In a genre where occasional titles like Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, King Kong vs. Godzilla, and Dracula vs. Frankenstein erupt, this movie was inevitable, long-rumored and pined for by fanboys. The most amazing things about it are: a) it took over ten years to get made, and b) it's actually pretty good.
The authorities in Springwood (home of Elm Street) decided that the only way to get rid of a fear-fueled urban legend like Freddy Krueger is to erase the fact that he ever existed; since the current crop of kids have never heard of Freddy, they aren't afraid of him, and he can't enter their dreams. To put an end to this, Freddy wakes up Jason Voorhees one more time and sets him loose on Elm Street, knowing rumors will fly and restore his notoriety, and therefore his power. But once you start a death machine like Jason, there is no "off" switch, and when Mr. Machete starts stealing victims from ol' Scarface, well... "Of course you realize, this means war!"
My notes for Freddy vs. Jason include :
Yes, this is far from art. It isn't science, either, but it is craft. I recall an article in Fangoria where the makers of Friday the 13th Part 2 had the timing of the murders down to a science: one every 7.5 minutes, or so; the result was a soulless clockwork machine of a picture. Director Ronny Yu and his team, though, have managed to access all the mandatory tropes of a slasher film and present them with a knowing wink, but without resorting to Scream-style self-referentialism. By paying respect to the mythologies of the two series, they have managed to produce a film that blends the demands and standards of both, to good effect.
As ever, the human characters/cannon fodder are uncluttered by things like deep characterization. Each is more a flash card directed at the audience, who can instantly say, "Ah! Nerd Boy! Stoner! Designated Slut! Sassy Black Girlfriend!" But what did we expect? The movie's name is Freddy vs. Jason, and the promised confrontation, when it happens, is quite the doozy - but it is also possible to completely forget you've seen the movie the next day. It's much better than it likely has a right to be, but that doesn't mean it's particularly memorable.
The transfer, film elements and sound are as flawless as we've come to expect in these DVD-savvy times. The color palette on display is quite gaudy at times, switching to green and red filters in Freddy's nightmare worlds, with nary a bit of chatter or bleed in sight. Deep blacks, good flesh tones, and lotsa red, needless to say. The 5.1 sound mix is remarkably deep. You have the option of watching the movie in either widescreen or fullscreen, which is nice (if superfluous in my case, hardened widescreen fan that I am).
Somebody in the New Line Marketing Department, though, is hell-bent on the animated menus. I've not seen a single Platinum Series box that doesn't blare out ANIMATED MENUS! (exclamation point theirs), as if this one minor point were the only thing that would tip a potential buyer off the fence and into the checkout line. Personally, I find them annoying and time-consuming after the first viewing. And you're going to be spending some time slogging through all these extras.
The Platinum line always has an embarassment of riches in the extras department. Let's start with Disc One, which contains the movie itself, a commentary track by Ronny Yu and stars Robert Englund (who will be playing Freddy well into his eighties, most likely), and stuntman Ken Kirzinger, the new Jason. The track is not terribly informative, though the occasional trivia gem does surface. This disc also has the "Jump To A Death" option, a specialized Scene Select which allows you to instantly access any one of (appropriately) 13 kill scenes. There is a "Kill All" option, too, if you're not feeling particularly random.
For DVD-ROM users, there's a strange "Enhanced Mode" with power meters for Freddy and Jason (you can increase their power by correctly answering trivia questions) and "Script-to Screen" comparisons for seventeen scenes.
Disc Two is loaded with stuff, separated into four categories (as usual, clicking on the New Line logo in the lower right hand corner will take you to the DVD credits).
"Deleted/Alternate Scenes" is a sampling of 20 clips (including the original beginning and end of the movie), which were excised or pared down for various - often very good - reasons. It is possible to view these with illuminating commentary from Yu and producer Douglas Curtis. This is also home to our first Easter Egg - manipulating the cursor around the screen (highlight the arrow, then press right) you find a hidden bloodstain; clicking on this takes you to a segment where various of the filmmakers talk about the original scripted ending, which was never shot (too expensive - but it sounds way cool).
"The Production" takes you down to even more subcategories. First up are reprints of two articles from Fangoria detailing the ups and downs of the movie's journey to the theater. The typeface used is nice and big, easily readable (well done, guys). The articles themselves are very well written, and the first one, "Development Hell" is an excellent overview of the various versions of the story over the years. Much as I dislike the actual ending of the movie, I think we can all be thankful that this one didn't end with the Law and Order-style trial of Jason, a match between Jason and Freddy in a boxing ring in Hell (refereed by the damned soul of Ted Bundy!), or the revelation that it was all a dream. Yes, they actually pulled out that old chestnut at one point.
The link to the first Fango article is the jumping off point for your next Easter Egg. Pressing right makes four bloody slash marks appear, which will take you to "Cabin Fever", a production short detailing the preparations for actress Kelly Rowland's brief (and predictably ineffectual) attack on Jason. (Rowland played the Sassy Black Girlfriend, for those keeping score.)
The next subheading is "Production Featurettes", which itself has five programs of varying length, on various aspects of filmmaking: Development Hell, On Location: Springwood Revisted, Art Direction: Jason's Decorating Tips, Stunts: When Push Comes to Shove (though quite lengthy, the sequence showing all the safety devices utilized in the Jason-on-fire gag shows you how tough and ultimately tedious making a movie can be), and Makeup Effects: Freddy's Beauty Secrets. All are combinations of interviews and on-set video, and quite good.
"Visual Effects Featurettes" are not as lengthy. FX guys Ariel Velasco-Shaw and Kevin Elam discuss twelve of the many effects on display; the phrase "...so once again we resorted to CGI" appears often, but at least they explain why. Here's your third Easter Egg, too: from the first page, highlight the arrow that would take you to a list of the individual effects. Press right and there's those four slash marks again; this will take you to computer animatics for two of the face-off sequences.
"Galleries" is composed of six storyboard sequences and five collections of behind-the scenes photos and concept artwork.
The third category on display here is "Publicity and Promotion", which shows just how all-out New Line went ballyhooing this movie. There is the usual (albeit very brief) theatrical trailer, eight TV spots, the mandatory music video by Ill Nino, and two odd promos: a staged press conference at Bally's Casino in Las Vegas parodying the weigh-ins of prize fighters (Don King is sorely missed), and a world premiere in conjunction with Austin, Texas' Alamo Drafthouse, where audience members spent the day at "Camp Hacknslash", complete with arts, crafts, volleyball and Harry Knowles. "More from New Line" gets you trailers from Butterfly Effect, the new Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Freddy's Dead and Jason Goes to Hell, both of which are subtitled "The Final (whatever)" and both of which lie. (Wes Craven's New Nightmare and Jason X are both studiously ignored. We're not listening, lalalalalalala....)
Category Four is "DVD-ROM/ Online Features" which includes sound bites, a film-editing activity, and hot links to all sites Freddy, Jason, and New Line (at least as long as you're running Windows).
It will take you twice as long as the movie's running time to go through all these extras; it's taken me at least twice that to write this review. You may not like the movie, you may feel that this is an outrageous amount of effort to lavish on an ultimately disposable flick; but dang, you've got to admit this is bang for the buck.
Dr. Freex, 3/24/2004