Jigsaw (2017) [Blu-ray]

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2018-01-17 17:56

Jigsaw (2017)
Studio: Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Release date: January 23rd 2018

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)

The movie:

Note: click here for my review of Jigsaw from October.

Throughout 2017, Jigsaw was somehow one of my most anticipated and overlooked films: for whatever reason, it was easy to forget about, but whenever I did recall its existence, I couldn’t help but be curious about what the damn thing would even look like and if it could do the franchise justice. I mean, if there’s any franchise that could be rebooted and take just about any direction imaginable, it’s Saw, a series that began life as a twisted morality play about a dying cancer patient teaching victims the treasure their lives and ended with a hacksaw being flung into audience’s face via 3D effects in a howl-inducing finale. You can see how there’s room for both excitement and trepidation here.

It’s not so much that the filmmakers lost the thread with Saw, but it is fair to say that its transformation into a wild, 7-part giallo that survived the deaths of several major characters has some room for reinvention. Such was the promise held by Jigsaw, at least until it landed and revealed itself to be less a franchise renaissance and more a safe reboot. No, it didn’t explicitly toss out anything that came before, but it also didn’t exactly cater to long-time fans hoping to see the franchise move forward with a renewed purpose.

Instead, Jigsaw is a pretty tame revival that leaves me with the same conflicted feelings months later that I had going in: sure, it’s a nice, respectable update, but it’s almost been too easily forgotten. I can’t help but think that should never be the case for a beloved series that I reveled in on an annual basis for seven years. There’s a bit of an anticlimax to Jigsaw that leaves you wondering if this franchise can endure on the fumes of nostalgia alone.

Because make no mistake: there’s an inescapable (and, yes, Pavlovian) thrill that accompanies the familiar cues in Jigsaw. You can’t help but be intrigued by the inevitable twists and turns inspired by the whodunit angle here (well, at least until you sniff them out once you realize the script’s resorting to familiar tricks). You’re taken in by the natural impulse to both delight in and be repulsed by the latest set of gruesome traps and cryptic wordplay from Jigsaw’s latest successor. You have to smile when Tobin Bell reprises his role as John Kramer, now a genuine horror icon whose appearance is both comforting and thrilling, even if you know his "resurrection" is too good to be true. You’re obviously going to be swept away when the strains of Charlie Clouser’s “Hello Zepp” usher in another mind-bending climax—though you later realize this is the first Saw movie to really cheat in its attempt to fool the audience.

There’s this persistent, nagging sense that Jigsaw is certainly competent without being vital. Everyone involved knows the notes but is only half-heartedly reciting them. Once the “Saw is back!” rush recedes, Jigsaw similarly fades away, leaving audiences with an appreciation of some of its moving parts (the inventive traps, the tremendous prosthetic gore, the Spierigs’ slick, updated aesthetic) without ever feeling like they come together to form anything that’s completely spirited. I suppose there are worse fates for long-awaited franchise revivals: nothing here exactly spells disaster, and I’m not sure it’s even the worst Saw film. However, it’s also difficult to imagine anyone being particularly jazzed about directly following up these exploits, especially long-time fans who might have hoped Saw would indulge its usual brand of continuity porn. At best, Jigsaw feels like a vestigial appendix that can’t be easily ignored, which isn’t exactly what you want from a franchise that made its bones exacting pounds of flesh and vital organs.

The disc:

After reclaiming its Halloween mantle, Saw also resumes its tradition of an early-year home video release, as Lionsgate is set to bow the sequel on DVD, Blu-ray, and the spiffy new UHD 4K format. As has been the case, the studio has done right by this franchise on video, as the high-def presentation features a stellar transfer and a dynamic DTS-MA track. The supplements, too, are quite worthwhile, with a commentary track from the franchise’s longtime producers (Mark Burg, Oren Koules & Peter Block) serving as a headliner. “I Speak for the Dead: The Legacy of Jigsaw” also makes for a tremendous complement. A 7-part, 76-minute documentary collecting various featurettes, it delves into all corners of the film’s production, from its creation, production design, effects work, and score.

And while it obviously has its eye mostly trained on Jigsaw itself, it also takes a few moments to acknowledge the franchise as a whole. This is particularly true of “A New Game,” the opening segment that establishes the context of the long layoff that eventually hatched the new film. You'll hear some of the ideas that were kicked around before they settled on this direction as the the producers, screenwriters Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger, and the Spierigs chart the film's development and eventual production. Everyone involved reiterates their desire to honor the franchise legacy while moving ahead in a distinct manner that would allow new viewers to jump on board without worrying about so much baggage (your level of fandom will determine how much you’ll roll your eyes at this sentiment).

“You Know His Name” is dedicated to the man himself and features an on-screen interview with Tobin Bell, who discusses his feelings of ownership over this character, which he never envisioned becoming an icon (in fact, he says he all but forgot about Saw until the studio contacted him for the first sequel). Producers and other crew members also appear to discuss Bell’s dedication to playing Jigsaw, going so far as to note that he’s often consulted to address lines of dialogue and even story beats. It’s a lovely little featurette that reminds us that these actors often love these icons as much as we do.

The rest of the documentary is dedicated to various aspects of Jigsaw itself. “Survival of the Fittest” is a cast round-up that has Jigsaw’s newest batch of victims enthusiastically recounting their experiences on set. Another, “Death by Design,” discusses the nuts and bolts of the actual production itself through interviews and behind-the-scenes footage that provide a fly-on-wall insight into the shooting. Gorehounds and effects fans will delight in “Blood Sacrifice,” a featurette about the film’s splatter work. You won’t be surprised to learn that much of the gore is practical, the result of tremendous prosthetics work that manages to look realistic even in this raw footage.

Despite the repeated insistence throughout this documentary that the filmmakers wanted to shy away from extreme gore, it turns out that the various mangled and gnarled corpses represent some of the more indelible moments in Jigsaw. Longtime franchise composer Charlie Clouser gives an in-studio interview to discuss his contributions to the latest film. Not only will you see how he recreates some of his signature sounds, but you’ll also hear him heartily declare his love for the series, which represented his breakthrough as a composer. As such, he insists he’ll be around for them as long as he makes them, with the caveat that he hopes editor (and Saw VI & 3D director) Kevin Greutert is also around.

Finally, “The Truth Will Set You Free,” is essentially a fluffy, EPK bit that features the usual soundbites from the cast and crew maintaining their enthusiasm for the film. It’s basically a quip-heavy round-up that at least captures the infectious energy of the film’s production. If there’s one thing that’s always been abundantly clear about this franchise, it’s the familial atmosphere and the remarkable amount of pride that’s gone into crafting it. Even with a mostly new creative team in place here, that remains intact: you at least sense the desire to faithfully resurrect this franchise, even if they were almost too careful in doing so.

Jigsaw misses the wild, reckless streak twisted Saw into one of the horror genre’s most exceptional franchises, but at least it did result in this pretty solid home video release. There’s even an extra 6-minute featurette detailing the recreation of the franchise’s iconic props for this film, meaning the supplements nearly match the film’s runtime itself. Fans won’t have a problem placing this one on the shelf alongside the previous entries, even if they might not find themselves reaching for it quite as often.
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