Written by: Damian Shannon & Mark Swift
Directed by:Ronny Yu
Reviewed by: Brett G.
Freddy vs. Jason changed my life. No, really. That might sound like melodrama, but Iím actually being quite truthful because I wouldnít be writing this review for this website right now. You see, when I first gained internet access way back in 1998, the first thing I searched for (I didnít ďgoogleĒ it because Google didnít even exist yet) was news about a flick Iíd heard about for years: Freddy vs. Jason. The search led me to two websites: a now defunct Nightmare on Elm Street website and Blake Washerís Friday the 13th website. The latter, of course, housed the now legendary forum that enabled me to cross paths with the other fine reviewers of this site. Flash ahead to 2008, and here I am writing about the flick that started the whole journey in the first place.
Any review of this film would be remiss to ignore the its long time spent in development hell. While many of you might be aware that the film was a long time coming, you might be surprised to discover that the idea for the film finds its origins in 1988 when Friday the 13th Part VII began production. The original idea for that film was to pit the two slasher kings against each other; however, the idea fell through when Paramount and New Line couldnít come to an agreement. This would become a moot point five years later, as Paramount decided that the Jason well had run dry and pawned him off to New Line. It took one film for New Line to announce their intentions to the world, as the end of Jason Goes to Hell featured one of the more spectacular endings in horror history: Freddy grabbing Jasonís mask while delivering his signature laugh (sort ofóit doesnít sound like Englund to me).
As a ten year old, I figured that Freddy vs. Jason had to be right around the corner when I saw that. Little did I know that Iíd actually be damn near twenty years old by the time the film was actually released in 2003. Before then, however, there were several false starts along the way, as various drafts were commissioned and abandoned. I can remember reading several of these drafts during my earliest days on the internet, and Iíve got to tell you, even as a 14 year old I thought they sucked. You can read more about these scripts in Peter Brakeís excellent Crystal Lake Memories, but a quick recap is in order. In short, at various points, the scripts called for a host of ideas that set out to unnecessarily re-invent the wheel.
For example, one script involved Freddy and Jason being pawns of Satan, while another turned Jason into a real character on which the Friday the 13th flicks were based. Another script had a group of dueling cultists for each villain reviving their respective baddie in an attempt to get the two together on screen. Other ideas included intertwining the two charactersí back stories by revealing Freddy as the camp counselor who drowned Jason as a child. While the chronology issues alone make that particular angle a bad idea, it shares a common trait with all the other scripts: any attempt to get Freddy or Jason on screen together ultimately felt forced and totally alien compared to the two franchises. The only aspect that caught my eye from these scripts was Peter Briggsís idea to bring back Alice and Jacob Johnson along with Jessica, Steven, and Stephanie Freeman, characters who had previously appeared in the Nightmare and Friday series, respectively.
Of course, the project languished for so long that bringing back side characters such as these became impossible because general audiences would likely be unable to follow events across sequels. Instead, for Freddy vs. Jason to be successful, the idea had to go all the way back to the drawing board. Enter Damien Shannon and Mark Swift, who literally did just that by going back to the end of Jason Goes to Hell and asking themselves a simple question: why would Freddy grab Jasonís mask?
From that query, the genesis of what would ultimately become Freddy vs. Jason was born. Instead of throwing out everything that worked so well in each series, Shannon and Swift embraced the two characters and churned out a script that was eventually green-lit in 2002. Anyone who followed the long production of this project will tell you that they still wouldnít believe anything until they saw the credits roll in the theaters. However, all fears were put to rest in the fall of 2002 when E! aired the first behind the scenes footage. There, we saw Englund in full Freddy makeup for the first time in nearly a decade, and he was holding a Jason mask to boot. After that, a steady stream of information began to hit the web, and the anticipation for Freddy vs. Jason was at a fever pitch. Any long time members of the aforementioned Friday the 13th forum will tell you that there was never a better time to be a member there.
With all this anticipation, Freddy vs. Jason had a lot to live up to. I can remember actually being a bit nervous the night before it was released. That sounds absurd, but I really wanted it to deliver. On the morning of August 15, 2003, I could barely sleep so I just decided to stay up until it was time to leave for the theater. Of course, I was the first one at my local theater, but I was surprised to see a sizeable line form behind me after a couple of minutes. Even at a noon showing, people were churning out, and some of them were actually dressed in Freddy garb. I knew right then that this flick was going to be huge at the box office. However, in a short amount of time, an even more important question would be answered: would it live up to the hype?
Iíll be honest: this flick had me at the opening logos, which featured the familiar New Line Cinema logo with the familiar Nightmare on Elm Street theme music and Jasonís signature ďki-ki-ki-ma-ma-maĒ mixed together. If that didnít bring a smile to your fanboy face, you didnít have a pulse. After that, the film didnít let up. Iím not going to say that the final film is perfect by any means, but it delivers on the level of pure entertainment. As I have already briefly detailed, all of the abandoned ideas were unnecessarily complicated, whereas Shannon and Swiftís premise is simple: Freddy has been defeated because Springwood has forgotten him. Thus, to spread fear, he searches the bowels of hell to find an errant boy to spread fear for him: Jason Voorhees. Of course, Jason wonít stop killing Freddyís kids, so Freddy eventually has to put him down. How it took over a decade to come up with such a brilliantly simple concept is beyond me.
I wonít detail anymore of the plot (because quite frankly, thereís not much more to it), but I will say that the film does a great service of the fans of each franchise, as there are subtle nods to each franchise throughout the film. Unfortunately, there were actually more of these that were eventually cut out by producer Stokely Chaffinís mandate that the film not exceed ninety minutes (more on that later). Overall, however, fans get exactly what they expect from each franchise here: elaborate dream sequences, a performance from Robert Englund that is just on fire, nudity, and of course, plenty of the red stuff. In short: everything you expect from an entertaining horror film is here in spades.
Unfortunately, however, I would have to say that the acting and characterization veers more towards the Friday the 13th side of things, as, outside of Englund, no one else turns in a particularly good performance. At best, Brandon Fletcher turns in an above average performance as Mark Davis, a teen whose brother fell by Freddyís blades. Chris Marquette and Lochlyn Munro also turn in decent performances as Linderman and Deputy Stubbs, respectively. I think that the latter character especially could have been a great character had he been given more screen time.
These decent performances are unfortunately overshadowed by the atrocious performances turned in by our two leads, Monica Keena and Jason Ritter. The former plays Lori, who is without a doubt the most vapid heroine that Freddy has faced yet. Ritter plays her boyfriend Will who is similarly devoid of any personality outside of the fact that he likes to grin (a lot). The greatest strength of every Nightmare on Elm Street film was the fact that you actually cared about the kids Freddy was facing. Generally, the same canít be said for the Friday the 13th films, as the characters there are just lined up to be slaughtered by Jason. In Freddy vs. Jason, I simply donít care too much about what happens to these two. I actually think that Mark should have been a main character, as Fletcher injected enough sympathy and realness into the character to make me care for him. As it stands, that is Freddy vs. Jason's biggest misfire.
There are other problems as well, and many of them stem from the aforementioned Stokely Chaffin, who brought in David Goyer to do a quick polish and Shannon and Swiftís script. As a result, the film feels rushed at times, and despite the very simple plot, Goyer though it was a good idea to have the characters keep the audiences updated. Off the top of my head, I can think of at least three instances where the plot is spelled out and repeated. To go along with this, I feel like the characters figure out Freddyís plan far too easilyóit would have made far more sense for Mark to survive Freddyís attack and repeat what Freddy told him during his nightmare. My final complaint about the film is its score. Graeme Revell does a nice job of producing his own original music, and his themes for the final fight are fittingly epic, but thereís just not enough of the familiar themes from either series here. On a couple of occasions, you hear a bit of Harry Manfrediniís main Friday theme, but Bernsteinís original Nightmare doesnít show up until the film cuts to the end credits. When dealing with franchises, the musical motifs often are inseparable from the films, and I canít understand the logic behind eschewing them here.
While Iíve spent quite a bit of time criticizing the film here, donít let that stop you because the good eventually outweighs the bad. As Iíve already said, Robert Englundís performance as Freddy showed that the man hasnít lost a step and shouldnít be replaced as Freddy anytime soon (but I guess thatís an argument for another day). There was also a huge controversy when long time fan favorite Kane Hodder was replaced as Jason by Ken Kirzinger, but I feel like Kirzinger does a good job with what director Ronny Yu gives him. Heís a machete wielding maniac who hacks up a copious amount of teens during the course of the flick, so I canít complain. I would have liked to see Kane return to the role, but his non-involvement obviously isnít a deal breaker to me.
Speaking of Ronny Yu, his direction is without a doubt the most stylish ever seen in a Friday the 13th film, and itís the most stylish Iíve seen in a Freddy film since The Dream Child. While there are precious little scares or tension in the film, Yu directs the action well enough, especially the two fights that serve as the centerpieces of the film. Make no mistake, the final throwdown between the two horror icons is worth the price of admission here, as the two engage in a fight to the death thatís full of dismemberments, eye-gouging,a very notable decapitation, and an explosion that'd make Renny Harlin proud.
Besides the two fights, the plot also manages to take us to some other interesting places. For example, we finally get inside of Jasonís head in a flashback that takes us back to Camp Crystal Lake circa 1957. We also get to see a bit more of Freddy before he was torched by the lynch mob, which is an effort on the part of the filmmakers to remind us that heís the true monster in the film. While itís hard to imagine a psychotic serial killer like Jason to be a ďgood guy,Ē thatís ultimately how he comes across in the film, and thatís honestly the only way to go in a film like this one.
So, the question must be answered: did Freddy vs. Jason deliver after the years of hype? My answer is yes. While it has its faults (which become all the more obvious with repeating viewings), this film could have been a whole lot worse. If my brief overview of the rejected plots havenít scared you away, I urge you to track down the scripts and give them a read for yourself. In a film called Freddy vs. Jason, you didnít need the most crazy, elaborate plot to get these two maniacs on screen together, and the final product proves this. In the end, the two do end up fighting, and the result is so entertaining that Iím willing to look past some of the faults leading up to that point.
As far as the DVD presentation goes, youíll find no problems with New Line Cinemaís Platinum Series release, which is packed with extras (though I think a 2 hour documentary detailing the filmís long development would have been nice). As far as the audio and video quality, Iíve seen professional reviews cite the disc as reference quality, and I can back that up. The video is as good as any standard-def DVD Iíve ever seen, and the only way youíll do better is to wait for a Blu-ray release. The audio is similarly satisfying, especially during the final fight, which will give all of your speakers and your sub a nice workout. If you consider yourself a horror fan at all who simply wants to sit down and be entertained, this is the flick for you. You might not be scared by it, but if youíre a fanboy at all, youíll have a smile plastered on your face from beginning to end as the skin shows and the blood flows. Buy it!
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