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Doom & Why Film Adaptation No Longer Has Free Reign

by RJ Bayley

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Having diabetes can have its upsides. Last week, during a vigorous bout of cleaning before some friends arrived to stay for the weekend, I had a serious hypo. My blood glucose level dropped to 1.7 (normally it should be between 4 and 8) and I felt like had 50% of my internal body mass sucked out through a miniature black hole. It was, needless to say, very distressing. Tempering this however was the thought ‘oh what a shame, I am going to have to lie down, chug two lucozades, chomp half a packet of Dextro and watch a movie.

Naturally I turned to something horrific. Being a big fan of the original Doom games and to a lesser extent, Doom III, the film adaptation had been on my To Watch list for a long time. I was fully aware of it’s dreadful reputation, but sometimes you’ve just got to see something for yourself. Besides, I’m a big fan of Antisocial, and you can see how that fared on Rotten Tomatoes.

But the quality of the film is not the salient point here, and I think something positive can be drawn from most movies, even if it wasn’t what the makers of the film were intending. In this occasion, Doom crystalised ideas that I’d been ruminating on for quite a while.

For a long time there was a commonly accepted film theory that when adapting a property you could pretty much ride roughshod over the source material. Also that this wouldn’t be taken into account as factor for or against how good the film is. Just look at the 1967 adaptation of Casino Royale: rarely was its complete lack of fidelity to the original book ever brought up as a reason it was a bad movie. You just ‘have to judge it for it is’.

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Well ladies and gentlemen, that time is now 100% over. It’s all to do with the pervasiveness of, and ease of access to, different kinds of media. Back in 1993 you could get away with completely altering the tone, world, mechanics and core ideas of the Super Mario universe, because of all the people who were able to go and see the movie, only a small percentage of them would be those who actually care about the game or even be aware of it as anything more than a name. Likewise in 1997, who actually knew who the superhero Steel was?

Nowadays the tables have turned however, with moviegoers probably more aware of who Steel is than what exactly a ‘Shaq’ is. 2005’s horror sci-fi action film starring Karl Urban and The Rock (back when he was credited as The Rock) is the ultimate case in point. The Doom  games were and are iconic, universally recognised for not only their insane gameplay but terrifying tone and OTT gore. Doom (1993) and Doom II are still the definitive first person shooters. Even my dad loved getting knee deep in the dead and chainsawing up some imps. I still remember asking him when I could have a go – not ‘til he had done this level. He could probably still tell you a little about the game. Doom, like Freddy Kruger and Jason Voorhees, is a piece of horror fiction that’s within the public consciousness. Even people who’ve never played Doom or seen A Nightmare on Elm Street or a Friday the 13th film could probably tell you what Doom is who those two slashers are.

As I watched Doom unfold before my eyes, questions about the very quintessential elements of the IP crossed my mind:

What monster is that?

What gun is that supposed to be?

When are the demons from Hell showing up?

What game is this an adaptation of?

Why didn’t id Software sue for copyright infringement?

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As time has progressed media has increasingly saturated our lives. Video games have come to be the biggest entertainment medium in the world. Comic books themselves, not just the films they’re based on, have grown exponentially, with public awareness of their characters massively raised. And the properties that are adapted into more easily consumable formats have become culturally backwards compatible. The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones have inspired people to go back and read their source material, just as the Arkham games have created a new generation of comic book fans. And with the likes of digital comics and VOD we’re able to consume these source materials cheaply and instantly at the tap of an iPad. These characters have become part of the popular consciousness and so when a film adaptation is announced, like Doom, you have an expectation of what, at its core, that film should be. Filmmakers aren’t stupid, they know we have this expectation, and to be fair to them, that’s why we’re seeing more faithful adaptations of properties. From the business side of things they’re also realising that these properties were successful for a reason, so there isn’t much point in changing them beyond recognition.

Knowing that, the conscious decision to reject and change key components of a source’s makeup becomes a creative one. That puts the decision on par with ones about the story, the characters and the tone. Get those things wrong and it reduces our enjoyment of a film and we deem it a lesser film as such. Hell, those things are usually affected by changing the source’s makeup up. So, ignoring too many elements from the source material also reduces our enjoyment of the film. Therefore we can judge it for that just as we can judge it for acting, music and cinematography, without punity. The time of allowing a film to egregiously disrespect its source material is over.

Follow @RJBayley on Twitter.

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