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Final Destination
DVD
Reviewed by Jason Myers, © 2003

Format: Movie
By:   James Wong (Director) and Glen Morgan (Writer)
Genre:   Horror
Released:   March 17, 2000 (original theatrical release)
Review Date:   February 04, 2003
Audience Rating:   R
RevSF Rating:   6/10 (What Is This?)

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.

DVDetails

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


RevSF Film/DVD Editor Jason Myers now fears playing his John Denver and the Muppets Christmas Album.

 
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