Have I ever mentioned the time Britney Spears disappointed me? Shocking, I know, but true. Oh, I hid my mortification well for a while. But sooner or later, it all comes spilling out for the world to see.
What happened was this: I had heard mention of this fluffly little pop tart making the rounds named Britney Spears. Not listening to the radio much (for the aforementioned reason), I didn't give it much thought. I ended up visiting my wife at her work before hearing any of Ms. Spears' work: it was standard a pop tune, vocally heavily modified to impersonate depth of a sort. Catchy, but not immortal.
The name came up in a later conversation: "(Hit Me) Baby One More Time". It was a revelation. It was something like eating a piece of bubble gum only to find it as flavourful and nutritious as a porterhouse steak. I felt an instant surge of respect and admiration for this performer, this entertainment Q-ship that was storming the pop culture seas! Here she was, deliberately crafting a radio-friendly tune that had as its subject not only spousal abuse, but from the point of view of the victim with a desceptive hook as its title - astoundingly courageous work for a first album!
The disappointment was soon to follow.
This leads, as you may have guessed, to movie reviews. I have maintained a sliding scale of expectations when seeing a film for the first time; what I expect from one genre will be different from another. An historical drama will have to have good acting, accurate costumes and sets, and good dialogue for me to consider it a worthy expense of my time. A horror needs to have an imaginative storyline, internally consistent physics, and good special effects. Budget has its place, too: from Primer, I want creative ideas well executed; from The Fifth Element, special effects are more important. Good acting is to be preferred.
Then, ah, then there's DOOM.
It's hard to say just how horribly, horribly wrong the concept of turning video games into full length feature films is. Street Fighter ring any bells? No? How about Bob Hoskins in Super Mario Brothers? Double Dragon? Anyone? There was a short period of time when it was considered the coming thing to use live actors in video games, and not just for voices or cut scenes. Time Traveller, for instance, showed up in arcades for about a year before vanishing, or the second Gabriel Knight mystery for PCs. Then designers realized that amateurs were crap actors, real actors were expensive, and processing power wasn't really up to making smooth actions out of random input, so let's get back to animation, shall we? Then they decided to try it the other way, movies from games, which gave us the ... awkward ... results above.
The real question is just what can be expected of such a hybrid? You would think that having essentially no story would free the unfortunate writers to go in whatever direction they pleased, but they do get reminded about certain things that must be included, as a sop to the game's fans, like the excerable Street Fighter movie including all the game characters, and trying to make them all heroes. And make sure they all did their "signature moves". And find a reason for them to be together and not beating the tar out of each other. (They did miss one, but his limbs stretched, and that would have been too expensive to include.) Which is another minor detail: these movies are usually funded, at least in part, by computer game companies. That is to say, by a bunch of folks who are big, big fans, but not very wealthy in movie making terms, so a lot of stuff that their animated character could do, live stuntmen would read and say: "Er..."
So little chance of a decent script, and they have to play in the (mostly) real world, rather than a CGI playground like the game has. And don't expect a lot of name actors to be drawn to a project like this (Bob says he was "thinking of his grandkids" when he did Super Mario Brothers). This narrows down my criteria for enjoying a Game Film considerably:
1) Does it get the look right;
2) Does it include Icons (sound bites, special moves, specific weapons);
3) Um. Nope, that's pretty much it.
In DOOMs case, that means metal walls with streaks running down them, monsters that look like the beasties in the game, and a chainsaw. As an added bonus, if it could look like a First Person Shooter, that being what DOOM is most famous for, it would kick ass.
And may I say, it passed all these rigorous tests with flying colours. There was even a BFG for good measure. The acting was passable (the script is NOT the actors fault!), special effects were fine, and the writing was utterly horrific. A 24th chromosome turning people into supermen? Water-filled sewers on Mars? A super duper marine unit with massive, massive discipline problems? And my favorite bit: the revelation that as of 2046, ten percent of the human genome had not been mapped! Try telling that to these folks, then. First sentence: "completed in 2003, the Human Genome Project (HGP)..." Fifteen of the 23 chromosomes were sequenced as of April 2005, for crying out loud!
On the plus side, they did get an arterial wound right. Right place on the leg; bright, foamy blood; death soon to follow from massive external haemorrhaging. And there was a few minutes of First Person Shooter perspective, though no where near as much as the commercials lead you to believe. Plus, there was a chainsaw. So over all, I think I can say that this is very likely the best movie to be made from a computer game ever, and it's certainly the best I've seen.
It just pays to lower your expectation every now and then, and you'll find much of the world more enjoyable. See how neatly Britney Spears fits in?