"Final Destination"

Audiences wanted to see more death: How a horror flick was turned from a potential failure into "the perfect souffli."

Published October 12, 2000 7:00PM (EDT)

"Final Destination"
Directed by James Wong
Starring Devon Sawa, Ali Larter, Kerr Smith
New Line Home Video; widescreen (1.85:1)
Extras: Cast and crew commentaries, making-of documentary, featurette, trailer, games

"Final Destination" is a teen horror pic that didn't get much attention in theaters from most people over age 15. The DVD, however, merits scrutiny for an unusual reason: It is one of the first discs to emerge that not only explains in detail how the movie was originally screwed up by its makers but also how the film was ultimately salvaged through that most craven of studio processes, the test screening.

"Let's give the audience what they want," declares Robert Shaye, chairman of New Line Cinema, in an accompanying documentary, unashamedly titled "The Perfect Souffli" (the connotation being that movies can rise to the top if they just contain exact amounts of the right ingredients). In the case of "Final Destination," the test screenings revealed that the filmmakers had misstepped in several key areas: They had included a love story, they had killed off the hero and they had devised a deliberately ambiguous ending. Uh-oh. Sounds a bit too much like a serious film.

"We know what works," says director James Wong. "What works is the death scenes."

Indeed, the killings are the best parts of the movie. There are no hockey masks or chain saws here. "Final Destination" concerns itself with a group of high school students who, thanks to some timely ESP, cheat death by disembarking from an aircraft fated to explode shortly after takeoff. Death is not amused. The Grim One proceeds to tidy things up by visiting truly horrific finales on the errant teens -- that is, until they figure out what's going on and attempt to beat the reaper at his own game. "American Pie," this isn't.

The filmmakers are apparently so confident in their work that they not only have detailed the test-screening process for DVD viewers but also have included the flawed scenes and ending that turned off audiences at first. This, of course, is essentially the same as an author publishing his first draft alongside the final novel, just so readers can appreciate how much work went into getting things right. Not surprisingly, the final version of "Final Destination" works much better than the original, more ambitious approach. "We went for something a little deeper, and [audiences] just wanted to see more death," notes one of the producers.

They got what they wanted. It cost the studio about $2 million to film an alternative ending, in which, for one thing, the hero survives and, for another, a different character gets pasted in a really grisly manner. The documentary shows test audiences screaming with delight when the final killing takes place. DVD viewers, the studio no doubt believes, will appreciate the extra effort too.

By David Lazarus

David Lazarus covers business and technology for the San Francisco Chronicle.

MORE FROM David Lazarus

Related Topics ------------------------------------------