Monday, August 25, 2014

Visual Parallels: Zodiac + Se7en

By Sati. Monday, August 25, 2014 , , , ,

Zodiac and Se7en. On paper they should be very similar - they both deal with the hunt for a monster - enigmatic, evil man killing innocent people. They both have good characters chasing after the bad guy. Finally they are both directed by David Fincher. But although so similar on the surface, and sharing so many visual similarities, they are completely different. And completely unequal.

I view Fincher's work in 3 separate phases. There is Alien 3, Se7en, Fight Club and The Game - the ones where somehow it was the characters and the story that felt at the core of the film and that was it, no distractions, no tricks (yes, even Alien 3 as I try to view this film the way Fincher wanted it to be made, before the studio started meddling in. While an awful movie, it is most certainly daring). Then there is Panic Room and the subsequent films - where very noticeably, as great as most of these films are, there was a little bit too much of over-stylization, gimmickry, strange camera movements. The visual side was beginning to be distracting - granted, we also had a lot of various stylistic maneuvers in Fight Club, but there the story was brilliant. In Panic Room, a movie with half assed plot, dumb characters and no tension whatsoever made the visual side very noticeable and distracting. Then we had The Social Network - while a terrific modern movie, certainly not the kind of a Fincher's style you saw in Se7en and Fight Club, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo where I thought Fincher was finally close to finding the right balance between the substance and the style.

The third phase is just one movie that happened somewhere in the phase 2 - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - a stunning epic which doesn't fit the rest of Fincher's body of work. I still cannot believe it's his film.
For me Se7en and Zodiac are both part of a different eras in Fincher's film making career - Se7en is more alive, Zodiac is more raw. Se7en is more evocative, Zodiac takes its time and moves at a very steady, sometimes slow, pace. Se7en is sizzling with energy, Zodiac is almost like watching a chronicle. And I always preferred the former - give me wild over steady, especially when we are dealing with a film talking about how primal and cruel people can be.

As much as I love Fincher's current movie making style - there is really no one like him out there and his films, made with surgeon's precision and created with elegant, cold style are truly one of a kind - I'll always miss that frantic quality his first movies had - nothing really comes close in his recent films to the feverish chase in the building and then out in the rain in Se7en, Michael Douglas discovering the strange, painted glowing room in The Game or, yes, the Xenomorph creeping next to Ripley which is probably one of the most iconic moments in the entire Alien franchise. Hell, I'd argue even Marla walking in the room and blowing cigarette smoke has more honest energy about it than majority of scenes in Fincher movies lately.

I still love them, but in The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo everything is so measured, so perfectly planned. With his first movies Fincher didn't seem to care this much about perfection and the results were much more spontaneous. It's almost as if two different people made those movies - there are similarities but they are so different. Just like Zodiac and Se7en.

Se7en is a tale of two detectives chasing a mysterious serial killer who kills his victims according to seven deadly sins. It's a very straightforward story - few main characters, set in fictional city, set during 7 days time, simple, but timeless. I'm fairly confident in making the following statement - every single crime thriller about cops chasing killers that was made after Se7en, used it as its inspiration. The film is almost 20 years old and it doesn't feel outdated at all. John Doe's crimes are still horrific, we atill root for Somerseet and Mills no matter how many times we rewatch the movie and we still cannot believe that ending.
Zodiac is a film of much greater ambition and much grander scale but for me that never automatically meant that the film is better. I judge the movie on two things - how impressed I am when I watch it and how often do I want to rewatch it. I've seen Se7en dozens of times, Zodiac - 3. It has nothing to do with the film's length - I was never impressed upon the first viewing and the subsequent ones did not help. I saw Zodiac in theater back when it was released in 2007 and I barely remember that experience. I saw Se7en for the first time when I was 12 years old -13 years ago - and I still remember that. VHS tape with the movie, recorded from when it was on TV, borrowed from my favorite cousin who used to have the poster from the movie hanging on her wall. And I ate strawberries during watching it. I tend to remember a lot of details from the times I watched my favorite films.

When it comes to Zodiac, yes, the acting is good. Yes, the execution is very clever. But the film is riddled with flaws.

In Se7en I see only one - I always thought the film's conclusion was too neat and easy. Tying everything up, in admirably cruel and dark way, but still, way too neat. So Doe's grand plan ends with some detective? If at least he would have targeted Somerset, a man of intelligence and experience, but all of this, the grand finale, just to humble an arrogant young cop?
In Zodiac the biggest flaw was the focus on the movie - some people may like innocent, boring Graysmith, a guy without a single ounce of charisma, but I do not. Whenever I saw this movie I had this felling I couldn't shake off that had anyone else, literally anyone - Robert Downey Jr's drunken journalist, Chloe Sevigny's unhappy wife, Zodiac himself or either of the detectives - driven Toschi or sweet Armstrong - been the protagonist of the movie the film would be so much better. I get what they tried to do - show how innocent Graysmith loses this innocence and dark obsession takes its place. But I didn't think the movie's script did the film justice in this regard nor did it give Gyllenhaal much to work with, The third act of the film is when it always loses me - where all those wonderful characters are sidetracked and we watch wet Gyllenhaal wander around, read stuff, being obnoxious. I just didn't give a damn.

It's basically this guy trying to figure out the killer's identity for the last 40 minutes of the film. But the problem is that we know who Zodiac is - at least for me it was clear, given the way Fincher and wonderful John Carrol Lynch handled that interrogation scene. I don't care if he really was the Zodiac - in the context of the movie he sure as shit was.
I also always found the way Fincher made this movie too neat and without focus. If you want to do character study that's great. but pick a damn character and stick with it. Graysmith, a protagonist in 160-minute long movie, ended up being as bland as he was in the beginning.  As for everyone else, there was never enough of them to give you the proper look inside these people's minds. So the film fails here. It also fails as a story of a killer - introducing copy cats, taking the focus away from the characters for way too long.  Hell, maybe they didn't even want to make this movie about the killer, but about paranoia - some of the best scenes in the movie are those where you can clearly see that Zodiac essentially held San Francisco hostage with his threats. But the focus shifts all the time and the film feels incomplete.

There is always a rivalry when it comes to the films made by the same director - which one is the best? One of the strangest claims to me is that Zodiac is in any way superior to Se7en. It's stylish, it's admirable and it's well done, but third time still wasn't the charm for me.

I was initially just going to write this article but as I was picking the screenshots it just became too tempting to point out the similarities. It's not this hard to do here as the films are both directed by Fincher, but the approach to the story was so different I was quite surprised I managed to find this many.


22 comments:

  1. Yet another marvelous Fincher related post! Love these visual parallels you're doing. You should consider making this a frequent series here! I also really like your take on Fincher's career and his output. I think you have a point.

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    1. Thank you! They are as frequent as they can be, though, it all depends on me noticing the similarities and they do take some time to make, the longest out of any posts on the site. But I have 2 more ideas already :)

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  2. Great post. I start a film course in September and the only movie my teacher's told me we're doing is Se7en so I get so happy whenever I see someone's made a blog post about it (which has happened a surprising amount this summer). All those shots show precise Fincher is with everything.

    I disagree about Se7en being better though - it's a good movie, fun for such a dark film, but Zodiac's one of my fav movies ever :)

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    1. Thank you! I just don't like movies like Zodiac as much as i like films like Se7en, but it's still a very good movie

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  3. Heaven. Love love love this. The parallels of Sevigny and Paltrow are fantastic, so spot on. And Gyllenhaal and Pitt in the car while it's raining... I could go on and on. Great work once again!

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    1. Thank you so much! It was fun making this one, both very good looking movies.

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  4. That is amazing. Especially as it showcases how great Fincher is as a filmmaker. It just makes me more excited for Gone Girl.

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    1. Thank you! I think Gone Girl will be one of his best films.

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  5. Brilliant post! I love the fact that you're equally talented with eloquent, thought-provoking writing and the visuals.

    I am excited about Gone Girl too -- it will probably be the first movie I'll actually see in a theater in almost a year. :)

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    1. Oh, thank you! You won't think I'm this eloquent after I post my next article in an hour :P

      Wow, really? I don't go that often either but I try to go at least once a month

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  6. Amazing post! Blown away by all the shots you posted. Your writing also provided lots of insight. Very well done. Btw, I'm with you that Se7en is the far superior movie. Zodiac's 3rd act stops the movie cold and drags mercilessly.

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    1. Thank you! Seriously I barely made it. The film was literally becoming more alive whenever Ruffalo would show up, Gyllehaal alone was like watching a boy scout try to sell cookies.

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  7. Fantastic post! Zodiac is still fresh in my mind as I had seen it recently. I've seen that and Se7en only once but I agree Se7en has more energy and that whole plot revolving around the seven deadly sins is so darn eerie and harrowing.

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    1. Thank you! I didn't like Zodiac as much as Se7en, it's just not my type of movie :) But I hope to enjoy Gone Girl much more than Zodiac

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    2. I'm really looking forward to Gone Girl too. So far it's looking VERY promising and I even like Affleck more and more in the role tho initially I wasn't that fond of him. But I always like Rosamund, glad she's finally getting some prominent roles in the US.

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    3. Affleck is very well cast, I think he may have a shot at some serious nominations this year. I'm so glad Rosamund is finally having her big break she is so talented and I'm sure she is gonna be amazing in the movie

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  8. Excellent post again! I'm loving all your Fincher coverage.

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  9. Amazing job, as always! I've only seen Zodiac once, but I also prefer Se7en, which is practically flawless. The phases of Fincher are all interesting, and I agree about some over-stylization. For me, Se7en and Fight Club were a perfect marriage of style and substance. I can't really say the same of his other films, though.

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    1. I rewatched Panic Room lately and it was really too much. I'm glad he toned it down a bit in his recent films.

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  10. Love this. Great job. Both films are incredible. Although I think I'm more partial to 'Zodiac.'

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    1. Thanks! Well, there is certainly a great divide over which is better in blogging community :)

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