Sunday, October 03, 2010

The Social Network

In 2004, the world of social networking through the Internet changed with the arrival of founding of Facebook.  A networking site that allows a user to interact with family and friends by posting messages or posting pictures.  By July 2010, it has over 500 million users around the world while courting controversy over privacy issues and such.  Despite the fact that it helped its founders Mark Zuckerberg, Chris Hughes, Dustin Moskovitz, and Eduardo Saverin become billionaires at a very young age.  It also created friction among its creators where in 2009, a book about the founding of Facebook called The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich arrived to tell the story of the early years of Facebooks’s creation.  The book grabbed the attention of renowned director David Fincher and famed producer/writer Aaron Sorkin for their adaptation called The Social Network.

Directed by David Fincher and an adapted screenplay by Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network tells the story about the founding of Facebook in its early years through its creators when they were just students at Harvard.  During the creation of Facebook and its rise, friction among its founders over credit and glory ensue that leads a chilling story of greed and betrayal.  With an all-star cast that includes Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Rooney Mara, Brenda Song, Rashida Jones, Armie Hammer, Joseph Mazzello, Patrick Mapel, and Max Minghella.  The Social Network is an eerie yet exhilarating film from David Fincher.

It’s the fall of 2003 as Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) is on a date with Erica Albright (Rooney Mara) where things end up badly.  Upset, Zuckerberg blogs about Erica and then has an idea about all the parties that are going on in Harvard.  Zuckerberg, a computer programming student, comes up with an idea called Facemash where he posted polls about which girl was hotter and such and overnight, it becomes big.  With help from friend and roommate Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) who comes up with an algorithm code, Zuckerberg gets attention for Facebook, good and bad.  Among those interested in Zuckerber’s work as a programmer are twin rowers Tyler and Cameron Winkle Voss (Armie Hammer w/ Josh Pence as the body double) and Divya Narendra (Max Minghella).

After asking Zuckerberg to create a program for their website to connect with Harvard students to another.  Zuckerberg agrees while learning that Saverin has been accepted to a prestigious club.  Zuckerberg, along with programmer Dustin Moskovitz (Joseph Mazzello) and Chris Hughes (Patrick Mapel), decided to create his own site that was called The Facebook with Saverin bringing a thousand dollars to start the site.  While Zuckerberg’s ideas increase, the Winklevoss twins and Narendra are suddenly left in the cold as they kept being rebuffed by Zuckerberg.  Even as they issues a cease-and-desist against Zuckerberg which he refuses to comply to.  With Saverin’s social connections to get more people in the site, they decided to expand to other big college campuses in the Northeast and Stanford in California where they get the attention of Napster co-founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake).

With the Facebook growing in numbers through prestigious college campuses and the Winklevoss trying to stop the site by even going to Harvard’s president (Douglas Urbanski).  Nothing is stopped as Saverin’s new girlfriend Christy Lee (Brenda Song) arranges a meeting with Sean Parker to meet with Zuckerberg and Saverin.  Though Saverin was skeptical about Parker, Zuckerberg is charmed as he and Moskovitz move to California to expand Facebook while Saverin stays in New York City to talk to advertisers to help with the financial things for the company.  With Parker’s help in California, Facebook expands all the way to the U.K. as the Winklevoss twins and Narendra decide to sue.  Meanwhile, Saverin finds himself out of picture as he tries to freeze his own money only to come back to sign some documents which would eventually lead to an all-out war against Zuckerberg.

The film is a classic tale of how one rises to the top and become filthy rich and yet, is being faced by the people he had fucked over to rise to the top.  For this film about the creation and founding of Facebook, it is much more complicated considering that Mark Zuckerberg who is a guy that likes to work on his computer a lot.  He is very socially awkward and seems more interested in trying to create a better Facebook with money coming to him all of the time.  Yet, he is also an asshole.  Still, if someone wants to make it in business.  They have act like assholes in order to get their way.  Yet, there’s a price to be paid when that person ends up screwing his friends around out of their share of the pie.

Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin creates a storyline that is similar to Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon as it’s all told in a couple of depositions where Zuckerberg is facing off against those he screwed over.  While the narrative moves back and forth from the creation of Facebook to the different depositions where Zuckerberg is explaining himself.  Even in his deposition against Eduardo Saverin, he is joined by a lawyer (John Getz) and a paralegal (Rashida Jones).  Even through these depositions, Sorkin gets a chance to have the Winklevoss twins and Narendra tell their side as well as Saverin.

While the Winklevoss twins and Narendra might seem like a trio of rich, preppy assholes who got cheated out of millions of dollars.  Yet, there’s a bit of sympathy for them considering that they tried to restore some of Zuckerberg’s already trouble reputation while making him part of an elite club.  Instead, Zuckerberg screws them though they gave him an idea about Facebook.  Then there’s Eduardo Saverin, the co-founder who brings in the money to create Facebook and then is pushed out of the picture once Sean Parker comes in.  Here’s a guy who is very smart, comes up with an algorithm code, brings in the money, and has all of the social connections to get people to join Facebook.  What happens to him is just as sad as he’s the character that gains the most sympathy.

Sorkin’s portrayal of characters including the brash Sean Parker, are wonderful in their complexity while breaking away from whatever stereotype what audiences might perceive of them.  Even in Mark Zuckerberg who is a very complicated character that doesn’t really know how to interact with people but can create ideas that would make Facebook what it is by 2010.  While some might sympathize with Zuckerberg for just trying to create something that will bring people together.  Others will hate him for how he screwed people over or how he treats them.  Yet, it is Sorkin’s genius to create memorable characters along with fast-paced dialogue and intense, dramatic moments is what makes the story so compelling.

The direction of David Fincher is truly his most accessible and most intriguing work to date.  Fincher creates a drama that is filled with a bit of suspense along with some humor and heavy drama.  Setting the film in Cambridge as Harvard, he goes into the world of Harvard in all of its social circles.  Fincher starts the film off with a bar scene that is long as he goes back and forth into the conversation.  The framing of that scene sets the stage along with the following sequence of following Zuckerberg through Harvard with this tracking shot.  Most of Fincher’s direction of scenes is very intimate inside the dorms while going inside the parties and capturing the intensity of Zuckerberg and his cohorts creating something.

Fincher succeeds in creating dramatic tension with not doing a lot for the deposition scenes.  Even as he focuses the camera on Zuckerberg, who seems very distracted by the things around him including the rain outside.  It’s all because Zuckerberg is trying to think about other things concerning his own site as Fincher’s camera is intent on capturing this young man at his most confrontational.  The overall direction of Fincher is truly mesmerizing and it’s definitely his most solid and entrancing work of his career so far.

Cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth does a phenomenal job in creating a look and tone for the visual aspects of the film.  Cronenweth’s dark, low-lighting look for many of the film’s interior scenes is truly intoxicating in its dark tone.  For some of the daytime, interior scenes, the film is more lively as Cronenweth’s camera is always on the action.  Even as Croenweth’s photography for some of the scenes in California is exquisite as his work overall is great.

Editors Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall do an amazing job with the film‘s editing in creating a rhythmic pace to keep up with the rapid dialogue.  Even as they slow down to create dramatic tension.  Notably for some of the deposition scenes where the editing takes it time for the actors to have their monologues as it’s a great example of what editing should be. 

Production designer Donald Graham Burt, along with set decorator Victor J. Zolfo and art directors Curt Beech and Keith P. Cunningham do fantastic work with the look of the Harvard dorms, the classrooms, and everything else that Harvard looked liked.  Even the designs of the clubs and slick restaurants to play up to Mark Zuckerberg’s rise while the deposition scene with the Winklevoss twins is very classy to represent the old-school world of those twins.  Costume designer Jacqueline West does excellent work with the costumes from the more ragged, casual clothing of Zuckerberg to the more posh, intimidating clothes that the Winklevoss twins wear.  Sound designer Ren Klyce does superb work with the film’s sound mixing and editing to create moods for the scenes involved in the film.  Notably the deposition where at one point, rain is heard to mix with the dialogue and music to play with what Mark is thinking about.  Klyce’s sound work is truly one of the film’s technical highlights in capturing the tense atmosphere that goes on for the film.

The film’s soundtrack features a large array of music ranging from the White Stripes, Roots Manuva, the Cramps, 10cc, the Dead Kennedys, Bob Marley & the Wailers, Cage, Super Furry Animals, and to close the film, the Beatles’ Baby You’re A Rich Man.  The soundtrack definitely plays up to the party atmosphere of the film as it is presented in large contrast to the film’s dark, unsettling score.

The film’s original score is created by Nine Inch Nails mastermind Trent Reznor and longtime cohort Atticus Ross.  Featuring a cover of Edvard Grieg’s In The Hall of the Mountain King, Reznor and Ross’ score is a mixture of dark ambient music filled with soothing piano and swooning synthesizers to play up to some of the melancholia and drama that goes on.  When it gets tense, the score becomes more menacing with fuzzy bass lines, discordant electronics, and driving guitars.  While some of the pieces feature music from the 2008 NIN instrumental album Ghosts I-IV, the music Reznor and Ross creates is perfect to complement the complex mind of Mark Zuckerberg as that score is real highlight of the film.

The casting by Laray Mayfield is excellent for its array of actors to fill in small and big roles.  Among the memorable small roles are Steve Sires as Bill Gates in a seminar scene, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin as an ad executive, Dakota Johnson as a Stanford girl Sean sleeps with, Malese Jow as Christy’s friend, and Patrick Mapel as Facebook co-founder/original spokesperson Chris Hughes. Other notable small but more substantial performances come from Brenda Song as the sexy Christy who becomes Eduardo’s girlfriend, Joseph Mazzello as programmer/Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, John Getz as Mark’s attorney Sy, Douglas Urbanski as former Harvard president Larry Summers, Dustin Fitzsimmons as a club president, and Rashida Jones as a paralegal who helps Mark with his legal situations while giving him a monologue about what he should do.

Rooney Mara is excellent in a small role as Erica Albright, a composite of a real individual who would become the inspiration for Zuckerberg’s idea to create Facebook. Even as Mara holds her own against Jesse Eisenberg as a girl who felt confronted by a guy she had a hard time relating to.  Max Minghella is very good as Divya Narendra, a rich student who felt screwed by Zuckerberg and wants to get violent on him. Armie Hammer, as the Winklevoss twins, is phenomenal in playing these rich, preppy, popular jocks who get shafted while wanting to try and be respectable in their approach only realizing how much they want to kill Zuckerberg. Justin Timberlake, meanwhile, gives a rousing performance as Sean Parker. The brash co-founder of Napster who is everything Zuckerberg wants to be while charming his way into the world of Facebook as he is cocky and arrogant. It’s a great performance from Timberlake who finally gets a role and performance that truly serves as an acting breakthrough.

Another notable breakthrough is Andrew Garfield as Eduardo Saverin, a co-founder of Facebook who becomes the site’s original investor and business manager. Garfield is excellent as the guy who has all of the social connections but is suddenly thrown out of the loop once Parker comes in as he struggles to get Zuckerberg’s attention. It’s truly a remarkable performance for the young British actor. The film’s real break-out performance is Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO and co-founder of Facebook. Known for playing eccentric, comical, and nerdy characters in films like Roger Dodger, The Squid & the Whale, Adventureland, and Zombieland. Eisenberg does an exhilarating job in playing the troubled yet brilliant Zuckerberg in all of his flaws. Eisenberg also makes Zuckerberg into a somewhat sympathetic figure but also one to despise. Eisenberg can talk fast, be quite uncaring, be in his own head, and also very arrogant in scenes where he gets confronted as it’s definitely the best performance of his career.

***Additional DVD Content Posted on 2/9/11***

The 2-disc Region 1 DVD from Sony presents the film in its original 2:40:1 theatrical aspect ratio in anamorphic widescreen.  Featuring 5.1 Dolby Digital sound in English and French plus subtitles in English (for the hearing impaired), French, and Spanish.  The first disc of the DVD is the film itself as the only special features it includes are two audio commentary tracks.

The first commentary track is from director David Fincher.  Fincher talks about a lot of the film’s location settings, technical ideas, and the cast.  Particularly Jesse Eisenberg who he really liked in Noah Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale and The Education of Charlie Banks.  Even as he reveals what Eisenberg brought to the role of Mark Zuckerberg in which he brings a humanity to a character that is inaccessible at times.  Fincher praises the likes of Andrew Garfield, Rooney Mara, Brenda Strong, Justin Timberlake, Armie Hammer (along with his double Josh Pence), and Max Minghella.

Fincher also talks about the reasons why they weren’t able to shoot at Harvard along with some ideas about the story and Aaron Sorkin’s screenwriting.  He also revealed that he originally wanted Elvis Costello & the Attractions’ Beyond Belief to be the song in the opening credits but everyone else didn’t like it.  Fincher admits that it was an idea as he also talked about the musical contributions of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.  Even as he wanted something that was a bit reminiscent of the high school film of the 80s but more modern.  Fincher’s commentary is fun to listen to as it features lots of bleeps because it’s a PG-13 movie.

The second commentary track is from screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and cast members Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Armie Hammer, and Josh Pence.  Sorkin and the actors talk about the production as well as Fincher’s directing style which is notorious for having actors do numerous takes which was something the actors didn’t really seem to mind.  Eisenberg felt it was the right approach so that he and the other actors could get a chance to find their footing during the shoot.  Even in the opening scene with Rooney Mara where and Mara had to find the way to get the rhythm of their conversation just right and make it feel natural.

Andrew Garfield discussed his approach to playing Eduardo Saverin as well as his chemistry with Eisenberg where they had to hang out with each other for a while before working.  Garfield and Eisenberg praised the work of Joseph Mazzello whom Garfield was jealous of as a kid because Mazzello was in Jurassic Park.  Armie Hammer and Josh Pence talk about their roles as the Winklevoss twins as Hammer revealed an encounter with one of the twins that freaked him out.  Justin Timberlake revealed that he had to audition for the part of Sean Parker which he worked hard on and didn’t want to come into the film because of who he is.

Sorkin revealed about his approach to the screenplay of the film while he revealed that the music he originally wanted to use in the credits sequence was Paul Young’s cover of Love for the Common People.  Fincher thought that wouldn’t work as he decided to go with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ music.  Sorkin revealed that the one scene he wished was cut was his cameo as all of the actors disagreed and thought he did pretty good.  The overall commentary is fun as it brings insight to the characters and the story.

The second disc includes loads of special features relating to the film.  Leading the pack of special features is a one-and-a-half hour, four-part making-of documentary entitled How Did They Ever Make a Movie of Facebook?  Directed by David Prior, the documentary features interviews with actors, crew members, producers, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, and director David Fincher.  Even as it focuses on what was shot in the three central locations for the film plus how did they manage to put Armie Hammer’s face into Josh Pence for several scenes in the film.

For many of the exterior scenes in Harvard, it was all shot in Boston and nearby colleges since there was no permission to shoot at Harvard.  Even as a few interiors were shot in the month of October where the whole principal photography phase was 70 days.  Both Hammer and Pence had to learn how to row though Pence was more experienced since he did row in his school days.  Even as the opening bar scene was rehearsed early in the day with Jesse Eisenberg and Rooney Mara where they finally shot the scene later that night with a bunch of extras.

For a lot of the film’s interior scenes which included the restaurant and club scenes.  All of it was shot in Los Angeles including the house Zuckerberg and his team stayed in during their California trip.  Some exteriors were also shot for the film that was to be set in Harvard while the dorm room scenes and a few interiors were shot in the lot.  Notably the depositions as it was all shot on a built set.  The documentary is an insightful, fun featurette that reveals the making of the film.

Another big featurette is a 4-minute multi-angle breakdown of the Ruby Skye VIP room scene.  Featuring four camera angles and four different audio tracks, it reveals how the club scene was created from its early stages to principal photography.  There are four shots that are going either by themselves individually or all together in a composite form.  The first audio is Jesse Eisenberg and Justin Timberlake rehearsing in another room reading Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue with Sorkin and David Fincher watching in the first angle.  The second audio track is an interview with editors Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall along with sound designer Ren Klyce about how difficult it was to create the club scene for all of the sound work and editing.

The third video and audio is about the location scouting of the club as Fincher and crew discussing how it would be shot and what angles would be used.  The fourth and final video/audio clip is the principal photography where the first assistant director gets extras to come in and dance to the music while making sure they keep dancing when music isn’t played so Timberlake and Eisenberg do their dialogue.  Even as Fincher is watching everything through a monitor as he also directs Eisenberg and Timberlake about what they should do during their conversation.  It’s definitely a wonderful and captivating featurette.

Two other special features involve the film’s technical work.  The first is an eight-minute featurette about the film’s look from David Fincher and cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth.  Fincher and Cronenweth revealed that because of Harvard’s refusal to have the film be shot on location, they had to find locations where they can shoot places that are similar to Harvard.  Even in look where all of it had to be captured to create a similar mood to the way Harvard looked.  Helping capturing some of those images, particularly inside the dorm room were the cameras Fincher and Cronenweth used which was the Red One camera.

Since Fincher had always expressed interest in digital filmmaking and in high-definition, the Red One was the camera that was able to give him the look he needed.  The hard part was trying use lenses to capture broader shots for depth of field.  Notably the overhead shot of the Harvard archway where three cameras were used to capture the entire archway as it had to become one entire frame.

The second is a seventeen-minute, twenty-second featurette on the film’s post-production that features editors Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall and sound designer Ren Klyce.  Baxter and Wall reveal the difficulty of the editing since things were moving so fast that the film was edited during production as filming continued.  Even as they’re aware of Fincher’s notorious for shooting many takes of a scene which was more difficult because of Sorkin’s screenplay.  Even in capturing the right note of the performances which had to be handled through Klyce’s sound editing.

Klyce’s sound editing, mixing, and design work helped to create moods, notably the opening scene of the film.  Even as Klyce had to mix the dialogue of Jesse Eisenberg and Rooney Mara in one mix, the mix of the people in the bar talking, and the music of the White Stripes in the background.  What Klyce had to do was get all of those sounds mixed in together for this opening sequence.  Even when Eisenberg’s character had to work on the computer where Klyce and Fincher took a more realistic approach as opposed to the ways computers sounded in the past.

Three other special features involve the film’s music from composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.  The first is a nineteen-minute featurette on the score with interviews from Reznor, Ross, and David Fincher.  Reznor and Ross revealed their approach to the music where Reznor would do a lot of the performance with Ross providing the arrangements and dissect all of the pieces that was played.  Even as the two try to figure out what rhythm this piece would be used or that piece.  The track Hands Cover Bruise became the main theme that Fincher loved which he felt would become the basis for the score and the emotional accompaniment of Mark Zuckerberg.

The hardest track Reznor and Ross had to do was Edvard Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King because it was requested by Fincher.  Reznor revealed that because Fincher wanted a Wendy Carlos approach of the piece, Reznor took it the wrong way where the first draft was played to a dismal reaction from personnel to Reznor’s dogs.

Also included in that section is a four-and-a-half minute feature on the Swarmatron instrument Reznor and Ross used for the score.  It’s an instrument that features ribbons for Reznor to rub on while using a tuning button to create pitches for the sound.  He said he wanted to use something that was organic and imperfect in the realm of electronic music.  Reznor and Ross revealed what scenes featured the instrument as it contained a swooning if discomforting sound to help set the mood for the scenes.

The third and final music special is a rough draft of Edvard Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King.  Played to the Henley Regatta scene, the featurette features four different audio mixes.  One is a rough version of the first draft of the track in music only which sounded more like Wendy Carlos’ approach to the track with dated 70s-style synthesizers that didn’t feel right.  In the final mix of that first draft with the sound in the film, it still didn’t work because the track’s intensity with the feel of the race just didn’t match.  Even as the text that preceded the scene revealed what it took to get to the final version.  When the final version of the track is presented in a music-only mix and then in the final mix with the film’s sound, it’s an indication of what worked.

Though the only thing the DVD is missing are the trailers for the film.  It is still an amazing DVD that fans of David Fincher must have.  Even as aspiring filmmakers get a chance to understand Fincher’s filmmaking process including how the film was shot and edited.  Fans of NIN will definitely want the DVD for the music features and to see Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross at work on the film’s score.  In the end, it’s a spectacular DVD that supports one of 2010’s great films.

***End of DVD Tidbits***
The Social Network is, without a doubt, one of the year’s best films from David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. Fans of Fincher’s work will no doubt enjoy the film for its visual feel and tone while fans of Sorkin will enjoy his approach to the story. Featuring an amazing cast led by Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, and Justin Timberlake plus a hypnotic score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. It’s a film that truly dwells into one of the great social phenomenon of the 21st Century and how its creator became rich. It’s definitely a film that is engaging, entertaining, and also intriguing. In the end, The Social Network is a remarkable yet provocative film from David Fincher.

© thevoid99 2010

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