The producers at New Line Cinema had the opening fatality of Final Destination 3 in their back pocket well before the movie’s 2006 premiere. In fact, talks of a deadly theme park ride made the rounds before creative partners James Wong and Glen Morgan returned to write the script. After the disappointing return on 2003’s Willard, New Line wanted something thrilling for its next horror project. A “roller coaster” movie, as New Line founder Robert Shaye put it. Like-minded Richard Brener is also owed some credit; the executive producer apparently was on the same wavelength after brainstorming ideas — initially anything big and transportational, such as boats and trains — for the intended conclusion of this franchise. However, the overwhelming box-office numbers steered the original plan off course and Death lived on to kill another day.
In the Final Destination franchise, the race for survival is breakneck. There is next to no time for these characters to even contemplate their suddenly realized mortalities. For a more scenic experience, though, fans have the option of reading novelizations for those first three movies. The printed adaptations indeed parallel their celluloid counterparts, yet the journeys are not entirely the same.
Black Flame, an imprint of BL Publishing, was extinguished five years after its launch in 2003. Before its expiration, the publisher issued a number of tie-in reads for various New Line properties. Their Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street lines each accumulated a fair amount of books, but Final Destination ended up with more, on account of the fact that there were six original novels prior to the three novelizations. Yet unlike most instances where the novelization predates or coincides with a movie, these adaptations came out en masse shortly before Final Destination 3 was released.
Each of the three Final Destination novelizations was penned by a different author, and every book has a 400-plus page count. So, as fans might have guessed, Christa Faust’s adaptation of the then-latest movie sequel expands on the source material. For the most part, though, Faust retained everything shown on screen; many scenes are extended as well as more detailed. Changes to the overall story are typically small and/or negligible, although significant alterations do come up from time to time. Without the risk of truncation, this version of Final Destination 3 also allows its characters a chance to breathe a little before then having them contend with Death again.
Similar to the second Final Destination, the third ultimately did not have enough time to broach the messier and irrational parts of grieving and survivorship; these movies take action first, then ask questions later. Whereas Faust’s interpretation carefully shows how select characters process their ordeal. In turn, the book can often be blunt and unpleasant. Not just about life following near-death experiences, but about life in general. Perhaps most Final Destination fans are not looking for a deep and thoughtful discussion about humans’ impermanence when they watch one of these movies. Others not totally swayed by their sheer entertainment value may be interested to learn of the occasional depth in their literary equivalents.
Apart from references to Flight 180, Final Destination 3 cuts narrative ties with the first two movies. Even Tony Todd’s physical manifestation of the franchise’s invisible reaper is only heard, not seen. Wong and Morgan essentially wanted to start anew rather than have any characters already understand their situation. Because of this, the plot-driven Final Destination 3 retreads a lot of familiar territory. So much time is spent on this new cast figuring out rules the audience already knows. To make the sequel a bit less formulaic, though, a unique element was introduced: the Omen-esque ability to predict death via photographs. While this random plot gimmick is not any more logically sound in the novelization, it does come across as less goofy. The author seemed more intent on uncovering its origins than the characters.
Distinct but streamlined characters accumulate in this series, especially after the original movie. Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Ryan Merriman’s respective roles, Wendy and Kevin, are at least more fleshed out than their successors in franchise black sheep The Final Destination. The protagonists’ personalities here flourish in the novelization, although most of that only comes from Faust’s bold choice to make Wendy and Kevin act on their mutual attraction. The book’s iteration of Wendy, who is, by the way, more judgmental and snarky than her screen equivalent, still feels the same survivor’s guilt over her dead boyfriend Jason. Only now, Wendy finds comfort in Jason’s brawny yet surprisingly brainy best friend. There are scenes where Wendy and Kevin’s chemistry practically starts fires on the page. One particular moment, right after jock Lewis succumbs to his grisly fate in the gym, has Wendy and Kevin getting wet, hot and bothered in the locker room.
To say the novelization is raunchy would be an understatement. Faust fills in the gaps between eventful scenes with horny dialogue, lusty physical descriptions, and oodles of sexual tension. Some of the titillating talk is definitely more awkward than others — after taking a short vow of chastity in honor of his late girlfriend, Kevin announces he is going to “beat [his] meat like it owes [him] money” — but now these characters have glaring personalities and desires (other than surviving a supernatural assassin). And from a psychological standpoint, stoking their libidos after they all nearly died makes sense.
The most unexpected difference between the movie and its novelization is the latter’s inclination to give not only supporting characters more background, but also the characters who barely appeared on screen. For instance, characters involved in Frank Cheeks’ drive-thru demise — the tow truck driver, the arguing couple in the SUV parked behind Kevin’s truck — do not merely show up when it comes time to carry out Death’s latest scheme. No, they have names and histories, and their immediate activities prior to the bloody event are made explicit. Even those two police officers, Clark and Polanski, have more to do in the novelization; they conduct their own investigation of these bizarre deaths and how Wendy and Kevin factor into them.
The undeniable draw of Final Destination is, without question, the gory and sanguinary set-pieces. Death’s vicious perfectionism is put on full display and fans eat it up each and every time. Faust does an admirable job of capturing those last breaths on paper; the instructional accounts of these over-the-top executions is understandably thorough. For sure it is more gratifying to witness everyone perish, however, even the camera sometimes shied away from potential splatter. The novelization, on the other hand, follows through with every dead teen’s extinction. An example is when one half of the resident goth couple, Erin, leaves behind “red ruin” after smashing into the roller coaster tracks below. With the exception of Lewis — similar to the movie’s alternate cut of his death, the meathead’s head-crushing moment is anticlimactic — other dying bits closely reflect their screen depictions. Additionally, specific aspects not found in the movie’s final cut, such as Wendy’s sister Julie’s pre-existing heart condition, do add a little something to the suspense sequences.
There was difficulty in nailing down a gratifying ending for Final Destination 3. The test screening’s audience found the original conclusion — the earlier cut stops after the tricentennial pandemonium — to be disappointing. Hence the addition of the subway scene. This epilogue could have gone differently had everyone’s schedules aligned; Wong and others wanted Final Destination 2 characters to be on the same subway car. As for the novelization, the story also finishes with the big town festival. There is, however, the hanging question of whether or not the survivors are really free from Death’s grip or not. Faust is right to mention the fact that seating order on the roller coaster ride does not necessarily determine when someone dies, seeing as a person “might have hung on for a few seconds or even minutes before their hearts stopped and their higher brain functions ceased.”
This novelization has its own fun charms, but the movies are spectacles that should be seen, not read. Certain visual touches are lost in translation, including the painstakingly constructed roller coaster tragedy as well as the most perfect match cut to come out of 2000s horror. Winstead’s laudable “final girl” performance is also sorely absent in the book. When it comes to any Final Destination story, watching all that sheer carnage unfold is — and always will be — the preferred experience.