I think it is a fantastic treat when developers insert actual story into their shooter games, particularly if they can avoid the ham-fisted expositional information-dump so prevalent in other franchises. When a game gets a story right, it helps really sell the whole idea, adding life and depth. It makes me scratch my head then, when adapting such a work for a different medium, writers will completely forego the already well-developed plot and inject Hollywood mediocrity in its place.
Most recently I’ve seen this in the 2005 movie DOOM, which I think serves as a great example of story replacement where none is necessary. I want to cover the backstory of the classic 1993 shooter and compare it to what was ultimately produced for the big screen.
In the name of “progress”
Stationed as a guard on Mars, the protagonist’s military unit is called into action when scientists on the moon Phobos activate a new prototype teleportation device which consumes the whole of the moon Deimos and opens a rift through which things start attacking. Ordered to watch the return ship, the rest of his team enters the base to investigate and contain whatever’s going on inside. The only radio transmissions he receives are of screaming, and eventually, silence. Service pistol in hand, he enters the facility to try and save the day. It turns out that the scientists ripped a whole from our universe into hell itself, and literal demons have started entering the world. It’s our protagonist’s job to stop the invasion before they can reach Earth.
To me that sounds like a fairly succinct, expandable story that leaves a lot of room for action, mystery, additional characters, and some great supernatural horror (a la Event Horizon). What we got instead however, while admittedly an entertaining action romp, was much less interesting.
In the movie, a rag-tag bunch of stereotypes are deployed to Mars because of some unknown incident. Family drama aside, it turns out that scientists here recovered a humanoid skeleton from the surface of Mars and discovered that its genome had 24 pairs of chromosomes, one more than modern humans. They tried to synthesize this extra pair, testing it on convicts who were surreptitiously locked up near an archaeological dig, when some of them turned into monsters, killing almost everyone and kicking off the plot.
Realistically I can see what they were going for – literal Hell would likely be denied straightaway by most movie studios – but while sticking to the “unethical scientific exploration is bad” idea they removed a large part of what in my opinion makes the original story compelling. In the original we see a human fighting for humanity, realizing he is the last hope against a truly alien force, the social, political, and religious ramifications of which could be further explored. In the movie it’s the story of humanity turning on itself, prompted by an outside force. At the end of the movie there’s been no journey because there wasn’t any growth to be had. Something else caused humans to turn on one another, and once that “other” was defeated all is hunky-dory, aside from the dozens of dead scientists. It doesn’t pose any questions and it doesn’t ask to be explored.
I admit I like tactical, cerebral, logistics-driven movies more than the generic wisecrack-slinging action tale, but I look at what had been done with a very straight forward action game, the story framework put around it to make the whole conceit work, and wish that that movie had been made instead. Not only does it leave more room to the imagination but it also invites the possibility of sequels (something Hollywood is certainly fond of).
I suppose topics like this are debated endlessly in film criticism classes, debating the relative strengths or weaknesses of a particular translation or rewrite, but I am glad that I finally put my thoughts on this to paper; thoughts that this movie evoked the first time I saw it a decade ago.