AUGUST 23, 2009
I never would have guessed that the original Final Destination, which I saw opening night in 2000, would spawn one of the decade’s most popular franchises, to the point where they can began dropping the numbers from the title and actually change its grammar in the process. Because here we are with The Final Destination (they picked an unused “The” up from Fast & Furious, I guess), which is the fourth film in the series, and the first to be shot in 3D.
In a way, it’s a no-brainer that there would be a 3D entry to the Final Destination series (part 3 - the weakest in the series by far - was a contender during initial pre-production; I’m glad they saved it for this superior entry). The deaths have always involved projectile elements of some sort anyway, so why not add another dimension to their travels? In fact, the film has the unique benefit of having a whole bunch of “Comin’ at ya!” moments that won’t be annoying to watch in 2D - the films always had these sorts of shots anyway. It’s like 3D blew up just so New Line could finally deliver a complete Final Destination movie experience.
If not for the sameness of it all, The Final Destination would be the best in the series. In a way, it’s almost charming how strictly it sticks to the established formula, but at the same time, the template is seriously showing strain. As always, there’s a group of people in a crowded area, and then some Rube Goldberg-y event occurs, causing everyone to die. But then we see it’s just a dream, and the dreamer convinces some friends to leave the area, and assorted strangers are pulled into the scuffle. Then the event occurs, and everyone’s like “How did you know?” And then survivors start to die in incredibly complex manners, while the main guy (or girl) notices a pattern and tries to save someone by ‘breaking the sequence’. Which he does, but then they all die later. And like the other sequels, there’s a scene where someone pulls up news articles about Flight 180 (the first film’s original title, which would have been troublesome for sequels). Thankfully, they have dropped 3’s ridiculous “the photos give a clue” idea, but on a story level, this one adds nothing new to the concept.
But while it might be the same, it’s still a hell of a lot of fun. It’s the shortest film in the series (barely 80 minutes), and also boasts a slightly higher “death scene” count than usual, which results in minimal time spent on things no one should be giving a shit about in these movies (character, exposition, etc). Even the “Look, this has happened before!” stuff is kept to about 30 seconds at most, and unlike the same team’s FD2 (1 and 3 are Morgan and Wong, 2 and 4 are Ellis and Bress), they don’t spend time tying it in with the earlier film(s). The awesome opening credit sequence plays over X-ray style animations that re-create the deaths from the other films, that plus the newspaper article scene (more like shot) are the only callbacks. In short, if you haven’t seen any of the others, you need not have to worry about being lost in the plot.
And there are few ways to win me over as easily as putting Shinedown’s kick-ass song “Devour” on the soundtrack during the film’s opening moments. It’s a great fucking song (you can play it on Rock Band), and matches perfectly with the racing footage. And the 3D work here is phenomenal; there’s a shot from ground level as the cars race into the background that ranks as one of the all time best 3D “holy shit” images. And a chunk of rubber from the burst tire (which sets off the accident) actually made me and the guy next to me flinch, which is pretty impressive considering how many 3D movies I’ve seen this year already (I think this makes 5).
Another thing I really dug was how they used a lot of misdirection in the kill scenes. They know we all know the trick, so they go out of their way to introduce “red herring” objects into the scenes. As it turns out, the actual kills are largely pretty simple this time compared to the others. For example, one woman is simply killed when a lawnmower hits a rock, which flies into (and back out of) her head. But before that, we see the guy pouring gasoline, a ceiling fan coming loose, a broken chair, a burning can of hair spray... it’s funny to see people giggle as soon as an object is introduced, because you KNOW it’s going to be part of the sequence, and then feel kind of relieved when its action/reaction causes no harm (and THEN they are killed by something else entirely). My biggest problem with the 3rd film was that they were trying too hard to make the kills elaborate, at the expense of basic coherency (I still have no idea what the hell is happening during the hardware store scene in that one), so it’s nice to see them tone it back a bit while still delivering the gory goods (in 3D!).
The kills are largely relatable this time too, with some playing on basic fears and urban legends. Pool drains, the aforementioned lawnmower/rock combo, the thing that keeps your car from moving in a car wash... all of these things are stuff people are really afraid of, and folks squirm at the site of these events every time. The key one is when Kirsta Allen’s character gets a manicure as she sits on a broken salon chair. The camera lingers on shots of her getting her nails cleaned with a small knife, because you know that if the chair slides back down she’s going to lose that nail, which is one of the most painful onscreen injuries known to man.
It’s also much funnier than usual. We’re supposed to laugh at the deaths, so that’s a given. But the characters are largely funnier than usual, particularly the douchey character Nick Zano plays. He’s sort of like Trent from the new F13 (he even has a sex scene!), and it’s a shame that he dies halfway through, because his insensitive, irreverent quips are missed (“I finished four minutes ago...” is a definite “memorable quote” for the IMDb).
One thing that sort of kills the fun is a racist redneck character. It’s one thing when he whistles “Dixieland” as Mykelti Williamson’s character passes by, it’s another when he actually uses the N word a few minutes later. And an old veteran comments about killing “a bunch of your people” to a young Asian man, which again, isn’t really funny. I know it’s weird to be complaining about unfunny racism in a movie in which we’re supposed to laugh at the site of people being killed, but the spirit of fun is definitely absent from these moments.
I am curious how the box office battle between FD and Halloween 2 will play out. TFD is clearly the better film (and the 3D angle makes a theatrical viewing even more enticing), but no FD film has done as well as Zombie’s first Halloween, and like I said, the formula has gotten a tad stale. Being that they are both R rated horror films, I’d love to see both do well. Pony up the dough, folks! Of course, two weeks later we have Whiteout and Sorority Row, followed by Jennifer’s Body a week after (and Pandorum a week after that!). It’s nice to have all of these choices, but I worry that the audience will be spread too thin across six films, resulting in none of them being successful. Hopefully I’ll be wrong. But even more, I hope those others are like TFD, by which I mean are worth your money AND time.
What say you?