[box cover]

Fight Club

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Starring Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, and Helena Bonham-Carter

Written by Jim Uhls
Based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk

Directed by David Fincher

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I am Jack's mounting feeling of respect and admiration.

Let's just say it flat-out at the beginning so there won't be any ambiguity: Fight Club is a great movie. It was definitely the best movie of 1999; it is probably the best movie of the '90s; and I would argue that it is surely one of the best films of the 20th century, a fine capper coming at century's end that is both a culminating example of fine filmmaking and a work that redefines cinema even as it represents its apotheosis.

But you know all that, otherwise you wouldn't be reading yet another review of Fight Club. What you are interested in is the extras. And there are plenty. A whole other disc full, in this two-disc set. In fact, there is so much extra stuff that Fight Club almost instantly qualifies as one of the best DVD packages released so far. At the very least it is up there rubbing keep-cases with Brazil: The Criterion Collection and The Abyss: Special Edition.

There are four extras on the disc that contains the movie proper, and these consist of audio commentaries. Leading off is David Fincher's account of the movie. Essentially it's standard if amusing director-commentary fare. He tells anecdotes of actorial obsession (Norton insisting on a specific pair of sunglasses for the food court shot), and goes off on a rant against legal clearances, which he calls his bete noire. For example, the movie is suppose to take place in Wilmington, Delaware, but the Fox lawyers didn't want to enter the nightmare-realm of clearing or paying off various real namesakes for what the filmmakers might assume is a made-up thing. Instructively, Fincher tells us about the search for a real Marla Singer, hoping that there would be thousands of them and thus prevent having to buy off someone who could claim, falsely of course, that the character was based on her, basically purchasing the rights to the live person's name. To Fincher's frustration, there was only one real Marla Singer in the whole US, in Illinois. "Then lawyers got involved," he reveals morosely.

Next is a committee commentary featuring Fincher with Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, and Helena Bonham-Carter. As actors are the best storytellers, you would assume that this would be the most entertaining track, and it is. Norton comes across as an intelligent, thoughtful actor who prepares a lot and thinks deeply about the part. He is the only one who explores the themes of the film. Pitt is more instinctive. They seem to have a natural affection for each other and tease Fincher quite a bit. Bonham-Carter's comments seems to have been recorded at a different time. Following that is another committee-commentary with cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, production designer Alex McDowell, costumer Michael Kaplan, and special-effects whiz Kevin Haug. It's good to get their input, and they provide perhaps the most informative commentary.

Finally, since everyone else is getting into the act, novelist Chuck Palahniuk and screenwriter Jim Uhls share a commentary track. Now, I have always had a suspicion, fueled by a remark in a review of Sleepy Hollow by Jonathan Rosenbaum in the Chicago Reader, that Uhls was a pseudonym and that Andrew Kevin Walker was the actual screenwriter of Fight Club. For one thing, Uhls had no other credit on the IMDB. Well, here the guy is talking about his work, and he seems real. However, both Uhls and Fincher in his commentary reveal that Walker (who had written Se7en for Fincher) did indeed doctor a couple of scenes, mostly those between Tyler and the narrator, including crucially Norton and Pitt's second encounter in the bar. In any case, here he and Palahniuk have an amiable chat about the book and where Uhls changed it and why. Palahniuk is a giddy name-dropper, except that the names he drops are from his seemingly endless array of friends, all of whom have inspired some component of the novel. Uhls comes across as rather uncomfortable with the whole situation, laughing nervously and not being particularly loquacious. Nor is there an adequate explanation as to how Uhls, a relative unknown, came to be assigned the task of adapting Palahniuk's controversial book. But in the end, their commentary is a useful source of information about Palahniuk's creative processes and the complexities of adaptation.

But the gold mine is the second disc (although the set still doesn't match Brazil's three disc bonanza). Here we are rewarded with trailers, cast-and-crew credits, alternative or deleted scenes with commentary, a short unnarrated documentary (which is more like a home movie, showing things like Meat Loaf running in place), TV spots, PSAs ("Did you know urine is sterile? You can drink it."), Internet spots, the (not particularly good) music video, six stills galleries, the press kit, lobby cards, the transcript of an interview with Norton at Yale, and more.

OK, so the extras are really cool. But who needs to see Fight Club over and over again, or know so much about it? Well, guys do, because it taps into the stifled male rage many feel at the moral corruption of contemporary consumerist society. Showing linkages with other recent rebellion films such as Office Space and American Beauty, with which it shares a similar blackmail-quiting scene, Fight Club is a gob of spit in the eye of America, a Bretonian act of defiance, an energized lament over betrayal and lost power. And girls need to see it too, because though this thread isn't apparent at first, the film is really a savvy tale about a smart woman who makes foolish choices. Bonham-Carter's Marla Singer, upon repeated viewing, emerges as the most interesting character in the film. The first time around I thought that Bonham-Carter was too small, dark, and British to embody someone who needs the anorectic and pale urban wastefulness of a Chloe Sevigny. But she brings a weight to the part that is essential and only visible once you know what's really going on in the plot. But Norton and Pitt are equally good. Norton, an heir to Harry Langdon, is excellent at physical comedy in this film (tromping around in a basement filled with water; flinching from Marla's flung cigarette), while Brad Pitt is the quintessence of James Deanian cool (when spontaneously dancing with Marla in her hallway; the way he smashes his cigarette butts to the ground as if he were slamming shut a car trunk).

As someone who didn't care for the Pahlaniuk's novel too much — finding it crude and thin and, with its repetitious phraseology, redolent of the writer's workshop — the fact that I love this film so much surprises me. But Fincher's endless visual inventiveness, his attention to detail, and his innate sympathy with his characters — all his characters — really makes transcendent that which is, at its source, failed Dirty Realism. It's a director's movie, not just an adaptation. Fight Club is another Finchian exercise in uneasily allied duos fighting inplacable enemies. But unlike in his previous films, the enemy here is not an alien, a psychopath, or an entertainment institution, but society itself. The subject of Columbine comes up a lot in the commentaries, but given the nature of the Project Mayhem rebellion, Oklahoma City seems to be the more logical analog. Everyone in the commentaries emphasizes that Tyler is not the "answer" to the problems facing the Jacks of the world, attractive as Tylers may be. Latent within the movie is the notion that what Norton should do is just let it all go, not care; Tyler, he says, has a remarkable ability to let that which is not truly important simply slide (which echoes what the penguin says when Norton enters his secret cave: "Slide!"). But Fincher does not let this quasi-Zen attitude of detachment come across as the simple-minded and rather unhelpful notion that it is. Letting it slide is part of the movie, but it is not all that the movie is. Rather, Fight Club is a comic masterpiece that shows us exactly how we live now.

— D. K. Holm

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