New on DVD/Blu-ray: Final Destination 5 (2011)

If it ain’t broke, don’t even think about fixing it, seems to be the accepted motto when it comes to horror franchises nowadays. And when it’s finally broke (the box office will help with this determination), only then can you justify fixing it. Until then? Don’t even think about touching the formula. The “Final Destination” franchise is not quite there yet, but let’s face it, it’s getting pretty darn close. Until then, the fifth installment in the never-say-die franchise arrives on DVD and Blu-ray from Warner Bros. on December 27, 2011.

DEATH HAS NEVER BEEN CLOSER? IN TERRIFYING 3D! In “Final Destination 5,” Death is just as omnipresent as ever, first revealing its menacing reality to a group of coworkers headed for a corporate retreat. During the bus ride, Sam (Nicholas D’Agosto) has a premonition in which he and most of his friends, as well as numerous others, die in a horrific bridge collapse. When his vision ends, events begin to mirror what he had seen, and he frantically ushers as many of his colleagues — including his friend, Peter (Miles Fisher), and girlfriend, Molly (Emma Bell) — away from the disaster before Death can claim them. But these unsuspecting souls were never supposed to survive and, in a terrifying race against time, the ill-fated group tries to discover a way to escape Death’s sinister agenda. No matter where you run, no matter where you hide…you can’t cheat death. Or can you?

Yes, you read the above correct. “Final Destination 5’s” fodder — er, I mean, characters — are not teens or college students. They are, in fact, young professionals in their ’20s who work at a paper company making, I guess, paper. That is quite a change from the previous four. Mind you, not that it makes that much of a difference to the film as a whole, but when a franchise makes such a dramatic change (well, in terms of horror conventions, anyway), it should at least be noted. (Ironically, although everyone in “Final Destination 5” are not supposed to be teens or college students, the actors are young enough that they could actually pass for either. Go figure.)

Like all “Final Destination” movies, the film introduces us to our future victims — er, I mean, cast of characters as they are preparing for a group activity. In this case, a company retreat with the boss (“The Office’s” David Koechner). Our hero this time around is one Sam (Nicholas D’Agosto), along with girlfriend Molly (Emma Bell), best friend Peter (Miles Fisher), and a half dozen or so other colorful types who won’t be hanging around long enough for you to care about their names. As with the heroes of every “Final Destination” movie, during the opening sequence’s trip, Sam gets a mysterious, totally unexplained premonition that a tragedy is about to befall them on a bridge. He freaks out (who wouldn’t?), and stalls their little tour bus. Everyone is angry at Sam, and rightfully so, until … yup, you guess it, the bridge collapses, thus sparing everyone’s lives.

Well, for now, anyway. Predictably, Death does not like to be cheated (that’s, like, the franchise’s tagline and everything), and begins coming for them in mysterious and, for our viewing pleasure, very gruesome ways. It’s up to Sam, Molly, Peter, and the others to outsmart Death and survive. Which, you know, is entirely possible. Just ask the survivors of the previous four movies. Wait, people did survive the previous four movies, right? Well, kinda. Part five, working from a script by Eric Heisserer, tries to mix things up a bit by introducing a new way to cheat Death, but frankly, if Death was that easy to trick, it wouldn’t be, you know, Death. Death and taxes, folks, death and taxes…

Directed by former James Cameron protege Steven Quale, “Final Destination 5” is everything you expected from a franchise entry. Nothing more, nothing less. In terms of characters, writing, and castmembers, part five is probably the weakest of the bunch. As you’ll recall, previous installments featured the likes of A.J. Cook, Ali Larter, Michael Landes, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Mykelti Williamson. Part five has that kid who used to be on “Heroes”, this girl who looks kinda familiar, and that guy who looks a lot like a young Tom Cruise. To make up for the lack of acting muscle, the filmmakers include Tony Todd, once again reprising his Coroner role from previous films, and “Law and Order’s” Courtney B. Vance, here playing a G-man who suspects foul play among the survivors. He’s not far off, as it turns out.

But the splatter is the name of the game, and I suspect that “Final Destination 5” delivers just enough to satisfy fans of the franchise. It doesn’t actually elevate the kills to any degree, and for the most part Quale and company seem more concern with pulling fast ones on the audience. The film seems to get its rocks off leading you to think a character is going to die a certain way, only to do them in in a most unexpected manner. This is actually a very novel approach, but it also, how do I put it, makes the kills less spectacular as a result. Although the first death is notable, the rest are a bit by-the-numbers, especially for a franchise that excels in setting up its victims to be killed in spectacular and gruesome ways.

Jacqueline Macinnes Wood in Final Destination 5 (2011) Movie Image

At the end of the day, though, it’s a “Final Destination” movie. You must know what you’re getting, so in that respect the film certainly delivers. The no-name cast is a bit disappointing, but hey, when your job is to stand there looking pretty and get slice and dice, I suppose there really is no point in hiring big name stars. Though props to David Koechner as the nutty boss and P.J. Byrne as the amusing office prick. Too bad Byrne gets his too early. I actually really like the guy. For a fat douche with absolutely no looks to brag about and a personality worthy of punching in the balls, the guy is pretty awesome.

The Blu-ray combo pack comes with two discs featuring the movie in standard DVD and Blu-ray, as well as streaming options through Ultraviolet, and a digital copy. Bonus features include a “Final Destination 5: Circle of Death” featurette (about 5 minutes) that talks about how part five connects to the franchise’s first movie (SPOILERS!). There’s also a rather pointless 15-minute Alternate Death Scenes featurette that is actually just whole chunks of the movie replayed over, except two of the characters die a different way this time (actually just about 10 seconds or so of actual new/alternate footage). Don’t ask me why they didn’t just skip to the alternate death scenes instead of making us sit through most of the film again. Padding, I guess.

For you special effects fans out there, there are two great bonus featurettes that give you a great look at how they did the film’s two main disaster sequences, the opening bridge collapse and a plane sequence later on. The lengthy bridge sequence runs over 9 minutes (the airplane sequence is just over 3 minutes), and features a side-by-side comparison (or, actually, top-and-bottom) of the sequences as it appears in the finished movie and the untouched sequence minus the special effects and finished green screen work added in later. This is very cool. It always amazes me how much of films are CGI and how much are practical effects nowadays. Hint: there is more CGI in a given movie than you might think.

Buy “Final Destination 5” on DVD or Blu-ray from Warner Bros. on December 27, 2011.

Final Destination 5 (2011) Movie Blu-ray Cover