FRIDAY THE 13TH - DVD review

An old lady's dog produces the biggest scare in the film.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

You'd think that after so many "Friday the 13th" sequels with numerals or "Jason" in the title that any new one simply called "Friday the 13th," as they have titled this 2009 entry, would have to be a complete reboot, right? Something fresh and innovative, along the lines of Tim Burton's "Batman" or Christopher Nolan's "Batman Begins" or J.J. Abrams's "Star Trek." Nope. Instead, this new "Friday the 13th" is just more of the same, old, worn-out stuff, a repeat of the first few "Friday the 13th" movies with virtually nothing unique or different or exciting about any of it. There are no new angles, no prequel involved, and no new characters or plot beyond the usual interchangeable names and faces and deaths we've always seen.

Let me put it another way: If you're a die-hard fan of the "Friday the 13th" series, you'll like seeing all of this material rehashed over again, and you wouldn't want anything changed even if the filmmakers could. If you're not already a fan, you'll hate the film for being so tired and lazy. I'm not sure there's any in-between, and I say that as someone who kind of liked the very first "Friday the 13th" but is decidedly a non-fan of the sequels.

Now, the irony for me is that this new remake is the first "Friday the 13th" movie I actually saw in a movie theater. All the rest of them I watched on TV, usually on cable. So, why did I go out to see this one? An old student and friend invited me to see it because he thought it might be fun. We watched it several weeks after it premiered, at a morning showing in a theater where we were the only people in attendance. Since my friend had seen all of the previous "Friday the 13th" movies more often and more recently than I had and because there was no reason not to talk in the theater, he kept me apprised of the new movie's various references to the older ones. It was like having my own audio commentary during the show, for which I am grateful. Besides, it took my mind off the action on screen.

The first thing you need to know about the movie is that Marcus Nispel directed it. He's the fellow who gave us "Pathfinder" and the remake of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." If you've seen either or both of these movies, I probably don't need to say another word.

Let me tell you a few things about this new "Friday the 13th." It explains the events of the first movie but goes on to insist that none of the sequels took place. The narrative begins twenty years after the first movie ended as though nothing else had happened in between. So, actually, the filmmakers should not have called it "Friday the 13th" but "Friday the 13th, Part 2," except the second movie in the series had already taken that title.

You'll remember that in the first movie, made in 1980, twenty-nine years earlier, a maniac massacred the counselors at a summer camp on Crystal Lake, the killer finally dying at the hands of one of the counselors. (Don't even ask what happened to the lost nine years.) Legend has it that the murderer's son, Jason, still haunts the area, apparently living in the woods all this time unnoticed, quietly tending to his marijuana plants and secretly plotting his revenge against camp counselors everywhere.

Oddly, however, there are no camp counselors in this new "Friday the 13th." Maybe the filmmakers intended this as a point of humor, I don't know. Instead, we get the impression that Jason (Derek Mears) starts killing people because they're invading his territory. The question then is, Why now? Has no one in twenty years entered Jason's neck of the woods?

Of course, that's not the only question that comes to mind. Like, how is it that anybody could live in the old Camp Crystal Lake campground undetected all this time? And how does Jason manage to dig an extensive labyrinth of tunnels under the old camp, complete with supporting timbers and various contraptions and paraphernalia like hanging chains and wires, without anybody noticing?

The movie begins with some of the longest prefacing material in movie history, almost twenty-four minutes of back story before the actual plot begins. In these sections we not only get a quick flashback to the events of the original killings, but we get an episode set in the present involving a group of young people camping out near the lake, whom Jason exterminates without a trace.

One of the people who disappears is Whitney Miller (Amanda Righetti), a young woman in her early twenties, whose brother, Clay Miller (Jared Padalecki), comes looking for her. Simultaneously, a rich creep, Trent (Travis Van Winkle), his girlfriend (Danielle Panabaker), and a group of other young folk show up to party at Trent's father's luxurious Crystal Lake cabin. So Jason has a whole new set of victims to terrorize. Bringing up yet another question: If the cabin is on the lake, just minutes from the abandoned Camp Crystal Lake, why hasn't Jason killed its inhabitants before now or the workmen who built it? Are Trent and his friends the first people to occupy the cabin, and was it built by elves?

As always, Jason is all-powerful and everywhere at once, worshipping his mother's mummified skull, finding his hockey mask, and wielding a machete in all directions (and a bow-and-arrow and an axe and even a set of deer antlers, his being an expert with each weapon). Things would have been more entertaining if Jason had found a William Shatner mask.

Director Nispel generates almost no frights, no tension, and no suspense during the course of the movie, an accomplishment in itself considering the death and destruction that ensues. An old lady's dog produces the biggest scare in the film. Indeed, Nispel and his screenwriters fill the plot with so many clichés, you'd think they were making a comedy, a parody of the first films, with lights going out, cell phones dying, cars that won't start, and the characters continually going off separately in different directions. It's all quite hopeless, really.

Trivia notes: Paramount made the first few "Friday the 13th" films and New Line took over for the final few entries. The two studios cooperated to remake this new movie jointly. The screenwriters named the characters of Clay and Whitney Miller after the writer of the original movie, Victor Miller. Furthermore, the screenwriters named another character, Officer Bracke, after Peter Bracke, who has written extensively about the "Friday the 13th" series. Finally, as a further tribute to the old movie, all of the young characters in the new film wear hair styles reminiscent of the Eighties.

When I initially watched this movie in a theater, I was not overly enthusiastic about the picture quality, so it's no surprise that the DVD image should mirror this reaction in the home. New Line Cinema and Paramount Pictures co-produced the film, and their engineers do their best to reproduce it on disc using an anamorphic transfer. They retain the movie's 2.40:1 screen ratio and the movie's somewhat changeable screen focus. By this latter, I mean that the filmmakers used a variety of cameras to shoot the film, and apparently not all of them produced the same results. Some of the opening shots, for instance, are extremely soft, almost fuzzy, and then the image sharpens up or blurs as the scenes go on. Longer shots usually look best, with plenty of forest detail, but close-ups tend to soften considerably.

The screen remains fairly clean and clear, except for some normal print grain. Things are understandably dark most of the time, yet colors show up looking as natural as we might expect, and, needless to say, full daylight shots are bright and realistic, if a touch glossy. Black levels are not quite as deep as they might be, though, and vary, like the blur, from scene to scene. Overall, given the dark nature of the film, it's still a good standard-definition transfer.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack has its strengths and its weaknesses. Among its strengths are a strong dynamic range and impact, a reasonably quick transient response, and a deep bass. Among its weaknesses are a bit of forwardness, a largely front-oriented program, a limited stereo spread, and fairly weak surround activity.

The biggest extra on the disc is getting the "Killer Cut" extended version of the movie (with nine more minutes of footage, mostly more sex, blood, and mayhem, the usual stuff viewers want). In addition, the extras include three deleted scenes ("for a mature audience only") totaling about eight minutes and an eleven-minute featurette, "The Rebirth of Jason Voorhees," with cast and crew comments.

Things conclude with twenty-six scene selections; access to a bonus digital copy of the film compatible with Windows Media only and not compatible with Apple Macintosh and iPod devices; an assortment of promos and trailers at start-up; English as the only spoken language; French and Spanish subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.

Incidentally, the disc comes housed in one of those DVD keep cases that are becoming more and more popular with studios these days, with the plastic front and back carved out in various designs. I'm not sure if this is supposed to look cool or save money on materials, but to me it looks cheap and flimsy.

Parting Shots:
Compared to the early "Friday the 13th" movies, this 2009 remake looks slick and well produced. Too bad it has nothing fresh to add to the franchise. Basically, it's a summary of everything that's gone before. It looks good, comparatively speaking, but leaves one with the question, Why would anyone want to make something so unoriginal (beyond cashing in on a well-known title)?


Film Value