Released: March 2, 2007
|by Dan Goldwasser
on January 31st, 2009
Based on the novel by Robert Graysmith, the David Fincher-directed Zodiac explores the obsession that Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) had with the elusive Zodiac serial killer, who murdered at least five people in the late 1960s. Graysmith, who had been working as an editorial cartoonist at the San Francisco Chronicle at the time, found himself helping the investigation when he was able to crack one of the cypher codes that the Zodiak had sent to the newspaper. Over the course of the next few years, as Graysmith and SFC crime reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.) dig into the case along with detectives Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and Bill Armstrong (Anthony Edwards), they make some progress, but never seem to crack the case. The film follows these men over the course of their research, and Graysmith's persistence and determination to solve the case over the years.
Released last year on home video in a slightly longer "Director's Cut", which is only about five minutes longer than the theatrical cut, the film finally makes the jump to Blu-ray after being only available on DVD and HD-DVD in 2-disc sets. The differences between the theatrical and director's cut versions are slight modifications, and primarily include additional dialogue and a few small scenes that enhance the characters a bit. Zodiac: The Director's Cut is a solid film that might seem a bit slow a times, as it covers a nearly 20-year period, but it's never boring. There is no concrete answer as to who the Zodiac killer was, but there was a principle suspect. It's a somewhat unsatisfying end to the film, but this is real life, and the mystery was never solved. Thankfully, Paramount has put together a solid package that presents a stellar transfer of the film, as well as some very good extras.
To call Zodiac a "film" is a slight misnomer; it was shot digitally, using Viper cameras, and recorded directly to hard drives. This allowed Fincher to delete takes that he didn't like right away, without waiting for lab processing. The look of the film is very dark, but it's never overly contrasted. Instead, cinematographer Harris Savides creates a rather soft palette that shows surprising detail in the shadows. Because the movie is shown in a digital presentation (especially on Blu-ray), the detail is stunning. There is no grain or artifacts whatsoever. It's actually a bit unnerving, and it's hard to describe (you have to see it to believe it), but it's almost as though the image is too clean. But it's a phenomenal image to behold, even if it feels a tad surreal.
The audio is presented in English Dolby TrueHD 5.1, and is very detailed, though it's not the type of sound track that will blow you over with any explosions and the like. Fincher creates three dimensional scenes through the clever use of subtle background noise to immerse the viewer without distracting from the front-and-center dialogue. Veteran film composer David Shire's piano-heavy score is clean and prominent, but never overpowering.
All of the extras previously released on HD-DVD are included on the Blu-ray discs. On the first disc, the only extras are two commentary tracks. The first, with director David Fincher, is an excellent discussion about his approach to the film, and he explains why he made the many choices he did in working on the project. It's an easy commentary to listen to and is chock full of production information. The second commentary is a group chat with author James Ellroy, screenwriter James Vanderbilt, producer Brad Fischer and actors Robert Downey Jr. and Jake Gyllenhaal. It's a very well done track that bounces between all manner of stories and recollections, and a nice inclusion on the disc.
The second disc has two sections, one about the film, and one about the actual Zodiac case. Beginning with the hour-long making-of documentary, "Zodiac Deciphered". 'Hosted' by writer Vanderbilt, this featurette explores the development of the project, through the many different aspects of the production. We get plenty of behind-the-scenes footage seeing Fincher directing the film, although he himself doesn't contribute to the featurette. Oddly enough, there is nothing discussed about post-production, on the use of digital cameras to shoot the film, or even Shire's return to film scoring. Considering there was a 3-disc release for Panic Room, it feels like there's a lot missing from this one. There is a 15-minute featurette on the visual effects, however. "The Visual Effects of Zodiac" explores the use of virtual sets and environments, almost all of which you wouldn't know about when watching the film. They're just that good! "Previsualization" shows some of the animatics used to prepare for filming many of the murder sequences in the film. The original theatrical trailer is also included. With the exception of "Previsualization", all of these extras are in HD.
The rest of the disc contains two documentaries about the real Zodiac murders. "This is the Zodiac Speaking" runs about 100 minutes in length, and is a very detailed exploration of the case, replete with new interviews with the actual participants, police crime photos, crime scene visits, archival footage, and much, much more. It's a fascinating look at the Zodiac case, and an excellent companion piece to the feature film itself. The last extra is a 40-minute documentary called "His Name was Arthur Leigh Allen" which focuses on the prime suspect in the case, mostly filled with talking heads from his former friends and acquaintances. It's not conclusive, but it's certainly damning as it sounds like everyone seems to think he did it.
Zodiac: The Director's Cut is a solid - if not a tad long - film that has a wealth of extras. Fincher's films have always ended up with the special edition treatment, and while it's unfortunate that many aspects of post-production have been overlooked, this is still an excellent set that both explores the making of a Hollywood film, as well as the notorious murders that inspired it to be made.
|by Dan Goldwasser
on February 22nd, 2007
Based on the 1986 novel by Robert Graysmith about the serial killings done by the "Zodiac Killer" in the late 1960s, the Zodiac focuses on Graysmith's account of the murders, and his subsequent investigation and research for his novel. I had great expectations for this film, given Fincher's track record for dark and interesting films (Seven and The Game most notably). However, I was ultimately let down - maybe my expectations were too high. It's a very well done film, but a bit too long and suffers from a rather anti-climactic ending.
The film starts out in the summer of 1969, when a young couple is attacked by the Zodiac killer - the man survives, but the woman is killed. Shortly thereafter, a letter with a code cypher is sent to three newspapers, including the San Francisco Chronicle, where Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) is working as an editorial cartoonist. He observes the media and criminal investigations from the sidelines, as crime-reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.) spearheads the reporting, and Inspectors David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and William Armstrong (Anthony Edwards) investigate the murders. Time progresses in leaps and bounds, as the bulk of the film traverses an eight year period replete with multiple murders, a few botched attempts, and a few suspects. Careers are made and fall apart, and it's all very interesting to watch. However, by the end of the film, over 2.5 hours has progressed (as well as over 20 years), and we're left with a few pages of lengthy text to wrap it all up for us. Who was the Zodiac killer? We may never know, but they strongly hint at a particular suspect in this film (and in the book). Because there is no certainty to the actual case, and this film sticks to the facts (as best as they could, in the book), it feels like the ending was never finished.
The acting is overall solid, with Robert Downey Jr. standing out for his performance. Mark Ruffalo also should be noted, and the production design does a nice job of setting the scene firmly in the 1970s. There weren't as many "Fincherisms" as I had hoped for, but there were a few shots that were very stylish and well conceived. The score, by the king of 1970s scores, David Shire (who they dragged out of retirement), is effective and retro in an appropriately moody way. It's a violent film at times, as expected, and it's interesting to watch the story unfold for the most part - but it loses steam towards the last third, and it's a bit longer than it should be. The lack of an ending will annoy many, and while it's well made, I'd say hold out for DVD to watch Zodiac - but definitely do see it!
The trailers for Zodiac featured music by and Rod Stewart.
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