directed by David Fincher
USA 2007

 

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

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Theatrical Release: 2 March 2007

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DVD Review: Paramount (2-Disc Director's Cut) - Region 1 - NTSC

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Distribution

Paramount

Region 1 - NTSC

Runtime 162 min
Video

2.35:1 Original Aspect Ratio

16X9 enhanced
Average Bitrate: 6.9 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s

Audio DD 5.1 English
Subtitles Optional English, French, Spanish, none
Features Release Information:
Studio: Paramount

Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen anamorphic - 2.35:1

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

DVD Release Date: January 8th 2008
Keepcase

Chapters 27

 

Comments:

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.

Feature Video:
A competent transfer from Paramount (progressive, anamorphic and dual-layered). Its only weakness is in the comparison to the HD edition (reviewed HERE) which excels in terms of color and detail. This image is bright (without artificial enhancements) and looks as adeptly transferred as any modern film. It's weaknesses are only that of the SD medium that it is distributed on. There are no viable complaints with the appearance.

Audio:
As this is not an 'action' genre movie the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is not strongly utilized but works well when called upon.
The film is essentially very sedate with the few 'killings' lowered to a less bombastic expression (audio-wise). 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 (SDH), Spanish or French subtitles, and there are no DUBs offered.

Extras:
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 list of extensive credits). Obviously Ellroy is the perfect person to give extraneous detail about crime dramas and he makes for an excellent commentarist.

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

“The Film” 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).

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. I still laud the HD edition as one of the better I have seen of that dying format. Hopefully it will come to Blu-ray when Paramount eventually switches over.

Gary W. Tooze

 



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DVD Box Cover

CLICK to order from:

Distribution

Paramount

Region 1 - NTSC




 

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