Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Panic Room, or On Every Second Movie By David Fincher

Weeeelllll, see, he does Alien3, which I try really hard to like but admit is flawed. Then he does Se7en, which is in my top 3 ever. Then he does The Game, which makes me really want to play that game where sleep happens. The best thing about The Game is how much of an influence on the Survival Horror genre it obviously is. It's all downhill from there.

Then he does Fight Club, which is also in my top 3 (the other one is Twin Peaks, btw, which is a problem as it's not actually a movie). So if one does numerology, one can see that Panic Room, as it would be were it made by a Bruce or a David, is likely to be dodgy. And it is made by a David. And it's dodgy.

The biggest thing about Panic Room, its biggest innovation, is that it's full of clipping. Like a bad Playstation game or every Nintendo 64 game, the camera just travels through solid objects like they were gossamer-thin polygons. Which, while bad in videogames, is pretty groovy in a movie: it's been done afore, many a time, but I'd venture to say not quite as often as in this here movie. And it's pretty funky.

But somewhere along the way, it goes wrong. Now, this'll take a minute, so just keep readin': Fight Club was done on lots of computers. Now, people who know me know my stand on computer effects: I think they're the scourge of society. Computer effects only work if (a) there's nothing BUT computer effects, a la Shrek or Final Fantasy: The Laughably Un-Final Fantasy-Like Plot Elements Within; or (b) they're used so skillfully they're not noticeable as computer effects, a la Fight Club or maybe half the ouevre of Robert Zemeckis.

But in Fight Club, the fancy computer trickery was employed for a reason: you couldn't get a real camera to whip around Edward Norton's stove and behind his fridge then take on the POV of gas as it exploded. A real trash can would be a nightmare to light and put a tiny camera in. So computers are used, subtly, and it's great. But why do we need to travel right into the filament of a torch, or zoom in so far that dust on a brick becomes a collection of mighty boulders? I can't see any reason why, other than it might look cool. And that's not enough reason for me.

What I'm getting at here, is that Panic Room is very much to Fight Club what The Game is to Se7en: an unconfident, insubstantial follow-up that, for lack of the wonderfully deep, thought-provoking, emotive substance in the script of its predecessor, employs all the same tricks in an effort to cover up its inferiority.

The Game has the "look and feel" of Se7en but a story that just misses out on all the interesting bits, and has none of the psychological brilliance. Panic Room looks and acts very much like Fight Club - it's built on the same engine, if you will - but while Chuck Palahnuik's novel is a jumping-off-point to catalog virtually anything and everything about western society and place a unique visual, aural and psychological spin on it, Panic Room is just five people in a house.

Fincher himself has said, among other things, "I thought setting an entire movie in one house would be fun. Boy, was I wrong", and "It's no Fight Club". This implies that somewhere he realised that he didn't really have all that much to make a movie out of, so he fell back on what worked in Fight Club: whiz-bang computer stuff and fucking excellent acting (which it is: Jodie is a million times what Nicole would've been; Jared is, as is his custom, surprisingly perfect; Dwight Yoakam is perfectly menacing/annoying; and well, if you can get Forest Whitaker in your movie, get Forest Whitaker in your movie, if only so he'll let poor old Bill Cosby alone).

Well, good on 'im, but hopefully his next project (which I believe will either have Brad and Benecio playing chefs, or - fingers crossed - be Chuck's next book, which is a horror that Chuck says "makes Fight Club look like Little Women") will see him having the confidence to try new stuff, and a script that allows this new stuff to work.