Review by Michael Jacobson
Sawa, Ali Larter, Kerr Smith, Tony Todd
Director: James Wong
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video: Widescreen 1.85:1 Anamorphic Transfer
Studio: New Line Cinema
Features: See Review
Length: 98 Minutes
Release Date: September 26, 2000
“And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee…”
- Luke 12:19-20
I once had a humanities professor teach me that the one
true aspect that separated human beings from other living things on this planet
was awareness of our own mortality. We
know we must die, and our concepts of what death really means has infiltrated
our religions, our literature, our paintings, and even our films through the
years. Death has been personified
in cinema many ways, from the sad, bent figure in Fritz Lang’s Destiny to
the inscrutable, indifferent white faced spirit in Ingmar Bergman’s The
At first glimpse, one might think that using Death as a
personified intelligence in a teenage horror film as being a little
over-the-top, but Final Destination is that movie, and it’s one of the
more unsettling pictures I’ve seen in quite a while. It’s much smarter and more honest than your average Freddy
Krueger or Jason slasher picture. It
also boasts a fine young cast, a good script, and impeccable direction from
James Wong working together to create real suspense and capture genuine emotion
along the way.
One of psychic phenomena’s most legendary tales is that
of the man who gets a strange feeling before boarding a plane, decides to skip
the flight, and sure enough, the plane crashes.
That’s the kind of event that kicks off Final Destination.
Alex Browning (Sawa), along with his high school French class and a
couple of teachers are about to take a class trip to Paris.
But a bizarre vision (one that guarantees placement of this movie
alongside others like Fight Club and Alive as ones that will NEVER
be shown on a commercial flight) causes him to panic.
He’s seen the plane explode in mid-air.
His ruckus causes himself and a few of his classmates to be thrown off
the plane, along with one teacher. While
they’re all yelling at Alex for spoiling their travel plans, the plane does
What follows is the inevitable emotion: the survivors’ guilt, the existential questioning of why they were spared and their fellow travelers were not. All of these things happen, and are examined in a way that is both truthful and worthwhile...sometimes even without the benefit of spoken words. Their faces convey the pain.
But what follows this is the crux of the movie:
one by one, the survivors are dying in sometimes strange and horrific
ways. Is there a reason?
Were they meant to die on that plane, and is Death coming back to claim
what was rightfully his in the first place?
All of this is food for anxious discussion amongst those still living,
particularly when Alex thinks he’s discovered a pattern.
I don’t want to give away any more, except to say that my one
disappointment with the film is that it forwent ambiguity about death and
focused on it from a singular point of view.
The movie would have been perfect had it left the audience guessing about
whether or not Alex and his friends were correct in assuming there was a pattern
and a plan, or if the unfolding developments happened by mere chance, and there
was no guiding hand behind them.
First time director Wong, who has worked on television’s The
X Files, proves a more than capable hand behind the camera here, and I look
forward with great anticipation to his future works. His style in telling the story involves both scenes of tautly
constructed suspense, as well as shocks and surprises that can’t be
anticipated. He uses both to great
effect, building on one another to completely unsettle his audience and leave
them unsure of what might happen next. He
also shows an almost Hitchcockian ability to play with his viewers’ minds.
One shot sticks out in my mind: the
teacher, in her house, standing at her sink.
She is relegated to the background, while the foreground focuses on a
block of knives, with her image appearing behind and between the handles. Is this important? Is
it foreshadowing? Wong has a way of
letting you believe certain things along the way, only to pull the rug out from
under you. Then, when you’re
convinced you were wrong, he makes a skillful double cross and unleashes his
I liked Devon Sawa in the role of Alex.
He’s proving more and more capable of growing from a mere teen star
into a respectable young actor. I
loved his comic supporting turn in SLC Punk!, and here, he hits all the
right notes in a role that requires a great range of fear, anger and confusion.
Though falling just short of a perfect thriller, I have to
give Final Destination its proper credit: it unnerved me more than any other film in recent memory, and
had me thinking about it long afterwards. There
are few horror movies any more that can claim to do both of those at the same
This is another superb example of quality from New Line’s extraordinary Platinum Series line of discs. The transfer is flawless, and the film’s look is preserved beautifully. The range of images is wide and strong, from well lit to extremely dark, but nowhere along the way do they lose their sense of sharpness or definition. Coloring is excellent and natural throughout, even in darker scenes, and exhibit no sense of bleeding or distortion. Detail is extremely good, even in deep focus shots. The print is perfectly clean, and compression artifacts do not exist. There is no grain, noise, ringing or evidence of enhancement anywhere. But I can’t emphasize strongly enough how well the many darker scenes look. You never have to guess what you’re looking at. This is a top notch transfer from a top notch studio, and earns highest marks.
The digital 5.1 soundtrack is every bit equal to the video
in terms of quality. The audio is
lively boasts a great dynamic range all the way. Some scenes are deathly quiet, others are loud enough to make
you want to pull your breakables from your shelves. All channels come into play, and the audio is well balanced
with good flow between all speakers. The
rear stage offers plenty of extra punch to the stronger moments, and excellent
ambient effects to the quieter scenes to add to the sense of eeriness.
The .1 channel gets plenty of action, too, and not just for the plane
crash sequences. All in all, this
makes for a great disc to demonstrate your home theatre.
The Platinum Series line is famed for its features
packaging as well as disc quality, and again, New Line doesn’t disappoint.
There are three separate commentary tracks, one with the filmmakers
(James Wong, Glen Morgan, James Coblentz and Jeffrey Reddick), another with the
stars (Devon Sawa, Kerr Smith, Kristin Cloke and Chad E. Donella), plus a third
featuring an isolated musical score with comments from composer Shirley Walker.
There are a collection of deleted scenes, including the alternate ending,
which are also discussed in the first of two documentaries, “Test
Screenings”. This featurette
shows how the audience reaction cards are used to determine a film’s strengths
and weaknesses. The second
documentary is “Premonitions”, and features a real life psychic who uses her
gifts to help crime fighters solve their cases.
Both are quite interesting. There’s
also a trailer and two ‘games’ for you to play.
One is a psychic test, which asks you to try and guess which card will be
chosen next (I failed miserably). All
that’s missing is Bill Murray from Ghostbusters shocking you every time
you get one wrong. The second game
is Death Clock…answer a series of questions (none of which asks you how old
you are right now), and it tells you the exact minute and day you will die.
Yikes. Plus some DVD ROM features including the screenplay.
A terrific extras package!