The reading this week had a great section about Zodiac, which is the feature for this week (pgs 83 – 87). According to the reading, Fincher uses the rich detail provided by a digital camera as a metaphor in Zodiac. The film is fundamentally about the search for truth, and the lengths people (in this case, the detectives and associated investigators) will go for it.
Though unlike most crime drama type films, the ending is anticlimactic, leaving the viewer without “catharsis” as the reading described it. Most films in this type of genre have the “bad guy” caught—even in a (fantastic) movie like Silence of the Lambs, a murderer is caught (well, killed) in the end. The audience gets to fulfil their sense of justice, while for most of the movie we get frustration, and anxiety about society’s failings: serial killers are perfect for this. How can a good society produce such a horrible situation? Normally, the crime drama reassures this fear: the wrongdoer is punished, killed, justice dispensed and we go home satisfied. Zodiac does the opposite: the only real suspect dies before he can be questioned, and even then, there isn’t enough evidence to draw conclusions.
Going back to digital film… Fincher strategically used the HD/sharpness of digital to manipulate the viewer: more intensely dramatic sequences, where the truth is just out of reach, have a higher resolution, “it makes you study the image more intently…it draws your eye even further into the drama.” As the reading put it. The reading essentially describes how digital film was used in Zodiac to provide further meaning, used as a tool for storytelling, and not just a tool to make pretty pictures look better.
Zodiac is a fantastic example of the power of digital film, and the new techniques available to filmmakers, as not only do we have the film media itself being used as part of the film’s larger meaning—physicality reminiscent of Dogstar Man—but digital film as another, powerful set of tools for compositing images, manipulating the viewer, and increasing “reality” within the film.
The reading discusses this aspect further, but the main idea was: digital film can be used to increase reality in the film, and get us closer to a cinematic “truth”. I thought that perspective was particularly interesting, as it’s in contrast to normal (negative) attitudes towards digital effects.
As a final note on compositing, a lot of concept art nowadays is done through composited images, allowing for hyper-realistic sci-fi art for example. While it’s not like the artist (and in the case of filmmakers using digital compositing) themselves drawing the character’s face, or the scene, they are still bringing to life their vision—getting closer to that total cinema, or the truth of what they want the viewer to see. So, ultimately, does CGI lower the quality of an artist’s craft? Or does CGI enhance it? What is “good” CGI vs “bad” CGI?
Also, here is an example of the composited sci fi concept art I was talking about. It’s just something I find really cool. As you can tell, I’m a bit biased in favor of digital effects.