Why The 'Fight Club' Special Edition DVD Is Almost Better Than the Movie
We can't talk about Fight Club. First two rules and all that. But we can discuss at length how great this movie's special edition is, and how well it still holds up for filmmakers.
They don't make movies like Fight Club anymore. Or DVDs like its special edition, for that matter.
20 years ago today, David Fincher solidified himself as the director for a generation of aspiring filmmakers who hung Tyler Durden posters on their walls or wore his quotable dialogue on their wrinkly T-shirts. Fincher, with the release of Flight Club's two-disc special edition DVD, also positioned himself as a pioneer of the format at a time when it was at its peak (thanks to robust sales). Fincher's Seven and Fight Club are among the best special editions ever made, as Fincher extended his taskmasker rep (and love for film and the filmmaking process) to the home entertainment experience. He wanted to bring fans of the film as close to the making of it as possible; almost like an interactive museum tour of the film's development stages -- from pre-production to marketing.
The end result is a thorough chronicle of what it takes to make a movie that its own studio isn't totally onboard with, and the almost real-time documentation of the struggles and triumphs Fincher and his team had. It's a two-disc collection that services as a time capsule into how one of the most influential and iconic films of that great year for movies, 1999. Before Fight Club, the James Bond DVD Collection from 1999 and certain Criterion Laserdiscs came the closest to offering the "on-set, behind-the-scenes film school" insights and details Fincher and his crew afford us. The disc is an extension of the film's aesthetic, as well -- from the slip case's paper bag and twine contraband aesthetic to the disc packaging itself, which is presented like Tyler and Project Mayhem's airplane safety cards, coupled with some of the film's most memorable lines alongside pics of the characters that look so gritty, you feel like you'll need a Tetanus shot after opening the case.
The disc is as immersive as it is educational; 20 years on, despite the advent of HD and Blu-ray, you can still learn a lot from this standard-def release. (Yes, the special features carried over to the Blu-ray, but the experience with the DVD, from the packaging to the disc's contents, is different. More complete.) While the two-disc set is packed with many useful special features (and Easter Eggs), here are three must-see ones that will challenge and improve your filmmaking perspective and process.
1. The Marketing and Publicity Gallery
We are a sucker for discs that include old TV spots and film trailers -- especially since most home entertainment releases now do not have them.
Fight Club offers all that, and poster concepts, as well as additional concept art in a way that helps explain how studio features undergo extreme scrutiny in a way few (if any) discs have captured before. Again, this movie would unlikely get made today. The fact that the first teaser poster for this film was a bar of soap with the title on it -- no stars' faces or obviously PhotoShopped montages -- is a testament to how less restrictive the marketing process was then compared to now.
2. All Four Commentary Tracks
Again, thanks to low profits in the home entertainment window, few studios splurge on the commentary treatment. What was once a standard feature is now a rarity. Fincher and his cast and crew are very candid and precise with their remarks regarding the making of this modern classic; listening to Fincher, who appears on two separate commentary tracks, break down the minutiae of his choices -- and offer making-of trivia -- is the equivalent of having him do a frame-by-frame analysis at a classroom screening.
The Writers Commentary with screenwriter Jim Uhls and Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk is arguably the most engaging track, as it is very rare for the author of a work and the writer who adapted it into a movie to exchange notes and reveal their insights of the book-to-screen process from their unique prospective. Writers can learn here that not all adaptations are fraught with "too precious" of choices or deal-breaking drama. The patience and sensitivity to each other's craft that can be gleamed here are helpful for any filmmaker embarking on a similar process to bring a movie to the screen.
The Cast Commentary with director Fincher, Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, and Helena Bonham Carter is the most entertaining track on the set; especially when Norton and Pitt comment on the VW Bug scene. But you'll get the most bang for your education re-listening (or listening for the first time) to the Crew track, which features the very detail-oriented insights of director of photography Jeff Cronenweth, costume designer Michael Kaplan, production designer Alex McDowell, visual effects supervisor Kevin Haug and digital animator Richard “Dr.” Baily. The hows and whys of shooting this movie on Anamorphic 2:40:1 are all here for your listening pleasure.
3. Multi-Angle Making-of Vignettes
Fincher loves multiple takes. And we get to see that aspect of his process unfold in real-time, as well as the exactitude of his keen visual aesthetic, in a mix of B-roll footage and Digital Domain archives. Highlights include how they pulled off Tyler and Marla's sex scene and the genesis of the opening title sequence from rough animatic to final print.
The lessons here are vital in that even guys like Fincher don't have it "perfect" in their minds from the jump, they, too, need trial and error to hone in on the best execution of their intentions. Moreover, they show how every frame is dedicated to servicing the story and theme. As visually impressive as Fight Club is, it's fidelity to story and character and theme are why we are still talking about it two decades after opening day.
What are you favorite special features on the disc? Or on other discs that proved formative for you? Sound off in the comments!