Don Coscarelli's 'John Dies at the End' is a horror comedy that would more accurately be titled 'This Movie Fizzles out About Halfway Through.' The story is filled with a lot of ideas and influences, from 'Naked Lunch' and 'Ghostbusters' to Douglas Adams and H.P. Lovecraft, and there are some very amusing gags, but the bland main characters and the slow parts of the plot caused my interest to die before the end.
Based on the book of the same name, which I haven't read so I have no idea how close the adaptation is, the film opens with a prologue in which we meet David Wong (Chase Williamson), who battles zombies and other odd creatures. Because of the damage done to his axe in fighting these monsters, he ponders a very old philosophical question about whether an axe that has had both its handle and head replaced at different times can still be considered the same axe. By the way, "Wong" is not his birth name. He changed it in order to make it harder for people to find him.
At a Chinese restaurant, David has set up a meeting with Arnie (Paul Giamatti, an executive producer on the film), a reporter who may help tell David's story. It is also revealed David is on a drug, referred to as Soy Sauce, that delivers intense hallucinations and amazing mental abilities, from determining the number of grains of rice on a passing plate of rice to knowing Arnie's dreams.
David tells Arnie about his friend John (Rob Mayes), whose prospects don't look good according to the movie's title. John called him over the night before to help a young woman whose ex-boyfriend had been harassing her. She came to them because he's been dead for two months. What they encounter is a funny, original creature that the effects team deserves high marks for creating.
David's story then goes back about two years to when they both became users of Soy Sauce, which has some profound though unexplained effects, as at one point John appears to be in two different places at once. The climax of David's story involves a battle against Korrok, a creature from another dimension that wants to consume them for their knowledge. Once they cross over, they meet a group of masked people who are needlessly topless, though it may go over well with 14-year-old boys with no Internet access. Since David is telling the story, we know he survives and the resolution is funny due to the unexpected hero. However, the resolution for Arnie is not as well thought out. The idea had the potential to be clever, but fails in its execution.
I could say the same thing about another key aspect of the movie, but it's impossible to point that out without spoiling things. Let's just say there's a major character element they don't come through on.
Though I wouldn't be surprised if it developed a small cult following, 'John Dies at the End' didn't deliver enough action or laughs to make me want to see it again, and the hints at a sequel, which may or may not be related to the book's sequel This Book Is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don't Touch It, didn't intrigue me either.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Magnet Releasing presents 'John Dies at the End' on a 50GB Region A Blu-ray disc in a standard blue keepcase. Before the menu, there are trailers for 'The Sorcerer and the White Snake,' 'Sushi Girl,' 'Storage 24,' 'The ABCs of Death', and AXS.tv promo.
The video has been given a 1080p/AVC-MPEG-4 encoded transfer displayed at 1.78:1. Shot with Red One cameras, the image is clean and grain free.
Colors come through in strong hues, such as the reds of the Chinese restaurant. Blacks are usually inky, and whites, like the snow we first see David fighting, are bright and accurate. Details, such as the texture of clothing and the print of Bible pages pasted on a bat, are fine and clear.
Depth is limited, which seems a source issue. Banding briefly occurs a couple of times, like from the streetlights after David first encounters Robert (Doug Jones). Faces look a bit smooth at times. Some of the CGIl effects, like the close-up on the bullet Detective Appleton (Glynn Turman) and the flies that morphed from Soy Sauce, stand out as extremely phony in high-def.
The audio is available in DTS-HD Master 5.1. The surround delivers a good amount of activity. Ambient effects are strong and show a sound design well thought out. For example, as TV psychic Dr. Marconi (Clancy Brown) takes a phone call outside a building, the crowd can be faintly heard chanting his name and stomping there feet, making the scene feel much bigger. The music also fills the surrounds from Brian Tyler's score to the hard rock sounds of John's band "Three Arm Sally," the latter of which pushes the loud end of the dynamic range as far as the explosions do.
Aside from the music, the subwoofer gets to support the loud explosions and the smaller, thundering footsteps of the meat monster. Vehicles can be heard crossing channels. The human dialogue is always clear and understandable. All the elements are edited together to create a well balanced mix
Genre comedies are hard to pull off. 'John Dies at the End' has enough ideas and zaniness that it may develop a cult following along the lines of 'The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension,' but it needed a sharper story and more engaging characters to reach 'Big Trouble in Little China' status. Fans of the movie should be happy with the Blu-ray.