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Here's one of those dandy releases you can see coming a mile away. Popular horror film has sequel and it's rushed onto home video in a near bare-bones release. A year later, to capitalize on the hype for the third film, the second is given an uncut special edition. It's a formula we've come to associate with the Saw franchise. I'm a little surprised we weren't given an on-set preview of the third as we were for the second on the first film's special edition. I wasn't begging for one, but from a marketing standpoint its a good move. But I digress….

Saw II: Special Edition
Feature
Ill-tempered and evidence-falsifying detective Eric Matthews finds himself the latest target of the now-infamous "Jigsaw" killer. When the killer's whereabouts become known, Matthews and a SWAT team burst in uninvited, springing several of Jigsaw's traps in the process. Soon Eric is face to face with a dying Jigsaw, cancer confining him to a wheelchair. Our clever teacher isn't about to be caught, however, and Eric quickly finds out why. Video monitors reveal eight people trapped inside of a house, slowly filling with a deadly poison gas.

We soon recognize one of the housemates as Amanda from the original film, who we thought learned her "lesson" about appreciating life already. Eric spots his son among the mix and becomes incredibly hostile towards Jigsaw. Imagine his fury when he realizes that the other seven people in the house were previously falsely incriminated by the good detective, putting his son in even graver danger. With the eight housemates and the entire police force dancing to his song, the stage is set for Jigsaw to play several games, the greatest of which being with detective Matthews.

On the whole, I liked Saw II very much. Tobin Bell is wildly enjoyable as Jigsaw, who can now officially take his place with Freddy, Jason, Michael Myers and the rest of the bunch. The film's plot clearly ups the ante with so many people ensnared in the "game" and more at stake, clearly trying to out-do the original with more. More traps, more victims, more taunting by everyone's favourite life lesson teacher. Unlike most sequels that think "bigger is better", Saw II works well. I also enjoyed the heck out of Charlie Clouser's score, which builds well upon the previous film's music. You can see these filmmakers grow with each instalment; it'll be interesting to watch these back to back years from now to see their progression.

Saw II: Special Edition
Visually, the flick is both rich and poor. Colour timing is vibrantly pulled off and this transfer highlights it well. The bad comes in with director of photography David Armstrong's handiwork, which is ordinarily first-rate. The cinematography of Saw II feels more like an amateur rock music video than a horror film, especially when you hold it against the superiorly shot Saw and Saw III. The camera shakes unnecessarily and speeds up/slows down to a rather immature effect, although this may be the product of sketchy editing. Undoubtedly rushed through every stage of production to make it's release date, these flaws could've been easily eliminated had the filmmakers taken their time.

I'm pleased that Lionsgate chose to market this as a Special Edition rather than uncut. Saw II is indeed uncut, but it's nothing so celebratory that it should be given titular recognition. The only additions I noticed were an updated Lionsgate logo, a few shots of Jigsaw eating breakfast and short extensions of death scenes. Don't let the “uncut” version of the film be the reason you buy this set—you'll be sorely disappointed. Uncut or not, this is a gory film to begin with, so gore hounds should be pleased.

Saw II may not be high art, but I felt it was simple horror fun. The twists are clever enough and the production values are high. As a follow-up to the marvellous original, Saw II holds its own, no small feat.

Video
The film is presented in 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen. This transfer is, in a word, gorgeous. As I mentioned above, the picture is rich with colour as well as darkness, a pale green tint appearing in nearly every other shot. I particularly liked the rich colours associated with Jigsaw (a loud red) and Eric (a modest green), their vibrancy allows them to virtually leap off the screen. The image is as crisp and clear as the filmmakers want it to be, at times becoming intentionally grainy. Gather from my praises that Saw II looks good.

Saw II: Special Edition
Audio
Saw II is given both Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 treatment on this Special Edition, something that should please audiophiles and fans alike. I watched the film with the Dolby 5.1 option and found it to be every bit as impressive as the video presentation. The track is very full, with effects and music taking centre stage. Crank the volume up and prepare to find yourself in the middle of Jigsaw's handiwork as every creak, drip, cough and scream presents itself in surround sound glory. Stellar job here, Lionsgate.

Extras
As if the technical presentation wasn't worth the asking price alone, we're given a feast of bonus materials. Disc one gives us two commentaries, the first being with director Darren Lynn Bousman, production designer David Hackl and editor Kevin Greutert. It goes without saying that this is a technical commentary. Each member spends a large part of the discussion patting each other on the back and reminiscing. A few mentions are even made to Saw III. The second commentary features Saw gurus James Wan and Leigh Whannell, who actually admit that the film is cut like a music video due to the rushed production schedule. Both commentaries are equally informative and enjoyable. The first disc also has a handful of trailers.

Lionsgate has gotten creative with this second disc. There are two ways to view it, as a listing of supplements or you can have them revealed to you in one of Jigsaw's games. It notes that certain items can only be found in the game, which is a mock-up of the house from the film. I had neither the time nor patience to play a game to see supplements, so I opted out of it and went to the menu listing. First up on disc one is the Scott Tibbs documentary, a sixteen minute “investigation” into Jigsaw by some idiot with a home video camera. There needs to be legislation passed about just who can own a video camera and who can't. This kind of boring and pointless crapola wouldn't even be at home on YouTube. Trust me; this one isn't worth your time. Finishing up this disc is a handful of theatrical trailers.

Saw II: Special Edition
Starting off the second disc, there are seven mini-featurettes that take you behind the scenes of Saw II, collectively totalling fifty minutes. They are “The Saw Phenomenon”', “Conceiving A Sequel”, “The Players”, “The Sets”, “The Cinematography”, “Sound Design” and “Fun on the Set”, the most entertaining being that last one which is nothing more than the cast and crew goofing off. In it, Wahlberg compares Saw II to Punch Drunk Love jokingly and there's talk of puppet love. These are the real meat of the supplements, top-notch material.

“The Story Behind the Story” is a three minute plus look at, of course, the origins of the story. Following that is a loving tribute to producer, “Gregg Hoffman: In Memoriam”. Hoffman died in 2005 at the young age of forty-two and produced the first two films. It runs six odd minutes. Next up is “Zombie” is an odd two minute short film by Director Darren Lynn Bousman with optional commentary. After my initial viewing, I didn't feel moved to re-watch it with commentary.

Finally, there is a “Play Me” set top game (another game) which gives you the chance to navigate through Jigsaw's traps by answering riddles by locating items around a room. Answer wrong and you die. Surprisingly fun, the only bad thing about this feature is not being able to exit it if you aren't good at it. Well-designed and executed, there are worse ways to spend ten minutes of your life.

Saw II: Special Edition
Overall
If you're a casual fan of the Saw films, you might be satisfied with the one disc release from last year. Die-hard followers of the franchise will want to pick this up and treasure it dearly. The technical presentation is outstanding and the supplements thorough and entertaining. If you're on the fence about upgrading, my recommendation would be to do so. Point blank, this is a fine special edition.


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