Death. It’s the most final of words; even in the thesaurus it is synonymous with words like ‘finish’ or ‘exit.’ To death, there’s no beginning, middle and end. There are no more birthdays, no more promotions at work. And that’s what makes death so damn terrifying- the fact that it’s all unknown. The fact that there really is nothing to look forward to once the clock stops ticking.
I was in high school when Final Destination hit theaters. I didn’t even bother to go and see it; I figured it was another cookie-cutter example of a teen slasher flick. From the sound of it, I was certain it would be some guy dressed as father death slinging a scythe around. Boy, was I wrong. It was an original; not necessarily a masterpiece, but a breath of fresh air amidst masked killers and by the book adolescent cinema. Now, here we are, eleven years later and looking dead in the eyes of ‘Final Destination 5’, the latest installment in the franchise. While most of us had tuned out after the massacre that was 4, those who believed in the idea stuck it out- and, thanks to their perseverance, this one is coming out smelling like roses. Some are going so far as to argue that this film is going to be the best of the series; while others, at the very least, have bestowed best sequel honors on the film. Since I haven’t seen the film yet, I can’t pass judgement- but our very own Mr. Disgusting actually liked it. Knowing how much he loves the series (probably as much as I love Justin Bieber), this is quite the compliment; and certainly a reason for me to be there this weekend.
In honor of Final Destination 5 (review), I took a trip down memory lane with story elitist Jeffrey Reddick, producer Craig Perry, and the man himself, actor Tony Todd; after all, if it weren’t for Flight 180, this bridge over troubled water wouldn’t exist.
“In death there are no accidents, no coincidences, no mishap, and no escapes.” ~~Bludworth, Final Destination (2000)
“It was fresh and original,” recalled Perry, who has produced all five films in the franchise. “We were given the latitude to explore the ideas.” Perry went on about the original 14 page treatment he helped Reddick complete. “[The film] was the perfect synthesis of what New Line wanted. It was different. It was unique in how it treated its audience. It treated you with respect. And ultimately, it was a way for audiences to explore the things we can’t define, the things that frighten us… and get away with it.”
If the plot isn’t familiar by now, there’s a problem. I’m thinking something along the lines of a residence being under a rock. Basically a teenager has a vision that the plane he’s on explodes and everyone dies. He snaps out of it, realizes he’s ON that plane, and freaks out. After exchanging words with the class jock and causing a ruckus that results in him and a few classmates, as well as a teacher, deplaning, the plane actually does explode, killing those still on board. By saving himself and the others, he ruined Death’s plan, causing a ripple effect that forces Death himself to hunt them down one by one.
And that is the first film in a nutshell.
Director James Wong and writer Glen Morgan’s mark on the franchise began when they were pulled onto the original film. Taking what Reddick had pieced together, they changed it to fit their vision and ultimately ran with it. But it was Reddick who had the ‘ah-ha’ moment. “I was actually flying home to Kentucky and I read this story about a woman who was on vacation in Hawaii and her mom called her and said ‘Don’t take the flight tomorrow, I have a really bad feeling about it,’” said Reddick, who is formally credited for his story creation in both Final Destination and ‘Final Destination 2’. “She switched flights and the plane that she would have been on crashed. I thought, that’s creepy- what if she was supposed to die on that flight?” Originally an X-Files spec script, Reddick, with Perry’s guidance, transformed the script into Flight 180, the movie’s original working title. Though Reddick wrote the entire first draft, eventually Wong and Morgan stepped in, rewriting the script and taking charge.
A lot of things had changed from the first ideas on paper. Initially, the characters had been a group of adult strangers- however, with the wave of teen horror, the characters were changed to fit the times. But the high school seniors were the only common dominator in those films. The biggest difference? The killer wasn’t physical. There was no mask, no weapon- and that’s what made it different. “New Line was very nervous about having a movie with death as the killer,” said Reddick. “What Final Destination has going for it is that death is all around us. It’s not just someone chasing somebody with an axe.”
The nervousness eventually wore off. Though the film only made around $10 million its opening weekend (less than half the budget), it came back to gross over $112 million worldwide when it was all said and done. And it was certainly a big enough return to nudge New Line in the direction of a sequel, even though it wasn’t a necessity. “We could have made no other movies and the first one still would have been a satisfying experience,” said Perry.”But when we were given the opportunity to make a sequel, we jumped at it,”
“There’s gonna be a huge accident. Everybody’s gonna die!” ~~Kimberly, ‘Final Destination 2’ (2003)
Riding off of the success that the crash of Flight 180, er, I mean Final Destination, brought down with it, New Line again approached Reddick to piece together the second installment. “I wanted to expand on the mythology and not just tell the same story over again.”
The story came to him while driving. He saw one of those oversized, overstocked log trucks teetering along, and the highway to hell was conceived. Initially he had been thinking of a hotel fire- but it seemed too simplistic for what would become the franchise’s signature: an elaborate opening that puts other death sequences to shame. Follow it up with some kills to remember and that’s the apparent recipe for success.
“The kills were just great,” said Perry of ‘FD2’, who is fond of the window pane kill of poor little Timmy. “I find it wildly entertaining.” For many, that’s the appeal of these films- the kills aren’t gratuitous. They aren’t overdone, nor can they be classified as ‘over the top’ or to the extremity of ‘torture porn.’ They’re fast, they’re clean, and they get the job done. “The kills are the punctuation of the cinematic sentence that comprises the sequence,” added Perry.
In ‘Final Destination 2’, the log truck loses its load and those in the path of destruction meet a horrendous fate; several escaping when a young woman has ‘the vision’ while driving and causes a traffic-stopping distraction; literally. As in the first film, the pattern begins, each survivor dying in a ghastly way to fit Death’s plan- only this time the deaths were much more elaborate and the film’s tone hit all the right notes. From first glance, it seemed as if New Line had another hit on its hands- and a possible franchise in the making. After all, it’s one thing to make a sequel; it’s another to continue in the name of success.
“Death is fucking complicated.” ~~Erin, ‘Final Destination 3’ (2006)
Final Destination reached franchise level when director/writer duo Wong and Morgan returned for 2006’s ‘Final Destination 3’, a vanilla compound in comparison to the two previous films. This time a horrendous roller coaster accident claims the lives of its victims. Great start, but something that was more of an ‘engine that could’ shot at filmmaking as opposed to a new take on an old concept. The film itself was well made, but it just didn’t fall into place as well as fans had hoped. And don’t even get us started on The Final Destination- its success was measured by 3D ticket sales and not creativity. Audiences far and wide were disappointed in the outcome; and even the filmmakers agree that it wasn’t what they’d hoped it would be.
But redemption is well overdue and the crew behind ‘FD5’ is looking forward to that achievement this weekend when the film hits theaters on Friday.
“We started fresh and brought in a new group of creative people who actually questioned why things happened the way they happened,” said Perry, who feels this film is his favorite of the five. “They were dedicated to making this movie the best it could possibly be.”
Director Steven Quale teams up with Eric Heisserer, the scribe behind The Nightmare on Elm Street remake, for the latest installment. Though Quale may not be a household name, he comes from a strong background in the industry- most notably as Second Unit Director on both Titanic and Avatar, learning the ropes by way of James Cameron. Not a bad place to hail from. “Once the film opens he’s going to have at least ten offers on the table,” bragged Todd.
By way of trailers and whispers, the bridge seems to be the culprit this time around; death sending its victims into muddy waters as the catalyst. “‘FD5’ got the tone right,” said Perry. “It’s serious, but still has humor – gallows humor. It’s not campy but is aware of how potentially absurd the situation is. I think everyone involved saw ‘FD5’ as a chance to redeem ourselves, to say we’re sorry, to say that we figured it out, and to really put our best creative foot forward as opposed to relying on the financial success of ‘FD4’.”
“They took the time to come up with a great twist on this one,” said Todd. And he was right. It’s not the same old formula- now there’s a new rule. If you’re in line to die, and you kill someone, they take your place. Talk about a complicated morality check. “With each of the movies we’ve been trying to establish the perfect vision of what the franchise can be,” said Perry. “With ‘FD5’, we got it right,”
Collapsing bridges, murder or be murdered; the Final Destination franchise has certainly evolved from what was originally supposed to be, as Todd puts it, “… one of those jobs where I was one and done.” Hoping to build off of the potential success, future installments are in the works. While rumors have been circulating for months, Perry put it into the best of words; “We hope to have the right to talk about [another installment] come Monday. It’s up to the audience.”
Death as a Killer
“It wasn’t just some slasher movie,” recalled Reddick. “The whole idea that there is a pattern to death added another level that set the franchise apart.” Perry added, “We don’t have a visible bad guy. The bad guy in some ways is a metaphysical idea, a thesis. Is it fate? Is it destiny? Is it death itself? By not providing a concrete answer, you can bring your own background to the viewing experience. It’s really a reflection of what you believe.”
Horror fans, hell, movie fans, had grown accustomed to physically seeing the attacker. Jason. Michael Meyers. Freddy Krueger. And despite arguments that the Final Destination franchise is not horror, it’s a disagreeable fact; it’s a slasher flick without the slasher. There’s suspense, there’s blood, there’s the dumb girl or boy doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. It’s not what we’re used to, but that’s the beauty of it. And that’s what keeps audiences coming back for more.
Who knows if ‘FD5’ will be a success. Who knows if there will be another Final Destination sometime in the future. My guess is that audiences will flock to it to see what happens next; what’s changed, what’s new. They’ll buy some popcorn, sit back, and cringe as one by one, Death follows the pattern, distributing his plan. Maybe seeing or avoiding this film is a part of your plan; either way, death is ever present, and the Final Destination series stands by its motto; life is short, and then you die.
For more from Andrea, visit her blog, THE ALBIN WAY.