Fight Club

(1999) **** R
139 min. 20th Century Fox Distribution. Director: David Fincher. Cast: Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, Michael "Meatloaf" Lee Loaf, Zach Grenier, Richmond Arquette, Jared Leto.

/content/films/3632/1.jpgOn the occasion of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment’s fifth repackaging of Fight Club, let us all take a moment to appreciate corporate irony. “The things you own end up owning you,” says Tyler Durden, Fight Club’s anti-materialist anti-hero. But now you too can own Fight Club in a brand-new, 10th Anniversary Blu-ray edition! Oddly enough, it's worth owning: David Fincher’s brilliant adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s cult novels remains one of the seminal films of the 1990s.

A lightning rod, Fincher's film briefly tapped the zeitgeist (in a series of op-ed articles over a #1 box-office weekend), then just as suddenly tanked, failing to turn a profit from domestic receipts. But when the film hit DVD, it steadily built its reputation as an unappreciated masterwork of cinema at the turn of the millennium. Now an evergreen cult movie in midnight screenings and home video reissues, Fight Club remains a signifier of Fincher’s influential visual style (painted in shadows and sickly green) and a postmodern “violence chic” that, intentionally or not, rubs off of Fincher’s work (including Se7en). Arguably all that was distinctive and influential in ’90s cinema style can be located in Fincher’s sleek, meticulous visual design and Quentin Tarantino’s restless, culture-savvy verbiage. Both filmmakers spawned bratty cinematic offspring (Brett Ratner, anyone? Joe Carnahan and his craptastic Smokin’ Aces?). Like the hero of Fight Club, the now-middle-aged Fincher is still deciding the man he wants to be, but this film proved he has the potential to be his generation’s Kubrick if he can be patient enough to find and nuture the right material.

Just as in Palahniuk's 1996 novel, the film follows an unnamed protagonist, a modern Everyman plagued by a spirit-deadening existence of hermetically sealed apartment living and meaningless labor in corporate cubicle culture (like "space monkeys," the men of Fight Club "do the little job [they're] trained to do"). Wittily played by Edward Norton, this bitter insomniac seeks personal uplift from support group meetings for people with potentially fatal diseases; the faker meets his match when he encounters a woman named Marla (Helena Bonham Carter), absurdly present in his weekly testicular cancer support group. With his protagonist, Palahniuk reflected the existential "masculinity crisis" later codified by Susan Faludi in her book Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Male. Tired of his powerlessness and being judged against what Faludi called "ornamental culture," Norton’s sad-sack functionary feels his oats by following a new role model into a funhouse version of Robert Bly’s men’s movement—one that is at once appealing, comical and sinister.

This archetypal male leader-by-example is Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), and the movement is Fight Club. As played by Pitt, Tyler Durden is a bitingly funny caricature of 20th Century masculine cool. He's everything a young man wants to be, or at least thinks he wants to be: free, uninhibited, sexy, revolutionary, counter-cultural, and—above all, behind the driver's wheel. Similarly, young men of Generations X and Y see in Fight Club itself a rare, authentic representation of themselves: not as slackers but as disappointed drones. Masses of children of divorce or deadbeat dads (what Tyler pegs as “a generation of men raised by women”) gravitate for guidance to the fantasies of media, embodied by Pitt’s buff, gleefully violent, quick-witted, take-charge sex god (the opposite of emasculated follower "Big Bob," well played by Meat Loaf Aday).

As for the underground Fight Club, men find an existence that upends their mind-numbing "working for the Man"—with each Zen-like knock to the head, they feel pain, but also feel alive and present, engaged and challenged to discover who they truly are. They're also giving an outlet to their bottled anger against an all-male family they didn't choose: an unholy trinity of Dad, "God," and Big Brother. Feeling displaced in post-feminist culture, the lost boys of Fight Club bond, but also—like William Golding’s lads in Lord of the Flies—roughhouse their way into fascism, as Fight Club escalates into a lockstep anarchist terrorist group called Project Mayhem. The center will not hold as the taste of power corrupts and as brotherhood curdles into mob mentality, exercising instead of exorcising counter-cultural rage.

Some thoughtless critics took Fight Club too literally and too selectively, reading it as some sort of endorsement of Tyler's plan to destroy the towers of corporate culture from the ground level (never mind the tragicomic stupidity and waste of human life Norton's character decries in Project Mayhem). In the end, the hero learns he must be his own man and own his own pain instead of chasing the dream of power and control. He must, as Tyler once counseled him, "hit bottom" before he can rise, phoenix-like, from the ashes to forge real relationships and imperfectly but honorably make his way through society. Ten years on, Fight Club remains just as darkly funny, epic, and psychically wrenching as ever.

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Aspect ratios: 2.40:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 11/17/2009

Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Fox’s two-disc Fight Club Collector’s Edition DVD—produced by David Prior—remains a gold standard in DVD production, with an fine anamorphic-widescreen transfer, four scintillating commentary tracks and a full battery of bonus features. All of these extras and more return on the 10th Anniversary Blu-Ray Edition, which showcases a glorious high-def transfer and lossless sound. The image has sharpened noticeably, though the source material retains its grain and character; this is as good as Fight Club has ever looked on home video and as good as it's likely to look, though there do seem to be a couple of side effects to the HD upgrade, including a slight shift in color tone that makes the image, probably incorrectly, appear a little less sickly (Fincher's film's have always made a sallow, green-yellow impression). The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is tremendous, capturing every horrifying nuance of the soundscape and giving full body to the memorable music without ever drowning out dialogue.

The first round of bonuses are those extra audio tracks: commentary by David Fincher; commentary by David Fincher, Brad Pitt, Edward Norton and Helena Bonham Carter; commentary by Chuck Palahniuk and Jim Uhls; and commentary by Alex McDowell, director of photography Jeff Cronenweth, costume designer Michael Kaplan and visual effects supervisor Kevin Haug.

The new, Blu-exclusive A Hit in the Ear: Ren Klyce and the Sound Design of Fight Club (HD) features a six-minute 2009 interview with sound designer Klyce and an interactive editing suite enabling the user to re-mix the audio of four sequences.

The David Prior-produced "Flogging Fight Club" (9:58, HD) chronicles the film's induction to the Guy Movie Hall of Fame at Spike TV's 2009 Guys Choice Awards. We see Mel Gibson present the award to Fincher, Norton and Pitt; the show footage is interspersed with behind-the-scenes footage of the three men working out their stage bits.

Insomniac Mode: I am Jack's Search Index is a two-pronged menu for the bonus features, including an A-Z topic search and a commentary guide, which "allows you to view the topics being discussed in each of the four feature commentaries in real time" for on-the-fly access.

Behind the Scenes gathers seventeen vignettes of raw footage (in SD) with multiple angles and audio tracks, including commentaries by Fincher, Haug, special effects coordinator Cliff Wenger, visual effects supervisor for Digital Domain Kevin Mack, and digital animation supervisor/producer Richard "Doc" Bailey; also provided are pre-production art and storyboards (in HD gallery form). The wealth of material is organized into three main sections: Production, Visual Effects, and "On Location" (5:24, SD), a behind-the-scenes reel highlighting some of the most interesting aspects of pre-production and production—including fight rehearsals—with Fincher, Pitt, Norton, Meat Loaf Aday, prop master Roy "Bucky" Moore, make-up effects supervisor Rob Bottin, costume designer Michael Kaplan.

For a mini-master class in editing, check out seven Deleted & Alternate Scenes: "Chloe and Rupert" (:53, SD); "Marla's Pillow Talk" (:35, SD); "Copier Abuse" (3:15, SD); "Tyler Quits Smoking/Jack Quits Work" (1:28, SD), with a second angle offering behind-the-kitchen-scene footage; "Angel Face's Beating" (3:14, SD), with a second angle offering footage of the blocking and shooting of the scene; "Walter" (1:39, SD) and "Tyler's Goodbye" (1:55, SD).

Publicity Material includes Trailers, comprising the "Theatrical Teaser" (:47, SD), "Theatrical Trailer" (2:26, SD), "The 8 Rules of Fight Club" (:46, SD); seventeen TV Spots; two faux PSAs: "Jack's PSA" (:29, SD) and "Tyler's PSA" (:37, SD); a Music Video (3:32, SD); five inventive Internet Spots; a Promotional Gallery (HD) including lobby cards/advertising (many featuring the ubiquitous soap logo: “Creates a Thick Rich Lather. Kinda Like Rabies”), press kit (a hilarious fake catalog), and stills; and Edward Norton Interview (HD), an intellectual Q&A transcript from Norton's 1999 return visit to alma mater Yale.

Last up is an Art Gallery (HD) collecting the storyboards (the complete storyboard of the film), visual effects stills, Paper Street house, costumes & makeup, pre-production paintings, and brain-ride map.

The HD upgrade is worth the plunge for this seminal '90s film, and the new bonus features add some additional value. The only conspicuous omission from the two-disc collector's edition DVD (aside from its design and booklet) is the memorable fake FBI warning, but here that is for your enjoyment:


Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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