Doomsday (2008)
By: Mr Intolerance on November 14, 2008  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Universal (Australia). Region 2 & 4, PAL. 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1, Spanish DD 5.1. English, Spanish Subtitles. 108 minutes
The Movie
Director: Neil Marshall
Starring: Rhona Mitra, Bob Hoskins, Adrian Lester, David O'Hara, Malcolm McDowell, Sean Pertwee
Screenplay: Neil Marshall
Country: UK
External Links
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There was a lot of nay-saying when Doomsday came out. A lot of people called it 'derivative' which would indicate that those were the kind of people who didn't get the fact that it was meant to be an homage to the post-apocalyptic films of the 80s – and therefore would be obviously tipping it's hat to the likes of Mad Max 2, The New Barbarians, Escape From New York and the like; that would be the intent of an homage, after all. Either that, or after the brilliance of The Descent, people couldn't wait to stick a knife into director Neil Marshall's back, tall poppy-syndrome style. I didn't pay any of it any attention and am sitting here watching this and willing to give it a go, judging it on the merits it presents, without confusing homage for plagiarism.

"Like so many epidemics before, the loss of so many lives began with a single microscopic organism. It's human nature to seek even the smallest comfort in reason or logic for events as catastrophic as these, but a virus doesn't choose a time or place; it doesn't hate, or even care. It just happens." 

The above narration is delivered (by Malcolm McDowell, my little droogies), over images of chaos and disease caused by the Reaper Virus. You wouldn't want to try it, believe me. I'll leave the purulent, pustulent disfiguring boils at the door, thank you very much. It begins in Glasgow, 2008, in April, and by June the same year has spread like wildfire to the Scottish/English border. So have the Scottish people trying to escape it, only being met by the military, who aren't too keen to let possibly infected people through.

"The Reaper Virus spread among the population of Glasgow like a common cold. There was no stopping it. No cure. No vaccine. It claimed the lives of thousand in the first week. In an attempt to quell the outbreak, martial law was implemented, roadblocks set up, curfews enforced. The airports, seaports and borders were closed. Scotland was placed under quarantine. The people were ordered to stay in their homes, to avoid travel, avoid contact, to sit it out and wait for help that did not come."

A kind of Hadrian's Wall of steel and barbed wire is set up at the border, and stiff shit for anyone on the wrong side of it – you're stuck with it, mate. The soldiers open fire on civilians in the first of some pretty memorable splatter scenes; the situation is reminiscent of what happens in Raccoon City at the start of Resident Evil: Apocalypse, the action and camerawork has shades of 28 Days Later, at times – 2 great modern-day post-apocalyptic films themselves. The voiceover itself is reminiscent of that which you get as an introduction to Rats: The Night of Terror. Spot those reference points, people!

"The wall stood thirty feet high, clad in steel armour-plating, It followed the line of an ancient Roman frontier two thousand years before, spanning eighteen miles, east coast to west, cutting Britain in half. Coastal waters were mined and patrolled, the skies were declared a no-fly zone, and orders were given to shoot down any aircraft in violation of the quarantine. The idea was simple: nobody came out, and nobody went in. They needn't have worried about the second part…Those abandoned in the Quarantine Zone were left to die. Social order decayed along with the corpses, the streets ran with blood as the people fought to stay alive. The bodies burned in their thousands. Looting, rape and murder became rife, fires spread as the cities were plundered and the last to die became primal savages, feeding on dogs, rats, and finally…on each other. As the weeks turned to months, the funeral pyres faded and died. In time, all the lights burned out, consigning the country north of the wall first from memory, and then from history. Just as London turned its back on the Hot Zone, so the rest of the world turned its back on Britain. With hundreds of thousands unemployed, homeless and destitute, the situation has reached breaking point. It now remains only a matter of time before the laws of Nature seek to redress the balance."

The above is told to us with some very Escape From New York-like computer visuals – homage doesn't even come close! Feeding on dogs and rats – that's two separate movies being referenced right there. Marshall must love the post-apoc genre; he's throwing in sometimes clever, sometimes obvious references for us all to enjoy. Even the typesetting of the credits is reminiscent of Carpenter's film.

27 years later in 2035, and Major Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra) is a paramilitary police officer (a member of the DDS, the Department of Domestic Security, an amalgam of the army and the police, as Britain's international army is now no longer welcome overseas), part of a raid intent on breaking up a slave-trading ring (one of whom looks like an early 70s Pam Grier) which goes horribly wrong. She's also the little girl we see getting rescued, just as Scotland is closed down, having lost an eye (allowing her to occasionally wear an eye patch like a certain character from a certain couple of John Carpenter films featuring the word "Escape" in the title – at other times, she wears a glass eye recording device she can detach and use for surveillance). Speaking of Scotland, the Reaper Virus has broken out in Whitechapel. The Government, is obviously not too keen on this and wants to implement martial law, following procedure they did in Scotland. Y'see a spy satellite over Edinburgh and Glasgow has seen living people on the streets of both cities, and the PM (is it any coincidence that this terrible bastard's name is Hatcher – his sinister second in charge is called Canaris, which was the name of the chief of Hitler's spy-force, the Abwehr – glad to see some of the names here are still in true post-apoc style being heavy-handedly chosen for their symbolism – I suppose even Nelson is being named after the famous admiral who saved Britain against Napoleon) and co assume that living people means a cure. Chief Nelson's (Hoskins) job is to form an elite unit to infiltrate Scotland and find out what that cure is and bring it back. In time-honoured Escape From New York fashion, the team is of course expendable, and the whole thing is working in the name of political prestige, not the common good.Guess who gets to lead the team?And Plissken-like, she has a time limit: 48 hours. Also Plissken-like, she has a GPS locater – boy, isn't Marshall laying on the Carpenter-love with a trowel? 

Sinclair heads north and meets the rest of her crew, comprised of about half a dozen soldiers and two egg-heads (one of whom is played by Sean Pertwee, who in Marshall's Dog Soldiers, was a tough-as-nails soldier, but here is a character a little more out of his), who are there to interpret the information of a Doctor Kane, who was a leading scientist in the bacteriological research field, and who may have discovered a cure for the Reaper Virus, holed up for some time after the Quarantine with a bunch of stranded soldiers in St Andrew's Hospital.

After a strangely uneventful trip to Glasgow (apart from running over a cow), the team arrive at the hospital, and suit up in some rather 80s-style retro-chic body armour – man, these suits could have been from any of Castellari's or Martino's great works in the genre. As they're searching the hospital, the action begins in earnest with an ambush by our…ahem…new barbarians, decked out in implausible haircuts, and outfits and tactics and weapons which wouldn't be out of place in Mad Max 2, Escape From New York or, well, The New Barbarians. There's some fine carnage on display – Marshall knows how to deliver a violent action scene, and this is no exception. Things have started to go horribly wrong, with one of the scientists having his head perforated by that most awesome of weapons, the bit of wood with nails in the end. One of the APCs is in a bit of a spot of bother, too. Our heroes make a hasty escape from the hospital away from a horde of primitives (I kept thinking of Hudson from Aliens, "They're coming out of the fucking walls!"), and the chase that ensues is taut, violent and awesome. Our heroes suffer a few too many casualties and a lot of collateral damage, Sinclair gets captured, and if I can quote a famous line from another classic film of the genre, "Everything is 100% snafu!"

Sinclair's captor is a certifiable fucking lunatic called Sol whose enemy, so we find out, is Kane – and Sol sees Sinclair as his golden ticket Willy Wonka style to what he perceives to be the Promised Land beyond the wall. As she flatly states to him – he'll be sorely disappointed. Sol does have a gimp, however, so maybe his idea of a promised land would be a Soho sex shop…

Anyway, Sol goes out to address the troops, who he's having entertained Roman Emperor style with violent games (hmm, did I see a Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome reference on screen?), but his menace is sadly reduced when he comes bopping out onto the stage to the tune of a Fine Young Cannibals track. But hey, he's got pole dancers, so that's cool. Mind you, he also has fat men dancing in kilts, which is not. I've never thought of the Siouxsie and the Banshees song "Spellbound" as the appropriate theme song to the gruesome act of a cannibalistic feast, but well, that now means one of my favourite songs is ruined for me forever. This scene is by turns slapstick and well, kind of stupid, and then mean-spirited and cruel. You'll see what I mean. And see if you can spot the Bad Taste reference.

Sinclair soon escapes with Kane's daughter, but  soon though it's out of the frying pan, and into the fucking fire as Sinclair gets captured again (is she really that elite?), this time by Kane's men, who are dressed in medieval armour. I guess that makes sense, as Kane lives in a castle. All of his people are medieval types – living in a new Dark Age, maybe as he might see it? Before we even meet him, it's obvious he's barking mad. The immediate future of the quest is looking bleak. Gets even bleaker when we meet Kane (it's Malcolm McDowell, malchicks and devotchkas!), who's channelling Ragnar Redbeard via Charles Darwin, believing he and his people have been saved via a rather brutal form of natural selection, but sees his people as the chosen ones (add a pinch of Hitler), and couldn't give a tinker's cuss about the fact that the Reaper Virus has broken out again. He then gets to utter one of those immortal lines of the despot: "Take them away", and so Sinclair and friends are thrown in the slammer. Being that this is a medieval castle, that wouldn't be very nice.

Things are looking equally bad for Sinclair. If Kane is the kind of man who'll have his own daughter branded with a hot iron, what will he do to these interlopers from over the wall, a place he despises? Sinclair gets to duke it out with Kane's executioner in the gladiatorial arena. She's unarmed, and he's a seven foot killing machine in full plate mail with a spear and a morning-star. It seems an unfair fight, but other things are afoot. There are many killings, explosions, a frenzied horse chase occurs and then we're brought back to a tunnel we saw after the gang have made their escape from the train and then they find another way to escape, and then there's another car chase and then…you'll have to watch the end for yourselves. I'm spent.

There was one point in the final car chase (hmmm, a police car chasing a powerful black car (I would have preferred the last of the V8s over a Bentley, but that's just me, after all, she sucks nitro…) – might have seen that before), when a quote from a certain genre classic never seemed so appropriate: "Big Bopper to March Hare…we're out of the game". You'll know it when you see it. And the Mad Max and Mad Max 2 riffs just keep going…

This is a film that keeps on giving. Has a false ending or two, but you can forgive that. References more post-apocalyptic and dystopian future films than you can shake a stick at, but I kind of enjoyed that (sorry for all the name-dropping above, it's just that these are genres I truly love, and I got all fan-boi excited – apologies if it came across as being like a show-off), if anything it made it all the more interesting for me. Yeah, it had all the predictable anti-government vibe you might expect, given the fact its so vividly aping the 80s, and was made now – although the threat of viral weaponry – the mythical "weapons of mass destruction" of Bush's phony war on terror (AKA American cultural imperialism, invading innocent sovereign states for his own profit and glorification), the fascist douche-bag – might seem a little passé, but it's still in recent memory, and so I guess still relevant to a contemporary audience. But jeez, it was a fun ride. Oh, and in case you were thinking, "Hang on, a post apoc film with knights and castles and shit? How does that fit in?" You obviously haven't watched enough post-apoc films. There's always something goofy going on – the drummer out of nowhere in 1990: The Bronx Warriors for example – or that gang with sparking bowler hats doing their soft shoe shuffle? The unspoiled food after 300 years in Rats: The Night of Terror? The camp kendo knights in 2019: After the Fall of New York? And can I ask you to explain the internal logic of 2020: Texas Gladiators to me? Any of the post apoc stuff from 2019: After The Fall Of New York mixed with the footage from Island of the Fishmen with the weird kid's sci-fi adventure movie vibe of The Fishmen and Their Queen? The entirety of Beyond Thunderdome? Just proves that Marshall tapped into the post-apoc vibe very effectively indeed.     

And is it set up for a sequel? Well yes, but I personally think that a movie with the title Doomsday 2 might seem a little redundant.
A flawless transfer 2.35:1 transfer, anamorphically enhanced, of course. I'm a big fan of cinemascope, and this looked the bomb. Sharp, colourful and spotless - it's everything you could want from the DVD format and more.
Suh-weet. Big fat sound for big fat action and big fat explosions, and makes the most of its 5.1 soundstage.
Extra Features
A number of featurettes detailing different aspects of the film: Anatomy of a Catastrophe: Civilisation on the Brink (this is kind of a general making-of doco; interesting), The Visual Effects and Wizardry of Doomsday (well, if you can't work out what this will be about, go back to playing in the dirt – I find these things mildly interesting at best), Devices of Death: Guns, Gadgets and Vehicles of Destruction (again, I think you can work out what you're getting here, and again, my attention started to stray). There's also a feature commentary with director Neil Marshall, and cast members Sean Pertwee, Darren Morfitt, Rick Warden and Les Simspon (this is occasionally sporadic – you get moments, quite a few of them, where you get the original soundtrack, instead of commentary – I did get a laugh out of the moment where they identify their "Ken Loach tribute moment" – tee hee!). You also get a trailer for Timber Falls, and one of those irritating Blu-Ray promos. Oddly enough, and not that I give a shit, there's no theatrical trailer. I thought they were simply de rigeur.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
I thoroughly enjoyed this. It was everything I look for in an action movie – it was entertaining, it never took itself too seriously, the action scenes were amazing, the violence bloody, the pace frenetic – what were you looking for? A romantic subplot? Characterisation? Don't believe the nay-sayers. Tremendous fun, rolling around in every post-apocalyptic genre convention like it was having dirty sex with it, and trying like a mad bastard to entertain its audience - Doomsday is total gold. Neil Marshall has kicked a goal with this one and no mistake. I'll admit that the pacing slipped a bit when the gang were captured by Kane, but this was still prime post-apoc fun, and definitely worth your time and your hard-earned. Buy it. NOW!

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