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Contrary to what I’m sure most regular readers will assume, I never saw Saw II or saw Saw III. When I saw the first Saw (aka: Saw I) I was nominally impressed with what I saw. I saw a clever horror concept, I saw some flashy direction, and I saw a decent low budget début. What I didn’t saw was the future of popular horror. Apparently I saw wrong because each Saw continues to make more money than the last Saw. Saw is the new Halloween franchise - that sure fire quick buck October release that will continue sawing away until enough people finally get sick of it and it stops making any more money. Who saw this coming?
Saw III: Director's Cut

I’ll start by stating that I think this whole ‘torture porn’ thing is a load of bull hooey. The title was made up by a bunch of media pseudo-pundits looking for a social phenomenon where there wasn’t one. People that only watch movies made in the last 15 years bought into the hype and were generally offended because it sounded like they should be. Meanwhile, 300 Spartans gut 10,000 Persians, Spider-Man shoves a man’s face into an oncoming subway car, and Transformers are torn asunder to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, and not one Joe Schmoe theater stomper puts two-and-two together.

Anyone fond of exploitation flicks and the grindhouse will tell you about several dozen real torture porn films, like Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS, Cannibal Ferox, The Gestapo’s Last Orgy, going all the way back to 1964’s Two Thousand Maniacs and before (not to mention Japan's Guinea Pig series, which was mistaken for a real deal snuff film by none other than Charlie Sheen). Movies that feed into an audience’s need to see really bad things happen to people, movies that titillate through images of torture and inescapable graphic violence. The Saw series is just feeding into something that’s been part of the zeitgeist since entertainment was born, it is nothing new, and neither is the public outcry.

Enough of my monotony though, if anyone here at DVDActive.com should like Saw III it’s me – the guy who loves ooey-gooey horror movies, and the guy who has an unhealthy respect for exploitation films. Saw III is an exploitation film pure and simple, and it wastes no time exploitin’. I’m sure there are plenty of term papers to be written on the subject of level of acceptable violence in a mainstream feature (despite my didactic sermon in the previous paragraph, the mall theater acceptance of horror movies this brand of brutal is something new), and I’m sure Carol J. Clover and Barry Keith Grant are preparing new chapters for their respective books on gender in horror films, but the folks at LionsGate only care about the bottom line.

Saw III: Director's Cut
The film gets off to a goopy start with a series of cringe inducing ‘games’, and though such a thing can grow dull quickly, I was rooting for a plotless hunk of hard-R action, just because I’d find the existence of such a thing hilarious. Then around the 20-minute mark they had to go and throw in a plot, and I realized that I had been watching 20 minutes of Saw II loose end tying. Now I only saw, or viewed the first Saw on two occasions, and I never surveyed the second film so the continued narrative went over my head a bit, but I don’t think recalling all the characters is a requirement. Fortunately, most of the callbacks are to the first film.

My problem with this plot is what it does to the Jigsaw character - it turns him into a big baby. In the first film he’s obviously not happy about dying of inoperable cancer, but he’s accepted it, and finds a creative outlet for his frustrations. Frankly I was sick at the time I saw, sorry watched the first film, and personally dealing with cold mannered doctors, so I found myself rooting for him a little bit. Here he’s afraid of dying and taking it out on a doctor he barely knows (yes, there is a twist to this, but it’s so convoluted that I couldn’t buy it, not even in this film’s universe of suspended disbelief). Bringing in Amanda as an apprentice (I did remember her from the first film) is clever enough, especially because she doesn’t follow the rules Jigsaw set forth, but too much time is spent trying to mold her into a sympathetic character, and it just doesn’t work.

The ‘B’ story at least manages to expound upon the series’ themes a bit. Instead of dealing with traditional self-loathing through horrible tests of physical pain, Jigsaw makes his latest victim deal with his own creeping vengeance by sticking him in a series of moral dilemmas. This kind of robs the series of its solitary iota of originality – the fact that these victims kill themselves – but really, how many times can an audience watch the exact same thing. Don’t answer that. It’s nice to see that the filmmakers are trying to find something to say about the human condition, unfortunately they were beaten to the punch a very long time ago. Still, plus one for a try at something new.

Saw III: Director's Cut
The movie is colourful and well shot without too many MTV cuts or shaky camera movements. Director Darren Lynn Bousman has his green gels well under control, and he has some idea of how to develop suspense. The film’s ick and cringe factor actually surprised me. The big gross out moments didn’t really affect me personally (I have a high tolerance), but the little things, like a character tearing a section of his face off against a freezing pipe, made me squirm a bit. I didn’t catch the theatrical release, so I have no clue as to how strong these scenes were in theaters, but this disc actually earns its ‘unrated’ status. Fans of heavy gore should enjoy themselves, but I’d rather they spent their time with more interesting filmmakers like Lucio Fulci and Peter Jackson.

Video


Saw III is a pretty grimy looking little film, with high contrast and deep shadows obscuring details, and more sour apple Jolly Rancher filters than you can shake a severed limb at. The disc looks as good as such a film can, with crisp lines, bright colours, and deep blacks. Noise is minimal, and grain is, I’m assuming, intended. This isn’t the best showcase for an HD set, but I noticed no overt errors, and can’t imagine the film looking any ‘nicer’.

Audio


I do very much enjoy the over-the-top sound design on these films. The aggressive soundtracks are almost surreal, and contain some of the loudest ambient noise on DVD record. Sometimes these larger than life effects are more comical than scary, but there is no mistaking their clarity on this disc. The DTS track (which was not included on the previous releases) is awash with sound, bleeding from every channel at practically every moment of runtime. It’s become a bit of a cliché over the last few years from horror films to cover their budget constraints with noisy soundtracks, but I haven’t grown tired of it yet.

Saw III: Director's Cut

Extras


Apparently my Jigsaw torture is to be bland-commentaried to death. This director’s cut release (for those keeping score, this is the third R1 release for a film that is yet to have aged a year) contains no less than three commentary tracks. I liked the film a lot more than I thought I would, but sitting through it three more times while commentators desperately search their memory banks for stuff to talk about is enough to make me go mad. I cheated and clicked between tracks when they started to dry up.

Executive producer and co-writer Leigh Whannell (he was in the first movie, and has a bit part in this one) is a happy guy, a real deal geek, and he seems really sweet, but his track is all about congratulating everyone he’s ever met in his entire life. I’m exaggerating, but really there isn’t much to learn here, except for the moments where he recalls his original scripts. Director Lynn Bousman is good to have around because he points out some of the deleted footage (though he isn’t specific as to what’s ‘unrated’ cut and what’s director’s cut), but this is the third time he’s recorded a commentary for this particular film. Actor J Larose is there to help (the chain trap guy at the beginning of the film), but he doesn’t do much more than interject with a few ‘yeahs’. Tobin Bell and Shawnee Smith’s track is really, really dull, at almost 50% total silence. I think Bell says maybe six words total.

Saw III: Director's Cut
Disc two is pretty much a joke. ‘Jigsaw’s Plan’ is an incredibly simple trivia game with film and sound clips. I lost interest before I ‘won’. ‘Choose the Death’ is a look at the traps of Saw III (along with three from Saw II, which is weird). Each scene plays in its entirety, and is accompanied by an unnamed commentator (perhaps the production designer?), design sketches, and storyboards. ‘Looking Tortured’ is a make-up effect how-to, which is actually pretty educational. Our technician uses everyday materials, so this stuff should be pretty affordable as well. There are also some trailers, a few text screens where the filmmakers list their favourite parts of the films, and a stupid music video for a horrible song.

The last extra, and the reason inpatient Saw fans might want to rent this disc, is a sneak peak at Saw IV. If this footage is all we have to go on, it already looks pretty bad. The lighting is dull, the framing is bad, the make-up is weak, and it’s not scary at all. I was sure it had to have been made by a different, less practiced director, but it isn’t. It appears that he has somehow devolved as a filmmaker (though in his defense the framing is now 2.35:1 instead of 1.85:1, which is what I call progress). The only way the scene works is if it’s meant to be amusing, like the bloodiest Laurel and Hardy bit ever filmed.

Saw III: Director's Cut

Overall


So did I love Saw III? No, but I didn’t hate it either. It was an effectively entertaining, sometimes gross, and even occasionally dramatic waste of my time. It was actually better than I thought it would be. I can’t tell fans what the difference between this directors cut and the previous ‘unrated’ cut, but there seems to be an extra 8 minutes or so to look forward to. The DTS track might also entice people into a double dip, but the extras are nothing special, and a sneak peak at a movie coming out in a manner of weeks isn’t worth the price either. Instead, I recommend spending your hard earned cash on the original vengeful trap master - The Abominable Dr. Phibes. I think you’ll be shocked at the similarities.



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