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The Toronto Star

June 2, 2000

DVD Scan

Geoff Pevere
Peter Howell

Directors' stylistic treats are less than filling

When Fight Club and Sleepy Hollow were released last fall, their respective directors - David Fincher and Tim Burton - faced familiar criticisms: the movies were called visually sumptuous but narratively anemic, and they were charged with producing works in which there was considerably less than what first met the eye. Great trailers, but where's the movie?

Half a year on, and both movies have been re-released in lavishly annotated DVD versions. Which only puts the form-over-content question in even starker light. Watched in the context of all these extras - documentaries, storyboards, deleted scenes, running audio commentaries, etc. - do these movies seem any more consequential than when they first appeared? Or do all these extras feel like an attempt to add some bulk to projects which were actually pretty reedy in the first place?

Are these the works of misunderstood genius? Or just the wanking of hollow visionaries? Read on:

Fight Club (1999) - The kind of movie which seemed controversial until people actually saw it, David Fincher's allegedly satirical take on digital-age masculine rage quickly seemed more interesting as an idea than an actual movie - more fun to talk about, that is, than to watch. So it remains: while Fincher's punk-gothic expressionism makes the movie a frequent treat to look at, it also leaves Fight Club feeling heavy, damp and uninspired. Compared to the spacey surrealistic levity of Spike Jonze's Being John Malkovich for instance, Fincher's comedy is about as riotous as Ibsen. And that, let's face it, is what really went wrong with Fight Club: it was a satire that just wasn't funny.

Featuring a full extra disc of extras, the 20th Century Fox deluxe DVD edition of Fight Club will therefore excite only those who could not get enough of a movie which even the director (on one of the audio commentary tracks available) admits is probably too long. Still, if you're willing to wade through all this stuff there are revelations, offputting though they are. Like hearing Edward Norton (who sprays words around like ``zeitgeist,'' ``nihilism'' and ``Nietzschean'') snipe at not one but two major American critics in the movie's first half-hour, or hearing millionaire beefcake actor Brad Pitt sneer at the kind of people who actually find solace in recovery programs. Enough of this kind of thing and you may want to take a swing yourself. G.P.

Sleepy Hollow (1999) - Tim Burton says he wanted his screen adaptation of Washington Irving's The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow to have ``a certain silent movie quality.'' He cast Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci and Martin Landau for the same reason. If you had any doubt about this, being unfamiliar with his visually rich but verbally impoverished body of work, Burton makes darn sure you hear about it on his one-man running commentary on the new Sleepy Hollow DVD. He repeats the silent movie analogy several times, perhaps forgetting he's already said it. But it is interesting to hear Burton own up to his retro influences, which include The Outer Limits and old Hammer horror films. And given that the dialogue of the film is so pointless anyway, it's actually something of a treat to hear the master movie stylist natter on about how he designed his trademark look, which is familiar to fans of such earlier Burton works as Edward Scissorhands and The Nightmare Before Christmas. The DVD has other extras, including enhanced widescreen, Dolby surround, a photo gallery and a ``behind the legend'' featurette. But it's Burton's Gothic 101 commentary that really makes this disc spin.


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