Saturday, March 19, 2011

Movie Review: Doom (2005)

There's an old joke that says the best parts of a movie are usually shown in the trailer. This isn't true here, because most of the parts you see in the trailer weren't good.

Lets get it out of the way; this movie is bad. This movie is a cash-in; a “didn't-need-to-be-made” movie. The writing, acting, set design and nearly everything else is mediocre and bland. But what were you expecting? It's based on a 1993 video game of the same name, and video game movies are almost always bad! But bad movies need love too, which is why I'm watching it. I also watched the Mummy 3 around the same time, so I might do a review on that later.

As always, if you plan on seeing this movie (for whatever reason) I'm gonna spoil just about everything. The movie is five years old at this point, so it's not exactly fresh news.

Prepare to be amazed
The movie begins with a fairly original take on the Universal Studios logo; instead of Earth it's Mars, which might very well be the most original part of the movie. The plot begins with a hallway full of scientists running in terror from an Unseen Terror. We meet the head scientist named Doctor Carmack (named after the co-founder of id Software, John Carmack) who is apparently eaten by the monster. Cut to a roomful of what Hollywood imagines U.S. Marines to act like. They're all boring character archetypes, from the typical Black stereotypes, to the token religious guy who wears a cross, carries a Bible and quotes that handful of Bible verses that the general public will recognize. Their names are even horribly standard things like Sarge, Reaper and “The Kid.” Look at the top billed actors and their character names. LOOK AT THEM.

"Mars looks surprisingly similar to a featureless cement bunker!"
"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death," says the religious character, not bothering to finish the rest of the verse.
"Hey, I know that!" says a random audience member, "that's from the Bible! Why's that guy carving a cross into his arm? Christians ARE crazy!"

This merry band of marines are only moments away from what they call “R&R time” which is an excuse for this perverted character to wear a flowery shirt and for another man to play the chunkiest game system since the Sega Nomad. This is strange, because this is supposed to be something like 45 years in the future.

He supplies 90% of the R rating! What a delightful character!
Cool technology -- for 1985
Before long, the marines are sent to something called the Ark, an ancient underground portal from Earth to Mars built by ancient humans (or something, they don't go into much more detail). I'll pause to say this: In the movie there were a few seemingly-interesting science fiction ideas like the aforementioned Ark and later on, a nano-wall. Strangely, I got the feeling that these ideas were probably stolen in large part from other, better science fiction books and movies. Nothing else in the movie is original, and so I suspect plagiarism. 

You need the Green keycard
Basically the Ark is a convenient tool to cut down on the three (or is it five?) month trip it would actually take someone on Earth to get to Mars. Upon arrival at Mars, the marines discover that everything is... fine. Scientists and families are going about their lives, business as usual, with no apparent threat to be found! Hmm. That changes soon enough, though.

This is the "Ark" transport. It's like Galaxy Quest, except you barf once you're there.

Quickly, people start getting killed in surprisingly boring ways, including that nano-wall I mentioned. I guess I can explain it now; it's a wall that can turn transparent to let people pass through. While this initially sounds like a cool idea, I realize that there are several flaws with this design, including one that occurs during the movie:
1: What's so bad about a regular door?
2: What happens if the power dies and your door/wall won't close or open completely? (Seen in the movie)
3: Why add this door if your special effects budget can't produce a very good effect?
4: What's so bad about a regular door?!

The answer to all of these is this: 

So you can make your rubber monster get trapped in the wall.

That's right: This entire technology was developed so it could produce some cheap thrills in this one scene. It's used in a later scene, apparently unable to seal completely and letting monsters get at the main characters. I hope my tax dollars didn't pay for that!
Here's the wall when it's in "door" mode

Anyway, eventually they discover that it's not really demons breaking through, like it was in the games. Rather, it's a virus that the scientists made that will turn you into a monster or a super-human based on how good of a person you are. Nevermind the fact that they completely disregard the lore of the game (Hell breaking through on Mars); nevermind the fact that many people have wildly varying definitions of what it means to be a "good person;" instead, lets focus on why exactly scientists would have a need of such a virus. In the movie, it's explained that there's some kind of archaeological dig site on mars that has turned up "neanderthal skeletons" (even the evolutionists are scratching their head on that one), who happen to have 24 chromosomes instead of the usual 23. 

We have 46 chromosomes, guys. FORTY SIX. The only part of you that has 23 'somes are the cells used for reproduction. Thank YOU, biology! I guess they could have meant 24 PAIRS of chromosomes, which would equal 48 total, but that would just mean a person would have an extra toe or something. Hmm. 

Wait, WHAT?
Biology complaints: Complete.

Anyway, because of this amazing "synthetic chromosome," these ancient Martian people could live long, heal faster than Wolverine and were excellent at slalom and long-jumping. I might've made up that last part. Soon, the hero character (Eomer from Lord of the Rings or Bones from J.J. Abrams Star Trek) is exposed to the serum and turns into what is essentially an X-man, while the Rock starts to turn into one of those creatures. They fight, good wins, the end. Lets dissect some writing!

This expression represents my thoughts on this movie exactly

You can barely see the Rock because this movie is dark most of the time

This movie seems to have been made around one important feature: Lets say Carmack's name as much as possible. Which they do about twenty times during the movie. They even try to make Carmack more important than any crazy scientist has a right to be. He doesn't have "Doc Brown" importance. In fact, he doesn't even have "R2-D2" importance. All he does is send a transmission for help in the first scene, and later turns into a crazy monster and attacks people. It's like the film was written by someone who had never written anything before. IMDB informs me that it took two guys to write this!

Shame shame, I really DO know your name.

The character development for literally every character in the movie is non-existant. Apart from learning their ridiculous names, as a viewer, I didn't care when Duke gets pulled through a grate to his death, or when the Rock (Spoilers again!) shoots The Kid for insubordination. 

"Who are these people again?" I thought, yawning.

The plot itself follows the games well enough, I suppose. I mean, Doom isn't exactly known for its amazing story, but just because something is based on a boring license doesn't mean it has to be terrible. It's still rigidly formulaic. Marines sweep location for monster. Monster kills marines. One or two escape. Cue sequel? It worked well for Predator, Aliens, and countless other movies that followed this exact formula, but this movie didn't succeed in any way, and I'm pretty sure there's never gonna be a sequel. Oh yeah, and there's the first-person-shooter part, which is laughably ridiculous. 

A portion of the movie revolves around Eomer's relationship with his sister (pictured below). As far as I can tell, Karl Urban (the actor who plays Eomer) is a New Zealander while his "sister" in the film is from London. The only thing they have in common is that they're faking American accents in a crappy movie. Otherwise, the writers try feebly (and consequently, fail completely) to make the characters reconcile their differences (which aren't really shown to the audience to begin with) and make them grow as characters. It's strange, because that's the only "love" story you get in the movie. Frankly, the movie didn't NEED a leading man hanging out with his little sister for the whole movie. It's not as important as the killing.
"I'm really British, you foolish Yanks!"

Now, I played Doom 3 when it came out in 2004. It's not the best game in the world: lots of shooting, lots of zombies popping out of magic closets right behind you, et cetera. Weirdly, if they had taken the exact script from that game and filmed it, it would have been a better movie than this. My verdict:

The Good:
The actors did the best they could with what they were given
Cool references to the games (you see a yellow door, a green keycard, the BFG and famous monsters from the game)
The Universal Mars logo was neat

The Bad:
The Writing, cinematography, set design, plot, characterization, coloration, prop quality
Movie is so dark that you can hardly see most of the time
The characters have no common sense
Has surprisingly little to do with source material aside from the name
Mediocre special effects, rubber suits


Sunday, March 6, 2011

Movie Review: Daybreakers

Perhaps the most prevalent and popular form of writing today is the kind we see in movies. While many people simply "hate books," nearly everybody watches movies. Since the rise of Netflix and Hulu, I for one find myself watching quite a few more movies than I used to, mostly because I can do it via Netflix Instant, which I love dearly.

The best way for a person to really digest a movie is to take it apart and think about it, and that's just what I intend to do. Today I'm examining Daybreakers, a movie from 2009 that earned an only-alright 67% from Rotten Tomatoes.

While it initially seems like the movie is trying to jump on the "vampires are awesome" bandwagon that so many others are trying to get on, this movie actually what one reviewer called "a non-sparkly vampire movie." In fact, it's so far removed from the romanticized vampires of today that it comes off more like a zombie movie or the old black-and-white Dracula films. Vampires aren't good, and this movie goes to great lengths to show that it's not something you should aspire to be.

"Is there any way that you could fry that bag of blood?"
Be warned; if you're planning on watching this, I'm telling you now that I'm gonna spoil pretty much everything.

This movie was written and directed by two Australian guys, Michael and Peter Spierig. As a result, the movie has (perhaps) a slightly different feel than regular American movies, though all of the actors are still speaking in American accents.

In case you decided not to watch the trailer at the top of this page, the story goes like this: In the future, the entire world has been transformed into vampires. As a result, humans are used exclusively for their blood; they're put into these (frankly disturbing) farms that collect their blood. Since vampires drink blood exclusively, it's reasonable to assume that the company that harvests the stuff is a little more important than, say, a beef jerky company. The movie follows Ethan Hawke's character Edward Dalton. Holy crap, he's a vampire named Edward. Oh, those crafty Spierig brothers! We also find out shortly after the movie starts that Edward doesn't like drinking human blood, which suggests that vampires can subsist on animal blood, but that's never fleshed out (no pun intended). Edward is a hemotologist, a scientist whose job involves squeezing every last ounce of blood from the blood farm. His other job is to find a suitable substitute for blood, because the vampires are quickly running out.
Sam Neil's next movie? Vampire dinosaurs.
By random happenstance, Edward has a car accident with what turns out to be a van full of humans. He helps them hide in his car so the police don't find them, and eventually gets tangled up with the human resistance.

He soon meets Willem Dafoe, whose character name isn't as interesting as the name Willem Dafoe. It turns out that Dafoe accidentally cured vampirism (because he himself used it have it) via a technique that boils down to vampires being full-on exposed to sunlight then getting dunked in water. Soon, Edward is ed-cured and tries to bring his cure back to the vampires. Many vampires die, but eventually the characters, now cured of their awful affliction, literally ride off into the sunset.
While the movie might be a transparent allegory about the need for alternative fuels in the developed world, I thought it was quite entertaining despite that fact.

It doesn't paint vampires in a good light, which is refreshing. Furthermore, it turns out that when vampires don't consume blood for several weeks, they begin to turn into awful bat-human creatures that look like the orcs from Lord of the Rings. This was an interesting twist, as it makes the vampires almost relatable (but still monstrous). At one point, the Love Interest Girl actually gives Edward some of her blood simply because she "wants him to stay focused." There's no convoluted love story here; while Edward does travel with Dafoe and Love Interest Girl for most of the movie, never once do they kiss or even touch one another. I was glad to see it, frankly. Not simply because of Twilight's supersaturation in the mainstream today, but because every single movie has a love story. In the case of this movie, there simply wasn't room for one.

Bella doesn't even OWN a crossbow.
Strangely, even though it didn't seem like there was much character development, I think there actually might have been some. Thinking back, I realize that by the end of the movie, I had something of an appreciation for the characters. I wasn't terribly attached to them, but I related to their struggle. After watching the atrocity that is the 1998 remake of Lost in Space, it was kind of nice to care about characters again.

The most interesting thing about the movie was how much thought the Spierig brothers put into the world of vampires. Everything, and I mean everything was considered. Simple things that I wouldn't even think of, like a camera-and-screen inside the car's sun visor. "Duh!" I said, "vampires can't see themselves in mirrors!"

Vehicles have "blackout visors" in every window for when vampires drive in the day, replaced by an array of monitors for each window. You might not be impressed with it, but I thought it was bloody brilliant.

All throughout the movie little ideas crop up that fit perfectly with the vampire theme. Swat teams have these strange welding-helmet-cyclops-masks that block sunlight. There's an underground sidewalk-subway for vampires to walk the city streets during the day! Everything is perfectly crafted to accomodate the vampire's world and it really aids in the suspension of disbelief.

It's hard to really examine the writing of a movie compared to that of a book. You can't see the prose or style in the same ways. It's easier to think of it in terms of how many times I had to stop and think, "wait, that's stupid." In the case of Daybreakers, I didn't ever point out some awful dialogue or nonsensical thing like, "zoom in and enhance." Stylistically the movie's writing succeeded. The characters weren't completely developed, but then again, they were written well enough for the purpose of the movie. This wasn't a J.J. Abrams character picture; this was more like a Twilight Zone. Just a strange set of circumstance and some characters to explore exactly how bizarre everything is. Then again, Twilight Zone usually had really strong characters.

Everybody has crossbows in the future!

Although the movie is rated R mostly for violence and language, I can't help but feel like it might've worked as a PG-13. There were only a few F-words, but they didn't seem necessary; the characters were articulated and intelligent enough to get themselves across without needing to speak that way. After the insane-but-sensical rambling of Norman Osborne, hearing Dafoe swear seemed like an intellectual step down. Then again, I've never seen Boondock Saints, and I'm sure there's more Dafoe F-bombs in there than in Daybreakers.
When it comes to violence, though, I think the Spierig twins decided to please a certain subset of movie-goers, and that happens to be the "gorier the better" crowd. I've seen enough horror movies to know that people actually complain if there's not enough blood and guts. Weirdly, this movie didn't feel very much like a horror movie half the time. It was about Edward trying to redeem himself and humanity.

I should also mention that this movie had some of the sharpest, prettiest lighting I've ever seen in a movie. I'm not typically one to notice such things, but damn.

I guess I've reached the part where people usually give the movie a score or something. I wasn't planning on doing that, but I'll give it a shot.

The good:
Good, logical writing in regard to plot and pacing
Acceptable dialogue
Amazing attention to detail
Fantastic set lighting and general movie "look"

The bad:
Slightly tedious sub-story involving Edward's brother, a sort of human-catcher
Sam Neil's daughter's death (crispy vampire)
It seems kinda like humanity lost anyway, despite the happy ending

Overall: 4/5