Doomsday (UK - DVD R2)
Leigh Riding checks out director Neil Marshall's British actioner on DVD...
In the year 2008, a devastating viral strain known as the Reaper virus erupts and threatens to wipe out Scotland, forcing government officials to quarantine the country by constructing a 21st century Hadrian's Wall in order to isolate the infected. In 2035, a new strain of the virus erupts in London, and the secret of a potential cure is discovered to exist in the heart of Scotland, now inhabited by vicious, feral gangs. The chief of police enlists Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra) and her squad to retrieve the cure from gang leader Kane (Malcolm McDowell) before the whole of Great Britain is engulfed by the disease.
The writer/director Neil Marshall is a genuine rarity in British cinema; a committed genre film maker. With the exception of Paul Anderson, there are no notable champions of the sci-fi, horror and action genres. The British industry generally produce heritage cinema and worthy human drama, and frown on the more mainstream 'popcorn' fare, and when an established director such as Danny Boyle tackles horror and sci-fi, the British film industry attempt to dismiss the genre angles and sell them as 'worthier' films.
However, although Anderson struggled in the UK with British productions like the underrated Event Horizon, Marshall bucked the trend by making the popular Dog Soldiers and the acclaimed The Descent, both becoming modest hits. It was only a matter of time before Marshall was approached by the major studios. Doomsday is the result.
Smartly moving away from straight horror for his major studio debut, Marshall settles for a far more action oriented movie, and takes advantage of the increased budget by crafting his 'love letter' movie, in much the same manner as Grindhouse. The inspirations for Doomsday are right there for everybody to find; early John Carpenter, the Mad Max trilogy and 28 Days Later are obvious, and subtle nods to Army of Darkness and George Romero's lesser seen Knightriders are also there to find. Although Doomsday is an undeniably well made film, Marshall lets the influences run riot, tipping the film from homage to full blown pastiche. There's no getting around the fact; Doomsday imitates Carpenter's Escape From New York so closely, it could be labelled as a remake.
Being the huge John Carpenter fan I am, and an Escape From New York fan in particular, the similarities are as clear as day. The score echoes vintage Carpenter; aside from the virus macguffin the plot is incredibly similar; Rhona Mitra's character wears an eye patch; the hero is forced into a fight to the death armed with maces and shields, just like the famous 'boxing ring' fight in Escape From New York; and the chase climax simply replaces the Brooklyn Bridge with a Scottish highway. Calling one of the characters Fresno Bob doesn't help either. Even when Marshall leaves that film alone, he lets his love of Mad Max run rampant, with the climactic chase echoing The Road Warrior a little too closely, and the main villain Sol (Craig Conway) being far to similar to Wez from the same film. The barrage of familiar imagery threatens to capsize the film.
Surprisingly the film stays afloat. Although it's all been seen before, the film still entertains. There isn't an ounce of fat on the script, the action is brisk, hard-hitting and well staged (a siege and APC escape early in the film reminiscent of Aliens is superb), production values are high, and all of the actors are game. For those who like their action hard and bloody, the film certainly comes up trumps, with enough exploding heads and flattened bodies to please the old school. Doomsday has a sense of energy and enthusiasm that is undeniably infectious. Although a pastiche of classic films, this is crafted with far more skill, care and attention than one would expect.
For those of us still clinging on to standard DVD for dear life, transfers like this give us something to be smug about. The 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer here is outstanding (despite the incredibly annoying Universal watermark on this screener), with no grain, edge enhancement or loss of detail. The film's distinctive colour scheme is also well served, and black detail is solid throughout. The night-time action sequences early in the film are incredibly well handled in particular, and as a whole the transfer is superb. Without upscaling this is a good looking disc, but stick the upscale on, and this is a cracker.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital mix is an absolute stonker too, offering a textbook action mix. Soundtrack and dialogue are well separated, with plenty of activity in the surrounds and lots of well placed ambient effects spaced around the 5.1 system. Action sequences are incredibly strong, with the gunfire sounding immense, and the car engines practically growl with bottom end. Explosions sound huge with added bass to blow your hair back. This is a track to rattle the windows with, and makes a DTS option redundant. Credit to Universal for not skimping on the standard DVD in favour of BD in the audio/video area.
Anybody who owns the Dog Soldiers DVD will know that the commentary with the director and stars was one of the best there is outside of a Carpenter/Russell talk track. Unfortunately, this track (featuring director Neil Marshall, and actors Sean Pertwee, Darren Morfitt, Rick Warden, and Les Simpson) is slightly disappointing, with lots of long, long gaps. However, there is some great stuff on here, and Marshall is the first to point out some of his more outrageous steals from other movies. It's definitely a lad's commentary and everybody's clearly having a laugh watching the movie. It's a good natured track, and it's nice to hear the cast (Marshall's long time friends) congratulate the director for his success.
‘Anatomy of Catastrophe: Civilization on the Brink’ is a standard making-of, with all the usual talking heads, and doesn't really delve too deep into the production.
‘The Visual Effects and Wizardry of Doomsday’ uses comparison shots and interviews with the effects department, and does what it says on the tin. ‘Devices of Death: Guns, Gadgets, and Vehicles of Destruction’ is the boy's toys section of the disc, taking a look at the hardware on offer in the movie. In all, it's a fairly decent set of extras for a release at this level.
There is no doubt that Doomsday will split the audience straight down the middle. there will be those who will be unable to look past the similarities to much loved movies of the past and just see a noisy bastardisation of old favourites, and there will be those who will look past the similarities and simply be drawn in by the cheeky enthusiasm and sheer energy of the film and have a rollicking time. Loud, occasionally uneven, derivative and always huge fun, the film is recommended as a solid throwback movie made by grown-up boys for grown-up boys... like me.
Review by Leigh Riding
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 1st September 2008
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Extras: Feature Commentary with Director Neil Marshall and Cast Members Sean Pertwee, Darren Morfitt, Rick Warden and Les Simpson, Anatomy of Catastrophe: Civilization on the Brink, The Visual Effects and Wizardry of Doomsday, Devices of Death: Guns, Gadgets and Vehicles of Destruction
Easter Egg: No
Director: Neil Marshall
Cast: Rhona Mitra, Bob Hoskins, Malcolm McDowell, Sean Pertwee, Craig Conway
Length: 109 minutes