creating Dog Soldiers and the mesmerizing horror bonanza
The Descent, writer/director Neil Marshall
has built up quite an impressive reservoir of good faith with both fans
and critics. He's a smart filmmaker; a fresh talent working the levers on
genres that need every ounce of intelligence they can possibly vacuum up.
However, Doomsday is a misfire for Marshall; a vivid production
giving him a plump budget to pursue his deepest widescreen dreams, yet he
loses control of this violent free-for-all immediately after takeoff.
When the Reaper virus rears its ugly head in 2008, it
threatens to wipe out Scotland, forcing government officials to do the
unthinkable: wall off the country to isolate the infected. Twenty-five
years later, the virus has returned, and the secret of a potential cure is
locked away in the quarantined country now populated with the tattooed and
cannibalistic dregs of humanity. Wasting no time, the cops (led by Bob
Hoskins) look to Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra) and her band of military
specialists to penetrate a makeshift city and recover a cure from gang
leader Kane (Malcolm McDowell) before the Reaper has a second chance to
wipe the population off the planet.
If the plot sounds like a job for Snake Plissken, you're
not far off. Apparently Marshall was munching on a serious dosage of
Escape from New
York pills when manufacturing Doomsday, resulting in not only a
comatose actioner, but a derivative one as well.
Frankly, the entire first act is devoted to the sights
and sounds of John Carpenter; Marshall unapologetically steals every cue
he can to make the picture resemble a creation from 1981, even employing
composer Tyler Bates to replicate legendary synth beats and
electro-stings. It's not passive idolatry as much as it's exasperating
thievery. Robert Rodriguez had far more interesting fun with
Carpenter-love in last year's Planet Terror, but
Marshall simply replicates his favorite scenes from Escape, only
now the action is blurred by trendy edit-happy action formations and the
gore is unrelentingly hostile instead of amusing.
Cracks in the foundation show up immediately in
Doomsday, particularly in
the casting of Mitra as the resident badass, Eden Sinclair. Mitra is
impossibly beautiful, but she's also impossibly bland: a personality-free
anti-hero who's left hanging by Marshall's remote screenplay, which
doesn't have time or patience to develop any character. It leaves the
picture a goulash of highly-caloric emptiness, with Marshall preferring a
sensorial assault over any form of dramatic interaction. He's making a
dumb '80's action sideshow, yet, in his quest for excess, he's lost any
potential, and quite critical, focal points along the way.
Let's face it: Eden Sinclair is no Snake Plissken, even when Marshall
bestows his heroine with an eye-patch in early scenes, along with a
constant influx of one-liners, albeit withered retorts. Marshall pushes
hard, but it just doesn't feel as natural as he's hoping.
Doomsday appears to come from the place in Marshall's brain that
encourages mediocrity, the picture somehow moves from Escape from New
York to Lord of the Rings in the second half, where Sinclair
tracks Kane to a touristy Scottish medieval castle, where the villain
lords over his horsemen and gladiators with an iron fist.
The tonal change isn't out of the blue since, by this point, Marshall's
exhausting ADD has been firmly established. However, that doesn't excuse
how goofy the movie becomes in this knights-and-arrows section of the
film, amplifying the disconnect between what Marshall thinks is a bloody
good show and what nonsense is actually happening onscreen.
For the last two reels of
mood switches yet again, and the finale is a straight-up Mad Max
pinch, only here the action is scored to a Frankie Goes to Hollywood tune
(no, I'm not kidding) and the car gymnastics feel more like a cruddy theme
park stunt show than an exhilarating, gleefully ludicrous pyrotechnic
orchestration. Here, Doomsday falls completely apart, lost in a
poisonous cloud of indulgence and bewilderment.
THE DISC: Offered in anamorphic widescreen
(2.35:1 aspect ratio), the image detail on the Doomsday DVD release
is outstanding, showing off every gory element with superlative clarity.
Marshall's bloodless color scheme is also preserved here, and black detail
is solid throughout.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital mix is a barnstormer, with healthy
attention to surround activity and violent atmospherics. Soundtrack and
dialogue are cleanly separated (much more than the theatrical presentation
of the film I caught months ago).
English SDH, Spanish, and French subtitles are offered.
Doomsday is offered in an unrated version of the
film (to compliment the included theatrical cut), which doesn't add any
major subplots, only gore - loads of it. I'm not convinced it stimulates
this already over-caffeinated film any further, but those with a taste for
DVD mayhem should be pleased with the reinstated bloodbath.
An audio commentary with director Neil Marshall, and
actors Sean Pertwee, Darren Morfitt, Rick Warden, and Les Simpson is a
pub-like affair with the affable co-workers deconstructing their effort.
Marshall is the captain of the commentary ship, dishing out details on the
South African location, his many film tributes, production difficulties,
and the overall bloodletting intent of the picture.
It's an extremely conversational commentary and the men
often talk over each other trying to submit their thoughts. The overall
mood is one of big screen triumph, celebrating Marshall and his step up
from low-budget scrappers to a well-funded embellishment of his
Anatomy of Catastrophe: Civilization on the Brink
(17:23) is the making-of featurette for Doomsday, sitting down with key
production members to discuss how the film came to be. On-set footage and
interviews pad out the program, showing the viewer location shooting,
stunt work, and revealing creative inspiration.
The Visual Effects and Wizardry of 'Doomsday' (8:32)
uses impressive comparison shots to showcase the incredible visual magic
of the film. Interviews with the people responsible add needed perspective
to the expansive scope attempted in Doomsday.
Devices of Death: Guns, Gadgets, and Vehicles of
Destruction (20:09) is the hardware parade, observing the work put into
creating the practical world of Doomsday, again visiting with cast and
crew, who tour the set and explain the finer details of the cars and
A Theatrical Trailer for Doomsday has not been
included on this DVD.
WORTH IT? Doomsday is a mess of lousy
filmmaking and unrelenting artistic bankruptcy, smashed together to form
an ear-splitting, overcooked, awfully irritating shell of an experience.
Whatever bloody-knuckle merriment Marshall was intending with this tribute
to the cinema speeds of the '80s has been lost in the headache-inducing
- Brian Orndorf