As we catch up with the Jigsaw Killer (Tobin Bell) at the beginning of 'Saw III,' things are looking grim. His cancer-ridden body teetering on the brink of death, he summons his new apprentice Amanda (Shawnee Smith) to capture Dr. Lynn Denlon in order to keep him alive for one final test. Of course, this will also bring another of Jigsaw's nefarious torture games. In this nasty little brain tickler, Jeff (Angus MacFayden) is locked in a freezer. Dr. Lynn, meanwhile, must keep Jigsaw alive for as long as it takes for Jeff to figure out a solution. Racing against the ticking clock of Jigsaw's heartbeat, Lynn and Jeff struggle to make it through each of their vicious tests, unaware that Jigsaw and Amanda have a much larger plan in store for both of them.
Between the 'Saw' flicks, 'Hostel' and 'The Hills Have Eyes,' gore hounds have had a good number of torture flicks to choose from in recent years. And while one might think audiences would eventually tire of these movies, the 'Saw' franchise keeps on tickin' to the tune of box office gold. Despite receiving next to zero respect in Hollywood, these cheap but well-produced grindhouse flicks have grossed hundreds of millions of dollars worldwide. Really, I'd love to be a fly on the wall during production meetings for one of these things. I can only imagine the cheerful group of filmmakers and studio execs pondering delightful new ways to maim, torture and crucify their next batch of B-movie actors. Do they all get stoned and rent 'Faces of Death XVII' for inspiration, or do they just take a trip to the local slaughterhouse?
Truth be told, as sequels go, 'Saw III' is pretty clever -- albeit in a twisted way. I will give the franchise props for at least bringing a bit of ingenuity to the sadism. Slasher-movie machetes and post-modern 'Scream' parodies are so passe, after all -- audiences now demand outlandish booby traps and ludicrous 'Final Destination'-like setpieces with their death sequences. The intricacies of Jigsaw's games can be fairly ingenious, and quite detailed really, and it is hard not to keep watching, if only to see how it will all turn out. In that way, theser movies are sort of like 'American Idol' meets 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.' Everyone has their favorite contestant, only in the 'Saw' films, the elimination round means more than just a "That was dreadful!" from Simon. Who will survive, and what will be left of them? Okay, so maybe this is all a sick guilty pleasure, but it's a guilty pleasure nonetheless.
And at least the 'Saw' flicks have production values. Critics forget that despite their profits, the 'Saw' movies are still shot on very tight budgets. Longtime 'Saw' producers James Wan and Leigh Whannel, along with director Darren Lynn Bousman (in his second turn behind the splat) wring out every last dollar and put it up on the screen. Though doomy and gloomy, the 'Saw' flicks have a polished grittiness, and 'Saw III' is no exception. The performances are also appropriate to the material, with no one overacting, but also no jokiness to deflate the film's ultra-serious, we're-gonna-scare-the-shit-out-of-you attitude. I also appreciate how the 'Saw' makers realize that horror fans like a well thought-out mythology, and continue to build upon past 'Saw' flicks by bringing back old characters and continuing the storyline with no huge lapses in continuity.
Still, truth be told -- and speaking as a dedicated horror movie buff -- I've personally grown tired of this wave of "torture porn" and endless nicking from '70s exploitation cinema. We need something new, and as "fun" as the 'Saw' flicks can be in their demented little way, the series and the sub-genre it has invented are only one flop away from being self-parodies. I kind of secretly hope that 'Saw IV' will bomb, if only so Jigsaw will at last die already, and we can move on to something new. But until then, 'Saw III' is a perfectly respectable entry in a series that probably shouldn't be respected at all.
The 'Saw' movies are all dark, grainy, gloomy and dour, so the exclamations "Jigsaw is at it again!" and "Looks great in high-def!" would hardly seem to go together. But Lionsgate has done a fine job with this 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer, which is presented on a BD-25 single-layer disc. Designer disgust never looked so good.
Sure, the film can be grainy, but the print is free from any real defects -- no blemishes, speckles or dropouts to distract from Jigsaw's fun and games. Blacks are, appropriately, deep and dark. Colors, on the other hand, are totally unrealistic. Hues are jacked way up to unreal levels, and forget about "accurate" fleshtones. There is some fuzziness, particularly on primary hues, but all of these are stylistic choices, and all things considered noise is not excessive (though I did notice a bit of jumpiness on some very oversaturated shots). Image detail wavers. Due to the pumped up colors and blown-out contrast, depth can flatten out, and I'm sure the transfer would be more three-dimensional had it been shot in a more straightforward style. But 'Saw III' still looks sharp, and the photography and stylization is effective for the material. If you are a 'Saw' fan, I don't think you'll be disappointed. On the other hand, if you are searching for HD demo material, Jigsaw is not your man.
Lionsgate provides 'Saw'-hounds with two main audio options: Dolby Digital Surround EX 5.1 surround and DTS HD High-Resolution 6.1 matrixed surround (note that this is not a dedicated DTS-HD Master Lossless Audio mix). Both are very nice tracks, though the movie's sound design, while active, is not so incredibly immersive that the extra surround track really offers all that much extra oomph.
For a horror series on a thrifty budget, the 'Saw' movies have always been relatively impressive aurally. That continues with 'III,' which really makes good use of unpleasant, unsettling mechanical sounds. The various torture game sequences usually have some form of scraping metal noises nicely directed to the rears. The film's score also nicely fills up the soundstage, which is rare for horror movies, which usually don't get such attention to detail. Dynamics are also a cut above for the genre, with pretty impressive low bass response and no shrill high range. Dialogue remains intelligible and well-centered in the mix. Nothing here to blow you away, but it all sounds quite good, really.
I have to commend Lionsgate's recent efforts to bump up the amount of extras included on their Blu-ray releases. Their initial titles were totally bare bones, but with titles such as 'Saw III' and the recent 'The Descent' and 'Crank,' they are really ladling on the gravy. 'Saw III' is a pretty packed release, although admittedly some of this stuff amounts to -- pun intended -- overkill.
I guess the studio wanted to keep the "threes" motif going for this third installment in the franchise, so we get three audio commentary tracks. Truth be told, one would have done the job, because the first is certainly the best. Director Darren Lynn Bousman, co-creator Leigh Whannell and Lionsgate execs Peter Block and Jason Constantine form a self-proclaimed "tag team" commentary, riffing on just about every aspect of the film any fan would want. Everything is covered in fine detail, from the rushed pre-production and creation of the story, to further developing the storyline and characters during casting and shooting, to, of course, the series' raison d'etre, its creative death sequences. Particularly fascinating here is discussion of the dealings with the MPAA, which required cuts, and gore fans will enjoy the dissection of the differences between the theatrical and the Unrated version (which is included on this disc). By comparison, the second and third commentaries suffer from a lot of repetition. Bousman returns for the second track with cinematographer David A. Armstrong and editor Kevin Greutert, but it doesn't really offer much as a technical discussion. There was a few cool bits, though, about the practical effects used to create the film's ingenious transitions, which I originally thought were all digital. Finally, and no offense to producers Oren Koules and Mark Burg, but why they got a third track all their own is a bit of a mystery. There way is too much narration of what is happening on the screen, and only a couple of fun on-set stories not shared in the other tracks. However, we do learn why, despite the dental motif of the film's poster and marketing campaign, no actual teeth torture action appears in the film. Hey, we horror fans ask questions like these.
After all the endless chatting, it is refreshing to also have plenty of video material to feast upon. I heartily enjoyed "The Details of Death," a two-part look at "The Traps" and "The Props" of 'Saw III.' I'm sure Rube Goldberg would have loved the 'Saw' films, and the hows and whys of the 'III's various hideous torture devices are neat to see explained. It is also a hoot to watch how much fun the actors had being "tortured" on-set. There is also a third featurette, "Darren's Diary: Anatomy of a Director," featuring YouTube-quality camcorder footage shot by Bousman. Unfortunately, at less than ten minutes, it is just too short, and pales in comparison to the Victor Salva 60-minute video diary on the 'Jeepers Creepers 2' DVD, which for my money is still the best feature of this type I've ever seen for a horror film.
The last major bloody bit are two Deleted Scenes. Frankly, I expected more. There is much discussion on the commentaries about many cut sequences, but they are apparently either lost, or no one bothered to find them for the film's disc release. At least the quality here is pretty good, presented in widescreen and 480p, and interestingly, the material was never color treated, so we get to see what the film would have looked like without the trademark 'Saw' grime and gloom.
Wrapping it up is the film's Theatrical Trailer, plus a spot for a few other Lionsgate Blu-ray titles.
'Saw III' is a not-bad-at-all third entry in a series that many call disgusting or worse, irresponsible. While I think the whole torture genre has been so overdone in recent years that it's verging on self-parody, I would be lying if I said I didn't still secretly half-enjoy this latest go-round in the Jigsaw saga. Lionsgate has delivered a Blu-ray release sure to please fans -- nice and grimy transfer, good soundtrack and tons of extras, including a couple of Blu-ray exclusives. Oh, yes, there will be blood -- and in high-def, no less. So lap it up fans. You know you want it...