[box cover]

Final Destination: Platinum Series

New Line Home Video

Starring Devon Sawa, Ali Larter, Kerr Smith,
and Tony Todd

Written by Glen Morgan, Jeffrey Reddick, and James Wong
Directed by James Wong

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Leave it to some of the X-Files boys to confront us, almost tastelessly, with difficult aspects of contemporary society. In Final Destination, the viewer confronts the fear of air travel and the grief that pervades high schools across the land, among other things, and director James Wong and writer Glen Morgan, who have worked on Chris Carter's shows The X-Files and Millennium, explore the same in-your-face horror and sly, sardonic wit that characterizes those programs.

The plot of Final Destination (which began as a rejected episode of The X-Files before being converted into a teen horror film) is simple yet chilling. Alex (Devon Sawa) doesn't know that he has the power of premonition. He just thinks that he is nervous about flying. But on board flight 108 out of New York with some fellow students for a glorified field trip to France, he finds himself dreaming that the plane is going to explode. When he wakes up from this terrifyingly realistic dream, he demands to leave the plane. Circumstances contrive that he forces six other passengers off of the plane as well: his pal Tod (Chad E. Donella), a goofball named Billy (Seann William Scott), a loner Goth girl named Clear (Ali Larter), a bully named Carter (Kerr Smith) and his girlfriend Terry (Amanda Detmer), and their French teacher Valerie Lewton (Kristen Cloke). Initially irritated with Alex, the clan is soon wary of him when the plane does indeed explode upon takeoff. And when his companions start to die off, Alex soon figures out that death is coming for them — in the order in which they were seated on the plane. With some FAA agents on their tail, Alex and Clear try to save the others and then save themselves, while every single object around them poses the threat of death.

In Final Destination, Death is imagined as a tangible force. If by chance you thwart it, death comes after you until you're caught. It travels on the wind, and in water, and ebbs and flows as individual cases demand. The first to go is Tod (German for death, and in one of the film's many in jokes, a reference to horror film director Tod Browning). Each death from his on is super-over-determined. Teacher Lewton — Val Lewton, that is — is knocked off by about 12 household devices. Horrific as the film is, with its risking tapping into teen grief, Final Destination is also very funny. And in the film's opening sequence — a superb symphony of editing, music, and dread, a sequence from which the film doesn't really recover — director Wong and his writers amusingly highlight all the things that a superstitious flyer might single out as ominous: the flicking word "terminal" on a reader board, the decrepit state of the airport and airplane, coincidences of birthdays and dates. Wong and Co. have set up such a riveting premise that it is perhaps understandable that they couldn't figure out a way to follow its natural threads to a plausible conclusion. New Line demanded a new ending (and title) after disappointing drops in test-audience attention after the mid-way point, and they filmmakers complied. Fortunately, this disc offers up both for comparison (I probably am in the minority by preferring the downbeat, more difficult original ending).

Part of the Platinum Series DVDs, New Line has done an outstanding job with Final Destination. The disc comes in an anamorphic widescreen transfer (1.85:1) that appears mostly flawless (with only a weird artifact in Chapter 12 that may actually be a CGI problem) and enjoys rich, vibrant colors. The audio comes in either Dolby Digital 5.1 or Dolby 2.0 Surround, the former enhancing the airplane-crash-fantasy scene, but not well-organized on the quieter, dual-speaking parts. Extra features include a director/writer/editor commentary that provides a great amount of insight and honesty about both how the film was made and the filmmakers' arguments with the studio. They also reveal most of the in-jokes, which enriches the humor of the piece. The actors' commentary, with Devon Sawa, Kerr Smith, Kristen Cloke, and Chad E. Donella, is something of a disappointment. Sound recording has a hollow ring, and the group is disorganized. They favor ribbing each other over providing facts and details. Of the four, only Cloke tries to rein in her thoughts and provide some interest (it appears she also knows more about the movie than the others). Also included is an isolated score with selected commentary by composer Shirley Walker. I'm still of two minds about the quality of this score (a few more listens are required), but at least Walker's commentary gives her the chance to explain herself. The two deleted scenes and the alternative ending will help a student of the film figure out if the New Line ending is better than the prior one, consigned to this supplement. There are two brief documentaries, one a somewhat uninformative profile of a real person with supposed precognitive abilities who has helped solve crimes in southern California. The other, "The Perfect Souffle: Testing Final Destination," is a fascinating, if brief, look at how audience-testing works, with participants from both among the filmmakers and from New Line executives. There are also some DVD-ROM features, most significantly the original screenplay.

— D.K. Holm

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