Sci-fi movie - Doom-ed?

Slashdot carries a discussion about the Doom movie based on the computer game of the same name. A lot of fans of the game are irritated and pessimistic as the producers appear to want to retain the look, feel and above all brand of Doom but lose the controversial "creatures from hell" aspect which some deem essential.

To be honest, I'm not sure what anyone's complaining about. Most first-person shooters are about ceaseless immersive combat using escalating hardware (and running on escalating hardware) against increasingly dangerous creatures. Doom (and its predecessor Wolfenstein 3D) practically invented the genre, but aside from improving the special effects, the game itself has not evolved from it's pixellated beginnings. And Doom's basic scenario (one man against hell spawn) is not a real basis for a movie script.

If any game has a chance to survive somewhat intact to a passive media like movies, it's probably Half-Life where there is an unfolding scenario, mysterious characters with unknown goals, in-game characters who engage in meaningful dialogue, not to mention a diversity of interactive and dynamic environments to delight the eye. But players already know that plot, so a Half-Life movie would have to diverge from it, which in turn frustrates fans. In this sense, a basic game "plot" lends itself better to being movie-fied because it can be added to without taking away from the foundation.

Movies usually add some depth to a basic story; more background, characters with personalities, emotions and goals; ironically the Doom movie is going to step away from all that by giving us extended segments using a first-person perspective. This is often used to show the viewer the perspective of a monster as it ravages it's victims, but using it to more accurately recreate the feel of a game is missing the point; games are interactive, movies are not (rewind, pause and forward don't count). I think extended first-person perspective without some control will simply frustrate the viewer (and probably make it hard to hold down any previously munched popcorn).

But as something of a sci-fi buff, the frustrating part for me is that the genre seems to be in a decline; the Alien series peaked long ago, the Space Odysseys have run their course, Solaris was (twice) a unique one-off, the Matrixes (or Matrices?) ended on a re-run of episodes 1 and 2 (though with some neat rain effects and more Hugo Weaving than you can shake a stick at), Twelve Monkeys and especially Brazil are but a delightful memory, Pi was odd but perfect, and Star Wars & Trek seem to have boldly gone too far.

So has the sci-fi genre played out, like westerns? Far from it; it's just that movie making is all about risk avoidance and not much about innovation, so exploiting a brand like Doom makes sound business sense even if it provides no creative input.

Just to show that there is endless potential to revisit and expand on standard sci-fi themes in existing material, here is the result of a brief brainstorming:

  • In a decadent dissolute evolved future society where humans are called Humes, every so often a mutant throwback becomes an unstoppable criminal; the society has a limited supply of ancient genetic material from which clones can be grown on demand, however the process of creating a clone damages the source material (genetic and memories) with consequences for the next clone to be made; the lead character is such a clone, restored with full memories from the previous clone, but damaged; while the criminal becomes more sophisticated, the clone protagonist gradually reverts to something more primitive, but with the pain of the memory of their earlier sophistication. The film is a race against time before the protagonist reverts to a intellectual Neanderthal, and a study of the cruelty of this staccato form of immortality. Secondary characters include a heartless Hume, a partner Hume and some love interest. This one is pretty derivative (shades of Brave New World meets Judge Dredd meets Blade Runner meets Gattaca meets Awakenings) but the plight of the main character and the apparent futility of his (or her) clones' efforts to stop the criminal offer some potential for an interesting human angle
  • In a world where humans and robots co-exist, the 2 main characters and the evil mastermind are non-humanoid robots (forget 3 laws of Robotics, think larger-than-life Hellboy-type personalities); shades of 2000 AD's Ro-busters, Antz, and Starsky & Hutch meets 48 Hours
  • In a dark future where all human brains are networked, interaction with computers and media requires no external device; (however instead of normal REM sleep, your brain is used as compute power, so instead of dreams you experience the equivalent of a screensaver which shows advertising and social education movies), the global master computer (Sandman) has occasionally had an excess of compute power and instead has monitored normal dreams which both teach and confuse it, until it becomes dangerously sentient, seeking round-the-clock control of human thought; the plot involves a combination of real action, dream sequences which effectively hack Sandman, and electronic hacking in a virtual reality; borders on the Matrix and Nightmare on Elm Street III, but with far more potential for bizarre scenes and a more personal AI villian (shades of Shodan from the System Shock game series); unlike the fundamentally broken premise of the Matrix, it is at least theoretically possible that the human brain (or other brains) could be used as a CPU
  • At least two books (Douglas Adams' Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and Julian May's Pliocene Exiles) consider how an alien species leads to human life as we know it, but there are many more ways to use this fundamental idea:
    • the apparently defunct genetic material in our DNA is simply inactive, waiting for a signal within the Earth to bring about a near-overnight evolution (the genetic information is used by mutagenic nanomachines, so it doesn't require an overnight transformation like Spiderman) which effectively turns a significant portion of the human population into aliens who want to complete a cleansing of the remaining population; the signal also broadcasts a racial memory so the aliens have a common misson and are able to rapidly develop technology to help with this conquest; however due unexpected changes in the Earth's mantle/core/magnetic-field, the transfomation miraculously leaves US/Europe/Asia/Ireland unharmed, so it's up to the brave few to save what is left of humanity from the alien horde and/or the transformation that will occur when the aliens repair their few defunct transmitters; cue Alien meets V meets Village of the Damned meets Voyage to the Centre of the Earth; why did the alien race hide itself in this way? to escape genocide by another (good/evil/neutral) alien race
    • the Earth enters a Fire Age (opposite of an Ice Age); this occurs not so rapidly as in Day After Tomorrow, but say over 10-20 years; this awakens a sophisticated alien race who are in millenial hibernation (suspended animation); the alien race are: a) good and want to help mankind adjust; b) bad and want to kill/enslave/eat mankind, while mankind are a) good and want to adjust to their new neighbours, b) bad and want to kill/enslave/eat the aliens

What does this go to prove? That if some well paid creative folks put any real effort into sci-fi (above is neither real, creative, well paid, or an effort), there are plenty of bizarre and interesting ideas to explore, with options to steer closer or further from the mainstream as desired.


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