Running almost three hours, without much action, it’s hard to think that David Fincher’s Zodiac would be as gripping as it is. Fincher employs a strong visual style that doesn’t draw attention to itself right away, but as you sit there you slowly realize that Fincher is indeed flexing is creative muscles. The end result is a complex crime drama that limits its action, opting to save it for the times that bring the greatest impact.
Zodiac focuses on the mysterious serial killer that terrorized the San Francisco area some four decades ago. The film looks at the murders, the chaos he caused and the long-term investigation.
Fincher’s earlier films like Fight Club, The Game and even Alien 3 were filled with fancy camera shots that stood out as being fancy camera shots. There was nothing subtle about it. He has a fluid eye for action and a knack for messing with reality. In Zodiac, he still has the fluid eye but it’s done in a more blended and restrained manner.
Zodiac isn’t so much about the hunt for a serial killer as it is a meditation on obsession. Each of the film’s three acts focuses on a different part of the story, told through a different set of eyes. The first third explores the Zodiac killer himself and his murders. It also acts as an introduction to the film’s ensemble, some of whom become main players while others sit in the shadows. The second act is primarily about the initial investigation and the focus is on Inspector David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and journalist Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.) as they compete for information. Finally, the third act switches gears to cartoonist and all-around good guy Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) who loves a good puzzle. He begins simply by trying to break the murderer’s ciphers but eventually becomes so obsessed with the case that he neglects much of the rest of his life.
Like Fincher’s camerawork, these switches in point of view are subtle. They stem from the natural evolution of the case as it goes from its initial hysteria to the lull where most have given up on solving the mystery. The main players are always present so it isn’t jolting when their story takes over the narrative. The drama also comes through as being very real and human. Each of the characters are different and each have different moments. This is key when you cross the two-hour mark and there isn’t a lot of action. It keeps the film feeling fresh throughout, kind of like breaking it down into three separate serial films.
Zodiac is the kind of film that sits with you. Not like a Big Mac in your stomach but rather a great glass of wine. It’s subtle and doesn’t jump out and grab you at first. But when you dwell and contemplate it, the fine craftsmanship of Fincher is clearly apparent.
Zodiac Blu-ray Review
The Zodiac Director’s Cut has now been given the Blu-ray treatment for the ultimate experience for the film. All of the special features remain the same as the two-disc DVD edition, however the following featurettes have been upgraded to high definition: “Zodiac Deciphered,” “The Visual Effects of Zodiac,” “This is the Zodiac Speaking” and “His Name Was Arthur Leigh Allen.”
The film itself is shown in a magnificent 1080p high definition widescreen. Audio is in English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD. Subtitles are available in English, Spanish and French.
Zodiac DVD Review
The two-disc Zodiac: Director’s Cut is a much stronger DVD release than the original barebones release from a few months ago. The film itself is only a handful of minutes longer so the difference is somewhat negligible. However, if you are familiar with other two-disc special editions involving Fincher, you know the director likes to get involved and bring forth some very worthwhile features.
The enhanced widescreen picture is flawless. You’re likely to notice a few scratches in the opening scene, but those are intentional – a clever way of subtly establishing the film’s timeframe. Equally fantastic is the Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround audio track. English, French and Spanish subtitles are also available.
David Fincher provides a fascinating commentary track that is both passionate and technical. He describes in detail how he shot various scenes as well as going into great detail as to why he did things the way he did. A second commentary track includes discussions from stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., writer/producer James Vanderbilt, producer Brad Fischer and James Ellroy. This is another excellent track that goes into great detail into the biz as well as reflecting on who films are consumed today. Combined, these commentary tracks not only describe the film in a fascinating way, but they also look in great detail about how we watch the film.
The special features that make up the second disc are equally exhaustive looking at both the real-life case and the making of the movie. Crime fans will likely eat up This is the Zodiac Speaking, a feature-length look at the investigation as told by those involved. His Name Was Arthur Leigh Allen is a 40-minute exploration of the case’s prime suspect. Zodiac Deciphered runs almost an hour and looks in-depth at the making of the film. There’s also featurettes on the visual effects, the pre-visualizations and the film’s theatrical trailer.
Zodiac: Director’s Cut is hands-down one of the the best overall DVD packages I’ve seen in quite some time.