H D - S E N S E I

A view on HD DVDs by Gary W. Tooze


Introduction: Hello, fellow Beavers! I have been interested in film since I viewed a Chaplin festival on PBS when I was around 9 years old. I credit DVD with expanding my horizons to fill an almost ravenous desire to seek out new film experiences. I currently own approximately 4600 DVDs and have reviewed over 3000 myself. I appreciate my discussion Listserv for furthering my film education and inspiring me to continue running DVDBeaver. Plus a healthy thanks to those who donate and use our Amazon links.

Although I never wanted to become one of those guys who focused 'too much' on image and sound quality - I find HD is swiftly pushing me in that direction. So be it, but film will always be my first love and I list my favorites on the old YMdb site now accessible HERE.  

Gary's Home Theatre:
Samsung HPR4272 42" Plasma HDTV
Toshiba HD-A2 HD-DVD player (firmware upgraded)
Sony DVP NS5ODH SD-DVD player (region-free and HDMI)
Harmon Cardon DD/DTS receiver
Ascent (main) + Boston Acoustics (centre, rear, subwoofer) speakers (5.1)

Gary W. Tooze








Zodiac (Two-Disc Director's Cut) [HD DVD]


(David Fincher, 2007)

Paramount  (USA)
Review by Gary W. Tooze

2.35:1 1080p - VC-1 encode
Audio: English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1
Subtitles: English (SDH), English, Spanish, French, none

• Audio commentary by David Fincher
• Audio commentary by Gyllenhaal, Downey Jr., Brad Fischer, James Vanderbilt, and James Ellroy
• Zodiac Deciphered in HD
• The Visual Effects of Zodiac in HD
• Previsualization
• This Is the Zodiac Speaking in HD
• Prime Suspect: His Name Was Arthur Leigh Allen in HD

Released: January 8th, 2008
HD-DVD case
27 chapters

The Film:



Because Zodiac takes as its subject one of the most notorious serial killers in American history, and because its director, David Fincher, remains best known for Se7en, a movie about one of the most diabolical serial killers in film history, most people will naturally assume that what we have here is a picture about a serial killer. This assumption will sell tickets, no doubt, luring the unsuspecting viewer into one of the most radically ambitious and conceptually bizarre projects ever released by a major studio. If you're even slightly familiar with the case, it will dawn on you at the end of Zodiac's first hour that no additional murders are forthcoming—the Zodiac killed only five people that we know about for sure, all of them between December 1968 and October 1969—and that even the taunting letters and ciphers that made him infamous are about to cease without explanation. You also know that the Zodiac was never caught, and that you've signed on for a film that runs closer to three hours than two. Where can they possibly take this story? you will wonder. Only when you realize that the movie's pace is speeding up in inverse proportion to the killer's activity, however, will you understand that you're actually watching the most exhaustive portrait of obsessive-compulsive disorder ever seen onscreen.



Odds are, of course, that you're not already familiar with every detail of the Zodiac case. Never fear—after seeing this movie, you will be. Adapted from two books by editorial cartoonist-turned-amateur sleuth Robert Graysmith, Zodiac features a handful of ostensible characters: Graysmith himself, who worked at the San Francisco Chronicle during the period when the Zodiac was sending letters there, is played by Jake Gyllenhaal, and we also spend significant face time with star Chronicle reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.) and legendary SFPD detective Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo). But none of these three men, nor anything that you could credibly call human drama, amounts to much more than a ripple in Zodiac's endless, raging sea of investigative minutiae. Dates, times, locations, statements, interviews, clues, totems, theories—Zodiac is less narrative than avalanche, opening crevasses in characters' and viewers' psyches alike. Even as Avery sinks into alcoholism and Graysmith's obsession with the case destroys his marriage, it's the mental state of the filmmakers that seems troubling. Existentially horrified by the absence of certitude, the movie, like Graysmith's books, drastically overcompensates via maniacal attention to detail, which manifests as a desperate need to embrace What Is Known.

Of course, Fincher is still Fincher, so it's not as if any of this plays as dry or bureaucratic. Scene by scene, Zodiac is the director's most visually restrained work to date, taking its cue from the mostly functional mise-en-scène of the police procedural; at the same time, he can't resist the occasional expressionistic flourish, as when two young lovers en route to violent death drive slowly down a quiet Vallejo street as fireworks explode overhead. (The Zodiac's second attack took place on July 4, 1969.) Nor will you ever again be able to listen to Donovan's loping "Hurdy Gurdy Man" without a chill running down your spine, assuming that you can now. The actors, for their part, do a credible job of creating the necessary illusion that they're playing human beings rather than walking, talking DSM-IV codes: Downey turns Avery, who received several personal communiqués from the killer, into his standard hilarious motormouthed cynic, while Ruffalo, playing the real cop who inspired Steve McQueen's character in Bullitt, expertly mimics Toschi's shaggy, understated demeanor.

Excerpt from Mike D'Angelo's review at the Las Vegas Weekly located HERE




I think this may be one of the best HD transfers I have seen in the past year. It has  no significant flaws and hardly any niggling ones either. Detail is exceptional at times and colors are bright and vibrant. I also own the SD counterpart of this film and the HD towers above it in terms of image quality. It's a huge difference. Skin tones have a shade of reddish/orange at times but its not enough to quibble over. Fincher's brilliant tonal shifting is supported to the maximum with this new 1080P resolution VC-1 encode transfer. I hope the captures below support my summation that this is an excellent example of the benefit of the new formats. Zodiac is definitely one film that is worthy of being noted as a strong reason to encourage upgrading to HD.




NOTE: The 'Director’s Cut' is only approx. four minutes longer than the theatrical version. It seems to have allowed some, Fincher-approved, alterations in certain scene extensions with minor dialogue deleted - many will not even notice this adjustment. Others may be aware of the minute-long black screen (with music) that indicates the passage of four years. Other than that it is the same enjoyable and occasionally intense film experience.      


Screen Captures



















Depending on what you might be expecting in this Fincher offering - the film is essentially very sedate with the few 'killings' lowered to a less bombastic expression (audio-wise). Paramount has seen fit to put the track as a English Plus 5.1 (without DUB options). It sounds very good when called upon - buoyant and separated... but still fairly even and consistent in the interim with dialogue audio supported by English, English (SDH), Spanish or French subtitles, in a white font with black border (see sample below). No complaints at all.



Extras (are duplicated from the SD Director's Cut reviewed HERE):

On disc 1 are two optional audio commentaries. The first is by director Fincher and I found it quite enjoyable and informative. He discusses some of the history of the case as well as the usual production details. The second commentary offers more history with a collaboration of crew and novelist James Ellroy, (author of many crime novels including The Black Dahlia on his extensive list of credits). Obviously Ellroy is the perfect person to give extraneous crime-drama details and he makes for an excellent commentarist.

On the second disc we have two main categories: “The Film” and “The Facts”.

“The Film” section offers “Zodiac Deciphered”. Kind of akin to a 'making of..." -this is about an hour-long and focuses mainly on production details (locations, costumes, props, sets, director input etc.) as well as the real-life Robert Highsmith and David Toschi.“The Visual Effects of Zodiac” is about 15 minutes long and focuses on the special effects used to create the 'blood splatterings' as well as making San Fran look like it did 30+ years ago. “Previsualization” gives us split-screen with some of the CGI content of the film (about 6 minutes). “The Facts” section includes “This is the Zodiac Speaking” which runs 1 hour 40 minutes and goes into great detail about the history of the Zodiac killings with video interviews of investigators and survivors. This is a very thorough and extremely interesting and informative piece for those keen on the case. “Prime Suspect: His Name Was Arthur Leigh Allen” runs almost 45 minutes and deals with the ongoing suspicion of that gentleman as the prime perpetrator. It brings up questions as well as information. Quite good viewing in my opinion.
  There is also a theatrical trailer (2.5 minutes).





Disc 2




I enjoyed this film very much - even upon a second (and third) viewing. There is a lot of information to take in as it tends to express itself in a documentary style at times. The HD is brilliant and the inclusion of extensive extras in hi-def is a wonderful step to seeing this more frequently with other releases (and other distributors!). This could be reference material for some as the detail probes the heights that the new formats are offering. Recommended for the film - and strongly recommended for the stacked HD DVD. The best of this early year!  


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