It's sort of hard to fathom that 'Fight Club,' David Fincher's blistering thriller, was released ten years ago. It makes me feel very old. It was a film released in the midst of a wave of energetic filmmaking, made by a media savvy crop of young filmmakers that looked like it would affect the way that movies were made (and viewed) for the new millennium. Its Films of 1999 classmates included such boundary-pushing affairs as 'Being John Malkovich,' 'Three Kings,' 'Election,' 'The Matrix' and 'Magnolia' (imagine that yearbook).
Standing amongst those giants, 'Fight Club' still towers as a singular experience, one that seems to almost burst with the limitless possibilities of turn-of-the-century filmmaking. Think about all those computer-assisted camera moves that zoomed through buildings and brains. We see those every week on the various 'CSI' series, but at the time nobody had done that before (or even thought to do that before). In fact, virtually every stylistic element of 'Fight Club,' from its opening title sequence to its casual mixture of violence and nihilism to its gotcha(!) twist ending have been aped, parodied, or shamelessly ripped off in the decade since its release.
For those who have been living under a rock for the past decade, the story of 'Fight Club' goes a little something… like this: Edward Norton plays a nameless office drone (keep in mind that 1999 was also the year that the office drone fought back - 'American Beauty,' 'Office Space') who works for an insurance company. Eventually his fly-everywhere-feel-nothing lifestyle catches up with him, giving him terrible insomnia. He then starts visiting Self Help groups for survivors of various terminal illnesses (Norton is perfectly healthy), where he runs into Martha (Helena Bonham Carter), a similar "tourist." Sometime later, on one of his trips, he meets Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), a freewheeling, freethinking man who positively vibrates with anarchistic energy. After his apartment is mysteriously destroyed, our narrator moves in with Durden and before long they've started the Fight Club, and underground boxing ring where angry young men mercilessly beat the shit out of each other. When the Fight Club mutates into something more nefarious, it's up to Norton to figure out who Tyler Durden really is, and if he can shut the operation down before catastrophe strikes on a wider scale.
Is the movie perfect? Well, no. It's too long, there's way too much narration, and occasionally the scattershot nature of the narrative makes the movie like a series of vignettes instead of a cohesive whole. Also, while the movie often adheres too rigidly to the Chuck Pahlniuk novel of the same name, there are some deviations that make little-to-no sense (the dramatic scale is lessened when the final denouement is a "controlled demolition" instead of a "murder suicide").
But the things that Fincher's 'Fight Club' gets right far outweighs the bad. The movie is revolutionary in almost every way. You can feel that everything that was done in this movie was done for the first time, whether it be The Dust Brothers' experimental electronic score, those zooming, computer-assisted camera moves, or the movie's sweaty up-front homoeroticism. Everyone brings their A-game, particularly Brad Pitt, and by the time the movie is over, you feel like you've become a member of the Fight Club, pummeled and bruised by the sheer force of the movie. I remember the first time I saw it I just went home and went to bed. Just watching it exhausted me. It's not the kind of movie that you watch; it's the kind of movie that downloads into you.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This 50GB disc is Region "free." There are no annoying ads when you press play. That's pretty much it.
Having seen this movie at least a couple dozen times since 'Fight Club's' 2000 DVD bow, I was still excited to see what this disc's MPEG-4 AVC 1080p transfer (2.40:1 aspect ratio) had in store. And, without reservation, I can say that this transfer delivers.
Does it deliver in the ways you'd expect? Not exactly. While Fox claims that David Fincher was deeply involved with the production of this Blu-ray, his involvement isn't really apparent anywhere (save for a cute Easter Egg I'll get to in a minute). Considering Fincher was knee-deep into pre-production on 'The Social Network' (aka 'The Facebook Movie'), I don't think he devoted a whole lot of time or attention to this release. Remember the 'Seven' DVD that had Fincher explaining how he re-corrected every frame of the movie? There's nothing like that here.
Still, this is probably the best 'Fight Club' has ever looked after its initial theatrical run. There were times when my mouth was agape as I took in all the extra detail that had been missing from the previous DVD edition. Stuff like a thin, misty layer of dust that trails the giant art ball in the 'Operation Latte Thunder' sequence, which was impossible to discern on the previous release.
The image has a consistent layer of grain, which never overwhelms. Similarly, there are no technical issues to worry about, aside from a few brief instances of crush. On that front, blacks and shadows (of which there are many) are deep and dimensional. Skin tones look good, detail is heightened (especially in regards to textures and fabric - Norton and Pitt's dilapidated mansion never looked so gloriously grimy), and there are no instances of artificial sharpening or DNR.
There are a few moments which look somewhat muddy, but that is most likely an aesthetic decision rather than a fault of the transfer. There isn't a whole lot of color in this movie, but the moments that are punctuated by color are done brilliantly (a fireball erupting from a computer store, a flash cut to a lush green rainforest).
Despite being produced without much involvement from the legendarily picky David Fincher, this Blu-ray transfer is a bold leap forward from the previous DVD, and reason enough to buy this movie again.
As impressive as the video is, it doesn't compare to the room-shaking dexterity of the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. Literally from the opening frame, with the aggressive Dust Brothers title music pumping in (as we rocket through the synapses firing in our narrator's brain), I was impressed. I think I might have let out an audible yelp.
This is an amazing, amazing track. It's everything you'd expect it to be and more. The fight scenes are brutal, with the surround sound coming to life not only with the thwacks and cracks of the violence but with the sound of the spectators huddled around watching the blood sport. Similarly, when the action of the Fight Club leaks out into the real world, the track becomes even more muscular and visceral. And as amazing as an explosion or a car alarm sounds, I was taken aback by the simpler directional elements like the squeak of Brad Pitt's shoes as he scuttles across a bathroom floor or distant siren effects.
But as impressive as all the bang, boom, pow! of the track, the subtleties have not gone unnoticed. Dialogue is always clear, crisp, and well prioritized (the narration sounds wonderful), and the Dust Brothers' breakneck score is given new life. And there are no noticeable technical hiccups either, no hiss or hums or crackle.
This track really is reference-quality. It's the kind of track you put on and strap in for - and, again, never at the cost of nuance. Just great.
Sadly, most of the extras on this disc are simply carried over from the admittedly high-water-mark-setting 2000 DVD. There are a couple of new special features, but nothing in the way of retrospective documentaries - I would have loved a feature about the post-'Fight Club' fallout like then-Fox head Bill Mechanic getting axed. Also, Fincher recently spoke about doing a 'Fight Club' Broadway musical to celebrate the movie's tenth anniversary, with a score by Nine Inch Nails mastermind Trent Reznor. Wouldn’t it have been fun to hear more about that? Yeah, I thought so too.
Still, there are a staggering number of extras from that original disc. They hold up well. The only disappointment in this regard is that very few of them have been upgraded to high definition. I was particularly looking forward to seeing the brief teaser trailer (which ran, amazingly, with 'Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace' that summer) in crystal-clean HD only to see a cropped, standard def teaser. Insert frowny-face emoticon here.
David Fincher's 'Fight Club,' ten years on, is just as cutting edge and in-your-face as it was a decade ago. While the Blu-ray retains all of the special features from the groundbreaking 2000 DVD, it does add some interesting features, including a borderline revolutionary Google-y search feature that could be adopted for Blu-ray discs in the future. The AV on this disc is beyond exemplary, and overall this disc is a must own. Fincher has been responsible for two of the best Blu-ray discs this year (with 'Zodiac' and 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button'), and now he's responsible for a third.