Focus On: The Final Destination Franchise

On August 26th, we see the fifth film released in the Final Destination horror franchise. To celebrate / commiserate this fact, I decided to watch all four Final Destination films (roping in my unlucky lady Jess for the ride) and looked at how the films have developed, changed, and garnered enough attention to create a popular on-going franchise that just will not die. How ironic.


FINAL DESTINATION? WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?

Who doesn’t know what Final Destination is? You? Well then this paragraph is for you! All the Final Destination films have a very definite and very simple premise; one person has a vivid premonition of their own death (and the death of others). On waking from this premonition, they realise it is coming true, and they manage to prevent their own death (and the death of others). People think they’re nuts or psychic or evil, then one by one the survivors begin to die… killed off by Death himself, whose original plan had been irritatingly compromised by the precognitive abilities of some random person. What follows is the quickly-diminishing group of survivors trying to find a way to out-wit Death himself, by any means possible…  That’s the premise, and it’s a gleefully fun idea.

FINAL DESTINATION 1

Final Destination 1 appeared in 2000 and surprised everyone. It was a unique premise, and genuinely exciting, thrilling, compelling and memorable, even if it did star Devon Sawa and Seann William Scott. Final Destination was created by X Files aficionados Glen Morgan and James Wong, along with relative unknown writer Jeffery Reddick, who has subsequently gone on to write such classics as Tamara and that godawful remake of Day of the Dead in 2008.

Final Destination was a killer idea executed with charm, wit and smarts; not too serious, not too gory, but tantalizingly brutal. Re-watching it, I realised it has a lot more to it than the sequels that followed – more Tony Todd, more mystery, more foreboding – and featured a dark stalking shadow and some impossible liquid, as if Death itself was a physical thing, stalking the survivors until it claimed their souls back into his demented plan. It featured the symbolic number 180 (for Flight 180, the doomed plane), subtle clever hints at “who’s next” on the list and an interesting twist late on. It is by no means a perfect movie, but it was a solid, excellent start to the franchise.

FINAL DESTINATION 2

Final Destination 2 might be my favourite Final Destination film, simply because of the start. Entering cinemas two years after the original, the beginning to Final Destination 2 features an epic car crash on a motorway, which thankfully doesn’t vomit out CGI explosions but instead just trashes an absolute pile of cars and trucks in a superbly disturbing fashion. A logging truck drops its load onto the tarmac and carnage follows, with severed tree trunks blowing up vehicles and smashing through a policeman’s face – nasty, brutal, and something I can’t help thinking about when travelling down a busy motorway! If I ever see a logging truck careening down the M25 I would absolutely crap myself…

FINAL DESTINATION 2 CAR CRASH – VIDEO HERE

Final Destination 2 travels the same route as the film before it, with the saved-by-a-crazy-person group of survivors disbelieving the nonsense about premonitions and then finding themselves at the sharp end of Death’s cheeky sword. Morgan and Wong did not return for this sequel, however, and left the directing to Dave “Snakes on a Plane” R. Ellis and the scripting duties to The Butterfly Effect’s J. Mackye Gruber and Eric Bress. Like any good sequel they up the kill count and the extremity of the deaths; we’ve got glass sheets crushing kids, barbed wire fences slicing stoners to pieces, pipes through skulls, barbeques exploding and one unfortunate incident with a fire escape ladder… It’s played more for laughs – and thankfully so – with comical moments punctuating the film, along with shock deaths and slow, creeping ones that are a delight to watch unfold.

Final Destination 2 has its faults – major, major logic faults – and only Tony Todd and Ali Larter return from the first film. Devon Sawa is conspicuously absent, and apparently his character Alex Browning was killed by a falling brick between films (we find this out in a newspaper clipping), suggesting Sawa’s absence from the film was not entirely appreciated.

The ending is a bit naff and the timing of the car crash at the start makes no sense post-premonition, but it’s a dumb, fun, silly, bloody piece of filmmaking that betters the original on a number of levels.

Then – two years later – Final Destination 3 turned up. The creators of the original film returned to their baby, with Glen Morgan and James Wong writing again, and Wong back in the driver’s seat. After the second didn’t miss their influence, their return on the third was neither hailed or dismissed. Until everyone saw the film, that is…

FINAL DESTINATION 3

Final Destination 3 is the start of the franchise’s sag, as it returns to the “school kids” route familiar in Final Destination 1 and begins with an appalling CGI rollercoaster disaster, which is shoddy, confusing and really painfully bad to watch. The beginning is such a shame considering how impactful the airplane explosion and motorway pile-up were in the previous two flicks; high hopes were had and not delivered. Tony Todd is also reduced to a voiceover roll and barely noticeable, which is a travesty. The new characters are far too cartoony and incredibly crass; two boob-flashing bimbo BFFs, a goth couple, an aging pervert geek, a yee-ha! egomaniac jock and a random “she’s obviously important” bit-part role from Amanda Crew as the protagonist’s sister. The protagonist? Rather surprisingly it is Mary Elizabeth Winstead (pictured below) as Wendy Christensen, who – even more surprisingly – delivers a wet n’ weak performance devoid of any personality.

So Final Destination 3 has a bunch of crap clichés and a poor central performance from an otherwise decent actress. So what? How were the goddamn deaths?! Similar to the awful beginning, the deaths are lacking in invention and far too bright and colourful – a weight machine malfunction, a sun-bed disaster, a nail gun accident – and the film’s ending (both endings – one at a fare and one on a subway) – are woeful nonsense where we suddenly have to care about minor characters. It is not 100% awful – the sun-bed scene is actually very brutal and very funny – but it’s not a patch on its predecessors.

Then I turned on The Final Destination.

In 3D.

Yep, me and the missus dragged out a pair of crappy 3D specs and sat in front of our television, looking like two time-teleporting dweebs sucked out of a 1980’s rom-com.

THE FINAL DESTINATION

The fourth in the franchise is called The Final Destination. Why they chose this title is beyond me – perhaps they wanted to begin the franchise again (although this is doubtful, as they constantly reference the previous films) or perhaps they genuinely thought this would be the last of the franchise, ending on an in-yer-face three dimensional “high”. Whatever the case, it now sits amongst the many horror titles that claim they’re the final in the series but are merely a speed-bump during an on-going saga. Yes, The Final Destination has become Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter.  It is Freddy’s Dead: the Final Nightmare. It is Puppet Master 5: The Final Chapter.  Well it’s the same level of quality, anyway…

The Final Destination is undoubtedly the worst of the franchise, ham-fistedly chucking in some 3D to the detriment of the film’s creativity. Dave “Shark Night 3D” R. Ellis is back in the driver’s seat after knocking out the second film, along with scriptwriter Eric Bress. Maybe it’s the lack of J. Mackye Gruber from the Final Destination 2 team or perhaps it’s the restrictions brought about by 3D, but The Final Destination it is an uninspired, shockingly dull film. But why?

The Final Destination only failed because it lacked a sense of humour and was horribly lazy – and therefore disrespectful – to the franchise. The beginning featured another car crash – à la Final Destination 2 – this time in a Speedway circuit, but whereas FD2 had a powerful and realistic-looking start, The Final Destination features a shockingly bad CGI mess, with tyres and car engines flying AT YOUR FACE and fake explosions engulfing the screen like a cheap episode of Sliders. It’s a slack, obvious start that looks worse than the crashes in Talladega Nights, which was only a ridiculous comedy starring a collection of morons. The start of The Final Destination should have been better.

THE FINAL DESTINATION SPEEDWAY CRASH – VIDEO HERE

The Final Destination features a racist, a dull mechanic, an arrogant mum and a bunch of our heroes’ personality-vacuum friends. Our protagonists are an unbelievable couple and a security guard with a history of alcoholism and child death. It is a woefully morbid set-up and without a sense of wry irony that threads through the preceding three films – even Final Destination 3’s insanely garish, cartoonish feel is better than The Final Destination’s collection of moribund walking blands.

Audiences are not buying tickets to the latest Final Destination flick hoping to feel moved by the plight of the characters, they’re there to see semi-amusing characters – often caricatures – get killed in elaborate, brutal and hilarious ways. Final Destination 1 set it all up perfectly, with Terry Chaney’s “…you can just drop fucking dead!” line being followed sharply by a bus hitting her in the face – it is a shocking and hilarious moment. This is the template for the franchise, mixing comedy with shock violence, and The Final Destination fails miserably to produce this.

UNANSWERED QUESTIONS

Even after four feature length films there still remain some startlingly obvious questions left unanswered:

1.)    Why do specific people get these premonitions?

2.)    Who is sending them?

3.)    How come the method of receiving the aftershock-premonitions (after the first, massive life-saving one) differs entirely from person-to-person?

4.)    Who or what is Tony Todd’s character Bludworth?

5.)    Why does Death have a plan, and why is he / she so bloody incompetent at sticking to it?

6.)    The first ever Final Destination death: Tod (Chad Donella) slips on some blue water in his bathroom – see video –  which then slides back into a crack behind the toilet, as if it was a living being / murderous patch if sentient Domestos. What was it? And why have we never seen it again?

Perhaps some or all of these questions have never occurred to you, or perhaps – like for most viewers – they literally don’t matter.

WHY SO POPULAR?

When a film spawns a franchise, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s awesome (see the Resident Evil franchise for details). Ultimately Final Destination is a heavily flawed franchise from its conception, but it never, ever tries to be more than it is; a popcorn 15 action horror that means no harm and is there to do one thing and one thing only: entertain. And it succeeds admirably, for the most part.


The more it goes on the more gimmicky it gets; the 3rd film has a “choose your own fate” feature on the DVD, which means you can actually decide who lives and who dies, and the fourth film is in 3D. Despite these unnecessary additionals, the franchise does reward its followers, with constant occurrences of the number 180, repeating songs and sly references to the previous films (Clear Rivers, McKinley, Hic Pale Ale and Le Cafe Miro 81 all crop up in more than one film).

For those truly obsessing over Final Destination, check out their Wiki Site – HERE

Final Destination never tries hard to be scary or stomach-churning, unlike the original Nightmare on Elm Street or Saw films, but sits in that easy-watching zone where audiences know they’ll see unchallenging death, dealt out to people who kinda-woulda-died-anyway. It does not tax the morals or the mind. The antagonist is relatable and something we all fear – Death itself – but even this isn’t manifest and the “dark shadow” used in Final Destination 1 was dispensed half-way through the movie! It is a concept that is killing these people, an idea of something unstoppable and entirely untangible, and the audience knows it’s useless to fight it; everyone dies, so get on with it and make it elaborate!

The fact Death is the bad guy makes it even more surprising the films have survived this long. Why? One word: merchandise. Whereas other franchises have Halloween masks, collectable statues, gloves with plastic knives attached, Good Guy dolls, killer soundtracks, inappropriately cute plushies, rollercoaster rides, bobble-heads, comics and more, the Final Destination franchise gets what?

This shit.


A keyring with the film’s title on? A T-shirt? Crap, basically. Final Destination has to survive on Box Office alone as it has nothing iconic to grab hold of and buy. Maybe a big statue of William “Tony Todd” Bludworth? Really? You may as well buy a Candyman statue instead.

So Box Office it is then…

BOX OFFICE

Snapping up the box office bucks was made easier because each Final Destination film has a 15 certificate (in the UK), so is instantly more accessible than the gore-soaked likes of Hostel or Halloween.  This is for teenagers looking for cheap, nasty, fun-packed kicks, and it’s immensely popular in the 15 to 30 demographic.

The original film was made for a budget of approximately $23 million, but raked in over $112 million worldwide, a huge return for a horror movie. The sequel made less of a return (only $90 million on a $26 million budget) , which is perhaps why Wong and Morgan returned / were allowed back for the third! On a reduced budget, Final Destination 3 made over $117 million – the biggest haul yet – and the fourth (and final… ahem) was commissioned. Thanks to 3D and some overambitious set-pieces, the $40 million budget was $15 million more than the previous film, but the box office loved it and thanks to the expensiveness of 3D it sucked in a ridiculous $186 million worldwide! Hence the 5th film…

FINAL DESTINATION 5

2011 sees another helping of the Final Destination franchise – Final Destination 5, or 5nal Destination as it was originally called, which kind of looks a little too much like Anal Destination… an entirely different film franchise (and hopefully not in 3D).

FINAL DESTINATION 5 TRAILER HERE

Released on Friday 26th August in the UK, those attending Frightfest on the Thursday night will encounter the UK premiere of this beloved franchise, a day before the usual crowd. Maybe Tony Todd will be there? That would be AWESOME.

A review for Final Destination 5 will appear on Gorepress on Friday 26th August.

THE FUTURE DESTINATION

The future of Final Destination? FD has no visible enemy. They’ve decapitated Michael Myers, sent Jason to hell (and space!), defeated Freddy and killed off Jigsaw, and this has diminished those franchises’ power – their lore – but Final Destination can keep going as long as someone understands what people want; fun, death and a superb start.

Do I think Final Destination 6 will appear? Hell yes. My money is on FD6 hitting our cinema screens in the summer of 2013. Place your bets now…

THE BEST DEATH

So… now for the really hard part. What is my favourite death in the Final Destination franchise? Not many other franchise’s can ask that – especially recently – because Saw is too grotesque to gleefully admit which horribly torturous death you enjoyed the most, and many other films are about how many ridiculous twists you can slam into a film, rather than about the elaborate ways of executing people!

My personal favourite Final Destination death is probably the demise of Evan Lewis (David Paetkau, above) in Final Destination 2, as it’s cunningly signposted and a tight, smartly created death. Ultimately caused by him throwing some old spaghetti out of his window (he later slips on it, escaping a fire) it’s more about how a fridge magnet message of HEY E hints at his fate when the H falls off into a microwave-destined takeaway, leaving the word E YE subtly stuck to the fridge’s side… the “eye” which eventually gets horribly impaled by a faulty fire escape ladder. Packed with irony and so many “almost dies” moments, it’s a gleeful and smart sequence that is funny, brutal, action-packed and genuinely nasty.

Check it out HERE

This is by far my favourite death in the Final Destination franchise, although second has to be Seann William Scott’s decapitation in the first film and third is definitely Jonathan Cherry’s death-by-flying-fence in Final Destination 2. But who knows, perhaps the deaths from Final Destination 5 will knock these three from their pedestals – I guess I’ll find out in a week.

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