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Final Destination Print E-mail
Tuesday, 01 June 2004

Final Destination
New Line Home Video
MPAA rating: R
starring: Devon Sawa, Ali Larter, Kerr Smith, Kristen Cloke, Chad Donella, Daniel Roebuck, Roger Guenveur Smith, Tony Todd, Seann William Scott
release year: 2000
film rating: Three-and-a-half stars
reviewed by: Bill Warren

James Wong and Glen Morgan first attracted attention by co-writing some of the very best episodes of 'The X Files,' then went on to create their own series, 'Space: Above and Beyond.' They spent time on 'Millennium' as well, but always wanted to get into feature films. 'Final Destination,' shot under the title "Flight 180," is their first, and they didn't get far from 'The X Files.' Not only was this well-made movie shot in Vancouver, where 'The X Files' was filmed until the 1999-2000 season, and uses some of the same crew, but Jeffrey Reddick's story began as a spec script for the TV series.

New Line hired Morgan to co-write and produce and Wong to co-write and direct. The characters in Reddick's story were changed from adults to teenagers to lure in the 'Scream' crowd, the image of Death was changed from the Grim Reaper to a shadow and a zephyr, and the shocks were punched up. In fact, 'Final Destination' contains one of the best oh-my-gawd shocks of recent years; it involves a bus.

The movie did well at the boxoffice, and has been given the "Platinum Series" treatment by New Line. The DVD includes a spiffy letterboxed print of the film, with Dolby 5.1 and 2.0 options, plus three commentary tracks a moderately interesting short documentary on test screenings, the film's extremely different original ending, and a perfectly awful, utterly unnecessary "documentary" about a so-called psychic. Why this was included is known only to the marketing folks at New Line. (Who include Jeffrey Reddick.) There are also DVD-ROM features, including the entire screenplay and a link to the film's original website. (Are some movie websites going to be eternal?)

A high school French class is en route from New York to Paris when Alex Browning (Devon Sawa) suddenly has a vision of the plane having a catastrophic, spectacular accident, with everyone aboard dying. This so terrifies him that he flees from the plane, accompanied by a few others, some willing, some not so willing. They are Clear Rivers (Ali Larter), tough-guy jock Carter Horton (Kerr Smith, a long way from his Dawson's Creek role), his girlfriend Amanda Detmer (Terry Chaney), Tod Waggner (Chad Donella), Billy Hitchcock (Seann William Scott) and annoyed teacher Valerie Lewton (Kristen Cloke).

Once they're back in the terminal, the plane leaves without them -- and explodes on takeoff. Not long thereafter, Tod dies -- or rather, is killed by a strange force that we see only as a momentary shadow. There's no doubt, however, that the force is real, and supernatural.

Partly thanks to meeting a sublimely spooky mortician (Tony Todd), Alex becomes convinced that by leaving the plane, they all quite literally cheated Death -- they were supposed to die on the flight, but they didn't, and now are starting to die in the order of their seating on the plane. Their only hope is to break the pattern.

The biggest weakness of 'Final Destination' stems directly from its greatest strength -- that this premise is so unusually colorful. The plot structure is still pretty much the standard slasher-movie format -- this person dies, then that one, then that one -- but to have Death its very own self the antagonist is something novel in teen horror flicks.

However, Morgan and Wong way overemphasize the idea of the pattern and how important it is, and in several scenes, the discussion becomes hard to follow, nor do you have any good reason to want to follow it. Sawa keeps pulling out seating charts and struggling to understand just what the pattern is. It becomes an intrusive bore. This is too bad, since the rest of the picture is particularly good for one of these things. It's smart, for one thing, while most of these films are written down to what the filmmakers assume is the level of their audiences. Morgan and Wong respect the intelligence of their audiences, and they play fair with them.

What's more, they've created diverse and interesting characters; most of them are pretty smart, too. The film is well-cast; Devon Sawa is handsome enough to be a lead, but also has a slightly dorky look that allows him to be EveryBoy. (He could play the lead in "The Steve McQueen" story, and has some of the same appeal.) You can believe Ali Larter as a metal sculptress, and that she's reclusive. Kerr Smith's role is more standard -- the aggressive jock -- but he's believable in the part. Too bad Chad Donella is killed off relatively soon; he's one of the most amusing and interesting characters.

The role names are mostly taken from classic horror movie figures of the past: Tod Browning, Val Lewton, Robert Wiene, Max Schreck, Lon Chaney, F.W. Murnau, Carl Dreyer, George Waggner, even Alfred Hitchcock. Those are the only in-jokes, but there are lots of other details in the film that might be overlooked without the interesting commentary track by Morgan, Wong and editor James Coblentz. The only drawback is that all three sound similar enough that it's hard to distinguish between them. Original writer Reddick is included on the same track, but was clearly recorded at a different time.

There's also an actor-commentary track, featuring Devon Sawa, Kerr Smith, Kristen Cloke and Chad Donella. As with the filmmaker track, the voices of the men are very similar, and just about impossible to tell apart unless they specifically identify themselves. It's a much less interesting track than the first, although all four sound like they're enjoying themselves, and to a degree, that's infectious. ("Dawson's Creek" fans may be dismayed by Smith's comments; he does not want to be a role model, and sounds like he's embarrassed that some gays have regarded him as one.)

There's yet another commentary track, much more interesting than the actors-only outing. The effective, listenable score is isolated, and composer Shirley Walker explains the process of scoring films in general, and her approach to 'Final Destination.' Composers don't get a word in very often, so this is very welcome, particularly since she's eloquent, amusing and well-informed.

For home theater buffs, there's quite a bit of fun to be had from 'Final Destination.' The premonition of the plane disaster is in Chapter 3, starting at 3:30; in Chapter 4, the plane blows up for real at 3:16. That highly unexpected bus accident is in Chapter 10, at 3:15. Miss Lewton kicks the bucket in an amazingly, amusingly complicated Rube Goldberg manner in Chapter 12. Toward the end, the four survivors roar around Vancouver, excuse me, Long Island in a noise car sequence in Chapter 14, which is capped by another death involving a train-car collision. And in Chapter 17, Death comes after Clear Rivers with lighting, explosions and flames.

'Final Destination' is a good if ultimately minor horror movie, which the filmmakers pretty much acknowledge themselves. Unless you're a major fan of someone involved, this is probably best viewed as a rental -- but it will take quite a while to work your way through all of the material New Line has included, even if you skip the dreadfully silly documentary about the psychic.

If you liked this DVD, you may also like; Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, The Sixth Sense, Airport

more details
sound format:
5.1 Dolby surround
aspect ratio(s):
special features: commentary tracks, deleted scenes, DVD-ROM
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 36-inch Sony XBR

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