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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Final Destination (Blu-ray)
Final Destination (Blu-ray)
Warner Bros. // R // April 7, 2009 // Region A
List Price: $28.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted April 25, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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"We know what works. What works is kill scenes."
-- Final Destination director James Wong

...and that's
[click on the thumbnail to enlarge]
why Final Destination is still a hell of a lot of fun ten years later. Think of it as a slasher movie minus the slasher: these red shirts aren't squaring off against some deranged nutjob in a fright mask or a half-assed Gorton's Fisherman; they're pitted against Death itself, and Death has a pretty psychotic sense of humor.

Boom. Alex (Devon Sawa) wakes up in a feverish sweat. The plane that's shuttling him and the rest of his class to Paris is still twiddling its thumbs on the tarmac, but just a few seconds earlier, Alex had a premonition that this oversized Boeing would explode shortly after take-off. When that same scenario starts playing out again, Alex flips out and is shoved off the plane, and one of his teachers (Kristen Cloke) and a handful of his classmates (Kerr Smith, Amanda Detmer, Chad Donella, Seann William Scott, and a too-foxy Ali Larter) are dragged out with him. Everyone else is too busy grousing about missing a half-day in the City of Lights as the plane finally does take off. Again...boom. Dozens of his pan-seared classmates are bobbing around in the Hudson River, but Alex's premonition saved his and six other lives....for a while, at least. Turns out that Death has a plan, and Alex borked it up. Death still has seven names to check off its list, and unless Alex and the other survivors can pick up on the subtle clues it tosses around to dive of the way in time, they'll each have to face something a hell of a lot more gruesome than a mid-air fireball.

Like the man says, what works...? Kills. What doesn't...? Well, everything else. Unlike the sequels -- especially the cacklingly depraved wall-to-wall slaughter of Final Destination 2 -- the original Final Destination wastes entirely too much time on one-note characters and room temperature drama. I mean, this isn't Friday the 13th Part CCMIIXI that's lining up the cattle to the kill floor: it takes a stab at trying to flesh out these characters with something like a personality, but it doesn't really work. It kinda follows that if I don't really care about anyone in the flick, I'm not all that invested in reconnecting severed friendships or sobbing into my Fruit Loops over a barely-there dead girlfriend. Once you claw past the carnage on the plane, the body count really isn't that high either.

Oh, but when
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Final Destination does get around to carving its cast apart into bloodied, fist-sized chunks, it all seems worth it. This is more of a depraved black comedy than a horror flick, really. Death's been at this whole thing for millenia, so he likes to spice it up. Instead of settling for a whack with a machete or a clawhammer to the back of some schlub's head, Final Destination opts for cacklingly elaborate Rube Goldberg style kills. The surprise -- for the most part, at least -- isn't who gets killed and when, but how, and that's where the flick ekes out most of the tension. When Tod starts puttering around in his bathroom and the Big Ominous Horror Score lurches in, you know he's not gonna waltz out of there, slip on his jammies, and hop into bed for the night. The movie keeps setting up one way after another that he could buy it: that razor carving straight through his carotid artery, a nose trimmer plowing into his brain, a boom box tumbling into the bathtub...and then when Death does strike, it's from an altogether different direction entirely. The kills are so well done that it's a drag that there aren't more of 'em, and Final Destination scores even more laughs from its dark stabs at humor with an over-the-top Alex holing up in a death-proofed cabin. I also respect the fact that Final Destination doesn't try to anthropomorphize Death; I mean, it kind of does with a quick, memorable cameo by Tony Todd, but I like the idea that they're struggling aginst a primal, unseen force that can't be attacked or reasoned with.

It's a cliché, I know -- not to mention the plot of part three -- but Final Destination is a rollercoaster ride of a horror flick, flinging the audience around at breakneck speeds and screaming around turns no one ever really sees coming. The sequels do it better, I think, not leaning nearly so much on angsty teen-drama, but Final Destination is still a ridiculous amount of blood-spattered fun. That's why it's kind of a drag that New Line cheaped out on this Blu-ray disc. Final Destination really doesn't look or sound all that great, really needing a newly-transferred spit and polish, and what looked like a special edition ten years ago really doesn't amount to much these days. I'd still fish it out of a cutout bin a year down the road, but this lackluster Blu-ray release of Final Destination isn't worth the twentysomething dollar pricetag that New Line's slapped onto it.

Slumming around down there with The Thirteenth Floor as one of the weaker catalog titles I've dug through recently, Final Destination looks more like I'm watching something on cable rather than a shiny new Blu-ray disc. Although it doesn't look to be slathered in digital noise reduction the way so many of New Line's other titles have been, Final Destination is unusually soft and fuzzy. Some of this may date back to the original photography, which looks kind of diffused in the first place. Still, detail is lackluster outside of tight close-ups, contrast is anemic even with the deep, inky blacks it has in tow, and its colors are so bland that quite a few scenes in Final Destination look like they could've been shot all the way back in 1987. On the upside, the thin veil of film grain is intact, showing no signs of being digitally smeared away, and a few challenging shots that'd devolve into a blocky mess on cable or satellite don't so much stutter once here. Final Destination barely slinks by as passable on Blu-ray, and it really needs to be retransferred instead of dusting an ancient, musty master off the shelf.

Final Destination opens the mattes up a bit to an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and its VC-1 encode fits comfortably on this single-layered Blu-ray disc.

[click on the thumbnail to enlarge]
Final Destination's 16-bit Dolby TrueHD audio is kind of a disappointment too. Admittedly, the sound design does a solid job fleshing out an unsettling atmosphere and can be devastatingly aggressive during the kills. The low-end is colossal too, with Final Destination packing a couple of megaton explosions along with the monstrous stings in the score, the throaty growl of Detroit muscle, and the standard issue horror flick thunder. It's just that the distinctness and clarity I'm used to hearing on Blu-ray are nowhere to be found here. What passes for highs are awfully flat, and too many elements in the mix sound muddled together. Even with the thunderous low-end Final Destination is lugging around, the bass lacks that extra wallop that'd really resonate. Final Destination sounds okay, but it falls short of what I've come to expect out of Blu-ray.

The disc annoyingly defaults to Dolby Digital 5.1, and the lack of a main menu means viewers have to immediately pause the movie to switch to the lossless track or fiddle with the remote as it plays. There aren't any dubs this time around, but subtitles are served up in English (SDH) and Spanish.

Final Destination's extras are lifted from the nearly decade-old DVD, and it kind of goes without saying that none of them are in high definition.
  • Audio Commentaries: Pieced together from a few different recording sessions, the first of the two audio commentaries features James Wong, Jeffrey Reddick, Glen Morgan, and editor James Coblentz. It's kind of low-key but decent enough, especially the opening stretch where they dive into the concept of the project and later how they ratcheted up the tension during the kills. Other scattered notes include shooting around Canadian flags in what's supposed to pass for JFK, spending a half-day shooting a falling leaf, and pointing out a couple of the background gags throughout the flick.

    Actors Devon Sawa, Kerr Smith, Kristen Cloke, and
    [click on the thumbnail to enlarge]
    Chad Donella pile into the recording booth for Final Destination's other running commentary track, and it's hypercaffeinated but kinda vapid. In between lots and lots of laughing, a few of the highlights include Devon Sawa shrugging off eating what looked like cat food out of a tin, just how Kristen Cloke's teacher was cut and carved apart on-screen, shooting without much in the way of rehearsal time, and snickering at how goofy the monument honoring the dead of Flight 180 wound up looking. There are a couple of more stone-faced serious stretches -- Kerr Smith talking about how playing a character who came out of the closet on Dawson's Creek resonated with viewers seeking advice, for instance -- but there's really not much meat to gnaw off this bone.

  • Isolated Score/Commentary: By far my favorite extra on this Blu-ray disc, this Dolby Digital 5.1 track loses the dialogue and sound effects to highlight the score by Shirley Walker. The gaps in between cues are filled with wonderful commentary by the since-departed Walker, including notes about how composing for film has transformed throughout the course of her career, her early days in the industry working with the likes of Francis Ford Coppola, the modest size and blazingly fast recording time behind Final Destination's score, struggling with directors married to temp tracks, her own collaboratively creative process, and crafting these dark melodies to gradually escalate a sense of anxiety throughout the course of the film.

  • The Perfect Soufflé: Testing Final Destination (13 min.): One of the only featurettes on the test screening process that I've seen, "The Perfect Soufflé" runs through targeting the right audience for these previews, rattling off some of the pretty hysterical comments that the crowd had left, describing how studio marketeers use these test scores, and how it led to one subplot in Final Destination being snipped out with a new ending packing a $2 million pricetag taking its place. It's one of the only two particularly compelling extras on this disc, although the eye-rollingly fake audience reaction footage looks pretty ridiculous.

  • Deleted Scenes (8 min.): The knocked-up arc that got the axe from Final Destination is dropped back in here, starting with a clunky off-screen love scene that gradually spirals toward an awkwardly uplifting ending. It's so clumsily done that I'm not sure why it took a set of test screenings to figure out that this was a terrible idea.

  • Premonitions (20 min.): Pam Coronado: Intuitive Investigator! This, uh, real-life psychic detective talks about her background and a couple of the standout cases she's helped crack thanks to her premonitions, and she even shows off her gaggle of psychic kids. Wow, did this really need to drag on for twenty full minutes?

  • Trailer (2 min.): Final Destination's theatrical trailer is encoded in HD on the disc, but it's clearly been upconverted from a standard definition source.

The Final Word
A slasher flick minus the slasher, Final Destination's cacklingly elaborate kills are still a hell of a lot of fun ten years later. This Blu-ray disc kinda feels like microwaved leftovers, though, saddled with mediocre video and audio. Hesitantly Recommended; hold out for it to hit the bargain bins first.
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