While decidedly less than prolific, David Fincher makes up for the lack of quantity in his oeuvre with an undeniable level of quality that, the studio-botched "Alien 3" notwithstanding, stands shoulder to shoulder with the best filmmakers of his generation. When I’d heard that Fincher would be helming a “true-crime” flick chronicling the reign of terror of the Zodiac killer, I was at once excited and cautiously optimistic; after all, the Zodiac killer has been the subject of a few feature films (two of which were released in 2006), and his exploits have been well-documented, leaving little wiggle room for either creative license or the ability to tell a side of the story that hadn’t yet been told.
Much like 2006’s “The Zodiac”, which focused on the lives of the small town detectives who investigated the case from its infancy, Fincher’s Zodiac shares a similar vision in that much of the film deals with the individuals closest to the case once the Zodiac made his move to San Francisco. Working from the series of books authored by Robert Graysmith, Fincher shows us the reaction to the Zodiac’s killing spree through the eyes of a disparate set of individuals, including Graysmith (Gylenhaal), himself; reporter, Paul Avery (Downey Jr.); and San Francisco detectives, Toschi (Ruffalo) and Armstrong (Edwards), who are all then ultimately drawn together throught Graysmith's obsession with finding out the killer's identity.
The film opens with the first in a series of murders, in which a pair of lovers are ambushed in a parked car. The girl is shot to death, while the boy is left alive to tell the tale. Following the murder, a series of letters are sent to the major newspapers in the area, each featuring a cryptic puzzle, with the request that the puzzle be published or the murderer will strike again. Anyone familiar with the case of the Zodiac knows what follows is a cat and mouse game between the cops and the killer, but Fincher uses the more personal material supplied in Graysmith’s books to add a human face to the still-unsolved case. We watch as Graysmith’s obsession with the Zodiac overtakes his professional and personal life, while Avery nearly loses his in his pursuit of the truth. We also bear witness the mounting frustration of the SFPD detectives assigned to the case as, under public and private scrutiny, Toschi and Anderson find themselves going down one dead end after another, chasing after a killer whose motives and methods seemingly change with every crime, making him either one of the most prolific serial killers of all time, or an opportunistic charlatan who, after his first few kills, sat back and took the credit for any other violent crimes that tickled his fancy.
While the action onscreen is oftentimes quiet and personal, make no mistake, Zodiac is a true crime epic in scope and substance. From its meticulously recreated late-60’s/early-70’s San Francisco streets to its all-encompassing exploration of one of the most notorious crime sprees in modern history, Zodiac is unlike any “true-crime” film you’ve seen, and Fincher’s approach to the subject, while sprinkled with occasionally humorous dialogue and situations (mostly courtesy of Downey’s Avery), is deadly serious. Those expecting the visual fireworks of a typical Fincher film may be disappointed here, as the director reigns himself in to put the focus squarely on the material. That’s not to say that the film doesn’t look good - Zodiac is oozing with atmosphere and eerie elegance – but, in a show of maturity and confidence, Fincher’s usual camera acrobatics aren’t on display here, saving the “oohs” and “ahhs” for the well-honed script’s revelations and theorizations.
This director's cut (approx. 7 mins of footage added) doesn't change all that much from the theatrical version, but it does add quite a bit in terms of character depth and development, and, strangely enough, this even longer cut seemed to fly right by. Still, having seen the film a few times already, that could have been due to the fact that I was excitedly looking for the new bits added, although many of them I didn't notice until I watched it with Fincher's commentary.
While David Fincher is currently the toast of the town with his multiple Oscar nominated "The Strange Case of Benjamin Button", Zodiac is the film that deserved such accolades. In my opinion, this was easily the best film of 2007, and, perhaps, of Fincher's career.
Zodiac comes to Blu-ray with an absolutely stunning 2.35:1 transfer that is the very definition of clarity, depth, and dimension. This is one of those "wow" transfers in which you'll spend much of the film with your jaw hanging open, drooling at the sumptuous level of detail. I've seen this film in theaters, several times on DVD, and I've also recently watched it in HD on cable, but I now realize that I hadn't actually "seen" it until this superlative Blu-ray edition. The most minute details leap off of the screen, from the textures of the 70's era clothing to each bit of stubble on Downey Jr.'s face. Just beautiful stuff all around!
The Dolby True HD 5.1 soundtrack compliments the demo quality video presentation with a rich and atmospheric track that faithfully recreates the cinema experience of Zodiac. Bass response is strong but never overbearing, with crystal clear dialogue and wonderfully articulated sound effects working all corners of the room. This is not a particularly loud film, but, on occasion, the soundtrack lets it rip with a classic cut from the film's era, and can really rattle the floorboards. It's all mixed perfectly, though, and can be enjoyed at any volume with zero sacrifices in terms of dialogue clarity or immersion.
Paramount, once again, shows Blu-ray fans the love with yet another reference quality treatment of one of their finest offerings.
Paramount ports over all of the goodies from the recent 2-Disc Director's Cut DVD to this 2-Disc Blu-ray edition, including two feature-length commentary tracks, and two feature-length documentaries (one on the making of the film, and the other a fantastic look at the case, itself, with all new interviews with investigators, survivors, and major players in the case), both presented in 1080p.
The first commentary track features David Fincher, and the notoriously publicity shy director offers up a film school class's worth of dissection, discussion, and deliberation of his creation, breaking down everything from the prep-work involved in putting this mammoth production together, to the final editing process. It's a fairly technical track, but it's well worth a listen for Fincher fans and cinephiles.
The second track is a bit more listener friendly, with Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey, Jr., producer Brad Fischer, writer James Vanderbilt, and crime novelist James Ellroy offering up a lively discussion about both the film and the actual case. Ellroy, in particular, brings a sort of "expert witness testimony" to the proceedings, and true-crime buffs will eat this up.
The second disc is broken up into two sections; The Film and The Facts. The Film section sports a feature's worth of behind-the-scenes and making-of material that compliments the commentary tracks wonderfully, and showcases the amount of work that went into the film, while The Facts offers the feature-length This is the Zodiac Speaking documentary, as well as Prime Suspect, both of which provide a comprehensive look into the case the film is based on, with loads of interviews, photographs, and newsreel footage from the era.
This is a truly epic collection of extra goodies and essentially amounts to three feature films for the price of one.
One of the greatest true crime films ever made finally comes to Blu-ray in one of the best collections I've had the pleasure of viewing. Zodiac: The Director's Cut offers a reference quality viewing experience and a bounty of compelling extras. While those who already own the 2-Disc DVD set may pause seeing as how there are no Blu-ray exclusives here, the quality of the transfer as well as the fact that the majority of the special features have been bumped up to 1080p makes this Blu-ray an essential upgrade for fans, and an essential purchase for those yet to see this haunting and masterfully crafted film. Highest possible recommendation.