The teen slasher genre is a fascinating one that is difficult to evaluate without seeming to overanalyze. It is a type of film that is aimed squarely at teenagers who apparently demand little from it in the way of intelligence, and who likewise are demanded very little of in return. Pubescent audiences seem to have an unwritten understanding with horror directors - you provide the red, we'll provide the green. As long as there are gallons of blood spewing every ten minutes, the cash will roll in. This economic convenience has inevitably led to the horror franchise. For every successful horror flick, you can expect the obligatory sequels, which serve no obvious purpose except to one-up the previous entry in terms of gore, usually at the increasing expense of believability and artistry (if there were ever any to begin with).
The "Final Destination" franchise is one that, in spite of its title, has apparently not reached the end of its line. That is not to say that the makers of the series are still full of ideas. The well of creativity pretty much dried up about midway through the first film. The sad part is that this franchise began with a remarkably clever premise that, after three films, has still not been effectively delivered on. Don't put all of this on New Line Home Entertainment, who has managed to give "Final Destination 3" a notably thrilling DVD release. The 2-disc set boasts a wealth of attractive features that somewhat compensate for the lack of excitement in the film itself.
By this point, describing the plot of "Final Destination 3" seems almost redundant. If you have seen the first two, then you have seen this one. During a senior class trip to an amusement park, year book photographer Wendy Christensen (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) has a vivid premonition of a fatal rollercoaster crash. Her hysterical reaction causes several others to leave the ride, only for it to take off and (you guessed it) crash, killing everyone on it. As in the first two films, the ones who escaped death are subsequently killed off in alarmingly gruesome manners in the order in which they would have died in the initial accident.
The first person to bring up this notion is Kevin (Ryan Merriman), the former boyfriend of Wendy's best friend Carrie, who was killed on the rollercoaster. Oddly enough, he actually mentions it before anyone even begins dying. One of the innovations of this movie is that Wendy begins to discover clues in the photos she took at the amusement park that seem to indicate how each person will die. This prompts Wendy and Kevin to contemplate the idea of death and whether or not human beings can intercept fate. Granted, these are justifiably intriguing ideas, but coming from the mouths of 18-year-olds, the philosophy comes across rather basic and empty.
In the end, of course, the soul purpose for the movie's existence is for us to watch the characters die in the nastiest ways possible. Each death is preceded by a painstakingly complicated chain of events that grow more and more ridiculous through the course of the movie. The grim reaper has apparently seen too many Looney Tunes, as the death traps are all too reminiscent of the ones set by Sylvester for Tweety Bird, with objects being knocked over and setting something else off. The sheer stupidity of these scenes only manages to diffuse the suspense rather than build it.
Another problem is that, aside from the two leads, none of the characters are remotely sympathetic. One of the fundamental strengths of a good horror movie is allowing the audience to fear for the characters. Among those who meet grisly ends are a pair of ditzy bimbos, an irrepressibly pumped-up jock, and a pervert who continues to lust after said bimbos even at their funeral. These characters are so aggressively obnoxious that I really wasn't bothered when any of them died. In fact, I frequently found myself wishing they would all die in one big freak accident, just so that the movie would end.
With all of that said, the film is not entirely unwatchable. Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Ryan Merriman are likeable in the lead roles. There is also a stylishness to the whole thing, and the special effects make the brutal death scenes quite believable, even if the script renders them illogical. The opening rollercoaster sequence is quite thrilling in its own way, much like the opening airplane scene from the first movie. Director James Wong and writer Glen Morgan know how to bring an audience into a story. What they have not been able to master after six years is how to live up to the level of excitement generated by the opening set piece.
The 2-disc "Thrill Ride" DVD edition of "Final Destination 3" from New Line Home Entertainment is indeed a fun venture, even for someone who doesn't particularly care for the movie. The 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio is preserved in an anamorphic transfer that captures the wonderful cinematography of each action sequence. There is some good grain, but it is negligible. Skin tones are natural, and black levels are bold and rich. The picture exhibits a sharp image with fine detail and vibrant colors, providing a perfect showcase for all of the splattering blood and entrails.
The audio presentation is spectacular, offered in both Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and 6.1 DTS mixes that deliver all of the goods. Music and sound effects pound thunderously through the back channels while dialogue remains clear in the front. The action scenes retain all of their punch, especially the rollercoaster sequence, which is filled with a dynamic intensity. No hiss or distortion is evident. A stereo track is also provided, as well as English and Spanish subtitles.
As usual, New Line has served up some fantastic supplemental features. First and foremost is a new, interactive version of the movie. On disc 1, viewers have the option of watching the theatrical version or the "Choose Their Fate" version, which brings up a new screen at key points, asking the viewer to make a choice for the character onscreen. Depending on that choice, the viewer will either see the event as shown in the theatrical version, or an alternate scene that could change the rest of the movie. James Wong had this feature in mind as he was filming the movie, and he deliberately filmed different versions for each death scene. While the new scenes do not drastically alter the storyline (in most cases, we simply see the character die in a slightly different way), this is truly an innovative feature that has great potential for future releases.
Next is an audio commentary with James Wong, Glen Morgan, and cinematographer Robert McLachlan. They give us a detailed account of the making of the movie, with lots of information about the stunts and visual effects. A good chemistry is evident between the three men, making this an enjoyable and relaxed track.
Disc 2 begins with a 7-minute cartoon called "It's All Around You." Directed by Helder Mendonca and Nick Cross, this short amusingly sends up common paranoia about death in a wickedly deadpan manner.
Following this is a featurette entitled "Dead Teenager Movie," a name taken from the term coined by Roger Ebert in his review of the first "Final Destination." This is a surprisingly interesting look at the history and social implications of the teen horror movie, featuring interviews with the creators of "Final Destination," the cast, some folklorists and film professors, and even Ebert himself. Of all of the interviewees, producer Craig Perry stood out the most for me, with his self-praising analysis of the "FD" franchise. He really caught my attention when he attempted to justify the admittedly silly and intellectually empty nature of these movies by claiming that this is what teenagers desire. What really bothers me about this argument is that, while on the surface people like Perry seem to be pandering to what adolescents want, they are actually indulging in their own laziness by deliberately underestimating the intelligence of their teen audience.
"Kill Shot: The Making of FD3" is an in-depth, feature-length documentary that exhaustively covers every aspect of this movie. From casting to filming to stunt action and visual effects, all of the inner workings are revealed in this engaging and cleverly structured feature. I am forever amazed at how even the most mediocre of films can be a fascinating journey to watch unfold. The creation of the rollercoaster ride alone is worth the price. We even get 13 minutes of deleted footage, or "Severed Pieces," from the documentary that are just as fun.
After this we get an extended version of a dialogue scene that was shortened in the final film. Promotional material comes next, including the 21-minute featurette, "Planned Accidents," a trailer, and three TV spots. In keeping with New Line's high standards, all of the bonus features, except the TV spots, are anamorphic.
In addition to all of this, each disc in this set contains some DVD-ROM goodies. On Disc 1, viewers will have their pick of 12 desktop wallpapers and a screensaver. The wallpaper designs showcase the ominous photos that Wendy takes at the amusement park in the film. Disc 2 offers an interactive game called "Visions of Death." Both discs contain links to the "Final Destination 3" website and other New Line sites.
As teen horror flicks go, "Final Destination 3" is mostly derivative of other, better films that have come before it. While good-looking and well-acted, the inane screenplay and recycled storyline ultimately make watching this kind of a pointless undertaking. Still, if this kind of dreck tickles your fancy, then New Line's release will most surely make it worth your while. I'm not sure how much more overkill this franchise can take, but New Line Home Entertainment continues to push the boundaries of DVD quality, and if we do have to swallow one more incarnation of this plot, let's hope New Line will be there help it go down.