Monday, 31 August 2009

Movie review: A final Final Destination?

What are we to make of the new trend for 3D in the movies, eh? I've seen a few of 'em in recent years - 'Beowulf', Journey to the Centre of the Earth', some ghastly horror tat called 'Scar' - and they all seemed to use their 3D element to poke or throw things at me. Sticks, spears, rocks...the technology just gets wheeled out to make things look a bit nearer in the foreground and to make the audience jump a bit as a snake rears up and looms at them. It's never really enhanced the narrative, it doesn't seem to be used for the purpose of story advancement. Now obviously 3D itself is a visual thing and that's the way it's going to be used; but it's hard not to be a bit troubled by the fact that a lot of 3D movies seem to exist just to showcase the technology and that the stories they're used are subsumed by the need to thrust thigns out of the screen or spurt things over the audience. The trailer for James Cameron's long-awaited SF blockbuster 'Avatar', screening now, looks like more of the same; I saw the footage tonight and all I can remember is the fact that it was in 3D. It didn't give me any real impression of what the film will actually be like, what sort of experience it will be - apart from the fact there are blue creatures in it. 3D then - is it the future or is it just another gimmick designed to lure in easily-impressed teens who like to scream a lot? Time will tell; maybe I'm just a Luddite. If I'd been around in the 1920s (which isn't to be taken as an admission that I wasn't - although I actually wasn't) I'd probably have been sneering at those new-fangled talkies too.

So to 'The Final Destination', the latest recipient of the all-singing, all-dancing, all-jabbing-you-in-the-face 3D technology. If you've seen any of the previous three entries in the series (and I have, there's a DVD boxset on my shelf, obviously) then you, like me, have seen exactly the same story three times over. So if and when you toddle off to see 'The Final Destination' (has the '4' been dumped from the title to persuade short-term memory cinema-goers that this is a brand new horror franchise, perhaps?) rest assured that you'll be seeing the same story yet again, for the fourth time. You remember the previous movies - premonitions of disaster on a plane, on a freeway, at a funfair - leads to a gang of youths escaping Death only for Death to get a bit peeved and decide to put destiny back on track by offing the survivors in icnreasingly-grisly ways. This time around Nick (Bobby Campo) and his best girl and his two friends are at a speedway event. But Bobby's unsettled when the bench they're sitting on cracks and the stadium supports look like they're crumbling. Suddenly there's an accident on the track; one of the cars spins out of control and sets off a chain reaction...of death!! People are sliced'n'diced, their heads are popped by flying tyres, they're flattened by collapsing pillions, they're impaled on shafts of wood. Then Bobby realises he's imagined it all and he manages to usher his friends out of the stadium just as his premonition starts to come true and all Hell breaks lose. True to form, though, within days other survivors of the disaster lose their lives in increasingly-grisly ways - one burns to death, one gets it in the eye, another is squished through a fence...all in glorious 3D as body parts and various screws, nails and sticks - and in one scene, a sticking plaster in a swimming pool - rush out of the screen and wobble about in front of your face. Slowly but surely Nick and his chums begin to suspect what's happening and realise that the only way to stop Death is by brekaing the line of survivors, throwing Death's design out of kilter.

So yes, the 'Final Destination' song remains the same in almost every aspect. But these are playful, tense little movies. The deaths, when they come, aren't really what we're here for...well, not completely. No, much more fun is the build-up to the deaths, watching events move into place - a spilled drink here, a falling oil can there, a loose light fighting up above - and figuring out how it's all going to come together and how someone who's survived - the peripheral characters first, of course, not your four leads - will finally meet their maker. And 'The Final Destination' is an inventive as ever in finding ways of killing off its cast. There's some misdirection too; once or twice the film teases us with an imminent death only to sidestep it into something a bit more innocuous. But when the deaths come they're generally as grisly as ever - one character is flattened against a wire fence and sliced right through it, another is sucked through the drainage system of a swimming pool - but the best sequence is the car wash scene which will probably get you reaching for a bucket and a sponge next Sunday morning. The 'Final Destination' movies always mount their disaster sequences with an impeccable energy and style. Here we get two scenes of destruction; the original speedway scene is all flame and fire and dismemberment and crushing and the second, even better sequence occurs towards the end of the film, when a shopping mall bursts into flames and starts to explode and fleeing shopppers are flattened and trampled and ripped to bits. Nice stuff. And once again our heroes think they've thwarted Death only to find that...well, the sudden ending is as inevitable as it's actually a bit too sudden this time around.

The 'Final Destination' films are what they are. They're ultimately about the ingenuity of the script-writers in coming up with new and more fanciful death scenarios and the FX bods in making those sequences as unpleasant as possible. The cast are as interchangeable a bunch of teens as you'll find in a modern movie or TV series - there's no context or background to the lives of these people, they just exist in their own vacuum, living lives we know and care nothing about just so we can see them ritually slaughtered. So 'The Final Destination' sticks rigidly to a format which is showing its age now; how many more times can they make the same film? Enjoyable as it is on a purely visceral level, and very definately in a 'guilty pleasure' sort of way, 'The Final Destination' ultimately seems like a bit of a last gasp in a series which has done pretty well for itself seeing as it's based purely on one simple idea, repeated over and over again. Unless the writers can come up with some new twist - maybe we can actually see Death next time? - I can't help thinking this should be the final 'Final Destination'.

Oh, and don't forget to take your 3D glasses off when you leave the theatre. I walked out blinking into the light and thought I'd had a stroke for a few seconds...

Movie reviews coming soon: Inglorious Basterds, District 9

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