The Christian Rationalist
“Earth was theirs long before it was ours. Language, science, math, they gave us everything. Without them, we couldn’t evolve.”
–Dr. Malcolm Bertruger, Doom: Annihilation
The atrocious 2005 Doom movie with Dwayne Johnson and Karl Urban is no longer the only film based on the Doom video game franchise. Thankfully, it is also not the best one. 2019’s Doom: Annihilation towers above the nonsense of the previous attempt to translate Doom into the cinematic format in many ways. Its very limited budget is apparent in scenes involving outward CGI shots of a base on Phobos, but at least the acting and execution of the setup’s promise are handled well in spite of the small resources behind the film. The acting actually elevates characterization that in many cases is not especially extensive (though some characters do stand out in this area). Annihilation is even a far better work of entertainment overall than the first two Doom games , which, despite offering great combat and exploration for their time, had some of the most lackluster storytelling, lore building, and thematic structure of any game I have ever played.
Even though the aforementioned small budget is very noticeable in some shots of a base on a Mars moon from the outside, most of the sets do a very effective job of having the appearance that might be expected from a higher budget. A scene near the very end set in Hell itself actually has the best of the non-practical effects. This same scene, like many of the others, captures the thematic essence of Doom as a series quite well. However, there is no Doom Slayer to rescue the main characters from Hell’s demons. The handful of Marines introduced in one of the first scenes fight the aliens alone. Not every Marine gets the same amount of character development, but Amy Manson’s Lieutenant Joan Dark serves as a more nuanced replacement for “Doomguy,” otherwise known as the Doom Slayer. Another actor stands out very distinctly for his intensity and sincerity: Dr. Malcolm Betruger in particular is realized very well by Dominic Mafham’s performance–in fact, he towers above the other cast members to the point of eclipsing even Amy Manson, whose Joan Dark is the main protagonist.
Betruger’s name actually calls back to a character in Doom 3 with the exact same name and title, one of many connections to the ideas used in video game series. A host of other references to Doom lore and even a reference to Wolfenstein, another first-person shooter franchise from the creators of the Doom games, are scattered throughout the runtime so that observant series fans are rarely more than a short time away from seeing or hearing more. One of the more obvious ones is a statement made when Lieutenant Joan Dark obtains the BFG (an acronym for Big Fucking Gun), casually referring to it as a “big fucking gun.” Others include an AI called Daisy (the name of Doomguy’s pet rabbit in the older games) and the identification of Sergeant William Blazkowicz’s corpse, Blaskowicz being the primary protagonist of the Wolfenstein games.
Some spoilers are below, but the basic premise is that of the original Doom, Doom 3, and the 2016 Doom reboot.
When Union Aerospace Corporation (UAC) scientists successfully teleport a human from and back to a base on the Mars moon Phobos, hell spills over as alien life forms invade the facility, possessing the noncombatants present and setting the stage for a planned demonic takeover of Earth. A group of UAC soldiers is tasked with securing the facility after communication stops, finding the base overrun after the teleportation experiments. Soon after, alien beings hunt them, which forces the surviving team members to attempt an escape using the teleporter that started the UAC’s dangerous investigation. Evidence comes to light suggesting that the alien life forms actually gave the Sumerian language to humans and potentially intervened at other points in history.
Like Prometheus, Doom: Annihilation touches upon theological issues by having a main character who lost her parents have a personal connection to a religion (seemingly Christianity), and, as with Prometheus once again, the “ancient astronaut” concept of aliens interfering with humans thousands or millions or years ago has a central place in the story. The Hell of the film is a physical realm inhabited by organized extraterrestrial creatures of different appearances that have used teleporters to visit Earth and directly impact human societies. In this rendition of the Doom universe, the extraterrestrials seem to have given humans ancient languages and helped accelerate mathematical and scientific discoveries, as Dr. Betruger says, but his statement that they provided humans with language, mathematics, and science is misleading at best even in the context of the fictional universe.
Language is a social construct by default, so even if the demons gave humans a specific language, they are not responsible for either the human ability to use language or for any languages that preceded or followed their arrival. Mathematical knowledge–knowledge of actual truths pertaining to numbers and not arbitrary ideas that are associated with mathematics in the present day (like certain unverifiable cosmological notions)–is immediately accessed on some level by everyone who realizes that one number is distinct from another, both on the purely abstract plane of numeric concepts and the plane of physical matter which could not be outside the necessary truths of math. Regarding science, again, the demons could only have introduced certain ideas beyond immediately perceived scientific laws at an earlier time than humans might have discovered them later.
Of course, the UAC member who makes the false claim that humans owe potentially “everything” to the demons only reflects a broader range of fallacious ideas held by workers of the UAC. Another scientist insists that “We are violating the laws of physics” when testing the teleportation gates created by alien life, as if manipulating the unimpeded laws of physics is the same as violating them. Violating the laws of physics requires a superhuman ability to control the behavior or existence of matter in a sense far beyond using gravity, electricity, or some other natural phenomena to manipulate each other or create something new. Manipulating laws of nature (which are contingent on matter and the uncaused cause that created the universe and could even change at any time as it is) for specific ends is the most that humans can hope for, and the separate laws of logic that are necessary, abstract, and fixed, unlike scientific laws, cannot even be manipulated due to their intrinsic veracity.
Doom: Annihilation would have certainly benefited from a larger budget, but it does honor many norms of the game franchise while taking a more directly intellectual approach to a familiar premise. This is fairly unique in comparison to many of the Doom games: while they are all excellent representatives of the FPS genre from their respective times in gaming history, very few of them even start to provide detailed lore or thematic depth. The 2016 Doom and, to a much greater extent, the recent Doom Eternal do have far more developed lore and exploration reminiscent of Metroid Prime, yet most of the lore in the 2016 game is found in optional collectibles. This means Doom: Annihilation actually has some of the strongest immediate worldbuilding of anything that bears the Doom name. That a massive budget is ideal for an adaption like this does not mean the movie does not have its very competent aspects. In spite of the popular criticisms of Annihilation, this much is clear.
1. Violence: True to the game series the film is based on, Doom: Annihilation has many scenes of dismemberment, shooting, and general savagery (not that killing with guns is savage at all on its own!). Severed body parts are shown onscreen several times.
2. Profanity: “Shit” and “fuck” are used multiple times.
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The Christian Rationalist
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