Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Friday the 13th: The Final Blog

Judging by the historic box office plummet of the Friday the 13th reboot (just a week after it's historic box office debut), it looks like America has already moved past Jason until the inevitable next installment of his exploits. For myself, I'm still lingering around Crystal Lake for a last look. After watching the entire series again for my Crystal Lake Countdown and after all the excitement and build-up for the new movie, it's hard for me to move on from the world of Friday the 13th. Having watched the reboot a second time now, my feelings are still on par with my initial viewing. If nothing else, this feels like a real Friday the 13th film more than Jason X, Jason Goes To Hell, or Jason Takes Manhattan did and that counts as a step in the right direction to me.

Clearly plenty of people were disappointed by Platinum Dunes' take on the franchise, though, but I'm not entirely sure how PD should've brought Jason back to the screen differently. I understand the complaints about the kills not being up to the series' standards (although I don't quite agree - I thought Friday '09 was ok in that regard) and I understand how older fans might've felt burned by a film that was more interested in going after a new audience rather than respecting the original fanbase. But I continue to be dumbfounded by the criticisms that the characters weren't interesting or sympathetic, that the plot was horrible, or that the film lacked suspense. Directed towards a Friday the 13th film, I find those complaints to be laughable. They're all totally true, of course, but they've been true of all the Fridays (save for arguably the first two) so how is it suddenly cause for concern? Reviewing 1984's Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter for Cinefantastique (Vol. 14, No. 4), CFQ critic Steve Dimeo wrote "this installment, like the others, wouldn't be caught dead probing anything as meaningful as character in its story of six sex-starved teens who visit Crystal Lake."

Dimeo's dismissive review of twenty-five years ago might just as well be directed towards the new Friday with comments like "this...installment assaults the senses as it's supposed to - but it ultimately just insults the viewer's sensibilities. Quite frankly, today's teenagers deserve better." That was true in 1984 and it's true today. But these films have always needed to be graded on a curve. Should the new film have striven to improve on the previous installments? Well, I guess so. But I think expecting that of the twelfth Friday the 13th is bound to lead to disappointment. Although to be honest, I do think that's what Platinum Dunes was trying to do in some respects in regards to keeping Jason more grounded in reality and in giving Jared Padalecki's character a more altruistic reason to be at Crystal Lake other than just getting stoned and laid.

Should Friday '09 have modeled itself after the original film more? Maybe. But in the minds of most people, that first film isn't what Friday the 13th is about anymore. It's not just that people expect to see Jason in action rather than his mother, it's that they expect a much rowdier film than the original. Even by the time Part 2 was made back in '81 it was already impossible to make another Friday paced like the first film was (already they were including more characters, more potential victims) and the series has only gotten farther away from the slow burn of Cunningham's original since then so I can't fault Platinum Dunes too much for taking the approach they did.

One problem with rebooting the franchise is that the legend of Jason makes no sense but yet that's what anyone who wants to make a Friday the 13th film is stuck with. In the old movies, it was all just glossed over and no one gave it much thought but Jason's story needs a little work. You have to have the tragedy of his drowning so that his mother develops a vendetta against the teens of Crystal Lake. But yet is Jason supposed to be at the bottom of the lake all this time? Or is he supposed to have survived his drowning and been living in the woods? I'm guessing the later is what we're supposed to believe but wouldn't his mother have found Jason during this time? If his body wasn't recovered in the lake, a search of the surrounding woods would've been in order - especially with a mother as devoted as Mrs. Voorhees.

My thought would've been to have Jason drown, but no body be found. Have Mrs. Voorhees raise a riot with the camp owners and town officials about the negligence of the counselors but the matter is brushed aside. After all, what's the life of a mongoloid compared to that of the promising futures of clean cut, All-American kids? And why's a kid with a giant head trying to swim anyhow? The lack of any concern for Jason or his memory causes Mrs. Voorhees to lose it. She kills the kids responsible and is apprehended and put in a mental institution before any further harm is done. During that time, "Camp Blood" is shut down and stories circulate about the story of Jason, how his body was never recovered from the lake and that some say he still survives in the woods, waiting for his mother to find him. Years later, as the camp is due to be reopened, Mrs. Voorhees escapes, makes her way back to Crystal Lake and slaughters as many counselors as she can before one chops her head off (perhaps the last counselor gets that famous killing blow in because Mrs. Voorhees is distracted by the unexpected sight of Jason silently emerging from the woods). Jason sees his mother's death and that night his mission of vengeance is born.

Maybe that would've worked or maybe it would've sucked ass but fans can speculate endlessly about what they would do if someone handed them the keys to the franchise. For good or bad, it's never the fans who call the shots. The best you can hope for with these movies is that they come within shouting distance of your expectations and give fans a modicum of respect. I felt the new film dropped the ball in some ways (among other things, I wish that the series would bring the camp counselor angle back - how long has it been since a Friday has actually been about Camp Crystal Lake?) and succeeded in others (Jason is a movie monster to be reckoned with again, rather than just a relic from the '80s).

One thing's for certain - Jason will be back before long. If this latest entry was a disappointment to some, it's far from the first time that's been the case. But as I've found from revisiting the series, even the Fridays that were once met with derision have their own appeal and their own admirers.

Maybe time does heal all wounds - even when they're inflicted with a machete.


Wings1295 said...

Great post, man! SO on par with my own thoughts on the remake and the series.

One thing: If you ever get your hands on the novelization of "Friday the 13th Part II", you can see that the author DID explain (at least here) the discrepancy between Jason living after drowning.

Basically, due to his odd physiology, Jason drowns but his body revives itself and he wakes "sometime later" when everyone is gone from the camp, including his mother.

So, he lives on his own, always waiting for her return. And when she finally DOES return, she isn't the same woman he remembers, killing all these people.

Her shocking death does finally snap the last twig of his mind, and he vows to keep on her mission to "make them all pay".

It is interesting AND the most plausible working of the character's origin with Parts 1 & 2.

Let me know if you want a transcript of it.

And yeah, this new movie will find it's fans and it's place in the "F13" saga. No worries there!

Penh said...

You should have written the screenplay for the reboot. You handled the backstory much better than they did with their awkward prologue.

I agree that complaints about plot and character are pretty pointless given the nature of the previous movies, but I think they're also just wrong. When the basic thrust of your movie is "teenagers go into the woods and get killed," there's not a whole lot to work with. All you need is some relatively plausible reason for them to be there. Once they're in place, don't have them act like complete idiots just to make it easier for Jason to hack them up, and you're all good. On both counts, the new Ft13 did fine. As far as the characters go, the actors all did a good job of being likeable, or at least tolerable, until their death scenes. I admit, they weren't a memorable ensemble of quirky individuals so engaging you wished they each could have their own movie. I guess if you thought Robert Altman was directing you could be excused for expecting that, but otherwise, what are you complaining about?

My only real problem with the movie was that the kills were generally pretty lackluster. The first batch was great (gotta love Jason swinging that machete like he could chop an engine block in half), but I was expecting things to escalate after that. I believe it was Chekov who said, "If you have a giant nasty grinding machine in the first act, you must throw someone into it in the third." I was hoping for a least one truly spectacular kill, but nothing stood out.

Overall, I left the movie disappointed, but now that some time has passed and I've thought about it without the filter of my expectations, my opinion of it has gone up. I wouldn't run out and see it again on my own, but I'd tag along with a friend who hadn't seen it yet. And I'll definitely be buying the DVD, especially to see the alternate cut we've been promised.

Jeff Allard said...

Thanks for the comments, guys!

Wings, that Part II novelization sounds cool - too bad the movies never tried to work that info in someplace. Thanks for the offer on the transcript but I'll have to pass just because I have a feeling it'll just end up going unread, like so many things I haven't gotten to lately.

Penh, if Platinum Dunes ever wants me to write a screenplay for them, I'm there! Man, that's a payday I'd love to have. As for the criticisms leveled at the new F13 - yeah, for the most part it seems like criticizing water for being wet. As for the kills, I think I'm in the minority in being ok with them. I agree, though, that they needed to save the best stuff for last - and that wood chipper did go to waste!

I'd love it if next time around they got someone with more of an old-school sensibility to direct (like MBV's Patrick Lussier or Wrong Turn's Rob Schmidt) but that's not Platinum Dunes' style so I won't be holding my breath waiting for that to happen.

Wings1295 said...

I agree with what Penh said, my thoughts and opinion of the film have DEFINITELY gone up since I have first seen it.

Cheap Beer said...

I've always wanted to see a "Friday the 13th" set in the dead of winter at Crystal Lake. Ice fishing, cross country skiing, so much to do.... I need some good icicle and snowblower killings too.

Jeff Allard said...

I'm with you on that! I agree that a snowbound Crystal Lake would make for some very cool visuals. Jason X director Jim Issacs lobbied for a winter-set Jason movie before the producers settled on the Jason In Space premise. Too bad it didn't happen but hopefully that idea will come back around one day.