Or coherent rules.
With a rented DVD of ‘Final Destination 4: The Final Destination’ sitting here by my computer, ready to be watched, I got to thinking about something that’s puzzled me for a while – no, not the way everyone but the Saw franchise seem obsessed with dropping the numbers from their titles – that’s a conversation for another time.
What I want to discuss today is just what a loose relationship the entire franchise has made with ‘making sense’. It seems like a simple enough premise to execute: There’s a visually compelling disaster in which teens are killed, which turns out to be a dream of one of the teens, which motives him/her to avoid that fate. Everyone else dies, and then the Ghost of Murder – who is pissed off at having been thwarted (And I would have gotten away with it too, if it hadn’t been for that meddling dream!) hunts down the survivors and kills them in an even more brutal fashion than they would have died the first time around.
Yet each film has managed to, in one way or another, botch this simple formula. Huh.
But hey, why am I talking about this in the abstract for, when I could be exhaustively detailing examples of what I mean – which is kind of the entire point of this blog, come to think of it.
So let’s start with Final Destination.
Alex (Devon Sawa, who’s famous for… uh… having been in this film, I suppose) is headed, with a large portion of his high-school senior class, to France for a field trip. He’s understandably nervous about flying, especially after seeing the remains of dead birds all over the front of the plane-
It was clearer on the big screen, trust me. He’s also set on edge when he hears ‘Rocky Mountain High’ playing on the speakers in the Airport bathroom – which, in case you were wondering, is the absolute high point of humour that the series reaches.
When he gets onto the plane Alex sits in his seat and has a vision in which he changes seats to be next to his creepy buddy, and then gets a sense of how soddy the plane is when the knob falls off his tray.
Also clueing us in to the plane’s shoddiness? The fact that it explodes moments after takeoff.
Alright, here are the key things you needed to notice about that sequence – Alex and Tod are sitting next to each other – as are blonde girl and Gay Jack from Dawson’s Creek. And the teacher (reaching for the falling girl) is alive when the explosion comes – from the front.
Okay, so all of those people, and Stifler, get off the plane, which then proves to be fueled by some kind of an antimatter reaction, so that when it explodes half a kilometer away, this happens:
The sound of the explosion is oddly muted for something that was strong enough to break windows. I know I’m drifting off-point here, but this bugged me the first time I saw the movie nearly a decade ago.
So, moving right along, The Ghost of Murder gets pissed about Alex’s vision, and comes back to kill Tod in a surprisingly tame fashion. It’s in this scene that the Ghost of Murder reveals himself not just to love Rube Goldbergian murder scenarios, but also to possess specific weird powers to undo natural forces when it will help a murder along, or make it especially brutal, either physically or emotionally.
In Tod’s case, The Ghost of Murder pulls an especially dick move – first he breaks the valve on the back of a toilet so that water will spill out, causing Tod to slip and get strangled by a laundry line that his mother had left in the shower.
Why is it such a dick move? Check this out-
Yeah, you saw that. The Ghost of Murder sucked the water up just so that everyone would think that Tod killed himself. What a dick.
The next murder is the most important, which is odd, because it happens to the least important character, but it’s vital for understanding the past decade of film and television.
Alex and Clear – who for the entire film I thought was named ‘Claire’, because Clear isn’t a name, and they’re homonyms (confusing me further – she would go on to play Claire Redfield in RE3) – are having lunch at a café and discussing his theory that you can see clues all around you whenever the Ghost of Murder is going to work. Then Gay Jack and his girlfriend show up, because Gay Jack wants to pick yet another fight with Alex over… um… Alex having saved his life, I guess. And then this happens.
Where have you seen that before, right? Every television show and movie since. It’s like all of Hollywood saw Final Destination and, in unison, slapped their foreheads and went ‘seriously? We can have people hit by cars mid-sentence without needing cutaways or stuntmen? Sweet!’
So if you’re as sick of thinking that someone’s going to get hit by a car every time they step out into the street in a movie as I am, you have Final Destination to thank.
There’s another notable bit in that sequence, though – and it has to do with laziness on the part of the filmmakers, and their aforementioned (in the title of this article!) problems with continuity. You see, not to spoil the effect or anything, but there was no bus at the shoot that day. It was put in later. Which actually allows us to raise a pretty big question – where did the bus come from? It was tearing along at something like 30, blasting through that intersection straight, in no way turning.
But in this shot from just before Blonde gets splattered we can see that the street that the bus must have driven down is entirely blocked by a piece of heavy machinery-
Continuity error, or the Ghost of Murder, hard at work? Obviously the answer is continuity error.
After having a conversation with Tony Todd, who, being an undertaker, knows more about the Ghost of Murder than normal people, Alex comes up with a theory, one that will become the key rule of the series, and lead to all sorts of problems down the line.
Viewing this graphic-
Leads Alex to sketch out where everyone was sitting, to try and figure the order they would have died in when the plane’s electrical system went nuts.
His revelation? That the Ghost of Murder is killing people in the order they would have died in originally!
Except Alex was sitting next to Tod – and we didn’t see anything killing Tod – and the original graphic even shows the hypothetical explosion happening under Alex’s seat, not Tod's. Also Gay Jack was sitting next to blonde, but somehow he’s not next on the death list, rather the teacher must die.
And die she does, in a sequence that’s famous for being closer to a Three Stooges short than a segment from an actual horror movie. Seriously – she lying on the ground, bleeding, and tries to grab a towel to staunch the flow. Which causes a butcher’s block full of knives to plummet into her chest. And then they’re knocked deeper by a falling chair.
Anyhoo, with her out of the way, it’s time to introduce the other key element of the Ghost of Murder’s rules – if you see the signs and save someone’s life (or your own), the Ghost of Murder has to skip you and go to the next person on the list. Gay Jack, in a fit on ennui, parks his car on a set of train tracks, and then, in a confusingly-edited scene, Alex pulls him out of it just in time to keep him from being splattered along with the classic car.
Going back to his list, Alex figures that he must be next, since he remembers the fireball burning his face off, and since Claire was sitting behind him, she would be last.
Alex hides out in a cabin and tries to death-proof it, but then realizes that he’s not next at all, but rather Clear is on the chopping block. What’s his justification for this?
Okay, remember how I said that Alex switched seats? It was so that two hot girls could sit together at the back of the plane. Looking at their pictures in the paper he gets a Eureka! moment, and announces that since he never got around to switching places with the two of them, that means he would have been in back of the plane, and the last to die!
Um… no. No, that’s not how it works, Alex. And by ‘Alex’, I mean ‘film’. The entire premise of your ‘order of death’ has been based on not on what Alex did or didn’t do, but what Alex WOULD HAVE DONE in the original timeline. His freakout doesn’t affect the order of death, it just draws the ire of the Ghost of Murder.
So the fact that he didn’t offically trade seats before his freak-out doesn’t change the fact that he would have, and his place on the Ghost of Murder’s hit list should remain unchanged.
But it’s not.
Which leads to the denoument, with Clear almost being electrocuted, and Alex saving her by grabbing a power cable and then being thrown away from it by an explosion. Alex mistakenly believes that this is the Ghost of Murder’s attempt to kill him, meaning that the whole thing is over!
Unless, of course, the Ghost of Murder just starts again at the top of list. And why wouldn’t he, really? I mean, do they really imagine there’s some rule where if you cheat death two times the Ghost of Murder will just give up? I mean, I know he’s a busy guy, what with 60% of the world’s major industries being propped up by murder and all, but he’s not so busy that he can’t finally get around to taking his shot at Alex, because, no, the electrical cable didn’t count.
Alex is saved by Gay Jack at the last moment before a swinging sign hits him, a heroic act that turns bad very quickly-
Oh, Gay Jack, we hardly knew ye.
You know, the look of realization on his face at that moment is pretty much my favorite thing about the entire film. It’s just too bad his last line is so unbelievably stupid. Oh well.
That brings Final Destination to a close. Please join us next time when I look at how these rules were expanded on in the sequel, the unpredictably-titled ‘Final Destination 2’.
Fun fact about Final Destination: The script began development as an episode of X-Files, which writers Glen Morgan and James Wong were running at the time. This explains the appearance in the film of two curious FBI agents who have so little impact on the plot that I managed to leave them entirely out of this exhaustively-detailed review.
Morbid fact about Final Destination: The idea of a high school French class being killed in a plane crash was inspired by the actual 1996 crash of TWA Flight 800, in which an actual high school French class, along with hundreds of others, were killed by a surface-to-air missile.
So yeah, they didn’t change anything but the cause of the crash in their morbid exploitation of the tragedy. Thanks, Morgan and Wong.