Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #81
Number of Views: Three
Release Date: March 17, 2000
Sub-Genre: Teen Slasher
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $112,880,294
Running Time: 98 minutes
Director: James Wong
Producers: Glen Morgan, Warren Zide, Craig Perry
Screenplay: James Wong, Glen Morgan, Jeffrey Reddick
Story: Jeffrey Reddick
Special Effects: Ryan Nicholson
Visual Effects: Ray McIntyre Jr.
Cinematography: Robert McLachlan
Score: Shirley Walker
Editing: James Coblentz
Studio: Zide/Perry Productions, Hard Eight Pictures
Distributor: New Line Cinema
Stars: Devon Sawa, Ali Larter, Kerr Smith, Seann William Scott, Amanda Detmer, Kristen Cloke, Daniel Roebuck, Roger Guenveur Smith, Chad Donella, Brendan Fehr and Tony Todd as Bludworth
Suggested Audio Candy
 [Hed] Planet Earth “Waiting To Die”
 Shirley Walker Final Destination”
 Elvis Presley “A Little Less Conversation”
What would you do if you were aware that your mortality was nearing its end and how does one even begin to process that kind of information? Jack Nicholson had the right idea if you ask me as writing up a bucket list would be a good place to start. Everything you haven’t yet had the pleasure of doing in your lifetime is shoe-horned in, with the intention of living life to its absolute fullest for the remainder of your soon-to-be past tense existence. Knowing that your time is rapidly approaching and, your physical shell, reaching its natural expiration date is quite a bitter pill to swallow but it can also be freeing, after all, you’re never as alive as when you stare death in the face right?
Somebody should tell Alex Browning (Devon Sawa) and his bunch of oblivious cronies. You see, they have had the exclusive experience of escaping death’s icy clasp by a whisker and should be thanking their lucky stars not to be amidst the wreckage of Volée Airlines Flight 180 to Paris. After Alex has a premonition that unforeseen engine failure will cause the flight to explode in mid-air just seconds after take off, he and a select few of his classmates are ushered from the plane and left well and truly grounded. Clearly they have dodged a significant bullet and, while his paranoid rant is enough branded a pariah and have his rationality severely questioned, it is just sufficient to save his unappreciative friends’ hides. That’s gratitude for you; his friends should have been sucking his big toe but instead they insist on spending the remainder of their short lives being even bigger spam buckets than they were beforehand.
Let’s round-up the subjects shall we? There’s his best friend Tod (Chad E. Donella), sworn rival Carter (Kerr Smith), his similarly obnoxious girlfriend Terry (Amanda Detmer), class douchebag Billy (Seann William Scott), and potential girlfriend material Clear (Ali Larter) not to mention their teacher Valerie (Kristen Cloke) and Alex himself. That is seven lucky motherfuckers right there, am I correct? Having escaped their fiery fate, little changes and, with the exception of Alex and his new-found deputy Clear, normal business resumes and nobody gets the hint. Granted, they may have gotten lucky once, but the Grim Reaper has a long memory and isn’t ready to cancel their reservation to limbo just yet. Instead, he will make it his afterlife’s work to make sure Alex’s vision is recognized by fair ways or, more likely, foul.
The whole burning jet stunt didn’t work out and, while hardly thankful for their continuation, they’re unlikely to be boarding any more flights any time soon. So the Reaper does what he does best, lining every inanimate object he can get his bony hands on like dominoes, leading directly to the business end of his scythe and no party bag for attendance. It’s a positively ripe premise and, while the whole sole survivor theme has been explored on numerous occasions already, director James Wong has all the tools at his disposal to deliver something truly unnerving. Regrettably, the story by Jeffrey Reddick is not quite up to the task. Let’s not get this twisted, Final Destination can’t be held accountable for poor dialogue. But the characters are all a little one-dimensional to give a solitary hoot about.
Here lies my biggest bugbear with the entire Final Destination franchise. It features a roster of deeply loathsome protagonists, simply crying out for death’s swift reprisal and, when death strikes (normally after a couple of admittedly well-staged red herrings), the crowd partake in a mass Mexican wave. Indeed the whole thing plays out akin to a modern-day gladiatorial display whereby the addressee holds the power to give the final thumbs down. The series has performed consistently at the box office and spawned four sequels to date, with each upping the ante for gruesome and innovative dispatches. It boggles my box when I suppose, in a sense, I should understand the obsession as we live in a time where talent shows do the same thing within their own swollen amphitheaters. Let’s mock the tone-deaf disillusioned douche bag shall we? It is designed to feed on others’ misery although, in truth, most of the tool bags beneath the spotlight are unmindful of the mockery, they’ve had their fifteen minutes and that is job done.
This has been the case for longer than Louie Walsh has been sitting in his judge’s chair like a pedophile in a school canteen, repeating the same handful of catchphrases like asinine clockwork. Friday the 13th adopted a similar approach back in the eighties and it’s a proven winning formula, with a band of increasingly despicable protagonists serving no purpose other than to incense the whole audience who, in turn, feel justified in their joyous hurrah once death claims another victim. I don’t think I’m alone in my estimations when I state my discord for this tired formula and, for those who disagree, then that’s just fine and dandy. Fill your boots as Final Destination caters well for precisely what you crave, just not me personally.
Everyone is aware now of what they’re reward will ultimately be; an elaborate and expertly staged near-death prologue, a number of well articulated “accidents” and a school bus full of interminable whorebags, each literally wearing numbers on their craniums. We will examine countless photographs, each one a little too late to save the skin of the arrogant swine depicted. Meanwhile, one person alone will possess the foresight, but there shall be another of the opposite sex available to act as their personal Dr. Watson, collating clues while gently massaging their burdened shoulders. It’s all very trite if you ask me.
Of course, the main weapon the pilot movie has in its armory is that it is all fresh. The maiden outing has that distinctive opportunity to lay the ground works for the whole meticulated sequence and such a rigid framework does contain some freedom. Once the test audiences have all recorded their clichéd afterthoughts ready for compilation, and have all scurried home to tell their network of pals that “I watched the scariest movie of the year last night”, there becomes more space for the creators to dream up increasingly drawn out and original ways to dispose of the handful of meat heads lining up in death’s waiting room. So in that respect, the original becomes rather left behind. The first Final Destination would undoubtedly be the last of the series I would slide into the player through choice but that won’t be reflected in its score. Moreover, I’d be only too happy to catch it or any one of its sequels on late-night telly and donate it at least 50% of my attention.
Our two leads do well enough, Sawa having already endeared himself to us with Rodman Flender’s Idle Hands and his co-stars are fine individually. Smith , in particular, is spot-on as the cocky Carter and none of them place a foot wrong. However, there is no real sense of cohesion between them and precious little opportunity for growth within the rigid confines of each character. To be fair, we feel dreadful for their teacher Valerie as had really been looking forward to visiting the Eiffel Tower, and Cloke makes us care enough not to wish a bread knife into her sternum. Okay, I guess Tod ain’t so bad either but, you have to admit, he’s a bit of a klutz in the bathroom. As for Billy, well he’s not quite the Stiff-meister and almost deserves to live just so we can watch him strike out with dozens of women and slowly have his spirit crushed. Plus, I would definitely introduce both Clear and Terry to my purple people eater without hesitation so I guess there are positives. Sheesh, that’s all of them. It doesn’t change the fact that they’re all just treading water, waiting for the inevitable.
Where Wong’s film earns a big fat flunk for me is its squandering of such a limitless premise. To my instant recollection, Jack Gold’s The Medusa Touch, David Hemmings’s The Survivor, and Thom Everhardt’s Sole Survivor have all dealt with similar themes and, with the budget on offer here, more really could be done to tantalize our terror buds. The grim reaper could have cut a formidable figure and wield that long black scythe with harsh intent as wicked seasoning to an otherwise fairly bland dish. Everyone likes an iconic killer, take Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees. It’s just a personal thing I guess but makes it impossible not to whiff the pungent aroma of missed opportunities. Final Destination is a pretty good movie, with an exceptional opening and group of “acquaintances” who do just the bare minimum to wish to root for. But it’s hard to shake the feeling that it could have been so much more.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 2/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: We have a blink and you’ll most definitely miss it speeding bus to the face (I’m sure I spotted Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock laughing maniacally behind the windscreen as it passed), one beheading, a dash of “accidental” stabbing, and precious little else. Indeed, it wouldn’t be until the inevitable follow-up when the more elaborate deaths would emerge. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have its ingenious dispatches, the early bathroom demise is breathlessly implemented but, other than that, it’s fairly formulaic stuff when you consider the options at their disposal.
A Little More Destination
Love it or loathe it, the Final Destination series could never be accused of lacking in the grue department. Indeed, that’s pretty much the only reason we stick around right? I may have been a little mean in my analysis, but even I have to admit that the series has had me clapping like a randy seal on more than just a handful of occasions. Thus, in honor of the long-running franchise and considering I am unlikely to be appraising any of the sequels any time soon, I leave you with a few choice cuts that keep it pretty much single-handedly afloat.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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