Final Destination 3 Review
It is my opinion that you either "get" the Final Destination movies or you don't. Some decry them for being nonsensical displays of bad acting, clichéd characters and ludicrous death scenes that hearken back to the cheesy B-grade horror movies Herschell Gordon Lewis made back in the 1960s. Others, however, love them for exactly the same reasons, and I find myself siding with the latter group. These films are so unabashedly upfront in their intentions - simply, to kill off as many annoying teenagers in the most outrageous ways possible - that I find it impossible not to like them.
The plot should be familiar to anyone who has already seen the first two instalments in the franchise. Essentially, teenager has premonition of fatal accident and intervenes, saving own life and those of various bystanders. Death then sets out to reclaim the lives out of which he has been cheated, and all manner of mayhem ensues as innocuous household appliances become instruments of death. This time round, the recipient of the premonition is Wendy Christensen (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a self-confessed control freak about to graduate from high school. While at an amusement park eagerly snapping photos for the school yearbook, she experiences a vision in which she, her boyfriend Jason (Jesse Moss) and various fellow students meet a sticky end on an out of control rollercoaster. She kicks up such a fuss that she is forcibly removed from the ride by security guards, along with various other revellers whose exasperation at her histrionics results in a full-blown fight. Moments later, the rollercoaster flies off the rails, killing everyone on board, including Jason.
Some time later, after the inevitable mourning and hand-wringing has drawn to a close, Kevin (Ryan Merriman), who was Jason's best friend and also happened to lose his girlfriend Carrie (Gina Holden) in the disaster, comes to Wendy with the outlandish theory that, by cheating Death, Wendy has merely delayed the death of herself and the other survivors. Wendy is initially sceptical, but is forced to rethink her position when two survivors, Ashlyn (Crystal Lowe) and Ashley (Chelan Simmons), are fried to a crisp at a tanning salon. Determined to remain in control of her life (and those of the other survivors), Wendy sets out to fool Death a second time. The only clues to Death's intentions, it seems, lie in the photographs she took at the amusement park, which hint, in a frustratingly cryptic manner, at the ways in which Death intends to claim his victims...
This all sounds like desperately heavy stuff, and if handled the wrong way could not only have become incredibly morbid but also incredibly depressing, but writer/director James Wong and his co-writer Glen Morgan, former scribes of The X-Files and the duo responsible for the original Final Destination, make the wise decision to acknowledge the ridiculousness of the central premise and turn the film into an excuse to deliver the most outlandish, improbable deaths possible. It seems a little odd that these two, whose treatment of the original (a film which certainly had a sense of humour but which treated its events with a certain air of gravitas) was comparatively strait-laced, would opt to follow the more comedic format of its sequel (whose writing duties were instead handled by The Butterfly Effect writers, J. Mackye Gruber and Eric Bress), but they certainly manage to nail the format's appeal.
Any danger of becoming depressed by the sight of teenager after teenager being exterminated in the most unpleasant manner possible is quickly quashed by the extremely caricatured nature of the victims. The second film, which opted for a slightly older cast, had the snooty executive, the stoner and all manner of other twentysomething clichés, and Final Destination 3 outdoes it by serving up a host of obnoxious high school caricatures. It's not that they deserve to die so much as them simply being too exaggerated to be seen as real people. It also helps that many of the deaths are ingeniously designed to be relevant to the personality of the victim, which, more often than not, results in some incredibly rich gallows humour. The stand-out, as it happens, is the first death scene following the rollercoaster crash: that of lipstick bitches Ashlyn and Ashley, whose pre-graduation tanning session (they did the same for the funerals) results in them each being fried to a crisp (literally), which concludes with a cutaway matching an aerial shot of the two sunbeds to one of their coffins. The scene is both uproariously funny and incredibly grotesque, with the ultraviolet lighting of the sunbeds combined with blistering skin of the two girls resulting in one of the most disturbing moments in the entire series. Oh, and their demise is set to the song Love Rollercoaster. Death doesn't get much funnier than this.
It's a shame, then, that, as good as the deaths that ensue are, none of them live up to this first tour de force. Indeed, you get the distinct sense that the writers are running out of steam as the film progresses, which each ensuing death becoming more and more mundane. They're all funny and well-staged, but it's too bad that they decided to lead with their strongest set-piece, because it means that everything that follows feels like a let-down. Additionally, as uproariously funny as the characterisations of the aforementioned sauna addicts, and others like voyeur Frankie Cheeks (Sam Easton), are, the portrayals of the two main characters, Wendy and Kevin, lack the same level of flair. The logic is understandable: we're with these characters longer than any of the others, so they can't simply be caricatures. However, the writers remove the comedy element and fail to replace it with anything more meaningful. Wendy and Kevin are as much cardboard cut-outs as Ashlyn and Ashley, but they're a hell of a lot more boring. The performances, too, are nothing spectacular - the cast is largely comprised of unknowns, and to be honest lacks even the eye candy that made Final Destination 2's sometimes ropey performances and ham-fisted dialogue delivery bearable. You get the sense that everyone is trying, but, outside of the death sequences, the dialogue-driven scenes connecting them seem to serve no purpose other than to join the dots.
The lack of inspiration extends to the film's look. Neither of the previous entries in the series could be considered works of cinematic art, but their visuals were at least functional. Here, the wider aspect ratio (the film was shot in Super35 2.39:1 rather than the narrower 1.85:1 of its predecessors) simply serves to accentuate the uninspired cinematography, and the whole look is flat and muddy. It's strange, because, although the previous two films cost considerably less to make ($23 million and $26 million versus $34 million, despite James Wong's claims to the contrary), they both seemed much more polished overall, and had better visual effects to boot.
Those criticisms aside, I found Final Destination 3 to be decidedly enjoyable. It doesn't have much to offer besides a handful of clever and bitingly funny death sequences, but in this particular case that would seem to be enough for a good time. Indeed, given that this year's remake of The Omen, the original version of which is arguably the film most responsible for inspiring the Final Destination series, by all accounts failed to provide anything to match even the weakest throwaway death in this more recent series, I would have been willing to settle for considerably less. As a franchise, Final Destination seemed geared towards the possibility of generating an unlimited number of sequels, but I would hope, if there is to be a fourth instalment, that those responsible do something to shake up the formula. The Final Destination films are fun, but it has to be admitted that the whole affair is starting to get a little predictable.
Presented anamorphically in its original aspect ratio of 2.39:1, Final Destination 3 is comfortably the worst-looking of the trilogy on DVD, falling well below even New Line's less than stellar standards. I recently read a forum post describing New Line's DVDs of The Lord of the Rings as looking "like mud", and that is a perfect explanation for what's wrong with this particular transfer: everything has a thick, murky look to it, with virtually no fine detail at all in the image and a massive amount of edge enhancement present at all times. These problems are visible from the very first shot, most noticeable the extremely pronounced ringing that makes it look as if the text of the opening credits has an outline around it. For a major release from an established distributor, this transfer is nothing short of terrible.
As usual, though, the sound is of a high standard. Presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, DTS-ES 6.1 and Dolby Surround 2.0 variants, to cater to every possible audio setup, Final Destination 3 unsurprisingly makes excellent use of the soundscape, both for the explosive foley effects and for the ominous score by Shirley Walker (the only key member of the creative team to have contributed to all three films). The optional subtitles, in English and Spanish, are clear and legible, covering the film and all of the extras apart from the audio commentary.
The first and definitely most-publicised bonus feature on Disc 1 is Choose Their Fate, an interactive mode which, when viewing the movie, will at times present the viewer with a choice of selecting heads or tails. The consequences vary from the film carrying on as normal, to a throwaway deleted scene, to managing to save someone who would otherwise have died and the film ending early. The idea is interesting in theory, but in practice it leaves a little to be desired, especially given that the decisions are almost entirely based on guesswork, meaning that it's possible to accidentally bring the film to a close before having even reached the half-hour mark. Additionally, because of the way this feature has been integrated, there have been a number of complaints that, on many DVD players, this results in skipping and brief pauses when viewing the film normally. I didn't have any problems when watching it in either my Toshiba HD-A1 HD DVD player or my PC with PowerDVD 6, but I don't believe it's worth sacrificing the enjoyment of those with affected players for an extra such as this.
Also included on the first disc is an audio commentary. Featuring writer/producer/director James Wong, writer/producer Glen Morgan and cinematographer Robert McLachlan, it's a fairly decent track from a technical perspective, but is unlikely to tell you anything earth-shatteringly unexpected. Many films, in my opinion, simply don't require commentaries, and this is certainly one of them: the formula is hardly rocket science.
Sneak peeks for numerous other New Line and Warner DVD releases are also included. Annoyingly, a number of them play when you insert the disc and must each be skipped manually.
Disc 2 begins with "It's All Around You", a brief animated short that provides some facts about fate and the likelihood of meeting various demises. The statistics are quite fun, but the animation (by former Ren & Stimpy artists Helder Mendonca and Nick Cross) is hampered by the obviously low budget and its Macromedia Flash origins.
The best extra on this disc is "Dead Teenager Movie", a 25-minute featurette charting the origins of this teen-oriented horror format and the reasons for its success. A number of participants are featured, with, in addition to the ubiquitous Final Destination 3 cast and crew members, critic Roger Ebert (widely believed to have been the first to coin the phrase "Dead Teenager Movie"), urban legends expert Dr. Heather Joseph-Witham (obviously included to give this extra some added sincerity) and Fangoria editor Anthony Timpone all chipping in with their thoughts on the subject. This is a fun featurette that presents a lot of interesting material in an easily digestible form, even if I take exception to producer Craig Perry's assertion that only films with a supernatural element are horror movies (the imaginary thriller/horror, respectable/not respectable border is something that has always riled me).
"Kill Shot: The Making of FD3", meanwhile, runs for 89 minutes (only four minutes shorter than the film itself), and despite its inflated running time fails to be even half as revealing. It certainly covers a considerable amount of ground, detailing everything from how James Wong and Glen Morgan first met at college all the way to the release of Final Destination 3 and the last-minute addition of an additional coda (test audiences apparently felt cheated by the abrupt manner in which it originally ended), but I'd be lying if I said I was riveted throughout its duration. The same proviso that applied to the audio commentary holds true here: neither the film nor its production process are interesting enough in their own right to require this level of in-depth documentation, and, in this case, something more along the lines of the Dead Teenager Movie featurette, which is both brief and informative, would have been preferable.
The extended police station scene is in fact an alternate edit of the scene following Wendy and Kevin's interrogation at the police station, which plays their entire two and a half minute conversation in a single take.
"Planned Accidents", an enjoyable 21-minute featurette of a largely promotional nature, follows, along with the film's theatrical trailer and three TV spots, which round out the package.
Final Destination 3 continues New Line's tradition of disappointing image quality but great audio and extras, which have come to define their special editions and standard releases alike. While a number of the bonus materials are a bit too weighty for a film that aims to be nothing more than light entertainment, there is plenty of variety in this package, meaning that there should be something of interest for everyone. It's just a shame the transfer doesn't do the rest of the package justice.