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review added: 10/2/00



Final Destination
New Line Platinum Series - 2000 (2000) - New Line

review by Dan Kelly of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Final Destination: Platinum Series Film Rating: B

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/A/B+

Specs and Features

98 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:02:02, at the start of chapter 13), Snapper case packaging, filmmaker commentary (by James Wong, Glen Morgan, James Coblentz and Jeffrey Reddick), actor commentary (by Devon Sawa, Kerr Smith, Kristin Cloke and Chad E. Donella), isolated score (DD 5.1) with commentary by composer Shirley Walker, deleted scenes and alternate ending, 2 original documentaries: Test Screenings and Premonitions, DVD-ROM features (including script-to-screen screenplay, original theatrical web-site, Death Clock, psychic games and animated postcards accessible by Internet), scene access (19 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 and 2.0), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

Make no mistake about it - if Death wants you, it will have its way with you. In Final Destination, a group of high schoolers en route to France on their senior trip finds this out the hard way. When Alex Browning (Devon Sawa) has a terrifying premonition of a violent plane crash, he and several of his classmates get kicked off the flight moments before it takes off. As they sit in the lobby of the airport, they realize that Alex was right and watch in horror as the plane bursts into flames. The plane crash itself is a breath-taking, hyper-realistic spectacle and is genuinely thrilling. It sets the tone for the rest of the film, but it’s also the highlight of the film. That’s not to say there aren’t other good things about the film, but the best shouldn’t happen so early in the movie.

As the movie progresses, we learn that this vision was not a one-time thing for Alex. He slowly comes to realize that Death had a plan for him and gets clues (both big and small) that the other survivors too will die. He was intended to die on that plane, and one way or another, Death will find a way for him to bite it. He shares this revelation with Clear (Ali Larter), Carter (Kerr Smith) and Billy (Sean W Scott), and together they try to come up with a plan to avoid falling into the hands of fate. They have legitimate discussions about death and fate, and they spend much of the film trying to figure out Death’s intentions for them. It’s a refreshing change to see bright, thoughtful teens in a movie that are less concerned with the tightness of their sweaters (think Jennifer Love Hewitt in I Know What You Did Last Summer), and more about their place in the world.

On many levels, Final Destination is a very effective and creepy movie. It’s well written and smart in the way that it deals with death and its not so immediate effects on people. Writers Glen Morgan and Jeffrey Reddick and co-writer/director James Wong deal responsibly with a really delicate subject matter (fatal trans-Atlantic plane crashes) that is still fresh in many people’s minds. At the same time, they have a lot of fun with the idea of death being out to get you. It’s cleverly placed into the plot of the film. However, if you really pay attention to it, and think hard enough about it (which is something many filmmakers assume moviegoers won’t do), it’s too clever for its own good. This cleverness, at times, becomes somewhat of a distraction. The Candyman even has a cameo, for God’s sake!

For sheer effectiveness, I’d think a simple heart attack would be the quick, immediate way for Death to be assured of doing someone in. But being chased down in your bathroom by green water from a leaky toilet pipe that trips you up, makes you lose your balance, fall in the tub and strangle yourself on a wire looks a lot better on film (not to mention that it fills more screen time). In the eye of the filmmakers, death is more concerned with creativity, ingenuity and getting things done the hard way (watch out for that bus!) than it is with good old-fashioned reliability and the “shortest distance between two points” theory. Also distracting (though more for the studied fan of the horror genre) is the constant use of fanboy cinema tricks (tongue in cheek references to cinema both new and old). More than a handful of character names are culled from silent film pioneers (Hitchcock, Waggner and Chaney to name but a few), and there’s no way you CAN’T think of Evil Dead when Alex is locked in a cabin doing battle against supernatural forces. There’s a point where homage and paying tribute become a hindrance to a movie. As new filmmakers, Wong (an The X-Files writing/producing mainstay) and company lose sight of that and cross that line a few too many times.

New Line has prepared a nice DVD treatment of Final Destination. For starters, the anamorphic transfer presents a good representation of the theatrical look of the film. Colors are well balanced and textured, and there is no color bleed that can be caused by over-saturation. Black levels are also good (if a little on the grayish side at times) and are instrumental in creating the visual mood of the film. This is also a nicely detailed picture that avoids some of the pitfalls (like shimmering) of a poorly done transfer. The real drawback to the film is some overly intrusive edge enhancement. Some of the whites in the film are glaringly white and create a bothersome halo effect. The 5.1 mix is a strong one that is also effective in helping establish mood. There are some pretty cool ambient effects channeled through the rear speakers, and the bass definitely makes its presence known here. Most of the sound movement is maintained in the front end of the field, and you’ll definitely notice a lot of neat (and not labored or forced) panning effects that make this a very natural sounding and aggressive mix.

The extras are a nice batch, but I can’t help but wish there were more on the disc that was directly related to the film. The bulk of the film-related material is in the three audio commentaries. The first commentary (by the director, co-writers and editor) is more technical in nature. All four are eager to talk about the making of the film and often times talk over each other. The isolated Dolby Digital 5.1 music track (with commentary by composer Shirley Walker) is also a welcome addition, and she discusses the work that goes into scoring a film. Admittedly, her portion is somewhat limited in scope, as she must talk in between musical passages. I found the actors’ commentary to be the most engaging of the three. They’re all willing to talk about making the film, goofing off, being covered in blood and sitting in a packed theater to see an audience respond to the film. The deleted scenes (which include an alternate ending) are nice to have, and helped me to realize why I didn’t like the ending that was in the film. It felt tacked on and quick to tie up all the loose ends in the movie. As it turns out, the original ending plays into a whole separate sub-plot that delves even further into the already obligatory love relationship between Alex and Clear. The original ending isn’t so great either, but it seems more thought out and genuine than the one that ultimately made it into the film.

Test Screenings is a look at how initial, pre-release test audience screenings factor into the final movie product. It’s very revealing, but also frustrating, to see that studios put more trust and faith in what an audience (who are just excited to be seeing a free film) thinks of a movie than they do in the filmmaker’s ability to make a good film. Oh... and be sure to check this out AFTER you watch the film, because every plot point and scare is given away here. Premonitions takes a 20-minute look at Pam Coronado, an “intuitive investigator,” who has visions much the same way Alex does and taps those abilities to help police solve murders. It’s a fun viewing, I guess, but it also feels a lot like a Fox prime time special. On the ROM-side, you can watch the film while you read the ever-so-clever script if you so choose. The film’s website is also on the disc, there's a game where you can test your psychic ability by guessing which card will pop up next, or you can play with the "death clock". Believe me, you’re not gonna leave that one feeling good. No matter how much you lie about your health and eating habits, it will tell you you’re dying soon. You’ve been warned. All in all, the extra features aren’t bad, but I would have liked more. A segment on the special effects would have been nice, as would a basic making-of featurette or direct interviews with the cast.

Final Destination is a ride (no pun intended). If you think a whole lot about it, it’s not going to be as fun as the filmmakers would have liked it to be. Sure, it’s got its flaws, but technically it’s a well-made film. It could just have benefited a little from more restraint on the part of the director and writers. Its presentation on DVD is solid and makes for a good few hours in front of the TV. It’s a film that’s definitely more enjoyable with a crowd willing to shout at the screen, and that may not come through at home unless you invite a few friends over to watch it with you. If you like mindless, jump out of your seat scares, you can’t get any better than this.

Dan Kelly
dankelly@thedigitalbits.com




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