Zodiac: Director's Cut (Blu-ray) (2007)

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Released 2-Jul-2008

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller Audio Commentary-Director
Audio Commentary-Cast & Crew
Featurette-Zodiac Deciphered
Featurette-The Visual Effects of Zodiac
Featurette-Previsualization
Featurette-This is the Zodiac Speaking
Featurette-Prime Suspect: His Name Was Arthur Leigh Allen
Theatrical Trailer-Zodiac
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2007
Running Time 162:36
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Programme
Region Coding 4 Directed By David Fincher
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal
Mark Ruffalo
Anthony Edwards
Robert Downey Jr.
Brian Cox
John Carroll Lynch
Chloë Sevigny
Case ?
RPI $34.90 Music David Shire


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (640Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 5.1 (640Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 5.1 (640Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 (640Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 (640Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.40:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 2.40:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

David Fincher, the director of the very atmospheric Se7en and Fight Club has now provided us with one of the best films of 2007. With Zodiac, Fincher never lets his signature filmmaking wizardry overwhelm what amounts to one of the most thoughtfully plotted and detailed crime movies ever made. Zodiac provides us with a compelling story about terror and death, and an intimate look at those who find their lives changed by both. But like Moby Dick, this absorbing story is not so much about the hunt, as it is about providing a searching exploration of the main character’s decent into unhealthy obsession.

Fincher is responsible for some of the most atmospheric and iconic music videos of the 1990s, including Madonna's Express Yourself and Vogue, Sting's Englishman In New York, George Michael's Freedom '90, Billy Idol's Cradle of Love, and Aerosmith's Janie's Got A Gun. It was no surprise then when Fincher went on to become the director of some very atmospheric films, including Alien 3 (1992), Se7en (1995), The Game (1997), Fight Club (1999), and The Panic Room (2002).

Fincher shows off his accomplished technical prowess with the opening scene of Zodiac (2007), which is an expertly filmed tracking shot. Filmed in P.O.V, we coast along in a car down an average suburban street of an American town on the fourth of July. We see sparklers and BBQs and hear the cackle of children’s laughter. Knowing the subject of the film, this otherwise fun and festive scene summons an immediate discomfort. Are we cruising with the killer for victims?

With Zodiac, Fincher returns to some of the awful scenes of the Zodiac killer's many crimes with his carefully detailed and thoroughly absorbing film. Based on Fincher's previous films, I had expected Zodiac to be a highly stylized and atmospheric slasher film about a cerebral serial killer on the loose. But to my great surprise, Fincher has avoided exploitation and sensationalism, and steered away from cheap ‘boo scares’ and an over stylized gore-fest. Instead Fincher’s direction screams concentration, patience, and most importantly, restraint. Without a doubt, this is his most mature and coherent film to date.

Fincher has carefully included some recreations of the Zodiac’s murderous work, but the movie can't be called sensationalistic. Rather, with Zodiac, a very detailed investigatory story slowly unfolds at a very steady pace, which leads us through years of the main character's deepening obsession. Although Fincher chooses not to entirely explain either Graysmith's obsession or The Zodiac killer's bizarre and awful motivations, Zodiac is a carefully detailed character study. This approach to the story reminded me a little of Moby Dick, in that the story was not so much about the hunt for the great white whale, but an exploration of the main character’s decent into unhealthy obsession.

Fincher’s Zodiac is a very deliberate merging of various film genres: It is part suspenseful thriller, a drawn-out police investigation, and a newspaper movie. It’s Law & Order meets All The President’s Men. Fincher ensures that this time, unlike his first rather disappointing feature film, Alien 3, the film is far more substance than style. Fincher never lets his obviously advanced filmmaking techniques overwhelm what amounts to one of the most thoughtfully plotted and detailed crime movies ever made.

Despite Graysmith pointing us toward a particular suspect, Zodiac doesn't offer the kind of definitive closure that we are used to finding in crime thrillers. Interestingly, references to the film Dirty Harry are made throughout which serves to highlight the gap between the reality of a soul-crushing, rambling criminal investigation, which frustratingly grinds on year after year without result, with the expectation of an audience seeking the cathartic release of watching the villain fall in a hail of gunfire from the hero.

However, although the movie is not as pointed and definitive as Graysmith's controversial books, the ethical question of accusing someone so publicly on purely circumstantial evidence is questionable at best. After all, all the physical evidence such as handwriting analysis, fingerprints, and DNA evidence all proved that particular individual's innocence.

Although Fincher avoids cliché, with his slavish devotion to accuracy, Zodiac sometimes seems to be missing a larger sense of truth. For example, by Fincher choosing only to portray on screen the facts that are known about the case, and avoid speculation or filling in the blanks, the film at times appears slightly disjointed and hollow. For example, as mentioned previously, no explanation is given for the Zodiac killer's motivations. He remains a mysterious 'bogeyman'.

Despite that, a genuine suspense emerges throughout, and Fincher deserves credit for his great attention to detail and the facts. Instead of building a frightening mystique around a cold-blooded and cowardly killer, Fincher tries to dismantle it. As a film, Zodiac proves to be intriguing, as Fincher has very skilfully assembled an absorbing drama built around solid acting performances and a genuine respect for authenticity. Zodiac provides us with a compelling story about terror and death and an intimate look at those who find their lives changed by both.

Zodiac boasts a strong ensemble cast: As Graysmith, Jake Gyllenhaal perfectly portrays the geeky, wide-eyed, single-parent cartoonist, whose obsession with finding the identity of the Zodiac Killer develops far beyond the boundaries of regular newspaper reporting. Zodiac expertly explores the impact of this growing obsession on him and those around him, as his puppy-dog persona slowly is consumed by his search.

Robert Downey Jr. almost steals the film as crime reporter Paul Avery, a heavy drinker who spearheaded the Zodiac case and whose “extracurricular activity” involving drugs and alcohol and “whatever else” begins to take its toll on his health and sanity. His desolate nonchalance and his magnetic and edgy personality make for compulsive viewing; especially as we witness him slowly melt under the heat of the Zodiac investigation. Understandably any film has limits, and in this film the waves of loss and suffering that must have rippled throughout the community amongst friends and family of the Zodiac’s victims are not seen. But in many ways, Avery represents them. As a surrogate, he is the embodiment of collateral damage, and his character's demise points to the wider circle of the Zodiac’s victims.

Mark Ruffalo and Anthony Edwards seem to effortlessly play the San Francisco homicide detectives placed in charge of this very public and demanding case. As Inspector Dave Toschi, Ruffalo layers a brilliantly realised shading to the principled but frustrated detective for whom the solution always seems to be just one scrap of information beyond his reach.

Zodiac also boasts an excellent supporting cast, which includes Chloe Sevigny, Brian Cox, Philip Baker Hall, John Getz, Elias Koteas, Dermot Mulroney, Donal Logue, and John Carroll Lynch, who all shine in smaller, but still important roles.

This version of the film is Fincher’s Director’s Cut, and runs slightly longer than the theatrical version. I have covered this aspect in the R4 v R1 Section below.

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Transfer Quality

Video

Zodiac is apparently the first feature film shot in 1080p High Definition video. The Blu-ray Disc's (BD) high definition transfer was lifted directly from the source, and it is noticeably more striking and more detailed than the DVD's standard definition transfer.

Cinematographer Harris Savides, has provided Fincher with the drab and almost smeary look he wanted, partly through the use of fluorescent lighting and a muted-hue art direction. This helps create a realistic and gloomy 1970s look, while also reflecting the dark and murky mood of the film. The 1080p/VC-1 encoded transfer is beautifully presented widescreen aspect ratio of 2.40:1, in a native 16x9 frame.

As one should expect with a high definition transfer, the sharpness of the image is excellent. For example, consider the perfect delineation in the sweeping shot of the San Francisco streetscape at 07:27, or the fine detail in the postal envelopes being riffled through on the desk at 31:35. The sharpness of the BD's transfer is noticeably better than that of the DVD's. For example, with the high definition transfer, consider the intricate detail now visible in the background wall tiles at 49:18. The black level is excellent throughout with true, deep blacks. The film intentionally often has a very poorly lit or gloomy appearance and the shadow detail is excellent. The textures and skin tones appear accurate.

There are no problems with MPEG artefacts, such as pixelization. There are also no problems with Film-To-Video Artefacts, such as aliasing or telecine wobble. With the direct digital transfer, there are no film artefacts, except those that appear in the older Warner Bros and Paramount Studio Logos that appear at the beginning of the film. Fincher opted to use the logos that were in use at the time of the Zodiac killings, to help set the time and mood for the film.

18 subtitle streams are included. The English ones are accurate.

This is a BD-50 (50 GB) disc. The feature is divided into 27 chapters.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

As a dialogue-driven crime drama, I was not expecting Zodiac to provide an overpowering audio assault. Rather, the film provides a suitably restrained, yet enveloping, surround sound experience. But with standard Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, the BD provides no noticeable audio improvement over the DVD.

Zodiac was originally released in the theatres with dts, SDDS, and Dolby Digital audio. The local DVD offered just one audio option for the feature: English 5.1 Dolby Digital encoded at 384 Kb/s. The BD offers English, French, German, Italian, and Castilian 5.1 Dolby Digital audio options encoded at 640 Kb/s.

The dialogue quality and audio sync are excellent.

The original music is credited to Oscar-winning veteran David Shire, who also composed the scores for the classic films, The Conversation (1974), All The President's Men (1976), and Norma Rae (1979). There is also clever use of popular music to help locate the events in time.

As with the DVD, the surround presence and activity is subtle but immersive, and it really adds a lot to the film. The surround sound mix is limited, but the rear speakers are used to help carry the score and to provide ambience, such as the background sounds of typewriters and papers in the newspaper offices, to the sounds of passing traffic or background conversations. Use of the LFE track is also limited.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Zodiac has a number of fascinating and genuine extras.

Floating Pop-Up Menu

As with other BDs, the menu can be accessed while the film is playing.

Audio Commentary 1

David Fincher provides a detailed and interesting screen-specific commentary that covers the original case, the script, and the production. Throughout the film Fincher also discusses some of the characters who appear in the story, and his personal thoughts on the events depicted.

Audio Commentary 2

Writers James Ellroy, James Vanderbilt, and Producer Brad Fischer, and Actors Robert Downey Jr. and Jake Gyllenhaal provide an additional commentary that covers everything from adapting Graysmith's books and real crime into a script to depicting those events onscreen. I enjoyed the conversational aspect and banter between the participants as they each share their personal views.

Featurette - Zodiac Deciphered (54:16)

In this detailed behind-the-scenes featurette, the filmmakers discuss various aspects of the film's production. The featurette is presented in standard definition with stereo audio, and is divided into seven chapters, focusing on how the filmmakers accurately reproduced 1960s and 1970s San Francisco and the various crime scenes:

Featurette - The Visual Effects of Zodiac (15:20)

Presented in High Definition with stereo audio, this featurette showcases the extensive, but subtle, use of CGI throughout the film, often to recreate 1970s San Francisco.

Featurette - Previsualization

A quick split-screen comparison between the animatics and the final scenes. The scenes included are:

Featurette - This is the Zodiac Speaking (102:17)

Presented in High Definition with stereo audio, this featurette is not only the best extra on this disc, it is possibly the best extra I have found on any BD that I have reviewed. This well-made and detailed featurette provides a thorough and absorbing tour through the Zodiac case, and also places the characters and events within a historical context. Packed with archival footage and crime scene photos, the featurette includes a number of interviews with people with first hand involvement in the case, such as the two surviving victims, witnesses, and retired police officers. The featurette is divided into the following chapters:

Featurette - Prime Suspect: His Name Was Arthur Leigh Allen (42:36)

Also presented in High Definition, this featurette looks at the Zodiac case's prime suspect, Arthur Leigh Allen. Former friends and acquaintances share their anecdotes and personal stories and views about Allen.

Theatrical Trailer (2:27)

The trailer for Zodiac presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 with stereo audio.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

This version of the film is Fincher’s Director’s Cut, and runs slightly longer than the theatrical version. This is not a gorier or ‘uncensored’ version of the film, but rather, the changes are mostly subtle. They include slightly extended scenes with extra dialogue, an additional scene where Graysmith finds Avery sleeping in his car, an additional scene with Toschi, Armstrong, and Marty Lee on a conference call requesting a search warrant which replaces a much shorter different scene, a transition scene of a black screen, which lasts almost a minute which conveys the passing of time through the use of music and news sound bites. I agree with all the changes, and while subtle, they do make for a slightly better film.

The Director's Cut does not appear to be released on BD in the US yet, but the HD-DVD had the same content and English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 (1.5 Mbps) audio.

Summary

Zodiac is carefully paced and very low-key, but all the more compelling for it. Along with There Will Be Blood and No Country For Old Men, it is one of the best films of 2007. Zodiac invites us to look into the personal abyss of compulsion, and will resonate with anyone who has been seduced by a personal obsession.

The video quality is excellent. This BD is now the best way to enjoy Zodiac at home.

The audio quality also excellent.

The extras are genuine and fascinating.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Brandon Robert Vogt (warning: bio hazard)
Thursday, August 07, 2008
Review Equipment
DVDSony Playstation 3 (HDMI 1.3) with Upscaling, using HDMI output
DisplayPanasonic High Definition 50' Plasma (127 cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationSamsung Pure Digital 6.1 AV Receiver (HDMI 1.3)
SpeakersSamsung

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
DVD Release - Daniel Lammin REPLY POSTED
Differences from HD-DVD - Shane A
re: Differences from HD-DVD - Roger T. Ward (Some say he's afraid of the Dutch, and that he's stumped by clouds. All we know, this is his bio.)
Best of year so far... -