriously ... a bit too seriously. The filmmakers spend so much time re-creating the look and feel of playing the game that they’ve forgotten to deliver a real movie experience. But there’s still some fun to be had. Once the bullets start flying, Doom elicits some of the same action thrills generated by the game, including a four-minute first-person shooter sequence that puts you behind the gun and into the fray. It’s a clever take on the God-mode cheat function that exists in most games. Unfortunately, the overall effect is very much like sitting next to your buddy, looking over his shoulder while he plays Doom on a giant Playstation.

Director Andrzej Bartkowiak joins the elite ranks of filmmakers who should have remained cinematographers, bringing nothing new or interesting to the film and substituting darkness for atmosphere and close ups for character development. Particularly frustrating is his inability to lay out a coherent landscape or action sequence: For much of the film it’s difficult to figure out exactly who’s shooting at whom.

The Rock is still looking for a breakout hit like The Terminator to launch him into Hollywood’s stratosphere. It’s a shame really, because as an actor, the former wrestler has more presence and charm than Schwarzenegger ever did. What he doesn’t have is a director like James Cameron who can turn his semi-ironic machismo into something iconic.

Karl Urban (Eomer in The Lord of the Rings) as the film’s brooding hero-of-few words is adequate but hardly stands out. Rosamund Pike as Urban’s sister and scientist is simply awful, barely able to scream on cue. The rest of the cast is racially integrated and destined for a body bag.

The translation of video games to the big screen has yet to be successful. Doom tries hard to be scary and gory but more often than not comes across simply as dopey. Go back to your X-Box —you’ll have a better time.

Jeff Meyers writes about film for MetroTimes. Send comments to [email protected].