Final Destination was the big-screen writing/directing/producing debut
of X-files dynamic duo The
One). But Final Destination isn't a 90-minute X-files
episode. Morgan and Wong, to their credit, don't go in that direction.
Okay, so the plot does sound like it could be an X-files episode (and
the original writer Jeffrey Reddick's first version of the story was written
as a spec-script for, you guessed it, The X-files). Teen Alex Browning
(Devon Sawa, Idle Hands) is about to go on a senior trip to France, when
he has a very vivid vision of the plane exploding. He panics, goes into hysterics,
and gets escorted off the jet along with six others. The plane takes off, and,
of course, promptly blows up, leaving the lucky seven to contemplate their brush
with Death. But it turns out that Death takes a lot of pride in its job, and
isn't about to let Alex and company skip out on their appointments. Death then
proceeds to hunt them down, using sometimes seemingly innocuous occurrences
(a leaky toilet pipe, a cracked coffee mug) as the means to its final end.
It could be a case for Mulder and Scully, and the FBI does make an appearance,
but Final Destination is not particularly X-filish in its tone, intent,
or execution. What Morgan and Wong have delivered, instead, is a stylish and
enjoyable teen horror flick. And make no mistake, Final Destination is
a teen flick, complete with sophomoric use of swear words, archetypal teen characters
(what with the jock, the beauty queen, the arty recluse, and the stoner, it's
almost like The Breakfast Club), and roles for WB television stars Brenden
Fehr (Roswell) and Kerr Smith (Dawson's Creek).
Rounding out the Gilligan's Island group is Ali Larter (House on Haunted
Hill), and some alumni from Morgan and Wong's other shows, Kristen Cloke
(who appeared on Above and Beyond, X-files, and Millenium,
and who, it turns out, is married to Glen Morgan) and Chad Donella (the sympathetic
stomach-gurgling carnivore in the X-files episode "Hungry"). Tony "Candyman"
Todd also makes an appearance, in which he tries much too hard to pack 90 minutes
worth of creepiness into his paltry 90 seconds of screen time.
The fact that Final Destination was made for, and marketed almost exclusively
to, the disposable income mall-rat set will probably turn off a large segment
of genre fans. However, Morgan and Wong add a few nice twists to a formula that
hasn't changed much since Friday the 13th. You know going in that the
characters are going to be dropping like flies. But in Final Destination,
the killer is not a [insert the name of weapon here]-wielding psychopath, a
man eating [insert name of creature here], or even a scythe-carrying grim reaper
type. In Jeffrey Reddick's original screenplay, Death was a hooded menace straight
from Mickey's Christmas Carol, but that changed when Morgan and Wong
got ahold of the project. In the film, Death doesn't have a persona, or spout
catchy one liners. The closest you get to seeing the "villain" of the film is
an occasional hint of a reflected shimmering; and the nature of Death's intervention
is, for the most part, indirect: Death guides the accumulation of a series of
unlikely, unlucky chances, one upon another. Death wields lightning as a weapon,
but Death also wields a computer, a seatbelt, blue toilet water, and a towel.
And watching Death's Rube Goldberg machinations is a big part of the thrill,
and fun, of Final Destination.
Another difference between the usual horror flick and Final Destination:
in Final Destination, you know exactly who's going to die next, you just
don't know when or by what means. But that foreknowledge actually heightens
the suspense rather than dampening it. Every camera angle is a veiled threat,
every household item is a possible deathtrap, and any simple action the characters
take could be the one that gets them killed.
There are some other things that help make the film worth the ride. Final
Destination has a chilly sense of humor. The film is gleefully brutal. I
originally saw Final Destination in the theater, and there were some
moments that provoked a collective gasp from the audience, followed, after a
few seconds, by nervous laughter. The film-makers also made excellent use of
the capabilities of Dolby surround sound to up the thrill-factor, so if you
didn't see it in the theater, your loss. The airplane disaster sequence was
an original and immersive theater experience. (Continental didn't use Final
Destination as an in-flight movie, that's for sure). And (SPOILER, SPOILER,
SPOILER) the movie has a spectacular final punchline.
Final Destination is a good movie, but it's far from great. The acting
is slightly above mediocre, as is the dialogue for the most part. The "rules"
that Death follows seem to be there simply for the convenience of the film-makers,
and the climax of the movie proves to be not nearly as interesting as the rising
action. (A side note to mourn the lost art of suspense-movie trailers. Final
Destination would have been a lot more suspenseful if the people who created
the movie trailers had been smart enough to edit out a shot or two (or three).
It was almost, but not quite, as bad as the Pitch Black preview, which
included the effects shot that immediately follows Caroline and Riddick's embrace.)
Final Destination is popcorn. And there's nothing wrong with popcorn.
You'll watch it once, you'll get your rental's worth (unless you're an easily
offended John Denver fan), and then you'll probably forget about it. Then again,
don't be surprised if you suddenly find yourself imagining that every pair of
headlights, every slippery floor, every overhanging ladder, is a possible one-way
ticket to your final destination.
For the time when this DVD was released (Which was only, what? -- two, two and
a half years ago? Doesn't seem like much, but how old is that in DVD years?),
Final Destination got a pretty royal treatment, with (again, for the
time) lots of extras.
Far and away the most fascinating is the "Test Screenings" documentary (which
is best watched after you take a look at the deleted scenes). Final Destination
originally had a different endingÖ (IT'S SPOILER TIME)Ö a more life-affirming
heart-warming ending. In it, Clear and Alex have sex, Clear gets pregnant, Alex
dies, and then Clear has the baby, which is an interesting philosophical way
of defeating death. On paper, it has possibilities, but it wasn't scripted or
acted particularly well, and the target audience didn't much care for the whole
sappy thing. "Test Screenings" illuminates the mechanics and dynamics of test
screenings, the good and the bad. I'm sure there are plenty of situations in
which the test screening process has frelled up a perfectly good movie, but
here's an example where test screenings managed to seriously improve the final
product. (An interesting tidbit you find out on one commentary track: the first
screenwriter, Jeffrey Reddick, at one point scripted an ending in which Death
is unable to kill Clear because she's carrying an innocent soul, and then, when
she finally does give birth, the Reaper comes down to collect Clear. Fade to
black. Roll credits. Which, I have to say, is a great ending).
The second documentary is a slow-paced affair on Pam Coronado, an "intuitive
investigator", which, while interesting in a "Believe it or Not" way, feels
very much like filler.
There are three commentary tracks. The best is the Film-maker Commentary, with
lots of good info from James Wong, Glen Morgan, editor James Coblentz, and the
original screenwriter, the slightly whiny but good-natured Jeffrey "I'm bitter
but I'm trying my best not to sound bitter" Reddick.
The Actor Commentary track veers wildly from informative to deathly dull to
funny to painfully awkward as four actors who've never done a commentary track
before struggle to fill the space.
Finally, the Isolated Score with commentary by composer Shirley Walker. I like
the idea of isolated score tracks for DVDs, but I wish this DVD would have included
all the pop song cues in the track as well. To me, the score is only a part
of the musical background, and it feels flat without the other soundtrack elements.
Plus, the inclusion of all those John Denver tunes would have taken up a few
extra minutes. As it was, I often felt like composer Walker was vamping.
The Movie Itself: Rated 6 out of 10
The DVD Features: Rated 6 out of 10