Tag Archives: C

FINAL DESTINATION

Back in the halcyon days of black-and-white television, the
original “Twilight Zone” offered a script by Rod Serling titled
“And When the Sky Was Opened.” Based on a story by Richard
Matheson, it concerned three astronauts (Rod Taylor, Charles
Aidman and Jim Hutton) who returned to earth after their mission
had temporarily disappeared in space. In the course of
the show it became clear that their survival had been a
mistake in the fabric of destiny, and one by one they vanished
into oblivion, and the world’s recognition of their return
faded.

By “TZ” standards it wasn’t an outstanding episode, but “And
When the Sky Opened” is still preferable to the teen variant of
it assembled by “X-Files” veterans Glen Morgan and James Wong
in “Final Destination.” The premise–a pretty good one,
actually–is that when seven people, six students and a
teacher, depart a doomed airliner minutes before its departure
because of the horrifying premonition of a crash one of them
experiences, their escape of the calamity sets into motion the
force of fate, which systematically begins removing each of
them through some ghastly “accident.” The fashioners of the
piece thus achieve the goal of the modern generation of
slasher movies–arranging a succession of elaborate death
sequences for mostly young, and usually quite photogenic,
victims–without having to resort to the cliche of devising
some Freddy Kruger-like character to do the actual dirty work.

The problem that becomes apparent, as the movie unspools, is
that having once set up the premise, the makers have pretty
much shot their wad. The first twenty minutes of the flick,
in which nervous high-schooler Alex Browning (Devon Sawa) has
his precognition and runs screaming from the plane with his
six compatriots in pursuit, are nicely done, ominously building
a mood of dread that’s really quite effective (abetted by an
atmospheric if derivative score by Shirley Walker); and the
deaths which follow are cleverly choreographed, with two of
them having a kind of Rube Goldberg complexity and the third
the giddily shocking suddenness of the best moment of “Meet Joe
Black.” But as the explanatory mechanism of the plot kicks in,
things grow increasingly tiresome. We’re treated to a totally
extraneous explication of the “pattern of fate” our survivors
have abridged by a ghoulish undertaker (a cameo by Tony Todd,
recited in his resonant, sepulchral tones)–a scene that lapses
into dull self-parody. Underdeveloped secondary characters
(Kerr Smith as loudmouth bully Carter Horton, Seann William
Scott as geeky Billy Hitchcock) come to the fore, only to
become more and more irritating as their screen time expands. A
sequence with Alex in an isolated cabin, which promises to
develop into something akin to a riff on “The Evil Dead”
formula, simply fizzles. And then we’re forced to sit through
an elaborate finale in which the geography of affairs and the
precise nature of the threat are never made sufficiently clear,
as well as the obligatory epilogue-with-a-twist, which in the
present instance is very elaborate but more than a trifle
confusing.

In all of this one comes to miss the simplicity and economy of
the old “Twilight Zone” episode, which didn’t hesitate to close
on what was essentially a grim, downbeat note. Here, as so
frequently happens nowadays, the makers feel the necessity of
hedging their bets at the end so as not to be too bleak (and,
one might add, to leave room for a sequel if one seems
warranted). You also begin to worry about the condition of
poor Mr. Sawa, who has had to go through such strenuous paces
in last year’s “Idle Hands” and now this, that he seems to have
reached a point of absolute exhaustion. (It also can’t be
helpful to the lad’s leading-boy persona to be type-cast as a
sort of teenaged Bruce Campbell.)

But despite its failings, the picture does manage, especially
in its earlier stages, to be more stylish, inventive, and
(especially in its elaborate death sequences) imaginative than
most of the (admittedly wretched) examples of its genre. (For
this one must credit primrily Morgan and Wong, along with
cinematographer Robert McLachlan, who also worked with the
duo on the TV series “Millennium.”)

Still, it must be admitted that after its promising liftoff,
“Final Destination” loses altitude fairly quickly and
ultimately doesn’t get very far.

THE BEACH

If you combined “Lost Horizon” with “Lord of the Flies” and added
a bit of “The Blue Lagoon” and “Apocalypse Now” to the mix,
you’d have something akin to Danny Boyle’s adaptation of the
celebrated novel by Alex Garland. Not having read the book
myself, I can’t tell whether the picture is faithful to it or
whether it accurately reflects the original tone. What’s
clear is that as a movie “The Beach” is very handsome to look
at, with lots of cinematic style and pizzazz. But it’s equally
apparent that as a narrative the film is extremely silly and
disjointed. A viewer leaves the theatre filled with admiration
for the effort that must have gone into shooting it and for
the luscious texture cinematographer Darius Khondji has
contrived to bring to the screen, but also wondering why so
much effort was expended on such feeble material.

The plot centers on the search for paradise–in this case, an
attempt by a callow, shiftless young American (Leonardo
DiCaprio) bumming about in Bangkok to locate an island,
supposedly the most perfect, unspoiled beach in all the world,
to which he’s been given a map by a nutty Scotsman (Robert
Carlyle). Taking along a French couple he’s just met (Gauillaume
Canet and Virginie Ledoyen), he finds his way to the isle,
half of which is under the control of drug farmers and the
other the site of a hippie-like commune led by the autocratic
Sal (Tilda Swinton). The trio join the community, a bunch of
back-no-nature oddballs, and find contentment until various
forces intervene to destroy the locale’s pristine perfection.
One is that old demon of sexual attraction, which breaks up
old affections and creates new couplings; another is the
threat constantly posed by the drug-farmers, aiming to
protect their financial interests with rifles if necessary;
a third is the violence nature can suddenly bring, with its
intimations of mortality; and a fourth involves the arrival
of outsiders who threaten the stability of the community
and for whose coming the DiCaprio character is blamed. As a
result he’s ordered to see to it that the newcomers are
gotten rid of–an assignment which leads the protagonist to
live in isolation and eventually to “go native” in a fashion
familiar from Golding’s book and Coppola’s Vietnam epic.

From all this it’s apparent that “The Beach” wants to confront
Big Ideas like the conflict between nature and civilization,
the quest for perfection, the destructive impact of human
intervention and the thin line between culture and barbarism,
but it deals with these issues in such a goofy, scatterbrained
fashion that it becomes cartoonish rather than profound. The
island commune, for instance, seems like something out of a
sixties timewarp, and Swinton’s character, in particular, comes
across as unduly shrill. Similarly, the native wisdom of the
farmers, despite their criminal conduct, is a complete cliche.
The whole plot, in fact, strikes the viewer as simulanteously
juvenile and pretentious.

As for DiCaprio, he’s certainly boyish and enthusiastic in his
first starring role since “Titanic” (there was “The Man In the
Iron Mask,” of course, but that was filmed, I believe, before
Cameron’s epic), but though he glowers and struts about
confidently (especially when put into his “Lord of the Flies”-
“Apocalypse Now” mode), he still seems lightweight and
scrawny for the role, and the narration he’s forced to recite
through the picture is alternately flat and ponderously poetic.
The only other cast members who make much of an impression are
Swinton, who quickly becomes grating, and Robert Carlyle, who
chews up the scenery in a way he neglected to do in “The World
Is Not Enough.” Canet and Ledoyen, by contrast, are physically
attractive but dramatically inert.

“The Beach” represents something of a comeback for the
“Trainspotting” team of Boyle, producer Andrew Macdonald and
scripter John Hodge after their dismal last feature, “A Life
Less Ordinary.” But though very competently put together and
never boring, the picture is oddly hollow despite its glossy
surface. As a parable of Paradise (and Sanity) Lost, it’s
superficial and thematically muddled, and it can’t really be
recommended except for its considerable virtues as a travelogue.