SAN FRANCISCO--As hundreds of people packed the Loews Cineplex Metreon lobby for a sneak preview of Doom, waiting in a line that spanned the lobby, up a flight of stairs and well onto another floor, the crowd was uniquely indistinct. Audience members spanned age, race, and gender to such a degree that the only people standing out in the crowd were the very young and the very old, essentially the same people likely to stand out at any hyperviolent, hyperkinetic, R-rated action movie.
Even the turnout showed mainstream appeal. A couple of women in the audience who had experience with past preview screenings said the turnout was one more like you would expect for a big-time blockbuster than a game-based movie. The pair of women, asked only to be identified as "Ann" and "E.T.," were evidence that the movie had appeal beyond the gamer crowd. Ann had never even heard of id Software's hugely popular Doom series of first-person shooters.
"Actually, I didn't know that it was about video games, but I saw the trailer, and it looked kind of interesting," Ann said. "I like those no-brainer, action-packed kind of things, and I thought, 'The Rock's in it. I really want to see that!'"
E.T. said she isn't a gamer either but that she was willing to give Doom a chance because she enjoyed Resident Evil. As for her expectations, they were simple and straightforward: "Action. Entertainment. Loud."
While nobody seemed to have expectations of a new Citizen Kane, some were skeptical that Doom would even be able to meet the most modest criteria. Juan Molina arrived two and a half hours early to wait in line for the screening, his only expectation that it "be like the game." As the audience began filing into the auditorium, Molina was unconvinced his expectation would be met.
"Will it be good? I don't know," Molina said. "They got Rock. He's an alright actor, but I think they should have got somebody else. ... Maybe somebody who could play a better marine. Maybe Bruce Willis. He was pretty good in Hostage."
Andre Allen and his young son Michael were more optimistic, having arrived early and staked out a pair of seats front and center. "I don't play the games, but I heard that it was coming out, and it sure looked good," said Andre.
When asked what he knew about Doom, Michael shrugged sheepishly. A question about the Rock gets the same reaction. Michael is a gamer, though. When asked if he enjoyed other game-based movies he's seen, Michael said he especially liked The Hulk, "because he has superpowers and can jump high."
Without knowing the plot of Doom, Michael was optimistic about his chances of enjoying the movie. "Maybe I'll give it a two-thumbs up!"
The lights dimmed, the crowd hushed, and as the Rock pointed out early on with a figurative wink-and-a-nod, "It's game time."
For an hour and 40 minutes, the audience sat watching a sci-fi corridor crawl in the mold of Aliens. In the movie, a group of elite marines, headed up by the Rock, journey to a quarantined research facility on Mars, where a group of scientists who casually play God is busy getting its comeuppance at the hands of some ugly, ugly creatures.
And while it wasn't universally loved, it wasn't universally loathed, either. When the film went for scares, it got a few people jumping out of their seats. When it went for the funny bone, the audience responded with measured laughter. When it delivered with scattered bits of fanboy pandering, it got equally scattered hoots and hollers. Judging from the audience reaction in the packed 300-seat auditorium, Doom went over fairly well, with few people having especially strong feelings about it one way or the other.
However, a quick sampling of some moviegoers on their way out of the movie suggested a few more-emphatic points of view.
When asked what she thought on her way out of the theater, E.T. said she'd gotten what she came for ("Action. Entertainment. Loud.") and was generally pleased with the film. A random audience member overhearing the question interjected with an emphatic one-word review: "Terrible!"
David Chau was similarly unhappy with the film. "I didn't like it," he said. "I went in expecting nothing, expecting the worst. And I guess I pretty much got the worst." In particular, Chau took issue with the film's dialogue ("corny") and the much-ballyhooed part of the movie filmed to mimic the first-person perspective of the Doom games.
"That was horrible," Chau said. "It made me sick. I knew that was going to happen, but it still made me sick."
There were enthusiastic points of view in favor of the movie as well. Howard Kwong, a self-described "huge gamer," said he expected the worst going in to the movie, but came out really pleased, especially with the first-person section of the film.
"I was one of the people yelling if you heard me," Kwong admits. "Because that was Doom. And that's really the only time you get that real Doom feel. All the other times, you're looking from on top of people. That wasn't Doom."
While the audience on Doom was less than uniform in its opinion of the movie, that still has to be seen as progress for game-based films, or at least a relieving sign that the game-based film niche doesn't have another Alone in the Dark to live down. Doom is rated R and opens in wide release this Friday.