Has any other filmmaker pissed away his genre goodwill quicker than Neil Marshall? After the unique werewolf deconstruction of Dog Soldiers and the universal acclaim for his spelunking scarefest The Descent, the UK fear master had the opportunity to make any film he wanted. It's the kind of creative carte blanche that anyone in his position would crave. So what did he decide to do? The lame and very lackluster Doomsday is the answer. While not quite inherently original, the post-apocalyptic thriller does have its entertainment allure, especially when you bring some new ideas to your dystopia. Sadly, Marshall's vision was so retro as to be retarded. He simply borrowed the premises from several '80s action films and fused them together in an unsuccessful motion picture mash-up. The results were regressive, to say the least.
Eden Sinclair is a highly trained member of the British military, a police force mandated to maintain order in light of the 30 year long outbreak of the Reaper virus. Under the direction of Cabinet Minster Canaris, and Chief Nelson, she lives a life constantly in the crosshairs of danger. When the plague comes to London, after decades considered quarantined in Scotland, the powers that be want to halt the spread immediately. And they think they have a way. Seems satellites are picking up activity in Glasgow - human activity - and this must mean that there are survivors...and a cure. Kane, an imminent scientist, was left in the area when the borders were closed. Canaris wants the antidote and he wants it now - the fate of the rest of England is at hand. Of course, Sinclair will have to rely on a ragtag group of well-armed soldiers to get her into the forbidden zone and back...before the rest of the world suffers the same fate as the UK.
In trying to figure out what went wrong with Doomsday, one is faced with several potential theories. The first, of course, condemns the film for its obvious backwards glancing. After all, how do you defend something that swipes from Escape from New York, all three Mad Max films, Aliens, 28 Days/Weeks Later, Medieval Times (the chain restaurant, not the era), and reduces them all into a grade-B schlock shout out? After all, is this a motion picture or a drinking game? Paying homage is one thing. Stealing ideas outright seems pretty antithetical to originality. Then there's the cast. It's interesting that Marshall keeps the big names - Bob Hoskins, Malcolm McDowell, David O' Hara - up in their ivory towers of control, while less famous faces like Rhona Mitra and Craig Conway do most of the hero shot heavy lifting. They're not bad actors. Indeed, they each bring a real vitality to their turns. But they are not iconic by any stretch of the imagination. Instead, they merely remind us of the cinematic symbols their characters were stolen from - and how good those previous incarnations really were.
In truth, very little of Doomsday feels original. The virus is reminiscent of a thousand different 'end of the world' scenarios, the people eating a more gratuitous take on the whole Soylent Green shock. When Eden and her crew traverse a barren Scottish landscape, they're like rejects from James Cameron's Marines in space. Had Marshall found a way to make these references fresh, to incorporate them into his own unique take on the material, we'd enjoy the reverence. But with celluloid copycatting comes contempt's catalyst - familiarity - and by the time Sol is scrambling across the hood of an automobile in full Vernon Wells mode, we're sick of the mimicry. We want to see this director break out, to deliver the kind of thoughtful dread he delivered in his previous efforts. But something about Doomsday thwarts his inventiveness. Instead, everything here feels like a fanboy's notebook obsessions, the scribbles for a screenplay that don't recognized how ripped off they really are.
So the question becomes - are there any saving graces here? Is there any reason to visit this version of Armageddon when there are clearly better examples of the genre out there? Well, it has to be said that Marshall doesn't skimp on the sluice. There is some tasty gore in Doomsday, accented by a new "Unrated" cut of the film. Heads will roll and body parts will explode, all in service of some rather mediocre circumstances. Marshall does pull back, though, especially in scenes where some excess would have helped. When Eden takes on an evil knight in full battle regalia, their Thunderdome-esque exchange lacks any real arterial spray. Similarly, the fisticuffs and swordplay want for true sizzle. Instead, they seem like random inserts, coming into the narrative as ways of separating the speculation from the spectacle. In the end, it's a real lack of ingenuity that dooms this 'day'. All Marshall had to do was avoid the past and present something that would remind us of our humanity during inhuman situations (ala Children of Men). Instead, we get nothing but non-stop allusions. Unless you spent endless, dateless hours in front of the VCR drinking in the wealth of '80s action, you'll be bored by the obvious impersonations.
Universal offers Doomsday in an Unrated (read: slightly more blood and violence) version that's very easy on the eyes. The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen image, clocking in at almost four minutes more than the original R rated cut (which is present as well), has excellent balance, bringing a nice control of both the blacks and the colors to the transfer. There is a wealth of details, which does undermine the CGI now and then, but overall, the picture is vibrant and very atmospheric.
Allowing the speakers to explode in action movie excess, the Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix provided really does deliver the goods. There is an excellent use of the back channels (especially during the quieter moments), and when Marshall cranks up the '80s soundtrack classics - Adam & the Ants "Dog Eat Dog", Sioxsie and the Banshees' "Spellbound" for example - the entire home theater comes alive. Overall, the dialogue is crystal clear and the mood that the filmmaker tries to maintain is captured rather well.
First up, we are treated to a group commentary which finds Marshall doing the 'name the reference' thing with cast members Les Simpson, Sean Pertwee, Darren Morfitt, and Rick Warden. Sprinkled in among the anecdotes and various old movie references are some conversations about the costuming, the tireless shooting schedule, and how serious some of the extras took their roles as rebellious survivors. It's a decent discussion, if not very in-depth or definitive. The production gets more of a showcase in the various featurettes. Anatomy of Catastrophe: Civilization on the Brink is a fine Making-of, while the F/X of Doomsday gets double documenting. One focuses solely on the work of the production designers and prop managers, the others looks at the futuristic feel of the film. When taken together, you get a nice selection of added content. Too bad the movie they supplement doesn't deserve it.
If you already own the movies mentioned in this review, if you groove on Kurt Russell in his gnarly Snake Plissken persona and can only see Sigourney Weaver and Milla Jovovich as hard as nails female ass kickers, then there's no reason to revisit their lesser duplicates in Doomsday. Indeed, working up anything other than a minor amount of morbid curiosity for this bomb belies the film's many missteps. A score of Skip It would suffice, if only because there's better Marshall out there. But some fans actually liked this uninteresting free-for-all, so in order to be fair, a Rent It is required. Once again, it provides a way for both sides of the situation - the lovers and the haters - to have their say. From this critic's perspective, Doomsday is a dud. The idea of Neil Marshall taking on the end of the world always had a certain anticipatory flair. Unfortunately, there's a million miles of disappointment between the prospect and its eventual realization.
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