July 27, 2015 Final Destination Cheats Death for 15 Years
“In death there are no accidents, no coincidences, no mishaps, and no escapes.” states the character of creepy mortician William Bludworth (Tony Todd: Night of the Living Dead 1990, Candyman 1992) from 2000’s Horror Thriller Final Destination. Explicitly terrifying, death has been a central character in film across the genre spectrum, none more so than Horror. However, Death has always either been in human, spirit, or demonic form…until New Line Cinema’s releases of the aforementioned Final Destination on March 17, 2000. Co-written and directed by James Wong (The Boy Next Door 1985, Willard 2003) and produced by Glen Morgan (Space: Above and Beyond series 1995-1995, Final Destination 3 2006) from a script by Wong, Morgan, and Jeffrey Reddick (The Final Destination series 2000-2011, Tamara 2005), Final Destination came on to the Horror scene as what was expected to be another teenager driven film, but fifteen years later has proven to be something more.
Soon after, the survivors begin dying mysteriously and in almost impossible ways, and it’s up to Alex to find out how to defeat Death’s design, convince the others and elude agents Weine (Daniel Roebuck: Money Talk 1997, Bubba Ho Tep 2002) and Schreck (Roger Guenveur Smith: Do the Right Thing 1989, American Gangster 2007), before it is his time.
Alex Browning (Devon Sawa: Little Giants 1994, Final Destination 5 2011), his best friend, Tod Waggner (Chad E. Donella: Disturbing Behavior 1998, Saw 3D 2010), stuck up, preppy jock, Carter Horton (Kerr Smith: Cruel Intentions 3 2004, My Bloody Valentine 2009), Carter’s more grounded girlfriend, Terry Chaney (Amanda Detmer: Final Destination 2 2003, Final Destination 5 2011), nerdy, gullible Billy Hitchcock (Seann William Scott: The American Pie series, Goon 2011), and teacher, Valerie Lewton (Kristen Cloke: The Final Destination 2009, Final Destination 5 2011) are with their class going on their Senior trip to Paris when Alex inadvertently causes a fight after a premonition that gets them kicked off. Recluse Clear Rivers (Ali Larter: Varsity Blues 1999, House on Haunted Hill 1999) sneaks off with the others in the melee. As Alex and Carter fight in the terminal and Terry, Tod, and Ms. Lewton break them up, Billy forlornly watches the flight take off without them until the plane silently blows up, and the shock wave blows in the window.
On the same note, with Death not humanized, production designer John Willet had to make the sets a little off kilter for that unsettling feel, perhaps, darkening a set a tad as death came or as misdirection, doubling up on sets for before and after a death while sound stages and miniatures were used for the planes, which does not detract from the sense of realism with the budding caliber of talent, tight close-ups and, mid-range. Given that Death is not bound by human constraints, the deaths are largely over the top and unsuspenseful; yet, the viewer feels compelled to see them through, because the deaths are paced so to make the viewer think Death is calculating, and pick up when the act is going to occur until said death’s finished. Finally, Morgan and Wong tapped Shirley Walker, who the duo worked with on the Space: Above and Beyond TV series, to compose a low-key, but visceral soundtrack.
Final Destination originally was a Riddick idea to get on The X-Files TV series contrary to rumors it was based on the Flight TWA 800 tragedy that happened two years later, but was noticed by a New Line Cinema friend who suggested it be expanded before The X-Files executives saw it. After New Line Cinema bought the treatment, Riddick teamed with Wong and Morgan with the brilliant idea of making Death unseen while giving Death the theme song of John Denver’s (who died in a plane crash) “Rocky Mountain High” prior to a death. The number 180 was a running theme (the plane number, clocks reading inexplicably) throughout. Subtlety was a factor for casting directors looking for actors with the ability to act reactionary like watching Alex piece together Death’s design and how to defeat it or any of the other characters’ reactions to Alex’s abilities and realization they are next. Getting the actors and actresses to emote this way was possible since the main cast already cut their teeth in either major films or TV series. However, with established cast members, came their other projects, so shooting locales like Long Island, Vancouver Island, Victoria, BC, Toronto, and San Francisco, had to be juggled and used to accommodate, thus giving varied settings of closed in and spread out spaces.
With Death an unseen character, the running numerical and musical themes, the particular casting, shooting locales, and creative sets and score, Final Destination made $112.8 mill on a $23 mill budget…not bad for a film originally written off as just another teenage Horror flick. Audiences realized there are deeper ramifications to messing up Death’s design, earning Final Destination awards for Saturn Award for Best Horror Film in 2000, Saturn Award for Best Performance by a younger actor (Sawa), and Young Hollywood Award for a Breakthrough Performance by a female (Larter) with many nominations throughout the 2000 and 2001 award seasons. Final Destination placed No. 46 in Bravo’s 100 Greatest Scary Moments, with the Flight 180 explosion scene making Break Studios, Unreality Magazine, New Movies.net, The Jetpacker, MaximOnline, and Filmsite.org’s Best Fictional Plane Crashes or Disaster Scenes lists as well as a plethora of Horror lists throughout the years. With these accolades, Final Destination spawned a franchise of four sequels and a prequel, making future Death-featured films hard pressed to repeat Final Destination’s success, and to prove Death cannot be cheated.