Games

Fight Club

Josh Lee

It's thorough blandness renders it impotent, pointless, insignificant.


Publisher: Vivendi Universal
Genres: Action
Price: $49.99
Multimedia: Fight Club
Platforms: Xbox (also on PlayStation 2)
Number of players: 1-2 s
ESRB rating: Mature
Developer: Genuine Games
US release date: 2007-07

Fight Club was a challenging, controversial book that was translated into a challenging, controversial movie; five years later, that challenging, controversial movie has been translated into a banal, insignificant video game.

It's almost a truism that movie-to-game adaptations are a difficult trick to pull off, and Fight Club is an especially thorny case. The film is full to bursting with competing, often contradictory themes. Its messy critiques of retail culture, anarchist rhetoric, and Iron John masculinity are difficult to unpack and absorb. It's also formally complex, flitting willy-nilly between viewpoints and dragging the viewer through flashbacks and montages at a breakneck pace. Converting a fragmented, sprawling film like this into a game without upsetting the player's ability to meaningfully interact with it is -- to say the least -- a daunting task, and perhaps it's best that developers Genuine Games didn't bother trying.

So let's accept the video game version of Fight Club on its own terms. Ignore the book completely, and throw out most of the film's themes as well; too many ideas just muddy the waters. Recognize that the game is an extension of Fight Club's highly stylized violence. Even with its scope constrained to the domain of pure spectacle, the game still manages to come up short.

In the movie, fights between club members were in-your-face affairs: big, loud, bloody slugfests shot and edited to make the audience feel as if they were the ones throwing and taking punches. Fights were also intimate encounters, moments of physical and emotional closeness between the combatants that were as likely to end in a hug as a knockout. The film's action had a visceral quality to it that both repelled and attracted the viewer, leaving him or her unable to turn away from its abject physicality. This physicality -- the sense of being in the fight -- is what's missing from the game.

The affectless graphics are a large part of the problem. Technically, there's little to complain about: the detailed character models and high-resolution textures are all adequately executed. In fact, they are perhaps a little too well-executed. The game has an overly smooth look to it that runs counter to the messy, blood-stained aesthetic it's striving for.

A few visual effects are tossed around in an attempt to make things a little nastier, but none of them are able to get much of a rise out of the player. There's usually some splatter after a hit, but that's become such a clichéd visual element in games that it hardly registers at all. Droplets of blood splatter onto the surface of the screen as if they had been sprayed onto the lens of the imaginary camera watching the action; it looks as cheesy as it sounds. Near the end of a round, when your enemy's health is low, it becomes possible to throw an extra-powerful punch to finish him off; the hit is replayed in slow-motion through an X-ray filter, so you can watch the bones shattering (this visual grace note was also used in the Jet Li vehicle Romeo Must Die, where it added just as little to the audience's experience).

Also adding little to the experience of playing Fight Club is the audio. As with the graphics, the sound effects are passable, but hardly compelling. More distressing is the absence of speech during fights. While characters have plenty to say during non-interactive cinematics (especially in the game's pointless "story" mode), they fall strangely silent as the player puts them through their paces, barely bothering to grunt as they dish out and take what is presumably a considerable amount of pain. There is a nice selection of music tracks to listen to -- selections from the movie's Dust Brothers-composed soundtrack, as well as songs by Korn, Limp Bizkit, and others -- but the music only serves to point out how little else is happening from an auditory standpoint.

Even less engaging than the bland presentation is the stunted gameplay. The basic form, one-on-one fighting in the mode of Tekken or Guilty Gear, is reasonable enough, given the subject matter. As in all games of this type, punches, kicks, and throws are strung together into combos in an effort to drain the opponent's health and eventually knock him out. Most fighting games achieve variety by including a broad array of characters for the player to use, each with a distinct palette of attacks. Fight Club includes upwards of a dozen characters, but there are actually only three sets of fighting styles to choose from: brawler, grappler, and martial artist. What's worse, most of the moves and combos available to the player are of little to no use, since most fights can be won by simply mashing the buttons more quickly than the opponent; in fact, this is often the only way to win, since the sluggish controls preclude any attempt by the player to apply strategy to his or her approach.

This uninspired gameplay combines with the flaccid graphics and tired sound to produce a feeling of -- well actually, they produce no feeling at all in the player. A video game that's based on a spectacular, stylishly violent movie should be able to immerse the player in that violence; the player should not only be able to control the images on the screen, but to feel the hits they land on each other, to be enveloped and implicated in the production of pain. We should be having a debate over whether that sort of deep engagement with violence is healthy or productive, but Fight Club the game, unlike the film, is so affectless that it's unable to spark any controversy. It's thorough blandness renders it impotent, pointless, insignificant. It's too boring to be offensive.

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"Now I am just more tired and poor. So no, I haven't changed. I'm just older and more tired," says French radio journalist and documentarian Sonia Kronlund, as she looks back on the experience of making The Prince of Nothingwood (2017).

Joining Salim Shaheen, the most popular and prolific actor-director-producer in Afghanistan on his 111th no budget feature, Kronlund documents the week-long shoot and the events surrounding it. She crafts an insight into a larger than life persona, yet amidst the comedy and theatricality of Shaheen and his troupe of collaborators, she uncovers the heavier tones of the everyday reality of war and patriarchal oppression. If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people. Alongside the awareness of the country cultivated by mainstream media news outlets, Kronlund's film offers an insight into a country that can humanise the prejudice and xenophobic tendencies of a western perspective towards Afghanistan.

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Why filmmaking as a means of expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?

Not really, no. I have always done documentary. I used to write scripts and TV series but I only make documentaries myself for radio and television. For this story, I figured out after a while that it deserved a bigger ambition and a bigger screen and that's why I don't very much believe in inspiration. To be honest, I made this film because I had to do something. I didn't have a big project where I thought: I want to make this. I went there and I found a little money and at the end the ambition and the inspiration came along the way. But there was not an urgent necessity to make this film. It fits with a lot of things that I'm interested in, like popular culture -- What does art stand for and why do we go to the cinema? What is the purpose? This is a question I'm interested in, but inspiration, not so much.

Has The Prince of Nothingwood provided you with the answers to those questions?

It has, and I hope it helps people to think about this question. It tells you that there is an urgent need to make images, to make films, even during war,and even if you don't have the money. And even if the films are not very good, they will find somebody who will like them. So something is going to happen, and I think that's very touching. I don't like Shaheen's films, I hardly watched them -- I paid somebody to watch them. But I'm very moved by all these people that do like his films, and it makes you think about the value of art and the purpose of why we make cinema. I used to study aesthetics in London, so it was one of the questions I had and while the film is lighter than this, that's what was in mind.

The film uses Shaheen as a doorway, beginning as a story about one man which becomes a story about Afghanistan, its people and culture.

Yeah, but it's not so much about Afghanistan and it's not my purpose is to say things about the country. There's one guy like him in Iran who makes cowboy movies in the Iranian desert and there's also a guy like that in Tunisia. I mean you have this person with an urgent need to film whatever they have under their hand and since it's war, then it tells you something about the war. But it's not so much interested in him.

There was a lot of editing, 148 hours that you haven't seen [laughs]. Making a documentary is really telling a story and I don't have any idea of objectivity -- it is my point of view on Shaheen. Some people say to me that they would like to show his films, that they really want to see his films, and I say: "You don't see how much I have edited. I show you the very nice parts of his films." People think he's a great filmmaker and that's the story I wanted to tell -- but I could have told another story.

To my mind, objectivity is a human construct, a falsity that does not exist.

Except mathematics maybe, and sometimes physics.

The purist opinion of documentary as objective is therein built on a faulty premise. From the subjective choices of the filmmakers that bleed into the film to the subjectivity of the subjects, it's not purely objective. Hence, it calls into question the traditional dividing line of the objectivity of documentary and the subjectivity of narrative fiction.

Totally! It's the editing, and why you chose this guy, how you film it and what you show, or what you don't show. It's not only subjectivity, it's storytelling. Not many people ask me about this, they take it for granted that it's the real Shaheen. But I'm not lying, I'm not saying things that aren't true, but I am telling a story, a fictional story out of what I filmed. I took scenes that happened one day and I put them with another story that happened three months later and that's why we had seven months of editing with three editors. So it was a lot of work.

One of the striking aspects of the film are the light and comedic moments offset by a darker and heavier sensibility, which include moments when, for example, Shaheen talks about arranged marriages.

We made 70rough cuts and there was one version we tested and you couldn't believe you were in Afghanistan. People would say: "Oh this is too funny. You don't see Afghanistan, it's just a bunch of crazy guys." I then said: "Let's put in a little more darkness." You then have to strike a balance and to me, if it's not perfect, I'm happy.

Shooting the film in a dangerous and volatile part of the world, was the approach that once you had enough footage you then looked to shaping the film in the edit?

It's not when you feel you have enough, it's finding a balance between security and artistic concerns. That's it. You have a plan and you have an agenda. There are things you want to do, but it has to be balanced with security concerns. The real story I was going to tell about Shaheen I found in the editing room and in the end, I only kept five days of the shoot. The whole film takes place in Bamyan (Province), nothing in Kabul, although I had weeks and weeks of footage there that I had to take away.

There's a moment when Shaheen asks if you are scared, which sees him verbalise our silent recognition of your boldness and courage to bring this story to the screen.

It's very difficult and it's not like you are walking in the street and there's a bomb. This is not what's difficult. The difficulty is to cope with your fear and to have rules and to follow or to not follow those rules. There are many foreign people that never go out at all in Kabul -- it is forbidden. You have British diplomats who do not even drive their car from the airport to the embassy -- they will take an helicopter that costs £2,000 each way. Then you have foreign people who walk in the street without a scarf -- these girls get kidnapped.

In between these you have Shaheen, who is telling me all the time that I'm too scared, because it's a man's value to be brave and he's a brave guy, there's no question about that. He was in an attack two weeks ago. There was a bomb in a Shia Mosque and he helped to carry out the bodies. So there's no kidding about the fact that he's a brave guy and he has to be because he's been fighting to make his films. But you are in the middle of this and I'm not a brave person at all and I don't think being brave is a very important question. It is, but I'm not brave, I'm very scared and so in the middle of all of this stress it's enough just to manage to not go crazy, or to not drink too much [laughs].

Salim Shaheen and Sonia Kronlund (courtesy of Pyramide Films)

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