As he eagerly anticipates the fourth installment in this excellent horror series, Judge Bill Gibron reflects on how effective this concluding chapter in the initial franchise really is.
Our review of Saw III: Unrated, published February 5th, 2007, is also available.
Sometimes Rules Are Meant To Be Broken…
Detective Eric Matthews (Donny Walhberg, The Sixth Sense) remains locked in the familiar bathroom setting. He does something desperate in an attempt to get away. In the meantime, the well-known killing spree continues, leaving a trail of badly mangled bodies along the way. The failing health of Jigsaw (Tobin Bell, Buried Alive) has his associate Amanda (Shawnee Smith, The Blob) worried, and she kidnaps a local doctor as part of a plan to treat him. Lynn (Bahar Soomekh, Crash) is a lethargic healer, married to a man she can barely tolerate and uninspired by her work. But once Jigsaw makes her a life-or-death deal, she reluctantly agrees to care for him. At the same time, someone named Jeff (Angus Macfadyen, Equilibrium) finds himself inside one of the villain's malevolent trials. Jigsaw gives this dad—devastated over the death of his child at the hands of a reckless driver—an opportunity to get even with everyone—witness, judge, perpetrator—who contributed to the case. As Jigsaw's illness worsens, Amanda starts getting nervous. She is dedicated to this man, and doesn't want to see him die before their work is completed. As time slowly ticks by for Jeff, Lynn, and our killers, it is clear that there is something more than meets the eye going on. When the links are finally discovered, it puts a cap on the duo's diabolical legacy.
For fans who feared that Saw II was sending their favorite "murder scientist" and his movie franchise into a never-ending tailspin of traps and gory games, Saw III was a luminous cinematic statement. Oh, sure, it was just as gruesome as the initial sequel, and there was still a little too much of Darren Lynn Bousman for many purists' liking, but the results speak for themselves. In a realm where the serialization of scary films usually results in a perfect example of the law of diminishing aesthetic returns, this triptych wrap-up was everything a diehard could hope for: expanded characterization and backstory; sequences that sewed up several loose ends; emotional underpinnings between Jigsaw and his addled apprentice; and a whole new series of Saw-related terrors to keep the blood flowing freely. Love it, hate it, dismiss it, or condemn it, but the zero-to-hero rise and rapid reinvention of the genre remains the greatest achievement of creators Leigh Whannell and James Wan. While they really don't deserve to share the torture porn title (the first film was rather sluice-less, considering…), their love of all things Argento and Hitchcock, in combination with a unique take on a tired premise, remains Saw's lasting legacy. How Part IV plans on topping that is anyone's guess.
No matter where it goes from here, Saw III stands as a wonderfully evocative installment. It utilizes the things that made both previous films percolate in a manner that manifests Whannell's way with a script. Sailing solo this time out—though Wan is credited, and it's hard to imagine that returning director Bousman didn't have some say in the storyline—this Australian maestro really "gets" his motion picture project. From the opening shout-out to Part II to the finale which fulfills every Saw fans darkest dreams, the ability to connect so many divergent plot facets is fascinating. Equally intriguing is the way Whannell maps out his characters. While playing fast and loose with audience perception (the people we meet frequently are being judged out of circumstantial context), we quickly get to know depressed dad Jeff, dour doctor Lynn, and the various players in their lives. Similarly, Saw III expands our appreciation of the complex relationship between Jigsaw and Amanda. At first, one could assume a simple master/servant ideal. But we soon learn that there is something of an equal partnership between the two—a balance that, when betrayed, sends the entire story into some intriguing uncharted territory.
As promised, there is blood—lots of it, judging by this new cut of the film. Pursuant to Saw's DVD tradition, a new version of the theatrical title usually arrives right around the time the next installment is about to hit. For those who can't live (or visit a B&M) without knowing what's new, here is a brief rundown: more skin tearing for our first victim; more views of his blown-up body; a clearer shot of a character's torn open torso; extended shots of guts falling; prolonged shots in ice chamber death; more pig offal and decomposing flesh fu during the swine Cuisinart sequence; extended brain salad surgery; more bone crunching and protruding nastiness as part of the killer corkscrew device; added moments between Amanda and her blades; a sequence showing how our apprentice violated Jigsaw's rules in the first game featured; an ending which has Jeff realizing the mistake he made; and, last but not least, a prolonged version of the final tape. Now, none of these additions are absolutely mandatory for you to enjoy Saw III. The original version was one of the goriest, most brutal splatter-fests in quite a while. But if you're looking for closure and completeness, as well as a sense of fan focus and giving the loyal what they want, this newer take on the material is excellent.
In fact, in retrospect, the first three Saw films stand as a solid experiment in terror. Unlike other post-modern macabre that wants to reinvent vampires into Euro-trash tyrants or turn zombies into revved up cannibalistic race cars, Whannell and Wan (with help from Bousman and others) tried to bring dread back to the fright flick. Sure, audience approval of extended viciousness may have driven the series away from its Master of Suspense roots, but playing to the demographic is not the biggest sin a scary movie can commit. Indeed, Saw III walks that delicate line between outright pandering and obsessives' compulsive need to know everything about their favorite mass murderer (I know, I know…Jigsaw doesn't really KILL people, he just…oh, never mind). How Saw IV will find its way back into this world, especially with the finality of the trilogy's last leg, will be interesting to see. Hopefully, producers aren't foolish enough to think that all patrons want to see are five or six Saw-style setpieces followed by a familiar voice from beyond the grave. Part of the problem the latest installment faces, of course, is dealing with the legacy established here. Living up to it will be very hard indeed.
All right, enough insight. Let's get to the tech specs, shall we. First off, the DVD image offered this time around looks no better or worse than the original Saw III release. The new material is seamlessly matched to the rest of the print, and the 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image (a victim of Lionsgate's open matte mannerisms, for some reason) looks wonderful. The sickening green/gray/brown color scheme is enough to induce nausea without the added spatter, and details (like freshly sliced skull) are nice and juicy. On the sound side, things do get a 6.1 DTS update, and the aural elements here definitely benefit. While the standard Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround is still included (sadly, the Stereo 2.0 is not), it pales in comparison. The new remix is a multi-channeled delight.
Perhaps the best reason to reinvest in another dip of Saw product is the amazing added content included. First up are three brand-new (that's right—BRAND NEW) commentary tracks. In order of excellence, we have director Darren Lynn Bousman and actor J Larose (he plays Troy, the third film's first victim). The least effective of them all, it remains a witty and self-effacing affair, offering a bevy of behind-the-scenes anecdotes. Next up is Whannel's telling solo farewell. In essence, it's a look at where Saw has been and where it is going. From his warning about Part IV to his dedication to the fans, it's a wonderful listen. But best of all is the exclusive villains' conversation with Tobin "Jigsaw" Bell and Shawnee "Amanda" Smith. It's a treat to hear these two discuss the film, their relationship on camera, and the background they've given to these psychotic personalities. While they occasionally fall into "performance mode"—riffing on things while in quasi-character—it's a fascinating added element. For those counting, that makes six separate tracks between the two Saw III releases alone.
As a result, there is a considerable drop off in quality when it comes to Disc 2. The Jigsaw's Plan video game is frustrating, while the "Killer Inside…Mixed Up World" music video from Hydrovibe is rather dopey. The "Choose the Death" and "Looking Tortured…Make-Up F/X How-To" featurettes are entertaining in their own right, while the "Filmmaker Faves" is a text-based overview of selected cast and crew members' preferred deaths, beloved characters, choice lines, and favorite memories. Of course, what most fans will be wondering is—what's contained on the "Sneak Peak of Saw IV." Well, it's not a trailer. Instead, it appears to be a four-minute stand-alone sequence involving two men, a length of chain, a mausoleum, and a winch contraption pulling them to their death. To say more—including who may be involved, character-wise—would be giving away too much.
So there you have it—the first phase of Saw is officially over. Whannel and Wan, once vowing to have little to do with this latest installment, are now supposedly "consulting." Torrent sites have been flooded with requests for a German bootleg purportedly offering the new film in its entirety, and message boards and blogs have been flooded with speculation about where the franchise goes from here. One thing's for sure—if this is the last gasp for the horror series, Saw III will stand as a fitting conclusion. It's an excellent closing chapter. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary with Executive Producer/Co-Writer Leigh Whannell
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