Say what you will about the Saw films, but they do well for Lionsgate and have definitely found an appreciative audience. The fact that they're catching up to older franchises like Halloween, A Nightmare On Elm Street, Friday The 13th and Hellraiser (the later having lost its theatrical run privileges some time ago) seemingly has little to do with the series' box office success and if they're not raking in as much as the earlier entries did, they're still turning a tidy profit ensuring more sequels to come. In fact, the director of this entry has already been tagged to direct Saw VII in 3-D working once again from a script by Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton, with Tobin Bell once again reprising his role as Jigsaw.
When the movie begins, Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) has recently died but a police officer named Lieutenant Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) still intends to carry out his strange work by finding, entrapping and punishing those who he deems to be guilty. Of course, this will entail setting up those various traps and all that drama that is sure to ensue when they're given the choice to live or die while thinking back on what they may have done to deserve a spot in this most unholy of courtrooms. To help him with all of this, Hoffman's got one major quirk working in his favor - the cops think that the late Special Agent Peter Strahm was Jigsaw's apprentice, and so he's more or less operating off of their radar entirely.
Regardless, when Hoffman feels that the forensics team and investigators working on solving the rash of Jigsaw-esque murders, he figures his work may be in danger and so he decides to work a little more quietly, particularly when someone from his past, who he thought to be dead, turns out to be alive and well. Hoffman decides it's time to begin an all new game, by snagging a high ranking insurance company executive, William Easton (Peter Outerbridge), who he knows is guilty of denying coverage to people who his calculations dictate will not turn a nice profit for his company. Hoffman puts Easton in the unenviable position of having to deal with people from his rather checkered past as the plan that is put into motion forces him to face up to what he's done and who he's done it to.
You've got to appreciate the fact that the writers of this sixth entry in the series are so keen to flip their middle fingers to the insurance industry in such an unsubtle way as they do here. This makes for a fairly topical film (at least when it hit theaters late last year around Halloween while the health care debates raged across the country), by the standards of the series, but also opens up some new and interesting possibilities within Jigsaw's original ideas which play out quite well here. This entry doesn't really break much new ground in terms of where the film goes or how it gets there but despite the fact that it's more or less a self contained story, it does do good things with some of the continuity's loose ends and wraps up a few ideas, themes and minor plot points that needed it while still leaving enough open for the pending sequel - just as a good franchise movie should.
As far as the series' famous 'traps' scenes go, there are some good ones here. Plenty of blood, guts, and broken bones will litter the playing field when it's all said and done and the creativity that the series has consistently shown in terms of coming up with more and more bizarre ways to off people is still the highpoint. Here we see Hoffman's machines, made in the style of his mentor's, do just as much damage as those that came before and the tension that builds between the beginning and the end of each game is still enjoyable in its own twisted way. The production values and attention to detail afforded the traps, sets and grim locations is still fairly impressive, though as always some ideas are just a bit too far removed (really, a killer carousel?).
Ultimately a step up from the last few entries, Saw VI won't change your mind on the series if you've already made it up, but if you find yourself teetering, give it a shot. It's the best entry out of the last few and if nothing else, it's entertaining enough.
Saw VI arrives on Blu-ray in a 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen 1080p AVC encoded transfer on this Blu-ray disc that looks about as good you'd expect given the film's recent vintage and taking into account its grimy, bleak color scheme. Like the other entries in the series, the film makes use of a very dark color scheme, lots of moldy looking green hues are used, with tints of rust colors, browns, and pale whites. The film is very cold looking, appropriately so, and the transfer does a good job of replicating this. Detail is fairly strong, black levels as well, and while there's a bit of grain here and there you won't likely notice any actual print damage. Flesh tones look decent, and despite some banding, some erratic black tonal shifts, and some darker spots that break up a little bit, there's little to complain about here. It's not a perfect looking picture, but it suits the tone of the movie well.
The primary sound mix on this disc is an English language DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio mix. Dialogue is always well balanced and easy to understand but the levels get a bit high during some of the scenes involving Jigsaw's games, what with all of the torturing and screaming going on. Bass response is strong, you'll notice this with the score in spots and during a few well timed bursts of activity which provide a good amount of directional effects as well. There aren't any problems with hiss or distortion to complain about and while the score gets a little bit buried underneath all of the mayhem from time to time, this is, overall, quite a strong and active mix. Optional subtitles are provided in English SDH, French and Spanish.
The first of the two audio commentaries on this disc is with producer Mark Burg and executive producers Peter Block and Jason Constantine. It's a bit dry in spots but it does do a good job of explaining how this film ties in with the continuity established by the first five films in the series. It also elaborates on some of the traps we see here in addition to covering the usual bases like casting, schedules, effects work and reception. The second commentary on the disc rounds up director Kevin Greutert and screenwriters Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan. It's a fair bit livelier than the first track and it's got a welcome sense of humor to it which makes it more enjoyable to listen to. Here the participants elaborate on the upcoming Saw VII, character development, bringing back certain characters and the themes they were trying to explore while writing this picture. They talk about working with the cast and crew on the film, some of the difficulties they encountered on the set, as well as how much of what happens in this film ties together the earlier entries. It's a solid track, and a completely unpretentious discussion that fans will definitely enjoy.
From there we move on to the three featurettes on the disc starting with Jigsaw Revealed, a six minute segment that focuses in on Tobin Bell's character and how he's changed and evolved over the life of the series to where he's at now. It's an interesting primer for those whose Saw knowledge might need a bit of a refresher course. The second featurette is The Traps of SAW VI and it's a nine minute exploration of what went into making and executing the traps that we see in the film. With the traps always being the highlight of the series, this ought to prove interesting to the fans as it gives us a good look at how the machines are made as well as how the gore effects are handled. The third and final featurette on the disc is A Killer Maze: Making SAW GAME OVER and it's an interesting ten minute look at how a Saw Maze was created for a Universal Studios theme park and all that something like that entails.
Rounding out the extras on the first disc in this set are music videos from bands Mushroomhead, Memphis May Fire, Hatebreed and Suicide Silence, the film's original theatrical trailer and trailers for a few other Lionsgate releases. Animated menus (which are really loud and annoying) and chapter selection are also included and the disc is Blu-ray live enabled allowing you to go online and access more Saw/Lionsgate related goodies should you wish. All of the extras on this disc are in HD except for the music videos.
Saw VI does contain a second disc advertised on a sticker on the front packaging but not listed on the insert cover art. On this disc is the first Saw film, which is a nice bonus, the problem being that the disc's contents are identical to the original issue of this title on Blu-ray from Lionsgate from a few years back. This means the menus still suck, the sound is still not lossless, and the transfer still needs work. If you look at this as a freebie, it's a nice one to get but if you were planning on getting this release in hopes that it would provide an upgrade to the previous Blu-ray release of the first Saw film, you're bound to be disappointed.
More interesting and more intriguing than most of the other sequels in the series, Saw VI won't convert those who aren't already fans but will certainly please those who are. There are some impressive traps and related deaths here and Tobin Bell gives a strong performance, but there's not a whole lot here to really make this one stand out from the five before it in terms of scope or story. Lionsgate's Blu-ray looks okay and sounds even better and offers fans up a decent smattering of extras, making it recommended for the Saw faithful, while the self contained storyline makes this easier to follow sequel a solid rental for the curious masses.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.