Adapting video games to movies is difficult. Lost in Translation has discussed this before, in a general sense. DOOM is a good example of the problems inherent to adapting video games.
The video game itself, while not the first, greatly influenced the nature of first-person shooters. DOOM also allowed for custom levels, reskinning of the monsters, and multi-player. The studio, id Software, used shareware* for distribution. The player took the role of an unnamed Marine assigned to Mars for assaulting his commanding officer after being given the order to shoot civilians. The Marine then became the only thing between Earth and invading demons. id Software estimated that there was two million paid copies and another ten million copies of the shareware demo of DOOM installed. Considering that the game was released in December 1993, twelve million players is an impressive user base.
With the success of DOOM, id produced two sequels plus interstitial levels for the game. Doom 3 returned to the original game’s plot and expanded on it. The new game also pushed against hardware limitations; not all video graphics cards of the time, 2004, could handle the game. The game’s graphics greatly improved on the original’s, and added lighting as an effect. Players would have to switch from weapon to flashlight and back as needed. Like the original, Doom 3 could be modified, adding custom levels, monster skins, and effects. Extra details were added in the unnamed Marine’s PDA, where emails and phone calls of the missing could be played. Doom 3 was a success, selling 3.5 million copies.
In 2005, Universal released the movie Doom, with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Karl Urban, and Rosamund Pike. The plot involves a Rapid Response Tactical Squad of eight marines being sent to investigate and quarantine a situation involving dead and missing scientists on a Martian research lab run by the Union Aerospace Corporation. As the movie progresses, the fate of the scientists is discovered, as is the realization of what happened to the previous population of Mars. Along the way, monsters appear and attack the marines. An autopsy of one of the dead monsters reveals its human origins. The movie ends with a continuous shot that is based on Doom 3 from the eyes of “Reaper”, Karl Urban’s character.
The movie did not perform well in theatres, getting a decent opening weekend then tanking, not even earning back its budget. Much of the problem was the combination of horror and action, two genres that don’t have much in common. Horror requires suspense and tension to be built through atmosphere and limited viewer information. Action uses tension, but suspense is based on stunt work. It is possible to combine the two, but the atmosphere of a horror movie, which typically involves dark or dim areas with ominous sounds, clashes with the needs of an action movie where lighting needs to show the physical conflict, The nature of the monsters also turned fans of the game off from the movie; instead of demons from Hell, the monsters were changed by the addition of a twenty-fourth chromosome, unleashing the victims’ darker sides. The nature of a movie as opposed to a video game also worked against the movie; players are far more active and involved in a game than viewers are with a movie. Video games are active; players make the decisions and pull the trigger. Movies are passive; even with the first-person shooter segment, the viewers are there for the ride, not making decisions. One last factor is the R rating instead of PG-13. Most studios see PG-13 as the sweet spot; a mature enough rating to get adults in while still not preventing teenagers from getting together and going to it. A movie rated Restricted means that the teen market can’t get in. During the summer, that’s the kiss of death for a movie. In late fall, early winter, it’s not as big a problem, but the loss of potential family movie nights could not have helped Doom.
However, as an adaptation, Doom worked. Barring the change in the nature of the monsters, everything one would expect from DOOM was in /Doom/; the weapons, the appearance of the corridors, the lighting, even the monsters all came from the video game. The BFG made an early appearance, working as a Chekhov’s (big f***ing) gun. The production crew took care to make sure that the visual look of the movie mirrored that of the games. The extras on the DVD are well worth the price and show what the crew did to recreate the video game, including how the first-person shooter segment was shot.
Doom isn’t a bad movie. Like Battleship, it’s also not a good movie. Doom may be, though, a rare example of a good adaptation still failing at the box office.
Next week, Scott Pilgrim
* The first episode was free as a demo. Further episodes had to be paid for.