Extra, Extra: JIGSAW

Jigsaw and his traps make their 4K debut!

As sales of physical discs (Blu-ray and DVD) decline, the idea of bonus features becomes less and less essential for new, mainstream films. There will always be a market for library titles with extensive retrospective commentaries and documentaries (see: Criterion, Scream Factory, etc), but for new films it's a dying trend. "Extra, Extra" is an attempt to encourage the studios not to give up on us disc champions, by mostly skipping over the film itself (which you can find reviews for anywhere) and focusing on the bonus features they were kind enough to include. Viva la physical media!


It's fairly common for me to revisit a movie that disappointed me and find more to like on a second viewing, and Jigsaw was no exception. Not that I was surprised; the main source of my frustration the first time around was that the film was trying harder to appeal to new audiences than the die-hard fans, and now I obviously knew not to look for such things and just focus on what it was actually willing to offer. I still think the primary twist is ludicrous even by this series' standards (in fact, I realized something that's even dumber about it, follow the * trail for a spoiler-y explanation), but otherwise it's an earnest, occasionally successful attempt at going back to the mystery/procedural elements of the original film, and an interesting departure from the usual subject of one of Jigsaw's tests. Detective Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie) is a dirty cop, and if he was introduced in one of the earlier films we'd be seeing things from his perspective and he'd probably be running through a gauntlet of trying to save people who he had a previous connection to (like Riggs in Saw IV). But by keeping it largely from Logan's POV, a second viewing shows that while they didn't quite stick the landing, they did a pretty good job of hiding things in plain sight.

If you want more of my thoughts on the film you can check out my original review or my traditional "essay" kind of take (yes, this is now the 3rd time I've written extensively about Saw 8 in as many months, so perhaps I should be one of Jigsaw's life-wasting subjects), so let's just dive into what we're here for: the bonus features! Lionsgate recently put out a disappointing Blu-ray collection of the first seven films that lacked any of the bonus features or theatrical cuts (if you wanted them), but now that we have at least one more film in the series I guess it's not "complete" and we can hold out hope that they do a proper boxed set someday. After all, the Blu-rays for the first three films were disappointments as is - they too lacked the bonus features originally available on their DVD counterparts (even some of the commentaries, which is ludicrous) and had lousy transfers to boot. With Jigsaw being the first of the series to hit 4K disc, perhaps if we ask really nicely they can do proper remasters of the others and put out a mega-set with all eight films in this new format, including all bonus features/alternate cuts - I for one would gladly pay a reasonable price for such a thing.

This theoretical set would hopefully include an unrated cut of this film, or at least the deleted scenes that are frequently mentioned on the first bonus feature: the commentary by the producing team of Peter Block (who is the primary talker here), Oren Koules, and Mark Burg. The trio (and their other producers) are among the very few people to have worked on all eight films, so it makes sense that they'd have a lot to say, but I obviously wish that the directors (Peter and Michael Spierig, the twin brothers who are the first Saw directors to have directed anything besides a Saw film before) and/or the screenwriters (Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger) had been given a track to speak as well. The producers talk about the actors, locations, and other things you'd expect to hear, but precious little of the nitty gritty one would probably want to hear if they were listening to a commentary in the first place. And again, they frequently mention deleted scenes (including one where Eleanor convinces Logan to try out the spiral trap for himself) that do not appear on the disc, so it can be a little frustrating as well.

That said, it's definitely worth a listen if you're a fan of the film or the series in general, as they point out a few tantalizing details you might have missed (such as the fact that the "Play Me" messages on the tapes are written with red or black marker depending on who is writing them, and that will be fully explained in a future entry), gush over Tobin Bell, and give props to the series' secret weapon: editor Kevin Greutert, who is another mainstay and is back on editing duties after sitting out the last two in order to direct them himself. I was actually surprised he had any participation in the film at all considering what happened back in 2010 (Greutert was slated to direct Paranormal Activity 2, but the producers opted to enforce his contractual obligation for another Saw film, replacing the already announced David Hackl as Saw 7's director only a couple weeks before shooting began - he was understandably not particularly thrilled about that), but it's clear that they trust and rely on him, and thank him more than once for saving a few of the trickier scenes. They also seem pretty sure there will be another film even though it was recorded before the film was released, so I assume it won't be long until it's announced now that it proved to be a financial success (if still far from the grosses of the series' heyday - it ranks 7th out of the eight both domestic and worldwide).

Thankfully, you CAN hear from the directors and screenwriters on I Speak For The Dead, a seven-part documentary that runs 81 minutes total (the film itself is only 90). I was kind of stunned to see how in-depth it was, assuming it would just a be a collection of brief, fluffy featurettes of a more promotional nature. But no, not only does it cover a lot of ground but it's also full of spoilers - they clearly put it together for the post-theatrical market, and I commend them on the decision as it's the decline of that sort of thing (that used to be commonplace) that led me to create the Extra, Extra column to begin with. You can (should!) play them all as one documentary, or select the sections that interest you. Kicking things off is "A New Game", which largely focuses on the producers as they talk about why they decided to bring the series back after a seven year hiatus, why they didn't want to just pick up where Saw 3D left off (but didn't want to start over either), etc. It also contains the hilarious aside from one producer when he's discussing where a sequel could fit in the existing timeline, suggesting a story that takes place "between 3 and 4" which, if you know these movies, you'd know would be a pretty tricky story to pull off. 

"You Know His Name" covers the man of the hour, Jigsaw aka John Kramer aka Tobin Bell. The producers note that they probably shouldn't have killed him off in the third film, but thanks to the flashback-heavy timeline Bell is the only actor who has been involved with all eight entries, and is the sole returning cast member of any previous entry to appear in this one. Needless to say it'd be a pretty big gamble to make one without him, and while the twist didn't really work for me I cheered along with everyone else in the crowd when he made his first appearance. Bell really cares about this character (and knows the movies inside and out, apparently) and unlike some of his boogeyman actor peers, seems to relish in the idea of being able to fully flesh him out over successive movies instead of seeing it as a paycheck generator and nothing else. The other actors fawn over him as well, but they get their due on "Survival of the Fittest", where they all talk about their characters, their history with the Saw films (Laura Vandervoort says she's a fan of "the trilogy", which is a huge slap in the face to Hoffman), and, when applicable, their death scene. You also get to hear new hero (villain?) Logan actor Matt Passmore speak with his native Australian accent, something that always amuses me in behind the scenes things.

"Death by Design" and "Blood Sacrifice" are pretty interchangeable, talking about the FX and the traps, which kind of go hand in hand as you end up with actors talking about being uncomfortable but having fun. The Saw films are a largely practical affair, keeping CGI to a minimum, and the folks behind them are rightfully proud of that - in fact it's the first thing they mention in one of them. We are treated to lots of behind the scenes footage showing that they really did hang Mandela Van Peebles (Mario's son) upside down for his big trap scene instead of faking it (though the blade was composited in for certain shots, of course) and trapping him and Vandervoort in a silo filled with grain. Next up was "The Source of Fear", which focused on composer Charlie Clouser (apart from Greutert, the only other major holdover on the non-producer side of things) and was probably my favorite of the bunch. Like Bell, he seems to genuinely love working on these films; he mentions that the first Saw was his debut as a sole composer and thus he kind of has a soft spot for the series that keeps him happily coming back. I can't help but think of Harry Manfredini, who composed most of the Friday the 13th films but had no genuine love for them (some of them he scored without even watching), compared to how enthusiastically Clouser talks about them here when you might think he'd be tired of it after eight films. He also shows off one of his most important instruments for scoring these films: the "Que Lastas", a metal sheet that is suspended and secured with piano wire and other industrial doodads, which was created for John Williams when he composed for a Disney concert!

The last section is "The Truth Will Set You Free", which wraps everything up, talking about why the Saw series has endured, and also how this film is an evolution of that and how they hope people like it, i.e. kind of promoting it when the previous 70 minutes were devoted to spoiling it. It's a bummer they skip over Greutert's editing process (he doesn't appear at all, just mentioned often - Clouser says he hopes they never try to make one without him), but it's worth it to hear Goldfinger note that they were very careful to make sure that none of their new characters had terminal cancer. Separate from this group is "The Choice Is Yours", which takes a look at the props - specifically, the traps and the Billy puppet. For the life of me I can't figure out why this wasn't just part of the overall I Speak For The Dead documentary, especially since it covers some of the same ground, but it's worth watching to see the incredibly droll prop man, Rick Little Darling, talk about how much people "invest in this and spend their time with this" but keep himself from rolling his eyes at us. He also points out that since Saw 3D was supposed to be the series finale, no one thought the need to keep any of the props anymore (the original Billy was sold on eBay, apparently), forcing them to rebuild/remake them all.

Apart from the lack of unrated/deleted footage and creative team commentary, this is as good as you could want for a Saw special edition disc. The film is covered in full, the commentary we DO get is from three of the very few people who have been there all along (if it was just a few of the new actors I'm sure I would never want to listen to it), and as you can expect from a 4K disc, it looks and sounds terrific despite the film's low budget (I love that the 4K format has a Saw film before any Star Wars, most of the MCU, etc). And it comes with the standard Blu-ray (same extras) and a digital code, so if you're planning to make the jump to 4K this year you might as well begin the collection with a set that you can start to enjoy now. No, it's not the best movie in the series, and its detached nature means those who care most about the series' convoluted mythology might want to just skip it until the next film comes along (one that will hopefully find a better way to blend the original narrative with this new one), but if you're a fan/completist you should be satisfied with this package. As I said, it's not really a bad movie - it's just one that doesn't quite deliver the things I've come to expect from a Saw sequel, but just as Saw V improved in retrospect when watched along with the others, Jigsaw's success at the box office has seemingly ensured that this won't be the last of the series, and will likely benefit in the same manner.

*Logan re-stages the game in the present day, making it super lucky for him that the victims died in the same order/manner so that the bodies matched up: the blonde lady dying second via acid, the black guy dying third via slicer, etc. Never play chess against that guy, I tell you.