That persistent, inevitable curmudgeon, Death, is at it again. And once he sets his sites on you, he's not giving up until you've gasped your final breath.
Death's inevitable conquest is the setup for New Line's long-running horror franchise Final Destination. Each movie starts off with a premonition in which a character witnesses atrocities shortly before they occur. Part one was a plane crash, two was a massive car accident, and three was a deadly roller-coaster ride.
For the fourth time out, New Line and new parent company Warner Bros. have decided to shake things up a bit. The biggest addition is the use of Vince Pace's PACE 3-D system, the very same technology being employed by James Cameron on Avatar.
Final Destination 4, currently set for an August 2009 release, will actually beat Avatar to screens by a few months. The grizzly horror flick will hold the distinction of being the first release shot entirely on the PACE cameras.
ReelzChannel was invited to the New Orleans set of the production earlier this year, during filming for one of the sequel's massive set pieces where an accidental explosion at a construction site blows up a movie theater and sends dangerous objects at the theater's unsuspecting patrons.
In addition to the 3-D, the other big change for the fourth movie is that Nick, played by Bobby Campo, has multiple premonitions. While the characters with the premonitions in the first three movies were left to fend for themselves, after the initial warning, Nick has the
ability to see beforehand Death's future attacks. If I were a friend of Nick's, I think I'd stick by him pretty closely.
Our tour guide for the day on set was producer Craig Perry. The Final Destination series is Perry's baby and, like a kid in a candy store, the producer was all-too-thrilled to tell us about the big production.
"We lucked out in the first one by coming up with an interesting fulcrum that you can balance a lot of things on," says Perry. "That, married with the prospect of doing it in 3-D, facilitated us coming up with a bunch of scenarios that were fresh, original, and yet familiar."
Perry and Co. have bitten off a big challenge for the fourth Destination movie. While the other releases were smaller-budget affairs under $30 million, FD4 is at least twice that, although Perry is careful not to reveal the budget's particulars.
Instead, Perry is excited to be leading the 3-D charge. At a time where studios are trying to figure out new ways to get people into theaters, and being faced with obstacles such as movie downloading and home video improvements, the PACE system offers movie fans an experience that can only be had in theaters.
"Everything that we've been doing here -- the planning, executing, and capturing -- will become a textbook for how to make 3-D pratical on set for feature movies on location. We're the first movie where it
will actually work. We're on time, on schedule. We got lucky and we've got a great crew."
FD4 Director David Ellis, who also helmed FD2, says the 3-D aspect was what really made him want to return to the series. "To be a director that's riding the wave on the 3-D technology -- there's great directors like Cameron on the forefront of this technology -- and to be a part of that is awesome."
Ellis is a former stunt man and second unit director. His first effort as a first unit director, 1996's Homeward Bound II, left the director pigeonholed as a guy who could only do movies about talking animals.
So Ellis turned to second unit work such as the amazing freeway chase from Matrix Reloaded in order to prove his abilities
outside of talking critters. "It was off of directing second units on Perfect Storm and Harry Potter and Matrix and stuff that I started to get some notice as a first unit director," says Ellis. "So [New Line] gave me a shot with Final Destination 2, which lead to other good opportunities." Since FD2, Ellis directed Cellular and Snakes on a Plane.
Ellis set the bar very high on FD2's opening crash sequence, which still ranks as a favorite for many fans of the series. Ellis says he is excited to return to the series and challenge himself to live up to
the high standards the second movie set.
Cars will be the focus of the opening once again, this time on the track instead of the highway. During a Formula One-style car race, a brutal crash sends wreckage flying into the stands and at fans.
"We're living the dream. We're making movies in Hollywood and getting paid for it, blowing people up, and killing them. It's all good."
Before standing by for FD4's big third-act set piece in the movie theater, Perry took us into a trailer where the crew had prepped a small screening room. He and Ellis had put together a short reel of footage in full 3-D.
Watching the clip reel, which focuses primarily on the opening car crash, it was clear that this is a whole new brand of 3-D. While past 3-D implementations often seemed apparent only when objects were flying at the
screen, Pace's system brings you into the third dimension for even the most rudimentary moments. As the characters sit at a table discussing what has happened, you feel as though you are sitting right at the table with them. Of
course, the objects flying at the screen are cool too, but the most-impressive aspect of this new system is its ability to pull you into the world regardless of the scenario.
"Most of what we want to express is depth and that sense that there's a world behind the screen that you can really find yourself immersed in," says Perry. "You become completely enamored within the 3-D experience without being reminded at every turn that, 'Oh, I'm in a 3-D movie.'"
Without question, the most-memorable scene from each of the Final Destination movies has been the opening premonition sequence. For the fourth film, bolstered by the larger budget for 3-D, there are multiple
scenes that live up to the opening.
"We've always had a problem with these movies where you open big and then close on a more quiet, contemplative note," says Perry.
"So we've taken great pains to make a parody between that opening set piece, which is balls-out cool, and the set piece that is at the movie theater. I think that we've matched it [and] done a good job at making the bookends work."
We were able to witness some of the theater scene on the set firsthand, although we weren't told the specifics of the scene or who dies and how. Donning ear plugs for a few takes of the construction site explosion behind the scene, we were treated to some true movie magic as dust covered the set and fire burst out of the screen, a whole other kind of theatrical 3-D.
Wrapping up the day on set, Perry promised that FD4 will deliver the spirited guilty fun of the series with the additional bonus of 3-D.
And for those who may feel a bit morbid rooting for Death, Perry says that there are some sacrificial lambs you won't feel so bad for.
"Look, everyone's rooting for Death," says Perry with a chuckle. "So we decided to embrace that. The first set piece after the opening crash is somebody that you can't wait to die. It's a really crowd-pleasing moment."
"Now that you've put your hat into the ring of Death, every subsequent set piece makes you feel more and more guilty for rooting for him. By the end, you're so sympathetic to our lead characters, you're feeling guilty for having rooted for Death in the beginning of the second act."