Judge Dennis Prince feared Death was stalking him. The acrid stench turned out to be an old sack lunch spoiling in the backseat of his car.
Death cuts out the middleman.
Get in line to ride the newest horror attraction from the New Line circus. Do you have a thirst for thrills? Do you have a strong stomach? Do you dare look Death in the eye and spit? Careful, he spits back.
If you're unafraid to tempt fate and don't believe the Grim Reaper is playing with a stacked deck, then climb aboard and give Final Destination 3 a spin. Beware, though, because you may never look at an amusement park attraction in the same way again.
Facts of the Case
It's Graduation Night '05 and the local carnival has been opened for the exclusive indulgence of this year's exiting Seniors. Yearbook photographer Wendy Christensen (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, The Ring Two) is dutifully snapping digital pictures of her classmates while enjoying the playful embraces of her boyfriend, Jason (Jesse Moss, Missing in America). As the couple and their friends, Kevin (Ryan Merriman, Halloween: Resurrection) and Carrie (Gina Holden, Fantastic Four) enjoy the celebratory festivities, they make their way to the carnival's key attraction, Devil's Flight, a towering 200-foot corkscrew coaster in front of which a massive Lucifer seethes warnings and dares. The two couples, now joined by their other classmates, make their way onto the coaster. The energetic youths whoop in approval as the train of cars makes its way up the ride's highest peak, none aware of the ruptured hydraulic line that spews the fluid necessary for keeping their shoulder harnesses locked in place. In an instant, their ride of thrills turns into a chain reaction of kills, the coaster breaking apart underneath them as classmate after classmate meets a grisly demise. The lucky ones merely fall to their death while the others…
In a sudden rush back into awareness, Wendy realizes the horrible coaster carnage took place only in her mind. Immediately, though, tiny details emerge to convince the shaken girl has had an ominous premonition. While her panicked cries gain her and some of her friends exit from the ride, the rest remain seated and quickly arrive at their final destination. Wendy, hardly feeling lucky given her overwhelming grief, realizes that the photos she took that night are somehow foretelling the fate that was she and the other unplanned survivors. She realizes, much to her own disbelief, that Death himself has marked a claim upon her and her remaining classmates. And, when the Dark One begins to collect his due, it's apparent that Wendy and the remaining others must intervene to redirect the terrible fate they each are unwittingly traveling toward.
Yes, it's the same premise behind Final Destination and Final Destination 2—and it works. Franchise horror became a preferred consumable to thrill-seeking teens throughout the decade of the '80s, second only to a sack full of burgers, fries, and hot apple pies. A cutting edge film (no pun intended) by the name of Halloween astounded filmgoers and filmmakers and give a rise to a new trend in horror—the slasher picture. Soon thereafter, likewise inspired pictures such as Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and even the return of 1974's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre delivered more of the same as audiences packed theaters to see nubile teens hacked and whacked by some murderous fiend with a personal vendetta. Then again, sometimes neither cause nor reason were necessary for the ensuing carnage. No matter, because audiences couldn't seem to get enough and date night took on a whole new complexion for the Gen-Xers. Naturally, sequels quickly followed and the horror heroes were born—Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, and the returning Leatherface. No matter how you tried to stop them, either on screen or at the box office, these creeps always found a way to rise up and wreak their vengeance. After a brief respite during the start of the '90s, the slasher genre returned mightily at the hands of "Ghostface," the cell-phone enabled fiend of Scream. At this point, the genre became self-referential, now woven tightly into the fabric of popular culture and inspiring new franchises that featured a sometimes more enlightened troupe of troubled teens as in Urban Legend, Jeepers Creepers, and the farcical Scary Movie series. And usually, when the horror is being repeatedly played for laughs, it often signals the end of a genre (refer to the manner in which Abbot & Costello too the "bite" out of Universal's stable of previously-petrifying spooks).
But in 2000, collaborators James Wong, Jeffrey Reddick, and Glen Morgan exposed the more primal fears of a modern world. In Final Destination, audiences were served up exactly what the proclaimed they wanted—an immediate jolt of grueling horror. A jet airliner, destined for Paris, malfunctions and begins to burst at the seams, eviscerating and incinerating a group of students in gory spectacle—all within the first 15 minutes of the picture. The incident turns out to be a premonition and an insistent teen is able to get himself and several others off the ultimately doomed passenger plane. But the survivors aren't out of harm's way yet as a mysterious supernatural force begins to track down and dispatch the survivors. Death himself had emerged to collect some souls—innocent or otherwise—and employed every seemingly innocuous happenstance to initiate a chain-reaction that would snare and snuff out those on his list. To the unaware, these unlikely and otherwise unbelievable string of events would seem ludicrous through their sheer "chance alignment" yet, when it's revealed Death is guiding each near-impossible coincidence, it becomes plainly clear he's not inclined to being defeated and will use anything and everything to ensure his plan is fully executed.
Death has effectively cut out the middleman and has proven to be a crowd-pleaser in this enduring new fear franchise.
The first picture was surprise success in its original approach to the "dead teenager movie" genre. Fittingly, it's first sequel, Final Destination 2, largely adhered to the formula of the original although the picture was not helmed by Wong, Reddick, or Morgan. It, too, began with a heart-stopping calamity—a gruesome freeway pileup—seen in premonition. When several escape their planned exit from this world, Death sets about to tend to things left undone. This first sequel, released three years following the original, spent a bit too much time with expository matters, reminding—or explaining to—audiences of Death's intentions and the need to break the chain of events in order to cheat him at his own game. The killings, though, were the real attraction and the deaths in this picture were more graphic than those of its predecessor. The audiences loved it.
And then, three more years hence, Death is back to take care of yet more business. This picture really seems to have found the groove in the proceedings, largely due to the return of Wong (directing), Reddick (story and characters), and Morgan (screenplay). The premonition set piece is perhaps the best yet, that of the immense, high speed corkscrew coaster. And, Final Destination 3 benefits from a key element absent in the previous two: the inherent creepiness of a carnival. The opening titles feature images of a mechanical fortuneteller, out of control midway rides, and a montage of sideshow attractions (and if you look real close, you'll see the foreshadowing of the deaths that will ultimately come). The swirling strains of a pipe organ set the stage for an uncertain experience, providing a fitting mood that is appropriately imbalanced and unpredictable (Shirley Walker back again to perfectly score this third installment in the series). And, given the fact that those familiar with the series' premise and patterns, this works to evoke the same sort of nervous anticipation similar to that of an actual roller coaster excursion.
The set design of the carnival and especially the Devil's Flight coaster (complete with an anatomically correct crouching demon) is excellent. Naturally, CGI is employed to transform the 65-foot high "Corkscrew" of Vancouver, Canada's Playland theme park into a monstrous 200-foot behemoth. The effect is generally excellent, although some killjoys will revel in pointing out the handful of slightly sub-par shots (mainly suffering from poor contrast matching). Robert McLachlan's cinematography is perfect, providing a nice blend of POV imagery coupled with appropriate insert shots to draw you into the impending peril. Utilizing remote-control power pods with affixed mini-cameras, McLachlan was able to get actual movement in the practical shots of the cast on the coaster, resulting in a more realistic experience than a stationary-mounted cameras has yet to deliver. In addition, Wong insisted upon utilizing the actual actors in as many of the action sequences as possible, thereby giving us a more honest dramatization of the horrifying events that befall the characters on the screen.
The actors in Final Destination 3 fulfill their roles properly, providing plenty of ditzy and deviant behavior as has come to be expected from today's youth (and whether these characters resemble actual youth attitudes or today's youth mimic on-screen personalities is another discussion for another time). Frankly, these actors merely have to give enough dimension to the intentionally shallow characters to move the plot ahead to the next blood-spattered sequence—and they do that well. You won't find any break out performances here (although Ms. Winstead's panic following her premonition is refreshingly convincing), but that's not why you're watching anyway. Yes, it's all about the deaths here.
The stars of this franchise are the effects, no question about it. Much like Tom Savini would sit around in pre-production meetings dreaming up inventive ways to mangle zombies for George Romero, so too have Wong and Morgan scratched their noggins to conjure up some genuinely cringe-worthy killings in these pictures. The have skillfully taken the delivery of gore to a new level, showing a torturous death in excruciating detail, then delivering the sucker punch of the sudden added effect of one last blow for good measure. Wong and Morgan seem to anticipate the audience's penchant to wonder what the final end-state of a horrible dispatch would look like, then they go one step further to reveal the imagining on screen. They utilize plenty of old-school "practical effects" to deliver head smashes, incinerations, vivisections, and the like. Much like the gore of the '80s, it's refreshing to see some filmmakers understand the appeal of an "organic" effect. The only drawback, however, is that the kills are CGI enhanced to manage blood spills (it makes it easier for the filmmaker to re-shoot sequences without having to mop up in between). Unfortunately, CGI blood is quite obvious and threatens to lessen the jolt. Nonetheless, the kills are spectacular, they're not for the faint-hearted, and they're sure to be mostly satisfying to those who enjoy such mayhem.
So, if you go into a film like Final Destination 3 with the expectations that you're going to embark on a dark ride through the twisted nightmares that only Death himself could deliver, you'll find the picture delivers mightily on its cost of admission. And the fact that Wong and Morgan have left their original formula unaltered, predictable though it is, shows they recognize its popularity with today's horror audiences and are committed to giving the masses exactly what they expect. That's a good formula for a franchise and one that is poised for future installments that will similarly draw thrill-seekers, rubber-neckers, and others who simply cannot resist stopping to look at the carnage along the side of the road.
Aren't you just a bit curious about what you might see?
Well, if you look into this new two-disc DVD release, you find plenty to ogle over. It begins with Disc One where a striking transfer of the feature attraction, anamorphically enhanced and framed at the original 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio awaits you. As you would expect, the source material is absolutely spotless and the color and detail is near-perfectly reproduced here. The vibrant image is given a pleasing visual "pop" thanks to well-managed black levels that bear plenty of shadowed detail and well-metered contrast that gives depth to the picture. As HD-enabled displays and digital transfers have become more sophisticated in their abilities to replicate even the tiniest details, the onus of a stellar image often rests on the capable eye of the production's focus puller. In the case of Final Destination 3, the image remains remarkably sharp for the duration.
The audio is delivered in a tremendously active DTS-ES 6.1 Surround track. This mix is powerful and, if you'll increase your LFE output just a tad more, you feel the rumble and roar of the coaster in your own chair. Surround effects are excellently spaced across the rear channel, background noise and screams occurring from either side and around back of you in an impressively wide soundstage. Front channels deliver equally well-engineered directional effects, ultimately dropping you dead center amid the action. The only disappointment here is the manner in which some of the dialogue is presented, sometimes fading away and causing a cocking of an ear to make out what was said (and this seems to be an issue with the actual delivery of the actors' lines and lack of faithful enunciation as opposed to being the fault of an indifferent mix). I adjusted my center channel level up a couple of points to compensate. The audio is also available in a serviceable Dolby Digital 5.1 track but it doesn't compare to the energy of the DTS option.
As for extras, this set is overflowing with them, almost to the point of being overindulgent. Accompanying the feature film on Disc One, you can elect to listen in to a running commentary by Wong, Morgan, and McLachlan. On this track, the three get right to work from the moment the New Line logo appears and, save for a short segment leading up to the boarding of the coaster, they never let up in their generous information sharing; it's a good listen. The main attraction within this disc's special features is the "Choose Their Fate" option where you are provided many moments during the film to influence the outcome of Death's design. In each case, you can effect what happens on the screen and can actually invoke alternate scenes and outcomes to the standard feature's events. This is a fun inclusion in not only that it makes the viewing experience interactive, but also reveals the possibilities when filmmakers collaborate with DVD producers to deliver unique viewing experiences. I won't give away how your choices affect the various sequences, but it definitely does drive deviation from the standard theatrical version. Disc One also includes trailers for ATL, Grilled, A Scanner Darkly, Cyber Wars, Running Scared, and Take the Lead. It wraps up with DVD-ROM content (InterActual driven) to gain you access to special New Line Cinema web links.
On Disc Two, you'll find more than a feature's length of bonus goodies beginning with a quirky animated segment, It's All Around You, where the notion of coincidence tied to tragic events (and some documented near-misses) is explored in lighthearted fashion. Then, Kill Shot: the Making of Final Destination 3 rolls up to deliver a full 88-minutes expose into the crafting of this third installment. This is followed by the enjoyable and relevant Dead Teenager Movie, a 25-minute featurette in which the sub-genre is explored, including insight from Roger Ebert and sprinkled with clips from several of New Line's horror films. "Severed Pieces" deliver an additional 13 minutes that detail different aspects of the making of the film while "Planned Accidents" focuses upon the characters, the coaster design, and the greenscreen processes employed during filming. There's one extended scene that doesn't add much and shows it was worthy of being shortened, and there's also a theatrical trailer and TV spots. In all, a bonus disc brimming with all you wanted to know and more about Final Destination 3 and beyond.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Naturally, most arguments against the franchise center around the fact that it's all about the killings. No rebuttal there. That's because it is about the killings and the audience is expecting each one to be more startling than anything they've seen before. The gore is gratuitous but it never becomes "pornographic." That is, it pushes the line but never fully crosses over into the realm of truly tasteless (perhaps that will happen in Final Destination 4). But, complaints that this franchise is just an excuse for showcasing mutilation will likely fall on deaf ears since that's exactly what patrons are expecting to see for their dollar. They aren't particularly interested in character development here, although they're pleased to see a co-ed or two prance about naked before they depart from this world. To that end, Final Destination 3 delivers on its promise—so what's wrong with that? And if you lament the fact that the characters are two-dimensional props presented only to feed the grinder, then you're missing the point that the main character here is Death. Wong and company have effectively established Death's presence, his motivation, and his cunning in seeing his plan through. Actually, he's one of the best new horror heroes to emerge in the new millennium.
Sure, it's trite to refer to this as a "roller-coaster ride," but that's what it is. It's designed to impart thrills and chills and plenty of sanguine spills, but in the end it merely loops back upon itself and asks, "would you like to ride again?" I say—yes!
To a film that delivers exactly what it promises it will—not guilty!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
• Choose Their Fate interactive option
Review content copyright © 2006 Dennis Prince; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.