Doomsday (Unrated)

Let's say you are watching a movie and someone has a briefcase full of money handcuffed to their wrist. As soon as they walk on screen are the person who starts thinking, "boy, I hope that buxom chick uses a machete to cut that guy's hand off so she can take his briefcase." If you answered yes, then Doomsday is probably the movie for you. Stealing from what has come before is a time honored tradition in movie-making. Whether it is called an homage or a “tip of the cap,” many of today’s films owe a debt to the director or writer’s extensive DVD collection. It’s really not the worst thing in the world if the director adds something unique to the idea or presents the whole package as something more than just cobbled together rip-offs from better films. Unfortunately, Neil Marshall went with the cobbling together method for his post-apocalyptic action movie, Doomsday. While it’s not terrible, the feeling of “been there-done that” keeps it from rising above the level of a somewhat gory diversion.

The most obvious movie forefathers to Doomsday are Escape from New York and the Mad Max films. The Snake Pliskin here, complete with occasional eye-patch, is Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra). Eden is sent by her boss Bill Nelson (Bob Hoskins) and the Prime Minister’s creepy political advisor, Michael Canaris (David O’Hara), to lead a team into Scotland in the year 2034. It seems in early 2008, a killer virus spread like “the common cold” through Scotland. Rather than doing something like, you know, helping, the English government just sealed the borders and left everyone to die a gruesome death. Of course, everything comes round to bite you in the ass and now the same virus is threatening London. With reports of some survivors in Scotland, the hope is Sinclair’s team will be able to discover a vaccine for the virus. So the eye-patched anti-hero is sent into the walled part of the country to get something of value out…sound familiar?

When Sinclair gets into Scotland with her team, including her tough as nails Sergeant (Adrian Lester) and medical researcher Stirling (Darren Moffitt), they are met by psychotic cannibalistic punks, a la Road Warrior. Of course, many colored Mohawks and dune buggy chases ensue. The punks, led by the scenery chewing Sol (Craig Conway), are trying to get out of the sealed zone and back into the real world. They also hate Kane (Malcolm McDowell) who lives with his followers in a former tourist castle in a style formulated after The Lord of the Rings and Gladiator. Kane has rejected the world that rejected Scotland and wants to be left alone with his “natural selection” process society. Naturally, Sinclair must escape from both violent and nutty groups, find the vaccine, and get back to civilization as the clock continues to tick.

While it is beholden mainly to two films, Marshall has thrown in a little of everything. Sol keeps a leather bound “pet” on loan from Pulp Fiction. Change Kane’s name to Kurtz and the movie spends a few minutes in Apocalypse Now territory. When the team runs for a train pursued by the punk’s bus, the scene is almost a direct copy of one of the best scenes in The Warriors. Add on touches from Aliens, James Bond films, Moulin Rouge, and probably other apocalyptic movies I haven’t seen, and it’s clear Marshall doesn’t really give us anything new, or even that coherent.

He does give us a slick bit of action and stunts, delivered by the easy on the eyes Mitra. Her acting is rote and the impressive supporting cast (including Lester, Hoskins, and McDowell) aren’t given enough to do to show they really can act, but it’s not really the acting or even the story that will entertain fans of this genre, it’s the action and blood. If you have the need to see hundreds of bodies splattered like watermelons with tons of fake blood spurting out, this does it all in a very professional manner. You can ignore logic gaps like the amount of gasoline available and just enjoy watching a guy in a car flying off a cliff and smashing at the bottom of a ravine. Marshall even injects a little humor to keep everyone from taking this thing too seriously. My favorite is the faded sign that says “gift shop” in Kane’s castle haven.

Doomsday surely has an audience. Undemanding blood action fans will get their fix and there are at least three severed heads, including one that flies directly into the camera lens. The money they spent, reportedly about $30 million, does show up onscreen with some interesting stunts and almost non-stop action. Those looking for a good story, good acting, or something fresh or new, however, should avoid Marshall’s bloody movie stew. Let me say, right off the bat, that the producers of the “unrated” Doomsday DVD deserve some kudos. Without loading on tons of extras, they have put enough on to give fans of the movie more of what they will be looking for and even allow fans to choose which version of the movie they get to watch. Both the theatrical version and the “unrated” version, which contains about four extra minutes of blood and gore, are on the DVD. I’m a big fan of giving people the choice on watching different versions of the same disc rather than forcing them to buy another copy.

The disc does contain a commentary with writer/director Neil Marshall. They weren’t able to get any of the big names to join him in recording, so he’s joined by actors Sean Pertwee, Darren Moffitt, Rick Warden, and Les Simpson. Moffitt is the only one whose role could be considered large, but none of the commenters, even Marshall, provide much insight. In fact, there are longish times where no one says anything at all. It’s probably the weakest extra. You can only hear the commentary while watching the unrated version, although you’re best off just skipping it altogether.

The three featurettes included are much better. The first, called “Anatomy of a Catastrophe: Civilization on the Brink” is a pretty standard behind-the-scenes documentary. It does, however, give a lot of behind-the-scenes footage, shots of scenes being filmed with an off-stage camera, and explanations of various scenes and shots. Lasting more than 17 minutes, it has less of the boring self-congratulatory interviews and more of the on set comments and descriptions of how things got done. Marshall and the producers do state flat out the names of the movies that influenced the film so you hear Mad Max and Escape from New York mentioned more than once. In fact, star Rhona Mitra refers to the movie as “Road Warrior on steroids,” which is pretty clichéd, even for a making-of documentary.

The other two extras provide more specific information about the things that the core audience (young males) is going to be interested in; namely, special effects, cars, and weapons. “The Visual Effects and Wizardy of Doomsday” is eight minutes and provides some very interesting visual effects information. Rather than just explaining the shots, the “original shot” is shown with different visual effects elements being layered to the final composite. Some of the material dovetails nicely to what is seen in the “Anatomy of a Catastrophe” extra. Also, it shows that despite Marshall’s comments that most of the stunts were “real” (rather than CGI), there is still a lot of special effects at work in the film.

The final extra is called “Devices and Death.” All of these extra titles are very subtle. Realizing that this is going to be an area of real interest to fans, this extra runs 20 minutes. This is real specific behind-the-scenes stuff on creating the vehicles used in the film, including a heavy duty armored personnel carrier that figures prominently in the beginning of the film. There is also lots of looks at the Mad Maxish vehicles driven by the punk gang. After the car talk, we get to weapons talk. The guns used by the military team along with the homemade or more medieval weapons used by the different gangs in Scotland are shown being created with the props experts giving a lot of detail on how it was done. It’s really pretty cool and I enjoyed the behind-the-scenes look more than the actual movie.

I didn’t much care for the movie itself, but I did like watching the extras and they will please fans. If you were one of the few people who saw this film in theaters and are wondering if the DVD is worth checking out, you’ll probably enjoy it. They aren’t so great it would make up for the movie if violent bloody action movies aren’t typically your thing. This is genre DVD and if this is your genre of choice, you could do worse.