The words "thinking person's" and "slasher film" probably don't belong in the same sentence, but you have to give the nifty little 2000 thriller 'Final Destination' a little credit. Not only is this a slasher film without the slasher -- death himself replaces Freddy Krueger, and resides entirely off-screen -- but it is the rare example of a genre film that legitimately confronts questions of mortality, destiny, and existentialist concern. No, this still ain't Nietzsche, but it is one of the smarter and more ambitious films of its type to come along in recent memory.
As I said, the unseen villain is the Grim Reaper himself, and as we learn, he has a nasty habit of going after those who try to "cheat death" and escape his master plan. The story begins when one of the students on a class trip to France, Alex (Devon Sawa) has a premonition that the plane is going to crash. After a freak-out sends him bolting off the plane with a few fellow students and a teacher, all watch in horror as minutes later, the plane explodes. At first relieved to have survived, the group soon finds that "cheating death" ain't so easy, as one by one they begin to meet mysterious and gruesome fates...
'Final Destination' is, on many levels, fairly typical of the slasher genre. The set-up is clever, but we soon get the usual series of over-the-top kill scenes, which are all executed as Rube Goldberg, mousetrap-like setpieces. It's simultaneously creepy and campy, with some of Death's contraptions so elaborate you kinda wonder if the guy isn't trying to call attention to himself rather than make his handiwork seem like accidents. And most of the kids, with the exception of Sawa, his girlfriend Clear Rivers (Ali Larter, and no, her character's name is not a joke) and an amusing Seann William Scott, are nothing more than utterly forgettable kill fodder.
But 'Final Destination' elevates itself slightly above the norm of this type of film, because it's characters are forced to confront the issue of their premature deaths before they happen, prompting metaphysical discussion. The script, by Jeffrey Reddick and the producer/director team of James Wong and Glen Morgan, never delves deeply enough into these thematic concerns to truly challenge the intellect, but just the fact that the film skims the surface is enough to engage our head as well as our gut. It's rare that any slasher film gives its leads a brain in their heads, let alone asks them to use it.
There was some controversy that greeted 'Final Destination' upon its initial theatrical release, regarding its original ending. It was more philosophical and cerebral than the re-shot, audience-pleasing finale of the R-rated theatrical version (both are presented on this Blu-ray), so rightly so that the film has been criticized for selling out it's initially intriguing ideas for commercial concerns. The theatrical cut has your typical "gotcha scare," big-bang ending, which if effective yet makes mincemeat of most of the story's best narrative conceits. To be fair, judging by 'Final Destination's considerable box office take (and the fact that it has since gone on to spawn three sequels, I guess the filmmakers' instincts were right, and audiences ultimately didn't care.
Unsatisfying climax or not, 'Final Destination' is a well-made and well-acted slasher film, and more ambitious than most. It's got the right mix of fairly well-delineated characters, riveting set-up, and juicy murder sequences to please most horror diehards and even a few more casual fans of the genre. The sequels may continue to deliver the law of diminishing returns, but give the original a try. Death is waiting...
Warner/New Line presents 'Final Destination' in 1080p/VC-1 video, framed at 1.85:1. For a film now nearly a decade old, it holds up quite well -- another fine catalog remaster from the studio.
'Final Destination' is one of the slicker-looking of the slasher flicks of the late '90s/early '00s. The film is on the dark side but well photographed, with deep, rich colors and nice blacks. Contrast is bright but not overdone, giving a smooth veneer to the transfer that reveals plenty of detail and depth. Shadow delineation is not superior but still more than solid, and the image is generally sharp. There is some natural film grain, but no major source issues. The encode is likewise smooth and free of artifacts. Very nice.
A fresh Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround track (48kHz/16-bit) has been created for 'Final Destination,' and the film makes a solid move to high-res audio. It's not a blow-out soundtrack, but well up to scratch.
Most impressive are surround effects. The film's sound designers make nice use of the rears, with sustained ambiance and strong discrete effects, particularly during the aggressive murder sequences. (The opening airplane crash is notably effective.) Dynamic range extends fairly widely, if not top-tier. Low bass is more than adequate and the full spectrum has a warm and polished sound. Dialogue is good if sometimes a bit too muddled, but I never truly strained my ears or had to bump up the volume. A nice TrueHD uptick.
New Line ports over all the extras from its previous special edition DVD of 'Final Destination.' It remains a pretty solid package, if a bit dated in spots. All video is presented in 480i/MPEG-2 video only.
'Final Destination' is a fun twist on the slasher flick. It takes old-school stalker conventions and mixes them with themes of teen existentialism, for an essentially silly if still slightly ambitious tale of death run amok. This Blu-ray is bloody good stuff, with a nice transfer and TrueHD audio upgrade, plus all the extras from the previous special edition DVD. Well worth a look for horror fans.