Case Number 00767

FINAL DESTINATION

New Line // 2000 // 98 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Harold Gervais (Retired) // October 6th, 2000

The Charge

You can't cheat death.

Opening Statement

Another New Line Platinum Series disc and another fine release from the best DVD company out there. Period.

Oh by the way, the movie is really good as well.

Facts of the Case

On a plane to Paris with the rest of his senior class Alex Browning has a premonition of imminent doom. The vision is so vivid, so intensely real that it causes Alex to react violently and attempt an exit off the plane. Escorted to the terminal by security, with several other students and a teacher close behind, the group is stunned when the flight does indeed explode shortly after takeoff.

Thinking they have avoided the hand of death, the group, along with their community, begins to mourn the loss of their friends. Conflicts and bitter feelings bubble to the surface, leaving the group with much to consider and even more lurking silently around to worry about.

For it turns out Death does not like to be cheated. One by one, the surviving members of Flight 180 begin to die in spectacular fashion.

If Death has a plan, so does Alex Browning. Smart enough to grasp what is happening, Alex begins to plot and take steps in order to ensure his and his friend's survival. Playing cat and mouse with The Grim Reaper is a dangerous game, with odds that are stacked against young Alex Browning. Rolling the dice and trying to stay one step ahead of an ageless adversary, Alex literally plays the game of his life, attempting to simply live out his life and avoid an early arrival at his final destination.

The Evidence

Final Destination is a breath of fresh air in the sub-genre of the teen horror movie. Unlike most films of this kind, the characters are actually intelligent and nobody takes their clothes off. The film's villain is not some unstoppable monster with nothing but revenge on its mind but rather a force of nature that is just going about its natural function. That's right, the killer is Death itself and its got a plan.

One of the best things about watching genre films that have been done to death is being amazed when something new comes along. Final Destination is just such a movie. Final Destination has an energy that energizes all of the formula expectations associated with this kind of flick and comes in almost as a rebirth of the genre, serving as a logical continuation of growth that was begun by the original Scream. While I would not call it a postmodern horror movie like many have coined Scream, it does have the advantage of not being so self-aware, thus missing out on the sense of smugness that sometimes plagued that Wes Craven horror classic.

The movie is written and directed with great style by X-Files and Millennium veterans James Wong and Glen Morgan. In fact, the idea for the film was originally submitted as a spec script for the popular show by co-screenwriter Jeffrey Reddick. Rewritten and polished by Morgan and Wong, Final Destination packs a lot of chills and moves like a bat out of hell. The movie is a great deal of fun, has great wit and an oppressive tone that turns up the pressure as the film rolls along.

Performances are strong across the board with Devon Sawa (S.L.C. Punk, Idle Hands) as the lead character Alex Browning. He works within the conventions of the teenage/horror movie but gives his performance an intelligence that is rarely seen in the genre. To his credit, as well as to Wong and Morgan, there is never a moment during the movie where the usual "don't go in there" syndrome kicks in.

As the object of Browning's affection, Final Destination offers Ali Larter (Varsity Blues), as Clear Rivers. Like Sawa, she brings a level of smarts and determination, not often seen in this kind of flick. She is a lovely young woman that has a serene kind of beauty that the camera loves and to the movie's credit, is never paraded. Perhaps that is one of the things that makes Final Destination works so well. The movie does not play by the usual rules of the genre and that includes the exploitation of its young, attractive leads. There is a feeling of unexpected and intense unease that runs throughout the film. Because of the kind of movie it is, as an audience we expect certain things to happen and in one way, shape or form they do but how it gets there is different thus making the chills a great deal more powerful and unexpected.

As the movie's resident a**hole character we have Kerr Smith (television's Dawson's Creek) as Carter Horton. He certainly broods well enough and while he, more so than any of the rest of the cast, looks a bit older than the supposed 18 years, he carries his duties well enough. While his performance has its share of moments that borderline on the shrill, by the end of the movie he has managed to generate more than a little sympathy.

Another Morgan and Wong veteran, Kristen Cloke, has the movie's requisite adult role and the filmmakers save the most complicated of death scenes for her. In a sequence that could almost be described as operatic in scale, Final Destination delivers the bloody goods but never forgets its wit and invention in her demise. Cloke goes out in style, with that sequence spinning the movie towards its final act.

A familiar face to horror genre fans, Tony Todd (The Rock, The Wishmaster), turns up in the film's creepiest role as the undertaker Bludworth. It is Bludworth who really makes the Browning character understand what he is going against. His section also offers up the movie's biggest "jump" gag and its a doozey.

There are certain expectations when I approach a New Line disc, expectations that are increased when the disc bears the designation Platinum Series and to New Line's credit, they once more deliver on all the promises.

First up to talk about is the widescreen anamorphic transfer of the movie's 1.85:1 aspect ratio. It is in a word, flawless. Colors are perfect, being both full and natural. The movie is full of dark images and here again, everything is perfect. Blacks are solid, showing zero shimmer or breakup and shadows possess great detail and a deep clarity. New Line deals with any problem one can think of with the picture in strong fashion.

The print used was in perfect shape and there are no imperfections such as nicks or scratches to be found. All in all, another fabulous job from our friends at New Line.

To take it a step further, I am willing to go out on a limb here and say that New Line does the best transfers in the business and Final Destination stands as proof for that position.

The disc features a 5.1 Dolby Digital mix that as least as good as the disc's image. The soundtrack has great presence and depth that carries with it a genuine sense of atmosphere. Tension is created by the very effective use of surrounds and the sometimes unbridled usage of bass.

While the mix is active, it is also subtle and never comes off as heavy-handed or overwrought. In fact the sound effects, dialogue and Shirley Walker's wonderfully creepy and effective score are mixed together to form a very pleasing, almost organic-like whole.

As is to be expected, the source material is pristine, with there being no background distortions to speak of.

Now for the real reason most of us buy New Line discs, the goodies.

Final Destination offers not one, not two but three very different commentary tracks.

I suppose I should count my lucky stars that I thought Final Destination was a really entertaining little horror movie or sitting through each one of the different tracks would have been a painful experience.

First up is the filmmaker track that features James Wong, the movie's director, his X-Files partner-in-crime, co-screenwriter, Glen Morgan, the film's editor, James Coblentz and the writer who came up with the original story, co-screenwriter Jeffrey Reddick.

This is a really good track that certainly benefits from having several people chatting away. Lots of information is given, the most fun of which is the basis for all of the characters names. Listen closely and you will notice homage being paid to quite a few masters of the genre, Hitchcock, Browning, Lewton, with the list going on. Its pretty cool to hear and see such respect for those that have come before and I have a lot for regard for the filmmakers because of it. Also fun to go back and watch is how the filmmaker's, through the use of clever production design, telegraphed how each performer would meet their eventual demise. If you chose to listen to only one of the three commentary tracks, this is the one.

Bearing in mind the above statement, if you want to listen to a second alternate track, the one with Composer Shirley Walker is a great way to go. Part isolated film score, in 5.1 no less and part commentary, Walker proves why, along with Eric Serra, she is the best film composer you have probably never heard of. This is one of the first times I can recall listening to a practical, in-depth discussion is given of what goes into a movie soundtrack and the battles that are waged to get things done right. Walker acquits herself as being both gracious and charming, proving this track to be a very worthwhile audio and educational experience.

The commentaries are closed out by a group discussion with actors, Devon Sawa, Kerr Smith, Kristin Cloke and Chad E. Donella. Of the three, this is the least interesting and the least informative. The pity is that if were not for the other two, more engaging tracks, this one would be considered pretty good, as these things go. As it stands, it is really more of a party-style commentary with very little useful information being relayed but with everyone speaking having an obvious affection for the others.

Next up is a pair of original documentaries. The first is one of the most honest and interesting looks at what goes into the marketing of a modern film that I have ever seen. It is titled "Test Screenings" and it looks at how a target audience's reaction shapes the final product we get to see in theater or at home. In the case of Final Destination, the filmmakers are forced into changing the movie's original, more low-key and heartfelt ending sequence because the kids who were brought in for the movie screenings simply wanted to see more death.

It is after watching this feature that I would turn to the disc's deleted scenes section to view the sequences that tested so poorly. After sitting through this cut footage I certainly understood and respected what Wong and Morgan were after but had to agree with the final product. What that says about me, and society in general, but as it stands, Final Destination sends everyone out with a last good gasp, not to mention a healthy chuckle.

The disc also offers a second documentary feature called Premonitions and while it is certainly different, I don't understand its place on this release. The short film's subject is Pam Coronado and she is a true life "intuitive" investigator. The feature chronicles her life up to this point with special attention paid to the kidnapping and murder of a woman Coronado grew up with.

On its own and at an expanding length, I'm sure Premonitions would be a fun movie to watch. As it stands now, its pretty interesting but again I am left to wonder why it is here. I certainly applaud New Line for doing different things with its supplemental content, I just wish it were more tied into the actual movie.

The release is closed out by the movie's theatrical trailer and several cool sounding DVD-ROM features that make me wish my tired, old computer were able to let me watch.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

In a genre that is normally devoid of wit, intelligence or originality, Final Destination, is something special. Still if you are not a fan of violence or graphic depiction's of death and decapitations, no matter how stylishly done, this is not the movie for you. Everything here is well produced and I don't have any complaints as far as the movie is concerned.

As the disc, well it is a New Line Platinum Series release, which means expectations are pretty high. Once more the folks at New Line offer more material for the lowest price of anyone in the world of DVD. Video and sound are top drawer, with the supplemental material being well chosen, not to mention informative. Still, if I had one wish it would be that New Line would start supporting DTS encoded soundtracks on their releases. For a studio that stands for the absolute best the industry has to offer I think its time they start to include the best sound option out there.

That much said and coming right down to it, I don't have any problems with the disc either.

Closing Statement

While not a movie for everyone, Final Destination, is one hell of a ride. Fans of such postmodern horror classics such as Scream and BB, are well advised to check this movie out.

Priced to own, this is a disc worth having on the shelf whenever you feel like asking friends, "You want to see something really scary?"

New Line continues to impress and this is a fine addition to their ever growing library of films.

Rent it, buy it, give it to a friend but make sure you make your reservation and head out to your own Final Destination.

The Verdict

Everyone connected with the making of Final Destination and its home video release are acquitted of all charges. With the entrance of Glen Morgan and James Wong into the realm of the big screen thriller this judge is very aware that The X-Files's loss is the filmgoers' gain.

As a disc, I'm sure I'm not the only person out there who buys just about everything New Line puts out, regardless of genre or who is involved. I will gladly pass on a movie that I know I like because it is released by a sub-par house. I'm thinking Disney's non-anamorphic From Dusk Till Dawn Collector's Edition here, being just as happy to give my money to a company that I know is going to deliver both value and quality.

In closing and in what sounds like a familiar litany of praise for New Line, the company is thanked for producing the best DVDs in the marketplace, all at the most affordable price.

Now if only they would stop using the Snapper.

If there is no other business, this courtroom stands in recess. Good day.

Review content copyright © 2000 Harold Gervais; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 98
Audio: 98
Extras: 99
Acting: 93
Story: 95
Average: 97

Perp Profile
Studio: New Line
Video Formats:
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)

Subtitles:
* English

Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2000
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks
* Scene Specific Filmmaker Commentary w/ James Wong, Glen Morgan, James Coblentz and Jeffrey Reddick
* Scene Specific Actor Commentary w/ Devon Sawa, Kerr Smith, Kristin Cloke and Chad E. Donella.
* 5.1 Isolated Film Score and Commentary w/ Composer Shirley Walker
* Two Original Documentaries: "Test Screenings" and "Premonitions"
* DVD-ROM Features - Screenplay Access
* Internet Access
* The Original Theatrical Website, Including the "Death Clock"
* Animated Postcards
* Psychic Games

Accomplices
* IMDb
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0195714/combined