Final Destination Four Pack
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Final Destination Four Pack

Throughout the history of the human experience one aspect of the cosmic all remains a constant; the unsolvable mystery of death. The unknown nature of what lies beyond life makes it perfect fodder for stories that range from mystery through fantasy and, of course, horror. With death being so completely unknowable it is natural for us mere mortals try some ploy to attempt to get a handle on death. One way that has been highly effective almost as long as man has pondered what lies past this fragile mortal coil are to anthropomorphize death. Death has been personified in mythology as gods of the underworld in numerous cultures and there is a perennial favorite depicting death as a dark, cloaked figure complete with hood and scythe. There is one set of films that offers a slightly different view of the grim reaper; the ‘Final Destination’ franchise. what makes these films different from most that personify death is the fashion that death is presented; not as a human form but more in the abstract as a deterministic force that has a definite agenda and is able to influence or manipulate the physical world in order to achieve it’s dark goals. The films are highly formulaic but the fun, as it were. Lies in the bizarrely imaginative methods death employs to dispatch the young people who somehow managed to chest death by living past their appointed time. This is an example of a specific sub set of the genre and variation of the dark comedy variation of horror flick. Okay, people are getting killed right and left here and taking a human life is not humorous but the overly elaborate ways the writers come up with does qualify for inclusion in black comedy. The target audience here is the teenaged guy so there has to be an abundance of beautiful girls and a modicum of bloodshed. At least the four films in the franchise keep their tongues planted firmly in their cheeks avoiding the regrettable current fascination with the excesses of torture oriented horror flick. All four movies are available on a two disc set by New Line Cinema.

The original story and characters was created by ‘X-Files contributing writer Jeffrey Reddick. Assuming the scripting chores for the first film went to Eric Bress who also wrote for the ‘X-Files ‘related spin-off, ‘Millennium’ and the short lived attempted revival of ‘Bionic Woman’. For the second film he was joined by J. Mackye Gruber who would move on to the ABC Family Tween Sci-fi series, ‘Kyle XY’. In installment 3 Glen Morgan moved over from producer to writer. Winding up with the fourth movie called ‘The Final Destination’ features the return of Bress to the script credit. At least the writing was shared by a small group with nicely overlapping experience. The ‘X-Files connection becomes increasingly evident in the first two films but tapers off to a buried influence in the last two. Splitting the directorial duties was Glen Morgan and David Ellis; the later going on to ‘Snakes on a Plane’ while Morgan helmed Jet Li’s ‘The One’. One thing that works well in this franchise is fairly well constructed and for the most part internally consistent. In so many horror series that consistency is the first thing sacrificed.

The foundation for the mythos that will drive the entire franchise is laid down in the first film. A group of high school students including Alex Browning (Devon Sawa) and his friends are about to embark on their senior trip to Paris. Just before the plane takes off Alex has an extremely vivid vision where he watches in horror as the plane splits apart resulting in a fatal crash. Hysterical Alex become manic and is ejected off the plan with a small group of his classmates. Left behind they discover Alex’s premonition comes true killing everyone remaining on the flight. About a month later the survivors begin to die in strange ways ranging from a series of slips in the bathroom leading to strangulation to self impalement on a kitchen knife. Alex discovers that the deaths are following a pattern that coincides with the order they were sitting in the plane; they order they would have died had they remained onboard. This established the all important rule set that the rest of the films would follow. While not humanoid Death is sentient and has a predetermined order of things. Under this deterministic world view if you cheat death he will catch up with you and you will die. That death will be orchestrated by a cosmic ‘Rube Goldberg’ necessitating an inordinately elaborate way to accomplish a simple kill. If you avoid that fate death will move along to the next name on the list. This does examine in a somewhat macabre fashion one of the great philosophical debates in mankind’s history; the eternal battle between free will and determinism.

The second film occurs about a year after flight 180 where Kimberly Corman (A. J. Cook) has a similar premonition while on a road trip with her friends. In true sequel form the premonition displays an amped up scenario complete with explosions, immolations and decapitations. When Kimberly is reminded of Alex and flight 180 is afraid the same set of circumstances will repeat; of course her most terrible fears are realized. In this film they introduce a creepy mortician, William Bludworth (Tony Todd) who tells them a new life can offset things and fortunately there is a pregnant woman in the vicinity ready to go into labor.

By the time the third films rolled around the philosophical undertones have given way to seeing how elaborate the death scenes can be. At this point the films take on a certain self parody just slightly more restrained than a ‘Scream’ flick. In the third movie the action takes places six years after flight 180 centering around Wendy Christensen (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a high school senior and her friends, this time the premonition occurs at an amusement park initiated by a tragic mishap on a roller coaster careening off the tracks. The way they come up with to counter death’s plans is to have someone commit suicide dying out of order. The fourth installment, ‘The Final Destination’ is an attempt to reboot the franchise distancing it from flight 180. This one sets the premonition in a place where the initial death count; an automobile race. Cars smashing into each other ensure a rousing opening scene. Like many horror franchises this one experiences the diminishing returns effect but overall they are fun.

Posted 09/10/2010

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