The not-so-quick and the not-so-dead.
Once upon a time, a producer needed to tide himself over financially between projects, so he decided to shoot a cheap slasher horror flick as a means to generate some quick cash. The year was 1980 and the film was Friday The 13th. Paramount was persuaded to release it, and a ridiculous amount of money, for the time, was made by all. Never too bashful to seek more money with an inferior follow-up, Hollywood went back to the well and resurrected Jason Voorhees for a 1981 sequel with the compelling title Friday the 13th Part 2. With Jason now the central character, six more sequels followed during the decade, culminating in 1989’s Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan. Things began to slow somewhat, for it took four more years before Jason was resurrected again, this time with New Line doing the releasing and Jason having his name heading the title — Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday. Sounds like he might actually be done for, doesn’t it? But no, the new millennium sees our boy back once again in 2001’s Jason X, and that’s the one under consideration here.
New Line has released the film on DVD with a pile of supplementary material, obviously wanting to stick it to your faithful reviewer. At least when they recently released Happy Campers — a film of about equal merit — on DVD, they gave us a break by including no supplements at all.
Jason is hanging about at the Crystal Lake Research Facility while a battle of words rages over whether to take him away for further evaluation or freeze him solid in the Facility’s cryogenic chamber. The former view prevails, but Jason doesn’t cooperate; he naturally gains the upper hand and quickly manages to dispatch half a dozen guards. Things don’t all go Jason’s way, however, and in seeking out the rest of the Facility’s staff, he manages to allow himself to be maneuvered into the cryogenic chamber where he’s frozen solid.
Some four hundred years later, a scientific party exploring an uninhabitable planet Earth stumbles across the Facility and discovers the still frozen Jason. They take his body aboard their spacecraft and proceed to try to resuscitate him, completely unaware of who he is. Once unfrozen, Jason immediately grasps the situation, remembers his schtick, and starts in on murdering the entire crew of the spacecraft.
That wild and crazy guy, Jason Voorhees, is back to add to his body count, delight slasher film freaks, and annoy rational film critics everywhere. And he’s back with everything that we’ve come to expect from his films — flimsy and derivative plots, acting school dropouts, dumb characters, and dark sets. All of these seem to be de rigueur for just about any slasher film. At least, however, the best of them (if that’s the right word) deliver a few unexpected twists that allow them to still be considered part of the horror genre. Unfortunately for Jason X, the main character’s been around for so long and survived so many different apparent deaths that there’s no longer any sense of the unexpected about the proceedings. Jason can jump out of any dark corner, or survive any bodily indignity, or wield any sort of weapon that he likes, but we no longer care and we’re no longer surprised, never mind scared. Not that that hasn’t been the case for a while now. After all, when you’re up to ten films about a one-dimensional character, the well ran dry long ago and I don’t need to have seen any of the previous nine films to know that. In fact, observing the predictability of the inanities of the plot, the stupidity of the characters, and the various forms of their demise in Jason X is more of a laughing matter than anything else, although a sick one to be sure. Yes, folks, the “Jason” cycle has become a comedy series. “Jason Slips on a Banana Peel: The Impaling” sounds like a good title for the next entry. And oh yes, there will be another entry. He’s been conveniently dropped into a lake at the end of Jason X, so things have come full circle nicely.
In my role as your faithful reviewer, I really want to save you from this turkey, so here are a few of the things you’ll be able to avoid by not seeing it. Let’s see, there’s the plot stolen from Alien and a dozen other imitators; the usual collection of stabbings and skewerings (including one on some sort of giant drill bit); a woman’s head flash-frozen and then smashed into a million bits; a machete that manages to penetrate steel as though it’s papier maché; a scientific party that comprises a dumb head scientist and a collection of half-clothed students who seem barely out of puberty and possessed of a collective IQ of about 60; the usual dumb people that go off down dimly-lit corridors on their own; a character who seems like he wants to be Jar-Jar Binks (the bright spot being that he gets killed off while we all know Jar-Jar’s still alive and kicking); cheesy special effects including a collision between a spaceship and a space station, which apparently has no contingency plan in place for such an possibility; the usual derivative soundtrack composed of swooping, pulsing music every time something supposedly ominous is going to happen; and the pièce de résistance, in which Jason becomes his own heat shield as he enters the local planet’s atmosphere. There is also some choice dialogue that is quite descriptive and, in itself, perhaps tells you all you need to know about the film: At one point, the ship’s engineer intones, “You weren’t alive during the Microsoft conflict. We were beating each other with our own severed limbs.” I have no idea what it means, but the screenwriter must have thought it was very witty. See, didn’t I tell you the film was a comedy?
At another point, one of our intrepid student scientists comments “This sucks on so many levels.” Imagine, a film that provides its own review. Too bad they didn’t use it in the film’s advertising, as a warning to the unsuspecting.
New Line’s DVD (part of its Platinum Series, no less) is another of those examples so prevalent nowadays of a disc that far exceeds in merit the quality of the film it is showcasing. The 1.85:1 anamorphic image transfer is very good indeed — crisp for the most part, clean, and with colors that are quite vibrant. Shadow detail is also good, which is important for the many dimly-lit sequences.
We get three sound tracks — Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 surround, and DTS 5.1 surround. I sampled all three, but concentrated on the DD5.1 track. It’s quite an aggressive mix, with effective use of the surrounds and LFE. There’s certainly nothing subtle about it, but since there’s nothing subtle about the film, I guess that’s appropriate. English subtitles are provided.
The supplements are very good. They include a very entertaining and informative audio commentary by director Jim Isaac (previously a special effects specialist who has worked several times with David Cronenberg, whom Isaac managed to include in a small role in the film), writer Todd Farmer, and producer Noel Cunningham. They basically cover everything from production details, to casting, historical background, location work, and their own backgrounds. A 30-minute documentary entitled “The Many Lives of Jason Voorhees” provides information on the genesis and development of the 10-picture series of Friday the 13th/Jason films and the sorts of reactions it has raised. The material is interesting, if one-sided. Anyone that’s interviewed is obviously among the converted. A second documentary lasting almost 18 minutes covers the making of the film. It’s a cut above many making-of efforts that just interview a few actors and the director who all just basically say how great everything was. In this one, there’s considerable detail about the combined digital/film technique that was employed to create the final negative, the extensive amount of special effects, costuming decisions, and so on. Following this we get a tasteless option called “Jump to a Death” that allows one to watch the killings that Jason does either singly or all together, unencumbered by the thin connecting plot. The supplement package concludes with the film’s theatrical trailer and trailers for three other New Line releases (Blade II, Final Destination, and Nightmare on Elm St.).
Jason X continues the Jason saga by taking him into outer space where CGI allows for a more varied collection of killings than do Jason’s Earth-bound exploits. Unfortunately, it’s all so predictable and so devoid of new plot ideas that the whole endeavor has become laughable. At one point in the disc’s commentary, one of the speakers makes a comment about not exposing children to lousy film or television programming for too long. Taking this to heart obviously, the filmmakers bring Jason X in at barely over an hour and a half, which is about the film’s only positive attribute.
New Line’s disc is far better than this mess deserves.