The end of David Fincher Week

You may have noticed that a week ago last Friday I posted a little piece called “David Fincher Week”. Well — 10 days, 8 films, 1,090 minutes of viewing and 9,375 words later (never mind about a month’s worth of personal anticipation beforehand) — said Week is over.

Fincher dominanceOne thing this week has achieved is re-confirming that Fincher is one of my favourite directors. Another is to remind me that I’ve not seen a single one of his films at the cinema.

A third is to have helped me consider each of his films in the context of his others, in order. I would attempt to summarise what I’ve learnt (if anything), but why do that when I can plagiarise myself? So, as I’ve rattled through the films and reviews this week, here’s a little linked-up summary of them all, highlighting where possible quotes that discuss the films in the context of Fincher’s others.


#14
Alien³: Special Edition
(1992 / 2003)

Even though [Fincher] had limited — often, no — control over much of the project, there are still signs that link it with his later films. It’s stylishly shot for one thing, most of the locations either soaked in shadow or cold light, with an often fluid camera. Darkness litters the film thematically too: setting it on a prison colony for murderers and rapists, the violent attempted gang rape of Ripley, the death and autopsy of a 10-year-old girl… Then there’s the Alien itself, from its ugly birth to its violent murders. Fincher may have not turned so explicitly to horror since, but that brand of darkness does flow on into most of his best films: Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac.

It’s also, perhaps, interesting to remember this being Fincher’s first film. He might seems like an odd choice, a first-timer paling beside the experienced hands of Scott and Cameron. But that would be to forget that, for both, their Alien films were only their second time helming a feature; and while Cameron’s previous had been sci-fi (The Terminator), Scott’s was period drama The Duellists. A first-timer — especially one versed in commercials and music videos — isn’t all that different, really, and Fincher has certainly gone on to show his worth.

Read my full review here.


#14a
Se7en
(1995)

the cinematography [is] an aspect Fincher put a lot of work into both originally and then again to make it look right on the DVD re-release. This may well be because the film is incredibly dark. Black seems to be its default position — everything else is cut out of the darkness with as little light as possible. Often backgrounds and locations are better lit than foregrounds or actors, making the viewer focus on silhouettes with minimal light offering splashes of detail. Even the scenes that occur at daytime (most, anyway) do so in the middle of ferocious, ceaseless rain that ensures it never gets too bright.

Read my full review here.


#15a
The Game
(1997)

The Game stands out in Fincher’s filmography as not being particularly Fincher-y. He’s made equally as mainstream-friendly fare since — Panic Room, Benjamin Button, The Social Network — so that The Game doesn’t have as shocking a kick as Alien³, Se7en or Fight Club is not so unusual. More so, It’s not as stylishly directed or shot as any of his other films. It’s not badly done at all, but the cinematography is unremarkable and the direction is good without being any more. Many other competent directors could have been responsible — there’s no sign of his unique touch, probably his only film (that I’ve seen anyway) not to display that. To sum up: well-made, just not distinctive.

Read my full review here.


#16a
Fight Club
(1999)

Another point that interests me here is the audience’s reaction to a filmmaker who uses twists. As we’ve seen, Fincher produced three films in a row that had considerable twist endings; two of them often number in lists of the best movie twists ever. So how is it that he didn’t gain a particular reputation for twist endings, whereas M. Night Shyamalan gained one after… well, one film. I’m not complaining about this — the constant need to provide a shocking last-minute rug-pull has gone on to scupper Shyamalan’s career — but the difference of reaction/public perception is intriguing. I’m sure there are reasons — the sheer size of The Sixth Sense’s twist relative to those in Fincher’s films (it’s only Fight Club’s, his third such film, that changes everything we’ve seen in the same way); the way Shyamalan appeared to court the reputation; and so on.

…Fincher’s films often look great, but Fight Club is surely the most visually inventive. A list of exciting spectacles could be endless… To top it off, the ‘regular’ cinematography is grounded in Fincher’s trademark darkness, as if every shot was conceived as just black and he added only what light was necessary.

Read my full review here.


#16b
Panic Room
(2002)

it’s still clearly a Fincher film thanks to the visuals. So it’s quite dark and stylish, of course, which at least one review I’ve read credited much more to dual cinematographs Conrad W. Hall and Darius Khondji. Not to dismiss either man’s influence and skill, but, piss off. You only need to watch Fincher’s previous films (one shot by Khondji, the other three by three different DoPs) to see that this is a director who knows what he’s after visually (as if his reputation for shooting an obscene number of takes for every little shot didn’t suggest that well enough). To say it’s only thanks to Hall and Khondji that Fincher could produce such a good-looking film does the director a disservice.

Nonetheless, his style is even more evident in the distinctive, physically impossible swooping camera shots.

Read my full review here.


#16c
Zodiac: Director’s Cut
(2007 / 2008)

there are still some properly chilling scenes. Best — by which, all things considered, I mean “worst”; or, rather, “most scary” — of all is Graysmith’s visit to the house of a suspect’s friend, Bob Vaughn, at which point a series of revelations question who exactly should be under suspicion… Another review describes it as “one of the single most chilling scenes ever committed to film” and I’m inclined to agree.

Another triumph of direction comes in how effectively Fincher conveys the time periods the film crosses using relatively subtle means: popular music, appearing in snatches in the background rather than blaring out at us; the actual passage of time with time-lapse shots of a skyscraper being constructed or an audio montage of the major news in a skipped period; and place-and-time subtitles too, but hey, sometimes you need specificity.

Read my full review here.


The visuals may be Benjamin Button’s strongpoint, holding up a variety of era-evoking colour palettes and other design elements as it passes throughout the 20th Century. Flashback-like asides are conveyed in older film styles — scratchy prints for instance, or with a silent movie aesthetic — that on the one hand could seem an inappropriate indulgence, but objectively work very nicely. For a director who has a reputation in some corners for exhibiting excessive flair with swish shots and effects, Fincher shows steady restraint here — as he did in Zodiac, and Se7en, and all the moments in his other films where it was appropriate.

…Viewer awareness of time passing in the narrative is left to the odd snippet of dialogue or obvious jump; aside from a few clear points, there’s a less convincing sense of era than Fincher evoked in Zodiac. Whether this matters or not is debatable — Button isn’t a chronicle of the 20th Century through one man’s eyes, but is rather the story of a (somewhat unusual) life lived during that timed period.

Read my full review here.


it is indeed marvellously directed. As ever, Fincher knows when to keep it simple and when to jazz it up. Witness the incredible visuals in the Henley Regatta boat race, for instance — not brand-new techniques, but the combination of them with the editing and music makes for an outstanding sequence, 90 seconds of pure cinematic perfection.

Conversely, look at all the film’s conversations. Let’s draw on one that’s discussed in the making-of material, the scene between Mark Zuckerberg and Sean Parker in the club: as Fincher says, he could’ve had a Steadicam endlessly circling them or something similar to make it seem Fast and Hip, but in reality you need to see the conversation, and especially Mark’s reactions, so instead it’s just a good old fashioned shot-reverse-shot. For all his visual prowess, it’s understanding this need for simplicity and (g)old standard techniques when appropriate that Fincher has had a handle on throughout his career.

Read my full review here.



Fincher’s next “gift to us” (as Andrew Garfield put it at the BAFTAs), his ninth film, will be an English-language adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, currently scheduled to reach UK cinemas on 26th December.

I expect I’ll catch it on Blu-ray sometime in 2012.

[P.S. 30/9/2014: I’ve still not watched it. I am a failure.]

Alien³: Special Edition (1992/2003)

aka Alien³: Assembly Cut

2011 #14
David Fincher | 145 mins | Blu-ray | 15 / R

Alien3 Special EditionIt’s getting on for two years since I last (and first) watched most of the Alien Quadrilogy series, provoking some relatively lengthy (for this blog, anyway) debate on my reviews of the three sequels. I refer you to those at the outset for a couple of reasons. One, because a lot of my review of Alien³’s theatrical cut still holds true for this half-hour-longer version; two, because other points in that review may make an interesting counterpoint to the more positive thoughts I now have (“may”); and three, because some of the comments on the reviews also discuss this extended cut, which may also interest you.

They’re also relevant to highlight this point: it’s been two years since I watched Alien³ and I’ve only seen it once. Despite this extended version being 26% longer, that means I still found it hard to spot much of the additional material. I’m sure fans who’d seen the original multiple times in the decade between its theatrical release and this cut appearing in 2003 were able to spot changes much more readily. Nonetheless, a few obvious additions and modifications stand out: an extended opening when Clemens discovers Ripley on the beach; the Alien birthing from an ox (rather than a dog); the lack of a Queen chestburster at the very end. I could’ve turned on the Blu-ray’s “deleted scenes” marker of course, and I did consider that, but I thought it might just get distracting on a first viewing. And speaking technically, I don’t know what the new scenes looked like on the Quadrilogy DVDThe Alien (as I haven’t watched that copy, obviously), but on Blu-ray the added footage, 2003-era new effects and 2010 re-recorded audio are indistinguishable from the rest of the film.

Readers interested in the history and reasoning of this new, significantly longer cut may appreciate the introduction it had in the Quadrilogy set’s booklet (sadly nowhere to be found on the Anthology Blu-ray). I’ve reproduced the majority of it below:

Following its troubled production and controversial release, Alien 3 slowly became something of a curiosity among serious enthusiasts of the Alien series. Not only would its first-time director, David Fincher, go on to become one of Hollywood’s most sought-after filmmakers but the film itself would generate quite a mystique thanks to heated rumours of creative interference, lost scenes and even a completely different cut of the film that supposedly restored Fincher’s original vision of what many believed to be a seriously compromised work.

Rumour control, here are the facts. There is no wondrous lost “director’s cut” of Alien 3. It doesn’t exist. Indeed, for such a dream to be realised, Fincher would have to be allowed to remake the film from scratch with complete creative control. What does exist is something perhaps equally fascinating.

For the first time, fans can now experience a restored and re-mastered presentation of the 1991 assembly cut of Alien 3. With a running time increased by more than 30 minutes, this Special Edition contains several never-before-seen sequences that offer a fascinating insight into the film’s difficult editing process. This cut also reveals a combination of vintage, previously unreleased optical effects shot and several newly-composited digital effects necessary to seamlessly integrate new footage into the body of the film…

The Alien 3 Special Edition offers fans a unique chance to witness the lost work of a remarkable director.

So there you go. As I mentioned, this version updates the 2003 one with some re-recorded dialogue.

On my original review, Matthew McKinnon commented that as he watched this new cut he realised “it wasn’t shaping up into a more coherent or purposeful movie… just a longer version with more of the same.” I agree that, to an extent, it’s “a longer version with more of the same”, but I found it more coherent too. While the major plot beats still occur at the same time and in fundamentally the same way, perhaps the myriad tweaks have made it clearer just what’s going on? Or perhaps I was just more familiar, having seen it once already? Either way, sequences and events that left me a bit lost last time seem to make perfect sense on this outing.

Paul McGann as GolicOne of the biggest things I remember being told about Alien³, before the Special Edition, was that most of Paul McGann’s performance had been cut; that originally he had a sizeable role that justified his fourth billing, rather than his cameo-sized part in the theatrical cut. It doesn’t feel like there’s an awful lot more of him in this version, though scanning through Movie-Censorship.com’s thorough list of changes one can see a lot of brief shots as well as one or two significant scenes featuring him. Again, despite the sense that little has changed, his character does feel more comprehensible, so maybe these barely-noticeable additions do make all the difference?

As a little aside, I sometimes feel a little sorry for McGann — since his acclaim in The Monocled Mutineer, numerous shots at bigger success seem to have passed him by. He gets a key role in a Hollywood blockbuster, but is then largely cut out; he’s cast as Richard Sharpe in a major ITV series, but is injured and has to pull out (and we can see where that led career-wise for Sean Bean); he’s cast as the Doctor in a big-budget American backdoor pilot for Doctor Who, which flops Stateside and goes nowhere… He’s undoubtedly talented, but these days seemingly forced into lacklustre supporting roles in the likes of Luther. Maybe he doesn’t mind, I don’t know (at least he got “the largest insurance settlement in British television history” for missing out on Sharpe), but it seems like he deserved greater success. Poor guy.

Still, McGann’s performance here is exceptional, even if it’s still brief. He’s just one member of an outstanding British cast though, many of whom are recognisable for the excellent work they’ve done since. Actors with a PUnsurprisingly, therefore, they’re almost all totally underused. Charles Dance gets the biggest slice of the cake and is as good as ever, but doing little more than show their face we have Pete Postlethwaite, Phil Davis, Peter Guinness, Danny Webb (they don’t all begin with P…) Alien³ is 19 years old now, no one could’ve predicted the future; but viewed with hindsight, the volume of under-utilised talent is almost astounding.

Hindsight also affords other interesting perspectives. Dance’s death is still very effective, for instance. It’s not surprising once you’ve seen the film more than once — obviously — but killing off really the only character our hero (and, by extension, the audience) has become sympathetic to at around the halfway mark? Not unheard of, true (see: Psycho), but still rare enough to be a shock, to disconcert and wrong-foot the viewer.

Plus, we can now look at it in the context of Fincher’s following work. Even though he had limited — often, no — control over much of the project, there are still signs that link it with his later films. It’s stylishly shot for one thing, most of the locations either soaked in shadow or cold light, with an often fluid camera. Darkness litters the film thematically too: setting it on a prison colony for murderers and rapists, the violent attempted gang rape of Ripley, the death and autopsy of a 10-year-old girl… Even if we see no real detail on screen (thank goodness this wasn’t made in recent torture porn-obsessed years), the implication and the emotional connection is harrowing enough. Then there’s the Alien itself, from its ugly birth to its violent murders. Fincher may have not turned so explicitly to horror since, but that brand of darkness does flow on into most of his best films: Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac.

Ripley rapeIt’s also, perhaps, interesting to remember this being Fincher’s first film. He might seem like an odd choice, a first-timer paling beside the experienced hands of Scott and Cameron. But that would be to forget that, for both, their Alien films were only their second time helming a feature*; and while Cameron’s previous had been sci-fi (The Terminator), Scott’s was period drama The Duellists. A first-timer — especially one versed in commercials and music videos — isn’t all that different, really, and Fincher has certainly gone on to show his worth. Indeed, his very next film was the incredible Se7en.

Alien³’s Special Edition didn’t strike me as massively different from the theatrical cut, despite some obvious changes, with the exception that I now found it to be more intelligible. Whereas before I thought it started well and became less coherent — and, consequently, less good — as it went on, with this version I felt I was following the story and characters throughout. As a result, I enjoyed it more. Perhaps it also benefitted from my viewing situation: the first time I watched it within days of both Alien and Aliens; this time, I chose to watch it in isolation. Whatever the reasons, this Special Edition earns Alien³ an extra star from me.

4 out of 5

* Cameron’s name is on Piranha II, and it is a fun joke to think such dross was his directorial debut, but his version (at least) of the behind-the-scenes story suggests it should in honesty be ignored. If you prefer, imagine I said Aliens was only his second major feature.

I watched the Alien³: Special Edition as part of a David Fincher Week. Read my thoughts on all his films to date here.

David Fincher Week

David FincherDavid Fincher’s multi-Oscar-nominated latest, The Social Network, hits UK DVD and Blu-ray a week from Monday (and we’ll find out what, if anything, it’s won just two weeks later). As Fincher’s one of my favourite directors, and is responsible for several of my favourite-ever films, I’ve decided to mark the occasion with a David Fincher Week. The title of this post may’ve given that away.

Unfortunately Fincher has directed one too many films to make a neat week. Normally Alien³ would be the obvious candidate for elimination, what with its production troubles and Fincher leaving the project before editing began, but the ‘Assembly Cut’ included on the Quadrilogy DVD, and now Anthology Blu-ray, is closer to his vision (“closer” being the operative word). Besides which, I’ve not seen it, so it can have a new number, something Panic Room can’t. Neither can Se7en, The Game or Fight Club, but I have two of those on Blu-rays I’ve not yet watched and I’m rather fond of The Game.

But I’m going to include Panic Room anyway, because it’s nice to be thorough, and so just have a David Fincher Week-and-a-Day. Or slip the review in on the same day as the Zodiac Director’s Cut, because I’ve already reviewed that film and I doubt the extra, what is it, four minutes of footage makes much difference.

David Fincher poster collageMy viewing starts tonight, for a week running Friday to Friday — I’m relying on HMV to get The Social Network to me in timely fashion for that to work. I intend to start posting reviews on Sunday night — technically, Monday morning — which gives me a couple of days to write them, for a week running Monday to Monday. Neatness in both watching and reviewing, then.

For those unfamiliar with Fincher’s body of work, or who just fancy a handy reminder, here’s a handy timetable of when I intend to post my reviews:

Alien³: Special Edition Monday 7th
Se7en Tuesday 8th
The Game Wednesday 9th
Fight Club Thursday 10th
Panic Room Friday 11th
Zodiac: Director’s Cut Saturday 12th
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Sunday 13th
The Social Network Monday 14th

Alien3So the week begins with a film I’ve seen in a cut I haven’t, ends with two films I’ve never seen, and along the way takes in several of my favourite-ever films. Lovely.

Right, I’m off to watch Alien³. See you Monday.

Well, Sunday, at midnight.

Hopefully.

My end-of-the-week summary can now be read here.

Alien vs Predator – Part 2

Five weeks ago (crikey, time flies) I began my series of reviews of the Alien, Predator and Alien vs Predator franchises with my thoughts on Alien: The Director’s Cut and the original Predator, both of which I’d seen before. Over the past few days I’ve moved on to the remaining Alien films, all of which I viewed in their original theatrical cuts and all of which were new to me.

Here’s a handy summary of what you may’ve missed, then, if you somehow had something better to do on a sunny summer weekend than check blogs every day.

2009 #14
Aliens

“Where Alien is a Horror Movie — but in space — Aliens is a War Movie — but in space. The central characters are a team of marines, as opposed to the original’s ordinary guys; where the first film’s design was dark, shadowy and oppressive, here it’s all gleaming tech, tanks and guns and spaceships and the like; and, just to underline the point, the score is full of military drums.” Read more…

2009 #15
Alien³

“Even if in some ways 3 combines the first two — single Alien, claustrophobia, unarmed heroes; but there are lots of them, most with experience of killing — it adds enough variety, especially stylistically… it soon turns dark, dirty and decrepit, abandoning both the the military sheen of Aliens and the old tanker grime of Alien.” Read more…

2009 #16
Alien Resurrection

“the most notable differences are its black humour, where the tastes of both [writer] Whedon and director Jeunet make their mark, and how grotesque it is — almost two extremes walking hand-in-hand. The deformed, perverted Ripley clones; the Hybrid; the Ripley-Alien sex scene — there’s nothing like this in the other films, and that’s a grand thing.” Read more…


In the third and final part of this series I’ll be setting my sights on the allegedly-underrated Predator 2 and the much-hated pair of AVP and AVPR.