Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Last Stop

While 2011 might not be a remarkable year for cinema in general, there are a few things that stand out as minor landmarks in the great picture. First and foremost, it will be the first full year in which Hello, Mr. Anderson has posted movie reviews for an entire calendar year, which is crazy since it feels like even longer ago that I instituted the thrice-weekly schedule I now adhere to. In reality that was only last September, but my experience with the medium has exploded a hundred times since then. I've seen a lot of firsts in the cinema and on rental, though few would be considered great achievements. For instance, Final Destination 5 is both the first in horror franchise that I have seen in the theater, and the first not only that I've experienced in 3D but the first in the series to be shot in RealD 3D, filmed in that particular aspect instead of being converted to appear 3D in post production. This is an important fact because just about every movie turned 3D after filming that is not an animated title has been criticized for lackluster visuals on top of their other foibles. Sure, not every problem stemmed from the 3D as a whole, but any title opting to take the post production shortcut to 3D has suffered to some extent because of it. RealD 3D, however, is different. First introduced with 2009's Avatar, RealD can be held responsible for the explosion of 3D in cinema today, and those using the same Avatar technology have soared higher than their poorer cousins, and mostly fared better at the box office. The predecessor to this particular title, The Final Destination, suffered the slings and arrows of critics for their use of lesser 3D in their film release. Despite the fact that it made enough bank to warrant yet another sequel, the filmmakers thankfully learned their lesson and took James Cameron's teachings to heart. Love or hate his latest films, Cameron has certainly made his biggest mark on the world of technology, and those films that use his RealD technology have an edge in sheer visual amazement.

That's right. Guess who's next?
While on a business retreat with the sales staff of the factory plant that is his employment, Sam (Nick D'Agostino) has a vision of the suspension bridge they are crossing collapsing, killing him and his friends and coworkers in particularly gruesome fashions. When he awakes from this dream, he convinces his girlfriend Molly (Emma Bell) and several others to get off the bus and escape the bridge, mere moments before his premonition comes true and a combination of bridge construction and high winds causes the bridge to be destroyed. At first it seems as if they are just lucky survivors, with their whole lives ahead of them. But Death doesn't like being cheated, and one by one the people who should have died on that bridge become victims of gory and sudden accidents that leave Sam and Molly searching for a way to avoid their seemingly inevitable demises.

Sure, it's a big budget movie, but going from :Law & Order to this just seems wrong
While at first it wouldn't seem that there was anything new to the Final Destination franchise than the manner of and complexity to character deaths, my first question is what else do you need? Yes, the story in Final Destination 5 is carbon copy similar to every one of every film in the series to date. With the exception of the previous entry, all the titles in the franchise had shown an amazing propensity for not only cleverly offing their cannon fodder, but doing so in a way that lays all the clues in front of you while still completely catching you off guard as to how someone will die. The Final Destination got lazy in that department, and in ways that was far worse than their lackluster 3D presentation. Final Destination 5 however is a true return to form, making every death feel earned and felt by the audience. Standouts include a balance beam act that will leave you cringing long before the death knell and laser eye surgery gone terribly wrong. The strength of these early moments sadly don't translate to the story's final act, but even these scenes are far better than any presented in the last film.

After 10 years, the victims in Final Destination films don't get any older.
The acting is also a step up from the mediocrity that populated the last feature film to share this franchise's name. Nick D'Agostino plays a much more balanced, deep, and sympathetic lead than we've seen from this series in some time, and the actor himself is not too shabby given this challenge. He might not be an everyday Hollywood star, but this role has the potential to carry his talents the way a similar part did for rising television star Ali Larter back in 2000. Emma Bell is less impressive, playing a morose and otherwise uninteresting romantic/horror lead with little to do or say that others couldn't do as well if not better. Miles Fisher has talent but it is mostly wasted as Sam's friend who ends up being more smarmy than charming and doesn't elicit sympathy from the audience when he cracks. Arlen Escarpeta plays the token black guy. That's practically all I have to say about him. Jacqueline MacInnes Wood looks like a Megan Fox wannabe but proves to carry much more talent than the Transformers hottie who thinks she's a real actress. Nice additions to the cast are Courtney B. Vance as a detective investigating the strange deaths, and David Koechner as Sam's insensitive and empty-headed boss. Both add their own elements to the film that might go unnoticed at first but really help the story move along. And Tony Todd returns as William Bludworth, the coroner who understands Death's plans. Todd is a hallmark of the series, and brings back an atmosphere and old-school scare to the franchise that hasn't been present since his presence in Final Destination 2.

Well, that's ONE way to guarantee a captive audience...
Since I made such a fuss over it earlier, I might as well mention it: the 3D effects for Final Destination 5 are leaps and bounds over the heads of most 3D films out there, especially over The Final Destination's unappetizing offerings. Being shot in 3D instead of getting converted after the fact really does make all the difference, as objects leaping off the screen feel far more natural and integrated than they would otherwise. That means that you actually forget that you're watching a 3D film until you're shocked back into reality, a better use of the technology than constantly trying to wow us with computer generated imagery. True, you don't NEED to see any movie in 3D, but here is an example where doing so is not to the detriment of the finished product.

Would that face lie?
I really enjoyed myself in seeing Final Destination 5. The finale especially is impressive and shocking enough to almost cause me to rank this much higher, but don't worry; it's not making its way onto any Top 10 lists in the near future. Is it a great movie? Oh goodness, no. Most non-horror fans won't like it, and the gore may be too much for your average adult, not to mention the four-year-old child you might have brought with you, thinking it a good idea (yes, I'm talking to you; you know who you are). But for those who loved the original eleven years ago, there's very little reason not to embrace this title. Suspenseful when it needs to be, funny when it wants, and never lacking for entertainment, you won't regret picking this title for an evening fix when you want some new-fashioned gore mixed with old-fashioned terror.

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