'Doom' Takes a Shot at the Gamers

In the movie version of the popular video game
In the movie version of the popular video game "Doom," the Rock plays a space marine with a lot of firepower. (Universal Studios Via Framestore Cfc)
By Jose Antonio Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 21, 2005

Turn a video game into a movie, gamers say, and the result falls smack between blah and bleh .

There was "Super Mario Bros." -- remember the plot? dinosaurs in Brooklyn? -- 12 years ago. Then "Street Fighter," with the reliably stoic Jean-Claude Van Damme as Col. Guile, in the mid-1990s. Followed by the regrettable "Mortal Kombat" films, the passable "Resident Evil" films -- and yes, the mildly entertaining "Lara Croft" films. Though "mildly entertaining," let's be honest, really refers to casting Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft. (Anyone remember "Tron"? The arcade game and the movie?)

Now comes "Doom," the Hollywood version of the classic game, starring the Rock as a gun-wielding space marine out to kill monsters. It hits theaters today. This is the granddaddy of shooter games -- the model for "GoldenEye 007," "Quake," "Half-Life," et al. It popularized the genre of first-person shooter (FPS), in which the player controls the point of view. There's even a bit toward the end of the movie when John Grimm, a space marine called "Reaper" -- get it? Grimm Reaper? -- grabs a weapon and the camera, in FPS mode, shifts to his view.

But is "Doom" the movie, inspired by "Doom" the game, well . . . doomed?

If the strong, boisterous reaction of 14 members of George Washington University's Gaming League is any indication, "Doom" is not quite bleh , more like blah .

"It's nothing to write home about," says Graham Musynske, the league's secretary. "The movie was all right, not Oscar-worthy or anything," adds the 20-year-old, "and thank God I didn't have to pay for it."

The league, which meets on Wednesdays for an hour and holds regular "gaming nights" at GWU's Marvin Center, attended a free advance screening of "Doom" on Tuesday night at the Cineplex Odeon near Tenleytown. The players stuck around after the show, mourning the sad, sorry state of video game movies.

"It's definitely below the 'Resident Evil' movies," Sarah Prisley, 21, the league's event coordinator, says to Paul Liao, the group's PR guy, referring to "Doom."

"I think it's below the first 'Mortal Kombat,' " opines Liao, 22, furrowing his brow, "but better than the second 'Mortal Kombat.' "

Hollywood and Gamewood are at a creative crossroads. Both crave the same audience -- young men ages 13 to 25. Last week, game publishing powerhouse Electronic Arts signed a deal with Steven Spielberg, who will create three video-game franchises for EA, titles that will likely lead to movie adaptations. Earlier this month, Peter Jackson, director of the "Lord of the Rings" movies, signed on to produce the highly awaited film version of "Halo."

At the heart of this competitive marriage is this question: How do you successfully turn an interactive experience (playing an Xbox game) into a passive one (watching a movie version of an Xbox game)? For whatever reasons, the recent crop of video game movies -- including 2003's "House of the Dead" and this year's "Alone in the Dark," both helmed by the German director Uwe Boll -- have consistently disappointed gamers. Someone even started a Web site called Uwebollsucks.com. Is it for real? A joke? No one is sure.

"Whether or not that site is for real, there's a huge amount of animosity for this guy -- he represents everything that's bad about video game movies," says Brian Crecente, senior editor of Kotaku.com, the video game equivalent of the snarky and very opinionated Gawker.com, which owns it.

Earlier this week, Crecente responded to an early review written by Chris Carle for IGN.com, a Web site for video game enthusiasts, in which Carle praised "Doom" as "the best video game-to-film adaptation yet." Crecente wrote: " 'Doom' has, according to Carle, thin character development, cheesy dialogue, a lack of story and is a movie that isn't 'about' acting. And this is the best movie based on a video game?"

"Whenever producers, writers and directors make these video games into movies, they don't seem to put a lot of effort into it. They think they can just ride on the success of the video game, so they don't worry about trying to improve it," says Crecente, who is also a police reporter for the Rocky Mountain News. "They think that games and movies are the same -- when, really, when you're playing a game, you're in control of the story, but when you're watching a movie, you're sitting there thinking . . . 'Hey, the plot isn't that strong.' "

Movies and video games appear similar, notes Greg Smith, an associate professor at Georgia State University. They're filled with action, and they're about trying to achieve a goal. "But the way that a film has to structure obstacles is very different from the way a game structures obstacles," says Smith, who heads the university's Moving Image Studies Program. "In a game, things come out constantly at you. In a game, you're the one in control. That's compelling. In games, you're rarely asked to engage in a story -- mostly, what you're doing is engaging in a compelling setting."

The story line for the game "Doom," which came out in 1993, is pencil-thin. Set on Mars, it's a game of killing monsters, opening doors, collecting points, getting to the next round -- and, you guessed it, killing more monsters. No room for dramatic tension. But the game does have cool weapons, such as the BFG, which some translate as "Big Force Gun," and features an eerie, paranoid world in which everything is threatening the player.

As for character development: Well, when the Rock clenched his jaw and screamed, in that over-enunciated way of his, "We have to stop anything from getting to the surface. By . . . any . . . means . . . necessary," Musynske, the secretary of the Gaming League, laughed out loud.

Musynske has three religions: Roman Catholicism, the New York Yankees and the video game "Halo."

"I'm kind of scared about what Hollywood will do with 'Halo,' " Musynske says.

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