Blu-Ray Review: SAW 3D: THE FINAL CHAPTER Is A Walking, Screaming Gimmick Sprayed With Blood

I commented on my review of Paranormal Activity 2 last week that if that film's helmers weren't careful with the way they extend (and presumably over-extend) the franchise, they could expect it to go the same way as the Saw series. Sure, it makes a lot of money still thanks to its gimmick, but it isn't a film franchise really in the traditional sense. What we have instead is an episodic series (albeit with a few running story-lines) of gimmick-heavy flash-points: a reduction of the horror genre from the most emotionally affective genre to one fundamental element- the shock. In fact, the whole franchise has rabidly sought out shocks and repulse through its supposedly "ingenious" trap-devices to the detriment of every other filmic element of the movies- a trend that has only worsened as the movies kept rolling off the production line. I was willing to accept that this "Final Chapter", which is available to buy on Blu-ray and DVD now would at least slightly buck the trend and offer a more intelligently conceived (if not actually intelligent) grand finale that would not only sew the series up tightly, but also offer a creditable book-end mirroring the vast comparative superiority of the first outing. Read on to see whether I was as disappointed as I initially assumed I was going to be... If this is the last we see of the Saw franchise, I will be hugely shocked: I would wager that in the coming years we will see either a series of STV indirect sequels, a TV show or a series of prequels, because for this franchise more than most, the almighty dollar shouts a lot louder than the threat of any kind of loss of artistic integrity. That would be because from the moment the credits rolled on the first installment, integrity became as alien a concept to Saw as subtlety and finesse clearly are to this excessive and entirely unnecessary final chapter. This installment was always going to be the biggest problem for the series: from the moment that it was announced that the words "Saw" and "3D" were to converge- and it was only a matter of time- I was filled with dread. Don't get me wrong I had sat through each of the six predecessors (admittedly with increasing frustration), and I even found a few small redeeming points for V and VI, but the increasing trend of replacing every filmic nuance with more cynical and unrefined "shock and urgh" tactics was always going to accelerate considerably when combined with the influence of 3D. Because the unavoidable truth of the Saw franchise is that it has become nothing more than a gimmicky vehicle for gorey traps- the one element of the first film that survived it seems- which is reflected in the cover image choice for the US version of the blu-ray (no Jigsaw, merely a rusty trap). At the end of the day, this film is exactly what everyone feared would become the norm when 3D returned a couple of years back. In its first guise, 3D was about the novelty of things popping out of the screen to wow the audience, with entire sequences envisaged and executed to take advantage of the medium, rather than to tell a story. It was the first detrimental triumph of vehicle over art- the moment the canvas suddenly became more important than the painting- and I had thought so-called New Wave 3D films were readdressing that issue. But Saw 3D, or Saw: The Final Chapter is no more than a series of moments, designed only to take advantage of the base effect of some gorey trap or other jumping out of the screen at the audience. What is strangest of all in regard to this film is that it is both massively excessive and entirely inconsequential at the same time. This is not film making at all, it's turning the experience of the film into a fucking fair ground ride. Which is probably why the traditional filmic elements of the movie are almost impossible to review without just giving up and throwing them all onto the big pile in the corner marked "SHIT". The plot is all over the place, thanks to director Kevin Greutert attempting to shoe-horn in as many 3D shot opportunities as possible and the unfortunate decision to splice ideas from the originally intended twin features of Saws VII and VIII (scrapped when Saw VI suffered a relative flop at the box-office) has made everything that little bit more incoherent. And the "twist" at the end has been visible since the first film, niggling at the back of the mind, and the franchise has pretty much only ever been about manipulative and gorey trap scenes and the journey to this "revelation". It might be big, but it certainly isn't clever and there's no surprise here at all. The acting is about as good as can be expected when you're still having to pin your hopes on the "talents" on Costas Mandylor and the injection of new "talent" comes in the shape of Sean Patrick Flanery (brilliant in Boondock Saints but very little else) and Nu-Metal warbler Chester Bennington (okay, so he isn't exactly one of the stars, but his casting deserves a mention due to what it represents). But these people don't matter to the film any more than the audience do, they are passengers, billed second to the mechanisms of terror that are supposed to be the unique thing about this whole messy franchise. Finally, I have to reiterate my wish that this is the final time we see Jigsaw and his many traps, though since death didn't end him I doubt the decision to call the film The Final Chapter will have any more bearing on the appearance of new related movies than that particular F-word had on the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. It's been a bloated, sometimes unnecessary journey, and this needs to be the end.

Quality

It seems you can polish a turd. The Final Chapter looks great, but not by the same perimeters that I would generally rate other blu-ray releases because it has clearly been tinkered with so much after the cameras stopped that it doesn't meet the aims that all high definitions should aspire to reach (chief among them purity of image) because it doesn't really have those aspirations at all. Everything is either viewed through a coloured filter and unsaturated, or so "atmospheric" i.e. bloody dark, that all detail is robbed from certain scenes. I actually found myself wondering whether it was a conscious decision to tune the red filter in such a way that the copious amounts of blood actually appear brown and- let's face it- pretty much fecal. It does sound pretty good as well- the track, with all of its bombastic flare is impressively immersive and suits the purpose, adding to the theme park ride effect I spoke of above, but that isn't really something to celebrate as far as I'm concerned. But it is abundantly obvious that the sound team at least have a lot of talent.

Extras

Not as impressive as the package that is usually put together for a Saw blu-ray release, and I have to say it is extremely unlikely that I will ever revisit these particular features, unless as part of my own life or death Jigsaw dilemma trap. And even then it will be with distinct disgust that I will ever rewatch the "52 Ways To Die" mini-feature focused on the franchise's traps, which actually could replace the entire franchise lock stock and barrel, since when it boils down to it, that is all Saw was ever about after the mythology and technique of the first movie went out of the window when the men behind the camera recognised that the quickest way to a buck was changing approach and catering to the lowest common denominator. Two Commentaries- one with producers Mark Burg, Oren Koules and Peter Block, and the other with writers Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan. Deleted and Extended Scenes (13:46) Music Videos (20:48) 52 Ways to Die (14:15) Theatrical Trailer DVD Copy Digital Copy Lionsgate Live

Saw: The Final Chapter is available to buy on blu-ray and DVD now.
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