Should David Fincher stop making thrillers?

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As Gone Girl hits screens next week, we thinks it’s time thriller maestro David Fincher expanded his horizons.

Gone Girl, David Fincher’s latest thriller, will be released in the UK next week, and so far the preliminary reviews are very positive, the film already garnering high scores on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic. There is a lot of good will for David Fincher, with his successful Netflix reboot of the British series House of Cards just finishing its second season, plus his history of making intense, stylish films such as Se7en, The Game, Fight Club, Panic Room and the remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Fincher’s feature film debut was, interestingly enough, a big sci-fi blockbuster. But Alien 3 was troubled from the beginning

While these films are most definitely mainstream titles with big stars, Fincher’s attempts at making a huge sci-fi blockbuster have so far fallen short. His long gestating Arthur C Clarke adaptation Rendezvous with Rama was a no show, and his remake of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea has been relegated to Davy Jones’s Locker. So what happened? Since missing out on the Oscar for The Social Network, Fincher has fallen back on what he does best. Is this because the Hollywood system will not allow him to rise above his station and tackle a larger project, such as a blockbuster, or is helming another thriller adap a cynical move by a desperate artist who has realised all critics and audiences want from him is the same thing?

Fincher’s feature film debut was, interestingly enough, a big sci-fi blockbuster. But Alien 3 was a project troubled from the beginning. Extensive re-writes and redesigns saw the central ideas of the film change dramatically, and oppressive studio oversight saw an artist hampered by the whims of the film’s producers. It is unfair to refuse Fincher another opportunity to direct a large scale blockbuster based on Alien 3; in fact, it should be used as evidence in support of Fincher’s talent that the film is not a complete embarrassment.

alien 3

Then there are Fincher’s thrillers; Se7en, The Game and Panic Room are brilliant nailbiters with a varied but distinctive style. They were also extremely successful with audiences. These films made hundreds of millions of dollars each at the global box office, with Se7en in particular hitting almost $330 million, going on to be one of the top ten highest grossing films of 1995. Riding high on his success, Fincher would go on to try and redefine the genre with the mesmerising true crime thriller Zodiac.

After Zodiac’s failure, it seems Fincher has cynically returned to the genre he helped define to churn out thriller after thriller

Arguably Fincher’s best film, Zodiac took the genre and extrapolated it outward to amazing effect, essaying the way people and eventually an entire city is changed under the influence of a mysterious killer. But despite positive reviews, Zodiac tanked at the box office, proving to be an even bigger failure than Fight Club in 1999. Fight Club was another film, like Alien 3, that was hampered by a nervous studio, and was the impetus that appeared to eventually drive Fincher back to thrillers in the first place.

Following quickly on the heels of Zodiac’s box office disaster, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button proved a smash hit, but decidedly unlike the kinds of films we were used to seeing from Fincher. It felt like Fincher had pulled a Scorsese, making a deliberate move toward Oscar bait, hoping for much sought after recognition from his peers. Now it seems that Fincher has cynically returned to the genre he helped define to churn out thriller after thriller, not out of a desire to win an Oscar like Scorsese eventually did, but because perhaps he has realised this is all audiences want from him. Case in point: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

girl with the dragon tattoo

The US Girl with the Dragon Tattoo remake was such an obvious move for Fincher it was almost laughable. The finished film feels like a director running in safe mode, letting the languid, overlong screenplay do all the heavy lifting while painting over the cracks with his slick visual style before tossing it into cinemas and screaming, Maximus-style, “Are you not entertained?” Of course, as Fincher must have predicted, it made a bucket load of money, and critics lapped it up.

A sprawling space epic or undersea adventure directed by Fincher sounds like too good an opportunity to pass up

Once again, we find Fincher applying his slick style to another adaptation of a best-selling novel. Advance word on Gone Girl is very positive – hopefully the film will be a return to form for such a talented director, who seems to have given up trying to make anything other than the thrillers for which he has become most famous. But really, David Fincher should stop making thrillers and try his hand at the big sci-fi blockbuster that has so far eluded him. A sprawling space epic or undersea adventure directed by Fincher sounds like too good an opportunity to pass up, and a far more interesting prospect than another thriller, or worse yet, a Dragon Tattoo sequel.

 

Read more: Gone Girl: Why Hollywood needed a conclusion

 

Featured image: 20th Century Fox

Inset images: 20th Century Fox; MGM/Columbia

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