It has become something of a running trope that Hollywood has never been able to make a good movie from a video game and Silicon Valley has never been able to make a good video game out of a movie. There’s certainly something to this: games and the stories they tell are shaped by the interactivity of the medium, and inexpertly stripping that away to make a film (or inexpertly adding it to make a game) often winds up losing whatever appeal the original had. Such was the case with the 2005 film Doom, adapting the epochal 1993 first-person shooter which helped make that genre the behemoth that it is today. Despite the presence of heavyweights like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Karl “Lord of the Rings” Urban, the film fared poorly at the box office.
For film score fans, Doom represented British composer Clint Mansell’s first mainstream score after he burst onto their radars earlier that summer with his excellent score to the similarly (and unfairly) reviled Sahara. Mansell had, of course, been involved with music and scoring far earlier: as the lead singer of Pop Will Eat Itself to 1996 and filmmaker Darren Aronofsky’s regular collaborator with cult-hit scores to Pi (1998) and Requiem for a Dream (2000). Doom seemed like a prime opportunity to merge the newly-minted orchestral and thematic strength of Sahara with the more hard-edged pop/electronic sound of Pi and Requiem into a guilty pleasure of a score.
On paper, the ingredients are all there: a sizable orchestra with veteran orchestrator Bruce Fowler, Mansell’s own array of synthesizers and rock instruments, and even a choir to reflect the fire-and-brimstone demons from hell that the space marines do battle with. And yet Mansell turned out a score that is ultimately, and surprisingly, boring. Far from being an enjoyable ruckus, most of the album is given over to very quiet, at times almost inaudible, music for suspense and conversation with only occasional brief blasts of rock music to offer anything to keep listeners awake.
Worse, when the later portions of the album use Mansell’s rock sound more extensively (in and around the film’s much-derided “first person shooter” segment), it sounds extremely mundane, even generic, without any of Mansell’s grungy flair as demonstrated in Pi or Requiem. It is as if Mansell was told to replicate the sound of original Doom game composer Bobby Prince’s sparse MIDI music with a larger ensemble. Prince at least had the excuse of embryonic (and often inconsistent) PC sound card hardware for his stripped-down and occasionally simplistic sound; Mansell, either of his own accord or at the behest of the producers, was content to simply phone in the sound.
The orchestra and choir are such minor presences as compared to Doom‘s electronics that they may as well not even be present at all. In particular, the orchestra is mixed extremely low in comparison to the other elements, often inaudible even when the score is at its loudest. And while the choral parts of the finale track “Go To Hell” represent the best part of the experience, they are still very dim and difficult to pick out. Certainly, there is nothing approaching the clarity and creativity of Nicholas Dodd’s orchestrations for Mansell on Sahara.
Other composers have produced interesting scores fusing electronics, rock, and an orchestra for risible video game movies–Jeff Danna’s overachieving guilty pleasure score for Resident Evil: Apocalypse being perhaps the preeminent example of this. But whether by accident or design, or perhaps as a sly recognition of the very low quality of Doom as a motion picture even in its genre, Mansell offers nothing compelling for fans of the film, fans of the game, score fans, or rock fans. Small wonder, then, that the Doom score album was a prominent sight in remaindered Varèse Sarabande discount bins at Family Dollar stores.