Thursday, February 16, 2006

O DEATH, O DEATH: FINAL DESTINATION 3




(Original post Thursday 2/16 10:51 p.m. UPDATED 2/19/2006 9:05 p.m.)

I doubt it'll come as a surprise to any regular readers of SLIFR that I have a jones to see Final Destination 3. I was pretty enthusiastic about the first installment, directed by James Wong, from a script by Wong and Glen Morgan (both veterans of The X-Files). But I absolutely flipped for the even more convoluted and gleefully gory Final Destination 2, which was my first exposure to the superb action director David R. Ellis, who has since gone on to direct Cellular, from Larry Cohen's exceedingly clever script, and the upcoming Snakes on a Plane, perhaps the highest must-see high concept movie I can recall since the dawning of the new century. Wong and Morgan return for part 3, and the absolutely venomous reviews the movie has drawn hold almost deterrence value to me at all. However, Ed Gonzalez, film critic for Slant magazine, has posted a very well written dismissal of the new film, and within it he discusses, and links to, one of the most intelligent write-ups in favor of Final Destination 3, submitted by one of my favorite critics to read these days, Walter Chaw of Film Freak Central (which, by the way, sports a blog well worth checking out). As I try to find room this weekend in between screenings of Brokeback Mountain and The New World to get myself to a late show of FD3, I'll read Gonzalez and Chaw again, two fine writers who are probably the only ones so far who have written anything worth reading about the Final Destination movies and their place among the imagery in the cracked mirror that America uses to look at itself.

UPDATED 2/19/2006 9:05 p.m.


WHOOPS, YOU MISSED ME: FD3's scattershot approach

Well, I wish I could report that the enthusiasm I had for the first two installments of the Final Destination series has carried over into the third installment, but, alas, Final Destination 3 is just not the well-oiled Rube Goldberg deathtrap part 1, and especially part 2, led me to expect. The problem I had with the film didn't derive entirely from its failure as a portrait of or a treatise on post 9/11 fear experienced as a mass loss of control, even though I do think its attempt to engage this theme was half-baked. And the movie's attempt to bolster this theme by utilizing a photograph of a plane's shadow crossing the face of the World Trade Center as part of our heroine's evidence that Death often provides clever clues to its plans before carrying them out is not only "extraordinarily inappropriate" (Walter Chaw) but also grossly insensitive, especially in this context. Whether its understood to be a picture taken days before 9/11, or a chance shot of the shadow appearing just before the actual crash, the picture doesn't lend itself to the movie's logic as to Death's methods, and it's harshly gratuitous considering director-writer James Wong (and cowriter-producer Glen Morgan) uses it only to goose the cheap thrill factor and not to expand the theme meaningfully (see Ed Gonzalez for a solid and reasonable theory as to why this attachment to 9/11 doesn't make any sense for this series). Chaw also mentions the movie's flirtation with another interesting theme, the value of ignorance when discussing matters of mortality and impending death, and makes reference to similar concerns in Saw II, where I think the idea is more interestingly and fully played out.

My biggest disappointment with Final Destination 3, however, derives from its near incompetence when it comes to diagramming the set-ups and the pinballing machinations of Death's ever-elaborate contrivances for taking out the various straw boys and girls of the cast (unlike the first two parts, adults, either as authority figures or potential victims, are virtually nonexistent here.) Final Destination 2 distinguished itself in this regard-- David R. Ellis' lean directorial style made the movie seem almost more an action thriller at times than a horror film, but there was always a precise understanding of how each piece of the fatal puzzle, however outlandishly contrived, was falling into place, which made the outrageously gruesome "payoffs" that much more ghastly and funny. I still have a vivid picture in my mind of the spectacular auto accident that sets FD2 in motion, and the intricate (and patient) set-up for the sequence in that same film when the doper kid is trisected by a flying section of barbed-wire fence-- the ingenious use of CGI allows us to see the result, a Warner Bros. cartoon death joke staged with spraying blood and sliding entrails, and puts the "ping!" in this particularly crystalline bit of action choreography. None of the fatally convoluted machinations in Final Destination 3 have this kind of clarity. They're all indifferently staged, with a scattershot logic and visual clutter and, surprisingly, a lack of concern for simple follow-the-bouncing-ball purposefulness-- the way these scenes are edited together suggests to me impatience on the part of the filmmakers, as if they just wanted to press on to the big red spray of viscera at the end and didn't really much care how they got us there (Wong's staging of the signature sequences in the first film were much more alive, crackling, often literally, with electricity and dread-- was he just bored this time around?) One sequence, at a fast-food drive-thru, depends entirely on a garbage truck backing up perpendicular across a busy street, pinning our hapless victims from all sides-- there are cars in front of and behind them-- and there is absolutely no explanation offered why this truck is suddenly performing this irrational driving maneuver. (My theory: lazy screenwriting.) Chaw finds value in the movie roasting (again, in one instance, literally) the Breakfast Club stereotypes that populate its cast, but these familiar teen-movie characters seem like a pretty tired satirical target and lend the movie a generic quality that FD2, with its mixture of ages and races and backgrounds that made up the roster on Death's scorecard, avoids (FD2's coarse teen stereotypes don't make it through the initial disaster.) Despite a winning performance by Mary Elizabeth Winstead as the control freak yearbook photographer who spends the movie looking for that big loophole in Death's design, Final Destination 3 ends up feeling too disengaged and indifferent, not only to our capacity for on-screen violence (which it engages, with unmemorable results), but also with the legacy of its own cleverly jerry-rigged conceits.

9 comments:

Roscoe said...

who has since gone on to direct Cellular, from Larry Cohen's exceedingly clever script, and the upcoming Snakes on a Plane, perhaps the highest must-see high concept movie I can recall since the dawning of the new century.
----------------------------------
Dennis please tell me your being sarcastic here?

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Sarcastic? Why, not at all! (Go two-thirds of the way down to "Notes on Stuff Upcoming.")

If anybody has the right sensibility to pull off something that sounds this silly, it's Mr. Ellis. Snakes on a Plane really is near the top of my list of must-see summer movies!

blaaagh said...

Must...see...Final Destination 3...I'm sure it can't be as much fun as the second one, which I sheepishly admit to having seen three or four times (!), but still. Roscoe, unless you completely hate horror films, you ought to see the second one.

Roscoe said...

No i've seen both of the final destination movies and I think the are great. Almost a whole new genre in themselves.

Cellular however is one of the worst films I've seen in the past two years and Snakes on a Plane sounds eqaully craptastic.

Please let it be sarcasm.

That Little Round-Headed Boy said...

Dennis — on your enthusiasm, and my love for the first Final Destination, I rented Part Deux today. It was fun, but in a very gross way. Had to turn away a few times. But when the guy got sliced up by the fence, I had to admit that was one of the funniest visual scenes I've ever seen in a horror movie. (Hey, even if the movie had sucked, a couple hours with Ali Lauter? No problem.)
By the way, did you ever see Hostage, the Bruce Willis movie from early last year? Another graphic sleeper that I thought was overlooked, and featuring a brilliantly creepy performance by Ben Foster as this Marilyn Manson-like kidnapper. Check it out sometime.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

TLRHB: No, FD2 doesn't skimp on the gore, but it's done with some wit and, dare I say, panache that the new installment completely lacks. And I completely agree with your singling out the barbed-wire fence sequence (see the above update). As for Hostage, I'd heard rumblings that it was a good, overlooked genre piece-- on your recommendation, I'll have to check it out!

Chris said...

Dennis -

I enjoyed Final Destination 3. I think that nowadays, moviegoers tend to recognize what they are going to see ahead of time. With the power of the internet, people are able to read reviews from peers in an instant and make a judgment as to whether or not they really should shell out the money. Movies are expensive to go out and see in this day and age. I went to see this movie with the mindset that this would be a fun way to "turn off the outside world and escape." And in this regard, it succeeded. As far as movie suggestions go, a friend of mine mentioned that Wolf Creek was a good horror film, but I have yet to see it. Have you seen it?

blaaagh said...

Ah well, that's disappointing--but I guess we can hardly have expected it to be as clever and creative as the last two, especially the second one. I'm sure I'll catch it anyway, at least on DVD...or maybe I'll forget my chores today and go see it.

r4 dsi said...

With no imitators diluting the formula, there’s really no need for part three to be the final destination.And if that’s the case, I’ll be first in line for part four.