Se7en (1995)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #81

Seven deadly sins. Seven ways to die.

Also Known As: Seven

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 127 minutes
BBFC: 18
MPAA: R

Original Release: 22nd September 1995 (USA)
UK Release: 5th January 1996
First Seen: TV, 12th June 2001 (probably)

Stars
Morgan Freeman (The Shawshank Redemption, Million Dollar Baby)
Brad Pitt (Legends of the Fall, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)
Kevin Spacey (The Usual Suspects, American Beauty)
Gwyneth Paltrow (Sliding Doors, Shakespeare in Love)

Director
David Fincher (Fight Club, Zodiac)

Screenwriter
Andrew Kevin Walker (8MM, Sleepy Hollow)

The Story
In an unnamed city, two homicide detectives investigate a series of grim murders inspired by the seven deadly sins.

Our Heroes
William Somerset is a detective who works calmly and methodically, and cares more than most. Serving out the last few days before his retirement, he lands a helluva final case. His new partner is David Mills, a hotheaded but idealistic new transfer who’s keen to prove himself. Despite their chalk-and-cheese temperaments, or perhaps because of them, the pair may be ideally suited to catch the elusive killer.

Our Villain
John Doe, a proper psychopath, and on a mission too. I say the detectives are ideally suited to catch him, but, well (major, major spoilers…) they technically don’t and he essentially wins.

Best Supporting Character
R. Lee Ermey’s police captain, purely for the moment when he answers a phone. I love that bit of humour far more than it probably warrants.

Memorable Quote
“What was in the box? What’s in the box? What’s in the fucking box?!” — Mills

Memorable Scene
The climax — just Somerset, Mills, and John Doe, alone in the middle of nowhere… and then a deliveryman shows up. “John Doe has the upper hand!”

Technical Wizardry
The film’s visual style really helps to sell the tone — dark, foreboding, grim. This is in part because it’s always raining, a decision made to increase the sense of dread, and because of Darius Khondji’s cinematography, which employed bleach bypass (see also: Minority Report), a process that serves to deepen shadows. Additionally, for the film’s Platinum Series DVD release it was rescanned from the original negative, meaning the whole film had to have its colour grading re-done. Some of the changes were quite extensive (as detailed in the DVD/Blu-ray’s special features, if you’re interested).

Truly Special Effect
A serial killer thriller might not sound like a special effect showcase, but John Doe’s extreme methods lead to some pretty unusual and gruesome corpses — rendered with suitably sickening prosthetics, of course. ‘Sloth’ is particularly harrowing, though ‘lust’ is so bad it’s left almost entirely to our imagination — though, again, someone had to design and build the… instrument.

Making of
John Doe’s shelves of handwritten notebooks were real and created especially for the film. They took two months to create at a cost of $15,000.

Next time…
Screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker originally thought of 8MM as a sequel, and David Fincher was interested, but it didn’t happen and we wound up with the only-half-decent Nicolas Cage-starring Joel Schumacher-directed version instead.

Awards
1 Oscar nomination (Editing)
1 BAFTA nomination (Original Screenplay)
2 Saturn Awards (Writing, Make-Up)
5 Saturn nominations (Action/Adventure Film, Actor (Morgan Freeman), Supporting Actress (Gwyneth Paltrow), Director, Music)
Places with more taste (i.e. where it won Best Film): Empire Awards, Fantasporto International Fantasy Film Awards, MTV Movie Awards; plus Best Foreign Language Film at Blue Ribbon Awards, Hochi Film Awards, Sant Jordi Awards (Audience Award)

What the Critics Said
“designer unpleasantness is a hallmark of our era, and this movie may be more concerned with wallowing in it than with illuminating what it means politically. Yet the filmmakers stick to their vision with such dedication and persistence that something indelible comes across — something ethically and artistically superior to The Silence of the Lambs that refuses to exploit suffering for fun or entertainment and leaves you wondering about the world we’re living in.” — Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader

Score: 80%

What the Public Say
“The rain never ends. There is seldom any sunlight, or any warmth. The city feels like a city of the damned, as if its denizens are souls trapped in some circle of hell from which there is no escape. A feeling of dread pervades everything; there is never any inclination that anything remotely like justice or hope or salvation is even possible here. […] it’s all style and atmosphere but… to criticise the film for that, almost feels like missing the point — it’s so integral to the piece, the atmosphere is actually one of the film’s characters” — the ghost of 82

Elsewhere on 100 Films
I reviewed Se7en quite thoroughly (and, if I do say so myself, quite well) as part of a retrospective on Fincher’s films back in 2011, concluding that “some would claim that Se7en is no more than a standard murder thriller with a stock mismatched pair of detectives. In some respects they’re right, but in enough respects they’re wrong. There’s a killer high concept behind the crimes, but it’s really the execution of the film that makes it so much more. It’s in the performances, the way those stock characters are written, their subplots, the story’s pace, the cinematography, the music, individual sequences like Somerset in the library or the climax that rise not only to the top of the genre but to the top of the very medium of film itself.”

Verdict

When asked, I normally say Se7en is my favourite movie. That’s partly pre-picked just to prevent any such conversations turning into a dreary slog where I um and ah through hundreds of options, but naturally there’s some truth in it. On the surface it’s merely a police procedural, but it’s the way it handles that material that elevates it. It’s a dark film about terrible deeds, which both suits its subject matter (murder isn’t really just a fun little mystery to solve, is it?) and presents a worldview that makes us consider who’s really right and who’s really mad — John Doe is clearly an evil psychopath, but does he have a point? It’s also made with supreme artistry by director David Fincher and his team — I’ve already mentioned DP Darius Khondji, but it’s also superbly edited by Richard Francis-Bruce. And I’d argue it has one of the greatest climaxes ever filmed. There are more easily enjoyable movies in my 100 Favourites, but there are none that are any better made, nor any that better expose the dark heart of humanity.

#82 will be… a big damn movie.

The Raven (2012)

2013 #30
James McTeigue | 106 mins | TV | 2.35:1 | USA, Hungary & Spain / English | 15 / R

The RavenJohn Cusack stars as literary giant (figuratively) Edgar Allan Poe in this wannabe-Victorian-Se7en from the director of V for Vendetta.

Set in the days leading up to Poe’s death (a period in the author’s life which is apparently shrouded in mystery), the film sees a serial killer recreating horrendous scenes from Poe’s tales, leading the police to rope in the author in the hope he can help solve the case. A game develops between the killer and the writer, as they race against time to stop more deaths and all that palaver.

Dark and gruesome with the killer having a clear line to follow in his murders? Wannabe Se7en, see. Unfortunately, it doesn’t follow up on that notion too well. Screenwriters Hannah Shakespeare (helluva name to live up to) and Ben Livingston don’t seem to know what to do with Poe’s tales, so there’s no rhyme nor reason to the killings — they’re plucked at random, possibly from the killer’s most favouritest stories, possibly just the ones someone thought would be the most cinematic. And whereas Se7en’s gore is shocking because it’s used sparingly, is kind of plausible, and is set very much in the real world, here we get a kind of gothic horror feel, complete with copious CGI blood at points.

That said, I got the feeling that The Raven is sort of an R by default. (Note that it received a 15 over here, which is also the stomping ground of harder-edged PG-13s.) There’s gore and the odd swear word, but none of it is lingered on. Most of the obvious blood ‘n’ guts is constrained to one scene, and I believe I counted the PG-13’s requisite single use of the F-word. Holmes and Watson...That they didn’t tone it all down just a smidge to match, and so go for the box office-friendly PG-13, is a surprise in these days.

Setting aside comparisons to Fincher’s masterpiece, I’ve read that one critic described The Raven as “Saw meets Sherlock Holmes”. Obviously I maintain that my allusion is better, but I can see where they’re coming from. However, apart from one murder inspired by The Pit and the Pendulum and someone being (temporarily) buried alive, it’s not that Saw-like; and it lacks the humour or action of Ritchie’s Holmes, or the deductive reasoning of any version. But, y’know, aside from that… Additionally, the climax is somewhat reminiscent of A Study in Pink. Might be coincidence, but on the other hand that episode did go out nearly two years before this was released…

I don’t know how historically accurate this tale is, but I imagine not very — I expect we’d know if Poe had been involved in a headline-making murder investigation that led to his death. But that’s fine — it’s the embodiment of the notion that a fiction film is an entertainment, not a history lesson. As for the author’s characterisation, I don’t know much about Poe, but can’t imagine Cusack is an accurate interpretation. He’s solid as this interpretation, though: a charming, roguish figure, living hand-to-mouth through his fondness for alcohol and dramatic wooing of a woman whose father hates him.

A right pair of BritsThe rest of the cast are from Hollywood’s usual go-to for period tales: Brits; if not entirely then mostly so. (The film was shot in Hungary and Serbia, so I suppose our thesps have the additional advantage of being geographically favourable to Americans.) You know you’re getting a level of quality there, then, though for me Kevin R. McNally lets the side down (again). He’s only a supporting character and is fine most of the time, but there’s one bit when he’s talking to the lead detective and just rattles off his line… It’s not the world’s greatest speech, but you can hear there was meant to be more nuance and quiet in there.

That could be the fault of the director, of course. A first assistant director for the Wachowskis in the days of The Matrix trilogy, James McTeigue graduated to feature directing with the adaptation of V for Vendetta, which I think is a very good film. He followed it with Ninja Assassin, which by all accounts is dreadful (I have, by one way or another, wound up with the BD, so someday I’ll find out). I think The Raven suggests his first film may have been fluke, or was at least aided by his mentors (who were also writers and producers on V). The actual direction-y directing here is mostly fine, although on the whole the film is too dark; sometimes literally too dark to see what’s going on, and that’s not aided by occasionally clunky editing.

I’ve not even mentioned the inappropriately modern title sequence (doubly bad as it comes after a rather sombre ending), or that the neat use of a raven in the film’s logo on the poster remains the entire project’s strongest aspect.

Bad review?Se7en is probably my favourite film ever made, but criticisms that it’s quite a standard detective mystery are not invalid. It’s enlivened by Andrew Kevin Walker’s writing (great dialogue, engrossing structure, etc), some top-drawer performances (Freeman, Pitt, a loopy-calm Spacey), and, probably most of all, David Fincher’s inestimable touch. In making such a comparison it’s easy to see that The Raven lacks any of these, which renders it a solid period mystery, but no more.

3 out of 5

The Raven is on Sky Movies Premiere at various times this week.

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.]

Se7en (1995)

2011 #14a
David Fincher | 127 mins | Blu-ray | 18 / R

Se7enI usually say that Se7en is my favourite film.

I don’t know if it’s just a recent thing, but with the proliferation of online “profiles” thanks to Facebook and, long before that, forums and various other websites*, it feels like we’re asked such questions on a regular basis these days, never mind as a go-to topic when conversation is struggling. So when people or websites inevitably ask what is your favourite film, they expect you to have one. I don’t think they like it if you begin to list 20, or 30, or… So I say Se7en.

This once led to me doing a presentation on the film; specifically, on Andrew Kevin Walker’s screenplay. It went quite well and I was going to use the notes as the basis for at least some of this review — I’m sure there was something interesting in them. I even listened to one of the commentaries (it has four) to glean extra info (in over a decade of buying DVDs now, I’ve only listened to about ten commentaries). Unfortunately the notes are lost to a harddrive buried deep in a box somewhere, or a hardcopy buried deep in old notes goodness knows where, so that’ll have to wait for another day. I just wanted you to know you were missing out. (Don’t get too upset — I’m sure it wasn’t that good.)

As with almost all films I love, be they ones I’ve held dear for years or newly discovered as part of 100 Films’ primary thread, I’m not sure where to begin praising it. Perhaps the cinematography, 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. SlothBlack 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.

It’s only appropriate, because the story is pretty much as black as they come. For those who’ve made it this far without finding out, Se7en concerns the police investigation into a series of murders themed around the seven deadly sins. In case you haven’t seen it, I shan’t outline any examples, but none are pretty. The worst, in my opinion, is Lust. However many times you see the film, that segment doesn’t get any easier to watch. It’s a three-way combination of an incredible, haunting performance by Leland Orser (in just one short scene); a photograph of the implement, which we see for mere seconds; and the moment when the film that was prepared to show us the ‘living corpse’ of Sloth victim Victor refuses to show us a body. Since the last time I watched Se7en I have seenLust all but one of the Saw films, the uncut Witchfinder General, and various other gory horrors like Flesh for Frankenstein, but none are as gruesomely affecting as the Lust crime.

I imagine it’s contextual. Se7en is, in its way, quite heavily stylised — “dark”, as I discussed — but it’s done so in a very grounded way. To get film studies-y about it, we are asked to believe this is the real world and a plausible series of events are occurring in it. Films like the Saw series, however, clearly exist in a horror movie version of the world (however much some of the filmmakers may be under the impression that it’s a series of grounded thrillers). You view Saw with a horror movie mindset, expecting extreme situations and extreme special effects-driven gore; Se7en, even with its cruel and unusual murders, is always a police thriller. The frame of reference — plus the quality of writing, direction and acting — is what makes Lust so much more affecting.

The acting is brilliant, subtler than some might expect or be aware of initially. To take one example, look at the scene in the bar that (coincidentally) follows Lust. Detectives Mills (Brad Pitt) and Somerset (Morgan Freeman) discuss, more-or-less, Somerset’s reasons for retiring. He sets out his stall, his thoughts and reasons, well rehearsed from telling others and himself. Greed, GluttonyMills delivers his riposte with greater hyperbole — of course, because that’s the character — perhaps bedded in a form of naivety and idealism, ending with a repetitious “I do not agree. I do not.” Then we see Freeman’s face, completely static, but you can read in it everything you need to — his anger at Mills for making him realise that it’s all a lie he’s been telling himself, and anger at himself for believing the lie. That’s one scene; Freeman is incredible throughout.

For all the darkness, there’s also a nice vein of humour. Not too much, not a desperate attempt to compensate, but a well-judged amount. One of my favourite comic moments in any serious film (“this isn’t even my desk”); the vibrating home; “if I shaved off a nipple…” From an objective point of view it helps us believe in and, more importantly, like the characters. Which is, really, all in aid of one thing:

The famous ending. It’s a twist, yes, but it’s more than that; and it’s mainly the performances that sell it. The twist, first, is perfectly played. We never see what’s in the box; we’re never even told; but we absolutely, positively, unquestionably know what’s in there, as surely as if we were Somerset seeing it with his own eyes. Even once you know what’s coming, though, it’s what follows the twist that’s incredible: three men in a field, three impeccable performances that bring everything we’ve spent two hours watching to a perfect head. Envy, WrathThis is where liking the characters pays too, because we are on Somerset’s side and we’re on Mills’ side and we agree with both and disagree with both and don’t necessarily know who’s right or what to do or what we would do. I can spend the whole film anticipating this scene, knowing exactly what will happen in it, how great a piece of filmmaking it will be, yet it still makes my hair stand on end.

Some would claim that Se7en is no more than a standard murder thriller with a stock mismatched pair of detectives. In some respects they’re right, but in enough respects they’re wrong. There’s a killer high concept behind the crimes, for one thing, but it’s really the execution of the film, not the victims, that makes it so much more. It’s in the performances, the way those stock characters are written, their subplots, the story’s pace, the cinematography, the music, individual sequences like Somerset in the library or the climax that (arguably, of course) rise not only to the top of the genre but to the top of the very medium of film itself. There’s so much more; this review only scratches the surface. Se7en transcends its limitations in any one area by becoming far more than the sum of its exemplary parts.

PrideThe quality of a crime thriller is often so tied to its mystery that the film can only sustain so many viewings — sometimes, only one — before you know it too well. I have seen Se7en at least seven times now, which for me is a lot — a helluva lot, even — and yet I still get something from it every time. That’s a rarity, that’s a reason to love it, and that is why it may well be my favourite film.

5 out of 5

I watched Se7en as part of a David Fincher Week. Read my thoughts on all his films to date here.

* All these people who attribute such things to Facebook, usually in a critical way, are just a bit behind. (That’s a personal bugbear dealt with, then.) ^

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.

Frankenstein (2004)

aka Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein

2010 #22
Marcus Nispel | 84 mins | DVD | 18

FrankensteinFirst, a little note on that aka: technically — and, I believe, legally — no such title is attached to this project. However, the initial idea was developed by Koontz and, after he left the project, adapted into his Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein series of novels. Despite the ‘creative disagreement’ (or whatever they chose to call it) that led him to walk away, the film retains significant similarities to the first book. More on these in a moment.

So, this version of Frankenstein is a made-for-TV movie/series pilot (that’s taken six years to find its way to British TV, apparently — in case you didn’t know, the series wasn’t picked up). According to the blurb on my DVD, it’s a “contemporary retelling of Mary Shelley’s gothic horror classic”. I guess no one in the publicity department actually watched it. In actuality it’s more a sequel to Shelley’s novel: Dr Frankenstein has somehow survived to the modern day and emigrated to New Orleans, where he continues his experiments, while his original monster, now going by the name Deucalion, has tracked him down in the name of justice. Or something. Maybe they should’ve just started from scratch… then again, look how that worked out.

Thanks to Koontz leaving the project midway through its conception, it’s difficult to accurately explain the relationship between the novel and the film. This isn’t an adaptation, certainly, but nor is the novel a mere novelization. Most of the official comment on the novel/film relationship is along the lines of this, taken from the current iteration of the book series’ Wikipedia entry: “Koontz withdrew from the project over creative differences with the network, and the production continued in a different direction with similar characters and a modified plot.” Perhaps this is what Koontz would like viewers/readers to believe: that the novels are his undiluted vision, while the film most certainly is not. Well, don’t believe him.

Watching the film having read the book (a couple of years ago), this feels like a faithful adaptation. It comes with the usual caveats of condensing a c.400-page novel into a sub-90-minute film — certain elements are foreshortened, others tweaked, others abandoned — but in terms of the primary plot, the characters and their actions, it’s all incredibly close to the series’ first novel. I hesitate to say “exactly the same” when I’ve not read it for years, but it wouldn’t surprise me if whole scenes and dialogue exchanges match perfectly.

What this also means is that the film suffers from some of the novel’s flaws, when taken as a standalone work. Dr Frankenstein — now Dr Helios, for what it’s worth — is introduced but remains a background figure, only peripherally connected to this episode’s serial killer plot. In this its intentions as a pilot couldn’t be clearer, and with an ending that’s part cliffhanger, part “the story continues”, it’s as clear as in the novel that this is far from over. Other than there not being a TV series or any sequels, that is. (Though if you want to know what happens, there are already two further novels — and three more planned — that continue the story.)

The film itself isn’t badly produced. Marcus Nispel’s direction seems heavily influenced by Se7en, all dark and grainy and very, very brown. Even the title sequence, with its juddery extreme close-ups and pulsating grungy soundtrack, feels borrowed from Fincher’s masterpiece. The cast are fine: Michael Madsen and Adam Goldberg play the same parts they always play, Parkey Posey leads well enough, and as Deucalion, Vincent Perez is… adequate. Thomas Kretschmann’s Helios is the closest the film comes to an outstanding performance; knowing the events of books two and three, one almost longs for sequels to see Kretschmann’s cooly dominant Helios disintegrate as Everything Goes Wrong.

All things considered, Frankenstein is probably best viewed as a compromised curiosity. It’s certainly not a wholly satisfying experience in itself, but those interested in Koontz’s series may find it a nice way to test the waters without having to plough through a whole novel, while those who have read the novel may find it interesting to see one part of the story committed to film. Or, of course, they may find it irritating that it’s not how they imagined. I fall into that middle category; those with no interest in the books or who hold them too dearly may wish to knock a star off this score.

3 out of 5

Five have the UK TV premiere of Frankenstein tonight at 11:25pm.