Cover Art and Menus: 6/10
Well, at first I didn’t think much of this cover. It is pretty bland overall, but when you start to take into account the fact that it is made to look like a letter or package sent by the Zodiac killer, it makes more sense. That is not to say that I am in love with the cover, but it is not terrible. I could have done with something with a bit more pizzazz, but it works.
The menus are nicely done, with different stills mixed in. It’s not a completely static menu, and with the music, the menus are ominous and dark, just like the film.
The 2-disc director’s cut of the film is so chock full of extras that it couldn’t be included on one disc. One of the main reasons for the release is that apparently David Fincher didn’t have enough time to prepare extras for the initial DVD release, so he more than makes up for it with this one.
There are two commentaries included: one with just David Fincher, and the second with Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., Brad Fischer, James Vanderbilt, and James Ellroy. While my sampling of both were equally interesting, I especially enjoyed hearing the actors discuss the roles themselves, and their performances. Fincher does a great job of filling the commentary with insight, and he rarely seems like he is talking just for the sake of talking.
There is also a behind the scenes documentary entitled Zodiac Deciphered. This feature runs almost a full hour, but is a great view of how the film was made. It was interesting to see just how much of a perfectionist David Fincher is by taking in the amazing number of takes that he often requires just to get the shot perfect.
Also included as an extra is a short about the set-up of the murder scenes, with a split screen comparison of the animatics and the finished film of the same scene. This short, entitled Previsualization, was about 7 minutes long, and was a nice view of just how Fincher wanted the shot to occur, compared with the actual finished product.
There is also a short called the Visual Effect of Zodiac that goes into detail about the special effects that are used in the film. It is not a film that one would think of in terms of CGI or visual effects, but this short goes into great detail about just how much was done in order to make the film look as it does. There are lots of subtle tricks and effects that seamlessly blend to form Fincher’s view of San Francisco in 1969.
The last two extras that are included with the film are probably the most interesting of the lot. The first is a full length documentary entitled This is the Zodiac Speaking. This is an intense, high quality documentary that focuses on the real-life murders. This includes some amazing interviews with the victims that survived the attacks, as well as interviews with police and photos of the crime scenes and old video from the unsolved case. The short is an amazing view into the mystery that is the Zodiac murders. Finally, the last extra is a focus on what Fincher and Robert Graysmith have deemed is the most important figure in the mystery; Arthur Allen Leigh. Entitled His Name Was Arthur Leigh Allen, the focus is entirely on the man who many think was the Zodiac. Included are interviews with crime experts, Allen’s friends, and some of the investigators that worked on the murders. While it may be a stretch to point the finger so blatantly at Allen, it is interesting to hear the story unfold from this point of view, and see how it might be plausible that Allen was the killer. The documentary itself is a bit bland, without the use of much in the way of video, but the interviews themselves are fascinating.
Zodiac 2-Disc Director’s Cut is a true gem of a film. David Fincher, who always has a solid vision for his films, really creates a time capsule, and gets his actors to deliver on such a level that you actually can get swept up in the suspense and action of this film. I noticed that we were being sent back to the late 1960’s from the outset , when the grainy Paramount logo was presented on the screen, in all of its fuzzy, pre-HD glory. Fincher then immerses you in the subtle, muted tones of San Francisco in the late 60’s, with scenes that portray a different time and place. The film looks amazing, and the ominous tone is present from the very start of the film, and it resonates until the very end.
Fincher gets amazing performances from all of his actors, but they deliver in a way that is not over the top, or too flashy (with the exception of Robert Downey Jr., who is perfect as the flashy crime reporter Paul Avery.) The casting just seems to make sense, and it really helps the story flow. As a result, the film has a great pace, and it doesn’t seem to get bogged down at any one spot. Having just said that, the film is an insane 162 minutes. Think about that for a second. Zodiac runs at an epic 2 hours and 42 minutes. Normally one thinks of films like Ghandhi, or epic war movies dialing in at this type of crazy time, but Zodiac didn’t seem that long. While I did notice that the movie was long, I didn’t really mind, and it didn’t bother me in the way that some movies can. I chalk that up to David Fincher and his excellent focus on detail.
The movie is really about the terror that engulfed the San Francisco area as a result of the Zodiac killer’s ominous presence in 1969. The Zodiac killer was a violent murderer who sent numerous letters to the local newspapers and police as he continued to kill innocent bystanders. The film does a good job of recreating the murders, while also showing the effect that the murders had on the city, the police, and those involved in the media. The film focuses on the lead investigative team of David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and William Armstrong (Anthony Edwards). The pair works well together on-screen even though there is a palpable unease between the two characters. The police are often the last to know and the first to be blamed in Zodiac, and they are portrayed as a team that really is left fighting not only the Zodiac, but the media, as well as other police forces throughout the investigation.
Zodiac also follows newspaper reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.) and cartoonist Robert Graysmith (played by a subdued Jake Gyllenhaal). The two work at the San Francisco Chronicle and are always right in the thick of the Zodiac’s constant barrage of letters and clues. The paper struggles with what to do with the messages, and what effect they have on the citizens of San Francisco. Graysmith (who later took his fascination of the Zodiac to new levels by writing books about the killer) is portrayed as a slightly aloof, extremely intelligent individual who works with Avery to crack the ciphers that the killer has left for the Chronicle, as well as attempt to predict what the Zodiac will do next. Avery, the booze and drug riddled reporter, is singled out by the Zodiac in an ominous letter, and Downey Jr. does an impressive job of portraying the reporter as a nervous, impatient reporter who is struggling with the idea that he could in fact be on the Zodiac’s shortlist.
Zodiac is a great film, but it is based on a true story, and that story is unsolved. Therefore you can’t escape the feeling that this ending is not going to satisfy. That being said, Fincher does a decent job of drawing you into an opinion about who did it, and giving some closure to the story. Fincher amazingly leads you into emotions that may frustrate, like the feeling of almost nabbing the Zodiac on several occasions, but ultimately, for one reason or another, just missing their target. It is a great ride, and Zodiac, in my opinion, is one of the more solid films from start to finish, that I have seen in some time.
Video & Audio: 8/10
The video on the standard addition was pretty crisp, and while dealing with the muted tones of the film, it seemed to do just fine with the blacks that were presented. This obviously was not a high-definition film, but it was upgraded a bit from the initial DVD release, which if you read Cidtalk and Ascully’s review of that video, a change would be for the better. I didn’t notice any real jaggies, and the sound was crisp and clear. I think they must have noticed how bad the original release was, and made appropriate changes.
After the horror of the encoding job done on the standard DVD last year, I thought I would take a look at the HD version of the directors cut for comparisons sake. The HD version looks incredible when put up against last years rush job. This is a movie that is dark in picture as well as subject matter, and gone are the pixally dark scenes which have been replaced by some of the cleanest looking work I have seen from the VC1 codec. I say throw away last years release and replace it with either version of the directors cut. Not much has changed on Blu-Ray from last years HDDVD version but that isnt a bad thing as that disc was second to none.
I really enjoyed this film, and I think the 2-disc director’s cut has more than enough extras to keep any real film buff happy. I highly recommend buying this, or at least renting it. If you can find this film for less than $20.00, I would say get it.
Overall Score 9/10