(Note: The movie review section comes from my
previous review(s) of Saw 2. By this point we already know how I feel about the Saw series, so you won't hurt my feelings if you skip down to the DVD specs.)
I wouldn't go as far as to call Saw 2 a cerebral experience, but there's just something devilishly appealing about horror material that works in your brain and not just in your gut. Throughout both of these rusty little Saw movies, I'm posed with the question of "What would you do if you had to saw your own foot off / dig through a corpse's innards for a key / remand another person to death so that I might survive?" Saw 2 is the horror equivalent of that "Book of Questions" that we all bought and then broke out at parties. Much of the movie is also your standard slasher stew mixed with some half-decent police procedural stuff -- but when Saw 2 gets rolling with those gruesome, gritty puzzles, I think it's the coolest thing this side of Clive Barker's nasty ol' horror stories.
This sequel doesn't slavishly follow up with the precise ending of Part 1, but it comes close enough to keep the loyal fans entertained. Suffice to say that sick ol' Jigsaw is up to his nasty tricks again: The prologue delivers a sequence in which one unfortunate guy gets his head squashed inside of a nail-coated, metallic venus-fly-trap mask thingamajig. In this sequence some see pointlessly ugly desperation and gore for gore's sake. I see a kinetic, exciting, and enjoyably intense inner struggle that ends with a crimson thwack.
In come the police, and this time they have very little trouble apprehending the creatively kooky killer. Detectives Mason (Donnie Wahlberg) and Kerry (Dina Meyer) are on the case; he's got a short temper and an estranged son, while she's got a lot of exposition to unload and a pretty face. So over the course of one extended interrogation, Jigsaw reveals that not only does he have eight people trapped inside a house filled with poison gas and horrible deathtraps, but also that we can all watch this sinful spectacle via live video!
Imagine Mason's amplified concern when he realizes that his teenage son is in among the poisoned captives.
And back and forth we go. For a little while we stick with Mason and Jigsaw as they throw dialogue at each other, most of which has to do with threats of violence or ruminations on the nature of human mortality. Some of this material gets a bit redundant as the running time wears on, but Saw 2 moves at such a brisk clip that you'll just begin to notice the strain as the Act III insanity starts to kick in.
When we're not dealing with Mason and Jiggy, we're trapped in the death-house with eight of the most desperate whiners you ever will meet. True that there's a good reason for this crew's collective crankiness, but aside from Mason's son Daniel (Eric Knudsen) and veteran Saw-avoider Amanda (Shawnee Smith) there's not much offered on the character menu. The soon-to-be corpse cast-members are given perhaps one solid personality trait apiece to show off, which they do just prior to their inevitably icky demise.
Perhaps it's just the dormant Nine Inch Nails freak in me that loves the Saw flicks' cold and gruesome exteriors ... but mainly I'm just sick to death of the ridiculously lame and consistently worthless deluge of PG-13 "horror" movies that offer nothing but formulaic stories, moronic dialogue, and photogenic TV actors who are way out of their element. Maybe it's just that I've been so starved for horror flicks that don't skimp on the grand guignol nastiness that I enjoy so much that I'm left over-praising movies like Saw, May, The Descent, Hostel, High Tension, and, yes, Saw 2. (Or heck, maybe I secretly work for Lions Gate Films!) But I don't think I'm overcompensating when I say that Saw 2 is one of the better horror movies to hit the screens in '05 -- which is a compliment to the sequel-makers, but is mainly an indictment of the current state of the horror genre in general.
Saw 2 might have been a "bang out
the screenplay, shoot it, and get it into theaters quick" sort of sequel (and it so totally was), but there seems to be a real commitment here to pleasing the hardcore horror fans. It's certainly not a flawless effort, but it's good, gory entertainment all the same, and let's face it: Not many horror sequels can make that claim.
Video: The film is presented in a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen format, and it's a fine transfer indeed. This newly remastered version does a fine job of bringing home the bleakly effective production design and stylishly upsetting visual tricks.
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround EX or 6.1 DTS, either of which should keep the audio-obsessive horror geeks quite happy indeed. Optional subtitles are available in English and Spanish.
OK, the big question: What's NEW in this version of the movie? Well, I did some time comparisons and here's what I came up with: The first Saw 2 DVD runs 1:32:39, whereas the "director's cut" runs 1:34:34. So what's inside of those two extra minutes? Well, the new Lionsgate logo runs longer than the old one, there's a few quick shots of Jigsaw eating some cereal (haha, cereal killer!), and there's just a bit more late-movie banter between Wahlberg, Bell and Meyer. Oh, and just about every kill scene is a few seconds longer and inevitably gorier. The gunshot, the incinerator, the needle pit, the razor boxes... All just a little bit nastier -- just the way we like it. Not saying it adds all that much to the flick, but the new footage is pretty solid all around.
Starting with disc 1, here's the goodie list:
Two new audio commentaries, which means you actually have a reason to keep your first Saw 2 DVD, as its actor/director commentary has not been included here. The new tracks are A) director/co-writer Darren Lynn Bousman, production designer David Hackl, and editor Kevin Greutert, and B) producer James Wan and producer/co-writer Leigh Whannell. Both commentaries are jovial and fairly informative ones, although the former is a bit more interested in the action onscreen and the latter is a bit more comedic in nature. Those who are interested in production tidbits, inside dirt, deleted scene locations, etc., should stick with track 1. If you're looking for self-deprecating goofiness, go for track 2. Either way, you Sawfreaks should enjoy both chat tracks.
Also on disc 1 are the trailers for Saw 2, Saw 3, The Descent, and a few others.
Disc 2 is kind of creative. If you so choose, you can "discover" all the featurettes by wandering through Jigsaw's lair, clicking away on every highlightable doo-dad you see. It's actually kinda fun -- but there's also a handy-dandy light bulb on each page that'll bring you directly to the supplemental menu screen. And here's how it breaks down:
The Scott Tibbs Documentary is a rather bizarre 16-minute piece in which rocker dude Scott Tibbs mounts his own investigation into Jigsaw's activities. Aims for amusing and fails.
Next you can hit Behind the Scenes to get seven featurettes to play in order. Or if you want to be picky you can watch 'em individually: The Saw Phenomenon (2:12), Conceiving a Sequel (4:56), The Players (14:26), The Sets (13:44), Cinematography (5:19), Sound Design (5:01), and Fun on the Set (3:57). Among the folks interviewed are Darren Lynn Bousman, Donnie Wahlberg, Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Emmanuelle Vaugier, Glenn Plummer, Beverley Mitchell, Erik Knudsen, and a whole bunch of various producers.
Then we get The Story Behind the Story (3:42), which aims to tie the Saw shenanigans in with a rather bizarre real-life loon.
Also included is a bittersweet Gregg Hoffman Memorial (6:34), in which various friends and colleagues reminisce about the man. Classy little piece.
Closing out the 2nd disc are Mr. Bousman's short film Zombie (2:15, with or without director's commentary) and a rather amusing little DVD game called Play Me, in which you try to escape from Jigsaw's grasp.
Even after repeat viewings I'm firmly convinced that Saw 2 is a worthwhile follow-up to a superior horror flick. The novelty may have waned a little bit, but the structure still works, and it's just nice to see a few horror flicks that deal in things like irony, creativity, and (yes) intelligence.
Whether or not the package is worthy of an upgrade depends on how rabid a fan you are. I believe I prefer the new version over the original, if only because a little extra gore is generally a good thing. The packaging is slick and the extras are plentiful, so horror fans can certainly consider this release a Highly Recommended one. And to those who intentionally avoided the theatrical DVD release, well, this new upgrade is the one you really want.