Earlier in March, Universal released a teaser trailer for a new movie based on a video game, DOOM: Annihilation. This movie comes from Universal 1440, a studio within the Universal family that focuses on “non-theatrical” film releases. If you’re taking notes, that’s the contemporary euphemism for “direct to video.” This teaser, which briefly introduces what DOOM: Annihilation looks like, was met with instant derision from the fans. It resulted in id Software lowkey disrespecting the project on Twitter, denying involvement with a very non-diplomatic answer to a fan query. Despite what seems like a big departure from the original Hollywood DOOM stinker, it seems like DOOM: Annihilation is well, doomed before it can even come out. But I’m here to suggest we still give it a shot.
First of all, It’s important to talk about Universal 1440 as a studio. In 2019, the very concept of a non-theatrical film release is totally different from what it was in the earlier days of video game movies. Uwe Boll is a distant memory, and we no longer have brick and mortar rental stores lined with exploitative cash grabs meant to imitate blockbusters. The direct to video market is no longer producing careless flicks on shoestring budgets. Studios like Universal 1440 have realized the power of word of mouth and social media doing marketing legwork. It knows that spending a few extra bucks to make low budget flicks more legitimate pays off.
Quietly, studios like Universal 1440, Warner Premiere, Paramount, and Fox (well, maybe not anymore) have been making movies by mining dormant IP for sequel-based titles. They spend handfuls of millions of dollars to make not blockbusters, but movies of a quality standard justifying their spot in a Red Box machine or streaming menu. This includes movies such as the Death Race, Jarhead, and Chucky sequels, all of which have managed to find audiences due to their quality. None of these movies are going to be making waves at awards shows or raking in Avengers money, but much like Netflix Originals and more grassroots online content endeavors, these smaller movies are finding niches and doing well.
DOOM: Annihilation looks like it fits right in to this mindset, with the added flavor of an exciting and rejuvenated video game license. DOOM, as an IP, is riding a wave of momentum right now, thanks to the awesome 2016 title published by Bethesda. That game was pure DOOM, as it involved several hours of running through corridors and blasting demons from literal Christian Hell. While it’s mostly light on story, its humorous anti-corporate vibe, window-dressing, and subtext helped foster a distinct identity for the game. That, combined with its air-tight shooting, made it an instant classic.
A movie can’t be DOOM 2016 and realistically hope to sustain itself. Video games like DOOM work, because the player is experiencing it in a physical sense. Repetitive actions and tasks can still be fulfilling, even hours in. While many may be groaning at the prospect of another DOOM flick with an ensemble cast, that sort of thing is necessary to keep the average person engaged in a movie. Just look at Dredd, a cult hit that could have just been Judge Dredd being a badass for 90 minutes, but succeeded in adding flavor and additional characters beyond the titular comic book anti-hero.
Aside from the Aliens-like gang of space marines, DOOM: Annihilation looks pretty faithful to the source material, all things considered. It’s set on Mars, and we learn in the teaser we’re dealing with someone who flew too close to the sun and opened up a portal to Hell. The guns are huge, and there’s even a scene involving a chainsaw. All of these things are very DOOM, and we’ve barely had a look at the various demons and monsters. Sure, the film has a definite low budget look, but in the digital HD era, it’s hard for a movie to look truly bad anymore. Perhaps, as the flick comes closer to its release, we’ll get to see more of the creatures from the games. Or maybe we won’t, due to budget constraints. It’s hard to say.
The important thing is that DOOM: Annihilation, which is both written and directed by a Universal 1440 regular in Tony Giglio (the writer and director being the same person can be a good sign), looks like what a low-budget DOOM movie should look like. There’s a ragtag group of space soldiers, big-ass guns, demons from Hell, heavy guitar music, and dark, Martian corridors.
Expecting a blockbuster-level production from the DOOM IP is destined to be an exercise in frustration. That will never, ever happen. But a low budget affair made by a studio which built its name around producing targeted content with policy-level standards in quality? Frankly, I have higher hopes for DOO: Annihilation being exactly what I’d expect it to be than I do with any random 100+ million-dollar Hollywood excursion based on a comic book. Could it still end up being bad? Absolutely. But there’s more of a chance for Doom: Annihilation to be a fun ride than anyone is giving it credit for.