Retrospective: Final Destination 5 (2011)

Welcome back for the 5th and final entry in the Final Destination retrospective! In this post we’re covering the latest entry in the franchise, Final Destination 5. As I have mentioned previously in this retrospective, in pre-production it was being bantered around as 5nal Destination, although this was thankfully changed very quickly. That was one good decision, but after the disastrous The Final Destination, did anyone expect this to be any better than that? Was Final Destination doomed to the same law of diminishing returns which has plagued every other slasher series? Well, read on and find out…

Once again, before I go any further, I just have to mention that Final Destination 5 had some great promotional posters. I guess I’m a bit of a sucker for a great poster, but the art team really outdid themselves with this one. Some of them are just painful to look at (in a good way), but really capture the morbid spirit of the series quite well… in fact, the one with the rebars was so effective that it ended up getting banned by the Advertising Standards Authority in the UK… unwarranted in my opinion, but if they thought that was bad, then I would just hope they haven’t seen the DVD cover for Severance

Anyway, after the shit-show that was The Final Destination (one which I enjoyed somewhat, but guiltily), it looked like the series was going to die… until the studio execs saw the box office numbers coming in. The damn movie made $186 million worldwide. Despite the big “THE” in its title, the producers decided that it was more of a suggestion than commitment and so set about working on a 5th entry in the franchise. However, thankfully, they knew they’d screwed up with The Final Destination and wanted to set things right. They claimed that they wanted to make the movie more suspenseful and dark. That’s all well and good, but talk is talk: remember what they said about wanting to use 3D properly and not just fling things at the audience in the previous movie? Marketing buzz is cheap, results are all that is really worthwhile in Hollywood.

Perhaps the most intriguing production news surrounding the film was that neither series directors James Wong or David R. Ellis were returning (Ellis was probably not asked back after the poor reception of The Final Destination and/or because he was working on Shark Night 3D and Wong… probably because everyone hated Dragonball Evolution and/or because he was working on the much ridiculed TV show, The Event). Instead, the producers announced the acquisition of a new director, Steven Quale. This was Quale’s first major film, having only directed a TV movie and the documentary Aliens of the Abyss. However, the man did have some impressive credits to his name, being second unit director on both Titanic and Avatar. As you can probably guess from his short CV here, the man is friends with James Cameron. In fact, apparently it was James Cameron who personally recommended him to direct this movie, which is pretty damn impressive. So, a man who has connections to the legendary James Cameron was going to be directing Final Destination 5? Colour me intrigued…

Well enough about the production and now onto the meat of the film itself. The characters are what you’d expect from this series – not the worst, but not the best either. I can’t say any of the leads did a standout job, but they were all serviceable. The tradition of throwaway characters continues though, with 4 obvious ones this time around (and 1 red herring): Isaac Palmer (who went to the Frankie Cheeks school of douche-baggery), Dennis Lapman (“the boss”, although he’s so throw-away in this movie that it’s actually quite hilarious), Olivia Castle (the obnoxious but pretty girl in the cast) and Roy Carson (the angry factory worker, who actually wasn’t even a part of the actual disaster). The red herring, Nathan (an intentionally subverted token black guy), is actually pretty cool, although he’s not given enough time to develop. While this is a bit of a problem in most Final Destination movies, it’s less of an issue here, since there are some actual character development moments built into the script, so I actually found myself sympathizing with the non-expendables (as few in number as they were).

As expected, the film follows the same basic set-up as the other movies, but with a bit of a twist… which we’ll get to in a minute. First of all, we have to talk about the absolutely spectacular opening disaster. In fact, it was declared one of the single best sequences of any film all year, in a year which included such movies as Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the final Harry Potter film, Sucker Punch and Rise of the Planet of the Apes. It’s not even empty praise either – it really earned it. Don’t believe me? Well I’ll let it speak for itself:

It’s pretty clear that Quale has learned a great deal about spectacle from Mr. Cameron, because this scene is very Cameron-esque in its crowd-pleasing scope. I haven’t seen it in 3D, but from what I hear, it’s fantastic and I can believe it. The depth provided by it must make the viewing experience absolutely dizzying, and further plays (and preys) on peoples’ fear of heights. If I had to complain about this sequence, I’d say that I’m a little off-put by the sudden emphasis on gore, but it doesn’t really take away from the scene all that much. As far as I’m concerned, Final Destination 5 has the best opening sequence in the whole series.

So, does the movie blow its entire load in the opening 10 minutes then? Well, not exactly. Like I said, there’s a bit of a twist on the normal formula. However, rather than the twist being “he gets more than one premonition!” or “the photos have clues!”, the writers have come up with something quite interesting – Bludworth (Tony freaking Todd is back!) reveals that the only way to successfully cheat Death is to kill someone else in order to steal their remaining years away from them*. This idea adds a lot of suspense and tension to latter-half of the film which, in previous movies in the franchise, tended to be rather weak. They honestly should have introduced this new element in Final Destination 3, because it really is a great conceptual evolution for the series.

Beyond even the twist on the formula, Final Destination 5 would still be considered one of the best entries in the series if only for some of the masterful death sequences. The first of these, the gymnastics sequence, is so tense that I consider it a textbook definition of great suspense. Quale just does a great job setting up a number of potential causes of death, giving us many red herrings and just plain stringing the audience along until the shockingly simple payoff. Check it out:

Holy crap. That’s by far the best death scene in the whole movie (in part because it doesn’t rely on excessive gore to satisfy the audience), but the others don’t exactly disappoint either. The other one of particular note is Olivia’s death, which is sure to get more than a few people shifting in their seats just from the set-up alone. I won’t go into much more than that, but this image alone should suffice…

Also, I’d be remiss if I failed to mention the ending. If you plan on seeing it, then skip ahead a paragraph because this is a pretty massive SPOILER… So it turns out at the end that the two leads have survived the ordeal and are going to live happily ever after as a chef’s apprentice in France… wait a second. That’s right, the movie was secretly a prequel all along, and they just stepped onto the plane which blew up at the start of the first movie. I’m pretty sure no one saw that coming (in fact, on more than one list I’ve seen, it’s considered one of the best and most unexpected twists in cinema… not at the same level as Planet of the Apes mind you, but it’s quite impressive for a movie of this calibre). Again, it’s a bit of a piss-off to see the characters get killed at this point, but the cleverness of the ending softens the blow enough that it’s totally forgivable.

So, I’d say that it’s pretty clear that I quite liked this movie. Hell, I even loved the opening credits. While it’s still pretty unambitious conceptually, the level of craftsmanship on display is shocking. On my first time seeing the series, I would have put Final Destination 5 second to the original, but now that I’ve seen them both a few times, I’d have to give the crown to this entry. It’s just so well-done compared to the somewhat-flawed original.

7.5/10

With the success of this film (it made $158 million worldwide) it seems like there will be more entries in the series soon… and while I haven’t heard any announcements, I’d be satisfied if it ended here. The chances of pulling out another movie of this calibre are pretty slight, considering the producers’ resistance to any ambition beyond “teen slasher movie”. However, if it does happen, I hope that they really run with the premise and create something which breaks formula. I’ve got a few ideas of my own floating around, so if anyone from New Line is reading this, you should hit me up *wink wink*. I’d welcome any comments on what people think would improve the series as well if it continues.

Aaaand that does it for my first retrospective! If you have any comments on this series, I welcome them. Also, if you have any suggestions – be it for future retrospective series, or how I can improve my current style – then I’d welcome those as well. Finally, if you liked this, then I’d appreciate if you’d “Follow” the blog – I get ~25-50 views a day, but it’s always good knowing that you’re amassing an audience. Thanks for reading!

*This, of course, opens up some speculation as to Bludworth’s origins. The easy train of thought is to assume that he is Death incarnate, but the producers have denied this multiple times. However, I actually read a theory on TV Tropes which really stems from the twist in this movie: the theory goes that Bludworth had a premonition and killed someone in order to keep himself alive… in fact, he may have killed several people over the years to basically achieve immortality. It’s a chillingly intriguing idea which could provide plenty of material for a potential movie…

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Retrospective: The Final Destination (2009)

Welcome back for Part 4 of the Final Destination retrospective! In this post we’re going to cover the poorly-titled The Final Destination. This was a bit of an intriguing entry for a couple reasons, although the fact that it was in 3D might be the most important. In fact, it was early to the party for the 3D craze, arriving a whole 4 months earlier than Avatar (and even then, Avatar didn’t reach a fever pitch until about 3 weeks after release when people actually started seeing it en masse). Did the 3rd dimension make this the best entry in the series yet? Well… read on and find out…

As a side-note before we get into the retrospective, I was a bit worried I wouldn’t get this entry out today as I have spent most of the weekend writing an essay for school. However, as of the time I’m writing this, I’ve got about an hour til midnight so I’ll either get it out by late on the 10th or early in the morning of the 11th. This is only really important because I want to have a schedule for my retrospectives of 3 or 4 days between posts (work permitting). To me, there’s nothing worse than a blogger who can’t maintain a consistent schedule and so I’m going to attempt to commit to one… for retrospectives anyway as a start. For regular blog posts I’m committing to at least 1 post every 7 days.

Anyway, enough of that, let’s talk about people getting killed… IN GLORIOUS 3D!

So after Final Destination 3, the series producers were looking to expand the franchise. They ended up deciding that 3D was a good way to do this (possibly anticipating Avatar, which had been in production for quite some time, or My Bloody Valentine 3D, although apparently they had planned Final Destination 3 to be in 3D oddly enough). James Wong was unavailable to direct (he was working on… Dragonball Evolution… good God), so the duties were passed on once again to David R. Ellis. Well… hopefully he learned from his experiences with Final Destination 2 and managed to create something better, right? Nothing wrong with a little optimism, right?

In this case, yes. The Final Destination is easily the worst movie in the entire series for a number of reasons.

First of all, the characters are largely unsympathetic. I liked the main character, Nick O’Bannon, his girlfriend Lori Milligan and the token black guy, George Lanter, but that’s literally the extent of it. Furthermore, it’s not due to the script or even the direction… if anything, it’s from the actors themselves, although I’d be hard-pressed to say anyone put in a great performance… and the main reason I liked Lori was because she was good looking to be brutally honest…

Anyway, everyone else is a massive douchebag. Nick’s best friend, Hunt, is completely unlikeable… almost as much as Frankie Cheeks. Ouch. There’s even a character who is literally just called the “Racist Man”, because that’s the extent of what his “character” is. So, once again, David R. Ellis presents us with cannon fodder for Death to have his way with, making it rather difficult to become engaged with the film.

“Well okay,” you may say, “I come to Final Destination for the deaths, not the characters anyway.” Well on that front the death set-ups are… strange. At one particularly silly stretch of the movie, a character gets her head stuck in her sunroof while inside a car wash, while at the same time, another character gets his ass stuck to the bottom of a pool… umm, what? Even worse though, most of the time the film doesn’t properly build enough tension before a death – Death seems to be striking at random half the time and sometimes the deaths themselves are just really abrupt, particularly in the opening scene. And speaking of the opening scene, I’m not sure what they were thinking. The other films’ opening disasters preyed on common phobia – fear of flying, fear of getting in a huge pileup, fear of rollercoasters. All sensible. But this movie has the fear of… race cars? Rednecks? And, near the end, fear of movie theaters? Uh, okay… I don’t know about you, but I can’t say I’ve ever been worried about getting killed at a sporting event. And for that matter, how does half the arena get destroyed by a race car crash? The stupidity in this movie is pretty boggling (although the death of the Racist is pretty awesome).

Another point of contention would be that the deaths look really fake half the time. In previous Final Destination movies, they used lots of dummies, make-up effects and minimal use of computer effects for the deaths, and they worked quite convincingly most of the time. However, in The Final Destination, the majority of the deaths are done using CGI. I can’t be sure of the reasons for this, but I imagine it’s in part due to the 3D focus. Apparently the producer, Craig Perry, said that he wanted the 3D to add drama and not be there to throw things at the audience, but that did not translate to the final product at all. I’ll admit I haven’t seen this in 3D, but from what I’ve seen of it in 2D, it seems like all they did with it was throw shit at the audience (and, in one particular instance, I mean that quite literally).

As for the story… eh, what about it? It’s the exact same plot we’ve seen in the past 3 films, and they really didn’t go to a lot of effort to differentiate it. And they didn’t even put Tony Todd in it! I mean, at least he got an un-distracting voice-over cameo Final Destination 3, but he’s completely absent here. At least the ending didn’t piss me off this time, because I didn’t really give a damn about the characters getting run over by a transport… and, admittedly, they were a bit clever about it all – the ending reveals that everything which the characters has done to subvert Death has actually been a part of his plan all along (*cue transport truck*). It’s clever and expands the series somewhat, but for this movie it’s too-little, too-late…

Honestly, the best part of the movie is the opening credits – the montages are very cool and the music is good as well (apparently the soundtrack was highly praised, oddly enough). Otherwise, The Final Destination is objectively a piece of crap. Between this, Final Destination 2 and Shark Night 3D, my opinion of David R. Ellis is pretty low (although he was a hell of a second unit director).

Yet, despite all of what I have just said, tearing the movie apart… I kind of enjoy it. I think I’ve seen it more than any other Final Destination movie, which even I’ll admit is pretty sad. I enjoy it in the same capacity that I enjoy the (even worse) Aliens vs Predator: Requiem – an exercise in stupid fun that doesn’t require anything beyond that. It’s a bad movie on pretty much every level, but it’s also enjoyable and kind of fun in spite of it all. It takes a special kind of movie connoisseur to enjoy a movie like this, but if you can extra fun from crappy movies then you might dig this… either way, I’d recommend any other movie in this series over this any day of the week though.

3/10

Be sure to come back soon for the final entry in this retrospective: Final Destination 5!

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Retrospective: Final Destination 3 (2006)

Welcome back, good readers, to Part 3 of the Final Destination retrospective! In this post we’re going to cover the next entry in the series, Final Destination 3. If you haven’t read the previous 2 entries in this series, then I would recommend that you do so to get up to speed and see how this franchise has changed over the years. Did this entry improve on the formula after the disappointing Final Destination 2? Well, read on to find the answer to that…

Final Destination 2 was pretty terrible, and really wasted the promise that the original contained, trading that out for laughs and gore. Perhaps the producers and folks at New Line Cinema realized this and ended up getting James Wong back on board for the third entry in the series. Promisingly, Wong was both writing and directing, so with any luck the crew who crafted the first film would be able to put it back on track (so to speak), right?

Umm, well no, not exactly.

First off, this is the point where the series really embraced its formula and became a straight-up slasher film. Aside from the leads, death is almost never subverted, so the middle section of the film is basically just scenes of people getting killed in sequence. This could have totally destroyed any sense of suspense that the film could try to establish, but there’s a bit of a twist: suspense no longer comes from wondering if Death is going to kill his victims, but rather how. This is done in an odd manner (Death hid hints in some… photographs? Dammit Death, you bloody photobomber!), but it does invoke a sense of morbid curiosity.

Considering that this is a Final Destination movie, it should also be noted that the opening disaster was a strange choice. On one hand, it makes sense – a lot of people are afraid of roller coasters, so you can prey on that phobia – but on the other, it comes across as rather silly. In fact, the film is pretty silly overall: bimbos get killed in a tanning bed, a guy’s head gets torn up by an errant flying motor, a football player’s head gets crushed by his weight machine, etc. Compounding this problem is the decision to set the story in a high school setting. Yeah, the other 2 films in the series had followed high schoolers (or possibly early college in the second movie), but they didn’t center their actual story around that setting, it was merely in the background. Unfortunately, Final Destination 3 revels in high school horror and all that that entails – there’s the usual social cliques for each of the characters (jocks, preps, goths, etc) and the romance subplot you can expect in basically every high school movie. Most of the characters are now totally throw-away and exist only to get killed to sate our bloodthirsty appetite… especially Frankie Cheeks. Good God, he is by far the most grating character in the entire series.

That said, Final Destination 3 has its positives. For one thing, it’s fairly well-made overall. Sure, it’s very silly and gratingly cliche at times, but it still manages to be far more interesting than your average horror-slasher. Final Destination 3 manages to be quite entertaining overall (thanks to Wong’s direction), even if the script is pretty crappy (thanks to Wong’s, uh… writing). I’m also quite glad that, while the movie shifted the series straight into slasher-horror, it isn’t overly gory. Now I’m not adverse to gore by any means, but I think it often distracts from any sort of actual horror a movie could try to build up, is just a crutch for some bad filmmakers and is just totally fetishized (see any Saw sequel, especially those after the 3rd). Anyway, considering that the Saw series and Hostel were kicking off the gore-porn trend at this time, that’s pretty surprising to me.

Anyway, you might be able to tell that I’ve been skirting around something throughout this whole post, and if you could then you’re totally right. That “something” is the movie’s greatest strength: Mary Elizabeth Winstead and, to a slightly lesser degree, Ryan Merriman. The chemistry between the two leads totally carries this movie – without them, Final Destination 3 would probably be utter crap. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, fresh off her first major role in Sky High, really elevates the material she’s given here and makes her character, Wendy Christensen, very interesting and sympathetic. Considering the crappy script she’s given, Winstead’s performance makes this movie far more watchable than it has any right to be. In fact, I’ll go ahead and say she’s my favourite character in the whole series. Ryan Merriman’s Kevin Fischer also aids in this regard, as the chemistry between Wendy and Kevin is excellent (perhaps they became friends beforehand on the set of The Ring Two?). Wendy and Kevin really form the emotional core of the film, which is especially important in a movie with so many expendable characters. In fact, it makes the ending quite infuriating because it is certainly implied that (SPOILER ALERT) they get offed like every other bloody hero in this series. I guess they never actually show it for real, so you can hold out some hope that they escaped, got pregnant and gave birth in order to end the cycle, but that’s mostly just optimistic wishing on my part… all I’ll say is stop killing your freaking leads for no good reason!!!

The only other character of (positive) note is Kris Lemche’s Ian McKinley, a philosophical goth character. While he has even less material to work with than Winstead or Merriman, Lemche manages to make Ian a very interesting character in his limited screen time. Ian’s philosophizing about Death’s plans actually manages to create some tension and moral questioning for the leads. He becomes unhinged towards the end and makes for a rather weak secondary villain, but up until that point he’s quite intriguing.

As you can probably glean, Final Destination 3 is largely buoyed by Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Ryan Merriman’s performances, competent filmmaking and a bit of good ol’ fashioned fun. However, the script is extremely weak and the series had become noticeably formulaic at this point. It’s a pretty middling entry overall. I enjoy it for the fun that it manages to deliver, but I really appreciate it for the performances from the main characters – without that, this would really be a hollow entry and I probably wouldn’t have even gotten into the series at all.

6/10

Be sure to come back soon for Part 4 of this retrospective: The Final Destination!

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Retrospective: Final Destination 2 (2003)

Welcome back to Part 2 of the Final Destination Retrospective! In this post we are (obviously) covering the second entry in the franchise: Final Destination 2! This entry in the series is interesting for a few reasons: not least of which because it is the only direct sequel in the series. I would definitely recommend reading the first entry in this retrospective if you haven’t yet in order to see how Final Destination 2 tries to differentiate itself and improve on its predecessor. Does it succeed? Well… we’ll get to that in a minute.

Before we get into the movie itself, I just want to say that this movie has an awesome poster. Seriously, look at it. The use of colour and blending is really striking and visually appealing. Certainly far better than the Brazilian DVD cover… how did they ever consider that better than the official movie poster?

Anyway, moving on. Final Destination was an unexpected success, and so New Line Cinema was eager to make a sequel. Unfortunately, the original crew was unavailable at the time so an almost entirely new production team was brought in. This meant that the film was given completely different writers and a new director, David R. Ellis. This was a bit of an… odd decision to say the least. David R. Ellis has a long history in Hollywood as a stuntman and coordinator, as well as a second unit director. His one full directorial credit at the time was Homeward Bound 2: Lost in San Francisco… or, as I remembered it from my childhood spent watching Homeward Bound all the time, The Exact Same Movie as Before. Since Final Destination 2 his major credits have been Snakes on a Plane, The Final Destination and Shark Night 3D… his CV is full of largely trashy and gratuitous horror films. With the benefit of hindsight, you can probably figure out for yourself that he wasn’t exactly a great choice (although, to be fair, original director James Wong has put out some seriously shitty movies in his time, including The One and Dragonball: Evolution). Also, on a related note, it turns out that David R. Ellis passed away in January, which I did not realize until now. He wasn’t exactly a director I liked, but I appreciate the work Ellis put into film during his lifetime (look at his credits on IMDb, he worked on some big films like Scarface).

Anyway, the only returning cast from the first movie are Ali Larter’s Clear Rivers and Tony Todd’s Bludworth – both good characters in the previous film, although the decision not to bring back Devon Sawa’s Alex Browning really hurts Clear’s character. The chemistry between Clear and Alex was part of what made these two characters interesting in the previous film, and by cutting Alex out Clear becomes considerably less engaging – in this movie she is less of an independent figure and more of a poor attempt to make a badass chick. Aside from Clear, the two main characters are AJ Cook’s Kimberly Corman and Michael Landes’ officer Thomas Burke. Unfortunately, neither character is anywhere near as engaging as the main characters from the previous film. I mean, was somewhat sympathetically inclined towards Kim and Michael, but neither character was particularly well-acted or had much depth at all. In fact, the only other new character I even had an inkling of sympathy for was Rory (Johnathan Peters), a hopeless drug addict who’s pretty much resigned to death. However, Rory’s really the exception here: pretty much every character in Final Destination 2 is underdeveloped (if developed at all) and are basically just there to act as cannon fodder.

At least Kim is easy on the eyes. 😉

Okay, well they dropped the ball on the characters… how’s the story then? Well I’ve got some good things to say here at least. For one thing, it’s obvious that there was at least an effort put in to break the 3-step Final Destination formula of “1) Premonition of disaster 2) Try to escape death 3) Everyone dies” which basically every movie in the franchise follows. For one thing, Final Destination 2 shakes up the formula slightly – Death is working in reverse, trying to clean up all the loose ends caused by the characters in the last movie. This element is revealed about midway into the film and is actually quite an interesting connecting twist, although it could have done with some better integration. The other major new element is the idea that the characters can successfully cheat Death through certain means, in this case creating a life which would not have existed otherwise (and therefore making Death’s former plan out of date). This is actually an element that I really liked, and one which I wish they would reintegrate in future installments. I hate how they always kill off the characters at the end of these sorts of films, it’s basically a big middle finger to the audience saying “oh, did you care about those characters? We didn’t, they’re just there to die.” That aside, if the characters in this film were better done then this particular change might have been even better to Final Destination 2 overall, but as it is it’s a cool expansion of the concept.

However, while there are some changes to the formula, Final Destination 2 is largely just a rehash of the first movie, only with more of an emphasis on the death scenes. That said, the first 45 minutes work fairly well, but feel like they only exist to get us to the aforementioned death scenes. Compare this to the first movie where everything, up until the final 20 minutes, felt very natural and gelled together well – the character development was considered just as important as the death scenes. Luckily, while Final Destination 2 emphasizes the deaths more, they really pull out all the stops on them. First off, the opening disaster is FREAKING AWESOME. Watch this:

Holy shiiiiit… say what you will about David R. Ellis, but I’m sure that this sequence was totally his work. As a second unit director he was responsible for such classic action scenes as the car ambush scene from Clear and Present Danger or the highway chase in The Matrix Reloaded (both of which were the only real highlights from their respective films), and you can really tell that that’s the case here. Of course, the scene is totally ridiculous (cars turning into nuclear bombs when their roof hits a trailer), but undeniably spectacular as well. Of all the opening disasters in the series, this one is really the visceral highlight for quite some time.

Aside from the opening disaster, Final Destination 2 is also the point where the individual death scenes themselves started getting very creative and really become the crux of the films themselves. Consequently, this also marks the point where the series really started to move towards horror/slasher rather than thriller, although it hasn’t abandoned its roots completely yet. In any case, this entry features some really wicked deaths – while they aren’t set-up as well as they were in the previous film, the deaths themselves are wildly creative and very darkly funny (highlights at 0:55, 2:20 and 2:43):

So what is my assessment of Final Destination 2? Honestly, while I think the deaths in this one are pretty cool at times, it’s the last 45 minutes that I don’t particularly like. The film was being pretty clever up until that time, at which point it basically becomes a montage of deaths strung together weakly. In all, while it has its moments and is certainly not the worst movie in the series, Final Destination 2 is probably the one that I enjoy the least – it really had some promise, but it doesn’t come to fruition in part because it has the weakest cast in the whole series. I’d recommend it if you’re a fan of the series, but if not then the 2 videos I posted here should provide all the highlights you need.

4/10

Be sure to come back soon for Part 3 of this retrospective: Final Destination 3!

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Retrospective: Final Destination (2000)

Hello readers, I’m about to embark on something that I’ve been wanting to do since I started this blog in December. As I’m sure most of you are aware, I’ve done movie reviews quite frequently on this blog. In fact, 4 of my Top 5 most-viewed posts have all been movie reviews (for those curious, my top 5 posts are: Hulk, Judge Dredd, 5 Reasons to Prepare for the Ape Apocalypse, Transformers 3 and Dredd). However, since starting this blog I have really wanted to start writing franchise retrospectives – and I’m not talking about mega-franchises like Harry Potter or Terminator. Rather, I want these sorts of articles focus on franchises which, for whatever reason, don’t get nearly as much written about them and yet have a very interesting history (well… maybe I’ll do a Star Wars every once in a while, but it’ll be the exception rather than the rule). If you were ever looking for a place to read about The Howling series or Resident Evil movies, then I’d suggest you start following me! If not… well then follow me anyway, make me feel like I’m accomplishing something here.

Anyway, the first franchise which is getting the retrospective treatment from me is the Final Destination series. As a little background, I was only really dimly aware of these movies until about a year ago – I had always thought they were bog standard slasher films. My only real interactions with the series had been in the form of a Final Destination 3 poster which I swear was outside the local movie store for years, and the laughter which accompanied the (thankfully redacted) announcement that the 5th entry in the series would be called 5nal Destination (who didn’t read that as “Anal Destination”? Seriously?). However, this changed when a friend and I happened to be hanging out when Final Destination 3 came on the TV. Despite having little interest at the time, we watched the first 30 minutes or so before we had to leave. However, what I had seen had been very intriguing, so I decided to track down the movie and see how it ended. I’ll save my thoughts on that particular movie for later, but suffice to say I tracked down the other films and watched them all out of order (I watched them in the following order: 3, 5, 1, 4, 2).

First off, I’m going to mention the characters. Unlike some other movies in the series, Final Destination actually goes to some effort to flesh out its characters and make you give a damn about them. Devon Sawa’s Alex Browning is an interesting lead, a bit of an outsider who you can’t ever be entirely sure isn’t totally crazy. I also quite liked Ali Larter’s Clear Rivers, a character which actually manages to subvert the stereotypical “female love interest” role and become a figure of her own. In fact, of the main cast there’s only really 2 throw-away characters there to provide some quick and easy death fodder… which is actually not too bad by the standards of this series. The lead actors put in acting which ranges from “pretty good” to “serviceable”. Of the leads, I felt that the only one which was really weak (both in acting and characterization) was Kerr Smith’s Carter Horton, the typical bully character. However, he does develop a bit by the end which redeems him somewhat. Oh, and no discussion of Final Destination characters is complete without a mention of Tony Todd’s Bludworth – he only gets about 5 minutes of screen-time, but he just steals every scene he’s in. The man has a creepy voice and just knows how to chill you to the bone with little more than a look and a smile.

Of course, in addition to all of these characters is the main attraction of the whole movie – Death itself. Despite never actually appearing on-screen (aside from some very mysterious liquid and in a reflection), Death is a very real presence and character in the film. The film really establishes Death as a morbidly creative force which interacts with the world to kill his victims, dropping them clues about their impending demise for little more reason than we likes the thrill of the hunt. The methods which Death uses to slay his victims are very imaginative, although they don’t devolve into full-on gore porn like some of the later films in the series. The fact that Death never actually appears just makes him all the more frightening – he’s an omnipresent, inescapable, inexhaustible force which is going to inevitably hunt down and kill the characters that we are becoming invested in and he could strike at any time. Furthermore, compared to other slasher villains like Freddy Kruger, Jason Voorhees or Leatherface, he doesn’t devolve into self-parody – Death is established pretty early on as having a very dark sense of humour and irony and this is one of the aspects of the series which has remained true throughout (although each movie will play with the details somewhat). Director James Wong should be commended for pulling off this sense of malice for a villain who isn’t physically present, because I can just imagine how easily it could have backfired on him. The fact that it was his first film makes the achievement even more impressive.

What is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the first Final Destination is that it is quite different from its successors. Whereas subsequent movies in the franchise would skew closer to slasher-horror and eschew character development in favour of a body count, the original Final Destination is obstinately a supernatural thriller film with some very light slasher elements. The emphasis is really clearly on mystery and suspense rather than on killing off people in the bloodiest ways the writers can imagine. It’s unfortunate that the other movies in the series don’t do this more often, but in Final Destination characters actually survive Death’s attempts to kill them more often than not. As a result of this, and of the fact that we actually give a damn about the characters, the potential death scenes have a lot of suspense – you can’t really be sure whether or not a character really is going to die, or even the manner in which Death will attempt to off them. Of course, Death has a really morbidly creative streak and his plans tend to have redundancies in order to ensure that he collects his kills…

Any discussion of a Final Destination film is incomplete without mentioning the central disaster. In this movie it’s a plane crash, which really does prey on many peoples’ fears. The filmmakers could never have predicted that this would become even more powerful only a year later after 9/11 – seriously, I thought that they were just banking on post-9/11 paranoia when I first saw this movie, until I found out that it was released a full year prior to it… quite prescient indeed! In any case, the disaster itself is very frighteningly well-done, weakened only in that it doesn’t look entirely convincing now. However, it was done with nearly entirely practical effects, so it’s quite impressive what they managed achieve.

Of course, following the opening disaster, the surviving characters are one-by-one picked off by Death, and it is here that the film slowly starts to come apart. Being the first in the series, Final Destination isn’t plagued by franchise fatigue yet, and so it manages to keep this section interesting with some creativity and philosophy rather than defaulting to slasher tropes. The characters struggle with a variety of conflicting emotions – why (and how) were they spared from the wreckage of Flight 180? And when Death starts coming after them, they all are forced to wrestle and come to grips with the idea of their own mortality. It’s some really interesting stuff, and far beyond what I would expect of a teenage thriller/horror film of this sort. Unfortunately, the last 20 minutes of the film largely drop this philosophizing and it is at this point that things start to get really weak. I felt that these last 20 minutes really didn’t engage with me nearly as well as the rest of the movie have and end up putting a bit of a damper on the whole experience… and that’s just unfortunate, because I really do like this movie. It has some great ideas – they might not all be executed perfectly, but it’s generally a well-done film with an intriguing premise that puts it head-and-shoulders above a run of the mill thriller/horror movie. When I first saw it I would have given it an 8/10, although I think that was a bit generous now. That said, I definitely enjoyed it, and certainly recommend seeing it even if you are turned off by the ideas of the sequels.

7/10

Be sure to come back soon for Part 2 of this retrospective: Final Destination 2!

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