Sunday, March 30, 2008

A Date With Doomsday

Sadly, Doomsday - director Neil Marhsall's love letter to the post-apocalyptic actioners of the early '80s - has probably disappeared from all but a handful of US theaters at this point but I'd like to give it a belated mention as one of the more pleasant cinematic surprises of 2008 so far. I'll admit, when I noticed that the tagline for Doomsday was "Mankind has an expiration date", I had the kneejerk reaction of "yeah, and this movie has an expiration date, too - 1982!" Of course, Doomsday had already sold me a ticket based on the fact that my own expiration date happens to be 1982 as well but honestly, I had to wonder: was there enough people out there clamoring for a thickly laid homage to The Road Warrior, 2019, After the Fall of New York, 1990: The Bronx Warriors and Escape from New York to make this movie worthwhile? Well, after seeing Doomsday I was just glad that Marshall didn't let such stupid questions keep him from making his movie. Doomsday has taught me that when a studio is willing to spend their money for you to get your geek on, you just do it. So the movie flops - so what? What a dumb thing to care about, right?

While Doomsday 's trailers and teasers had me bracing for a real eyesore, production-wise, I felt the film looked much better on the big screen than I was expecting. Marshall didn't squander a dime of Doomsday's budget and as a result, the film looks more intentionally gritty than it does impoverished. I was also surprised at how intense the action was. There’s several scenes depicting the crazed denizens of a long abandoned, virus-striken region swarming over the small band of soldiers who have entered looking for a cure for the Reaper virus (what else would they call a virus in a movie like this?) that are genuinely gripping. And the action and the film’s settings are more varied than the ads would lead you to believe as well. It’s not all about car chases and urban squalor. There’s some great sequences later in the film that take place in and around a coverted castle that give the movie a visual breath of fresh air.

Doomsday’s lead, Rhona Mitra, is set up as the film’s Snake Plissken figure and while she does all right, she’s no Snake. In line with that, Doomsday’s main problem is that in every way it isn’t in the same league as the movies that it idolizes. There’s a climatic car chase that’s clearly indebted to the final chase in The Road Warrior but isn’t even close to matching George Miller’s still-jaw dropping sequence. And Marshall should’ve come up with a last shot as iconic as the end of Escape from New York with Snake walking away, destroying the tape that holds the world’s fate in the balance, as the distinctive beats of Carpenter’s synth score rise on the soundtrack. With Doomsday, after its final car chase (bonus points to Marshall for using the Frankie Goes To Hollywood hit "Two Tribes" here), the movie half-heartedly sputters through a couple of scenes and then the credits roll.

That’s not to say that Doomsday on the whole isn’t enormous fun. Sure, it may only be a pastiche of earlier - and for the most part better - films but it’s the only pastiche of this particular rank of films that’s out there right now and the only one likely to be made for some time. Even though an eternity of heavy rotation on cable likely awaits Doomsday, Marshall clearly made this for the fans so it's disappointing that more of them didn't come out to support it on the big screen.

I definitely liked Marshall's previous films - Dog Soldiers and The Descent - but this is the first one that's really made me excited about what he might do next. That’s not to say that this is his best film, but it’s the first one to make me think that if someone keeps giving this guy bigger sandboxes to play in, he’s going to really deliver and his films won’t look like processed Hollywood ’product’.

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