After the release of director David Fincher’s fifth feature, PANIC ROOM (2002), he took a five-year hiatus from feature work. However, this doesn’t mean he was lounging poolside with margaritas for half a decade. He was hard at work in other arenas: prepping a sprawling film adaptation of the infamous San Francisco Zodiac murders during the 70’s, as well as taking on select commercial and music video work. During this five-year period, Fincher created some of his highest profile (and most controversial) short-form work.
ADIDAS: “MECHANICAL LEGS” (2002)
Fincher’s 2002 spot for Adidas, called “MECHANICAL LEGS” is a great little bit of advertising done in the classic Fincher visual style: high contrast lighting, steely color palette and a constantly-moving camera. The entire piece is a digital creation, featuring a pair of disembodied robot legs exhibiting superhuman agility and speed as they test out a new pair of Adidas sneakers. Fincher’s flair for visual effects and dynamic compositions really makes the spot effective and, more importantly, memorable.
COCA-COLA: “THE ARQUETTES” (2003)
I remember this particular ad, Coca-Cola’s “THE ARQUETTES” when it came out, as it received a lot of airplay based on the popularity of the titular couple following Courtney’s successful run on FRIENDS as well as their combined appearances in Wes Craven’s SCREAM films. Of course, I had no idea Fincher was behind the spot when I first saw it, but having grown accustomed to his aesthetic, I can easily spot it now. It’s evident in the desaturated warm tones that favor slightly colder yellows instead of typical oranges, as well as the high contrast lighting. The spot’s tagline, “True Love”, is poetically tragic now after the couple’s divorce in 2011.
XELEBRI: “BEAUTY FOR SALE” (2004)
In 2004, Fincher was commissioned by Xelebri to realize a stunning concept in the spot for “BEAUTY FOR SALE”. The piece takes place in a futuristic world, filled with the imaginative production design and world-building Fincher is known for, and bolstered by the visually arresting conceit of normal people wearing supermodel bodies as costumes (achieved through clever CGI and other visual effects). A cold color palette and high contrast lighting wraps everything up into a neat little Fincher package.
HEINEKEN: “BEER RUN” (2005)
Fincher’s spot for Heineken called “BEER RUN” is also a commercial that I remember quite well from its initial run, primarily due to the fact that it was a big, lavish Super Bowl ad. The piece stars Fincher’s regular feature collaborator Brad Pitt as himself, adventurously trekking out into the urban night for a case of Heineken while avoiding the hordes of paparazzi. Visually, a green/yellow color cast is applied over the image which accentuates the high contrast lighting and evokes not only the color branding of Heineken itself, but Fincher’s FIGHT CLUB (1999). Dynamic camera movement and the inclusion of The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” over the soundtrack further point to Fincher’s confident vision.
NINE INCH NAILS: “ONLY” (2005)
Fincher’s only music video during this period was created for Nine Inch Nails’ single “ONLY”. Fincher had already been associated with NIN frontman Trent Reznor due to the inclusion of a remix of Reznor’s “Closer” in the opening credits toSE7EN (1995), but this is the first instance of the two men working together directly. This is notable because Reznor would go on to become a regular composer for Fincher, beginning with 2010’s THE SOCIAL NETWORK and continuing to the present day. Interestingly, the video is presented in the square 4:3 aspect ratio, but the look is classic Fincher: high contrast lighting, a steely/sterile grey color palette and a constantly-moving camera that gives the simple concept a dose of electric energy. The concept serves Fincher’s fascination for tech, with a Mac laptop acting as the centerpiece to this 21st century orchestra. CGI is used to inspired effect in incorporating sound waves on the surface of coffee, as well as conveying Reznor’s face and performance via those needle-art slabs that were popular during the era.
MOTOROLA: “PEBL” (2006)
In 2006, Fincher reteamed with his cinematographer on THE GAME (1997), the late Harris Savides, to shoot a commercial for Motorola called “PEBL”. The spot tracks the long, slow erosion of a rock until it becomes so smooth that is adopts the form factor of Motorola’s Pebl mobile phone. Fincher uses CGI in the form of meteors, craters, and weather to portray eons of time in only sixty seconds. This spot was filmed with digital cameras, and is credited with giving Fincher and Savides to adopt the format for the production of their next feature collaboration, 2007’s ZODIAC.
ORVILLE REDENBACHERS: “REANIMATED” (2007)
A commercial recently started airing that digitally recreates the late Audrey Hepburn, and understandably caused a lot of furor. There’s a huge ethical debate about using CGI advancements to bring long-dead celebrities back to life, a debate that more or less began in 2007 when Fincher and Orville Redenbachers had the audacity to bring Orville himself back from the dead to hawk some popcorn.
I understand advancing the technology so that it can be used for necessary purposes (i.e, finishing the performance of an actor who died during production like Paul Walker), but the final effect is never truly convincing. It’s mildly upsetting at best, and pants-shitting horrifying at worst. Here, Fincher’s familiarity with effects works against him, with his excitement at bringing dear old Orville back from the dead perhaps blinding him to the resulting “uncanny valley” effect. “REANIMATED”is easily one of Fincher’s most controversial videos, and for good reason.
LEXUS: “POLLEN” (2007)
Another spot that’s heavily-reliant on CGI, Lexus’ “POLLEN” is set inside of a greenhouse that was created entirely in the digital realm. Here, Fincher is able to exact total control over his image and dial in a high contrast, steely color palette that highlights the car’s streamlined design. You can watch the spot here.
The main takeaway from this period of Fincher’s career is his experimentation with digital cameras and acquisition would result in his overall confidence in the format and its future. Once he shot the majority of ZODIAC on digital, his film days were basically over. His early adoption transformed him into the poster boy for the cinematic potential of the nascent digital format on a large, blockbuster scale.