Doom (2005)
Universal Home Video
Cast: Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Karl Urban, Rosamund Pike, Raz Adoti
Extras: Featurettes, First Person Shooter Sequence,

Also one of the first studios to support the HD-DVD format, Universal Home Entertainment has released two titles, one of which being the action film "Doom." Based on the computer game classic by id Software, the movie is a big budget effects and action spectacle that is exactly the kind of food you need to present and sell a new platform like high definition video. Let's face it, the early adopters who drive the initial wave of acceptance of high definition video are better known for their desire to impress their friends with new technologies than for their discriminating taste in movies. "Doom" makes a perfect showcase product, no doubt.

After receiving a frantic call from Dr. Carmack, a scientist working on some top secret research in a remote laboratory on Mars a SWAT team is sent there to investigate and control the potentially contagious situation. What follows is a nightmarish – or should I say highly Resident Evil-ish – mission filled with undead and mutated encounters.

The story of "Doom" is banal and straight-forward and therefore resembles the game pretty much. The game was essentially a brainless shooting gallery that received cult status because of its revolutionary technology and the pop culture presence of John Romero, one of its creators. The movie follows essentially the same formula and the backstory merely serves to string up a series of action sequences that are getting increasingly frantic as the film progresses. In nod to the original computer game the filmmakers even employed a first-person sequence in the film in which we basically see the "Doom" the game in full motion video. It is a great gimmick – though it takes you out of the movie entirely – but it is way too long for my taste growing old very quickly.

Presented in its 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio the presentation of the movie on this disc is simply remarkable. It is a very new movie and as such the print quality is staggering and virtually in perfect condition. There is no grain visible anywhere and as a result the high definition transfer we get to see here is absolutely clean, clear and stable. The transfer has incredible contrast and the image you see on your screen is marvelously rich in detail. Even the most subtle details in the image are visible in a clarity that is remarkable. The same holds true for the color reproduction in the transfer. Colors are absolutely stable and never bleed. The color and shadow fall-offs are wonderfully delineated with good gradients even in some of the most difficult shots. As a result the image is always razor-sharp but without any exaggeration or edge-enhancement. The image looks natural at all time, but super-sharp. Overall the presentation of the film is probably the best high definition transfer in the market and will serve as my reference transfer for the time being to which all other releases will have to live up to.

The audio on the release presents itself as a full-bodied 5.1 channel Dolby Digital Plus track that is also a powerhouse to say the least. Making aggressive use of the surround channels throughout the audio presentation features a striking clarity and impressive dynamics. From the subtlest ambient effects to the most explosive moments everything is reproduced without any problems while the spatial placement is solid and always makes it possible to properly locate sound sources. Dialogues are well integrated and always understandable despite the powerful sound effects and the music.

Unlike the Warner Home Video HD-DVD releases, which immediately launch into the movie when you insert them into the player, Universal is taking a more traditional approach by launching into the disc's main menu. The menus themselves look nicer than Warner's, though both studios apply sort of a template to the menus of their releases, meaning they all look basically the same for each of their movies. I am definitely not a friend of this approach. The slightly tech-look that Universal has works great for films like "Doom" and "Apollo 13" but I would see this as a total anachronism for something like, "King Kong" or "Jurassic Park."

From the disc's main menu you can access the release's bonus features and the audio set up. While browsing through it, one thing came to my mind. Didn't the HD-DVD hype instill the promise to have full motion chapter stops on releases where you could see the different video streams at the same time? Well, if so, forget it. It is not happening. Chapter stops are still coming up as still images and in the case of the Universal titles I think the studio made major snafu that they should address as soon as possible. Their scene selection menu works like a rotation. You always see three scene selections on the screen with the middle one being the currently selected one. If you happen to enter the scene sections for the first time you will see the first chapter in the middle of the screen and right above it the last chapter of the movie. This is a major spoiler and I knew, for example, that two of the movie's main characters would survive even though I had never seen the film, simply by bringing up the Scene Selections before watching the movie. I can already hear people screaming at this because these sorts of spoilers are a No-No!

Apart from the audio and subtitles options you also access the other special features from the menu. When active, the bonus material menu is quite large and covers half the screen while the movie continues to play in the background. Unlike Warner, Universal is not stopping playback once a menu reaches a certain size, which I also think is a thing that should be redesigned.

In terms of features, the release contains a number of featurettes on the making of the movie, ranging from a look at the training of the cast to create illusion of being a super-efficient SWAT team to a special effects featurette covering the creation of the monsters in the film. Another extra is a longer version of the first-person shooter sequence. Since I found the one in the film already much too long I'm not sure how much value is in this, though it does also explain how the sequence was created.

"Doom Nation" is a look at the "Doom" phenomenon. It discusses the influence the game had on the computer games industry, how it became pop culture and how it has spawned an entirely new genre of games and introduced the word "Death Match" into the common vocabulary. While it is an interesting featurette overall it does have some shortcomings. How can any documentary on the subject of "Doom" be made without an interview featuring John Romero is beyond me but it clearly has something to do with id Software politics and John Carmack's ego. Why we get to see interviews with an array of G4 television hosts is also beyond me, especially since some of them are clearly to young to actually have lived the phenomenon. I don't think there is a lot of value in hearing four journalists from the same TV station talk about the game. Having a wider spectrum of journalists discuss the game and its historic importance for the industry would have made much more sense. So, ultimately the documentary is a bit poorly researched.

All bonus material are presented in standard defntion on the release.

Usually a film like "Doom" would not hold much interest for me but as a showcase product for HD-DVD it works very well. The technical quality of the release is impressive and clearly stands out. This is how high definition video has to look like to impress people. Sharp, detailed, with vivid colors and razor sharp edges that put any DVD to shame, that's the recipe here, making "Doom" the perfect show-off product for the HD-DVD platform. Just don't expect too much of a movie…