Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a cartoonist working for the San Francisco Chronicle. He eventually befriends reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.) thanks to a shared interest: the Zodiac killer. As Graysmith steadily becomes obsessed with the case, Avery's life spirals into drunken oblivion. Eventually, Graysmith's job, his wife and his children all become secondary next to the one thing that really matters: catching the Zodiac.
I love David Fincher. From the first time I saw ALIEN 3 (quiet, you!) I was hooked on the man's style and genius. There's a reason why his seven films have grossed over a billion dollars combined. Originally, JimmyO and Dave gave their thoughts on the theatrical cut and the Director's Cut of ZODIAC, so why not give it a third go-round in Blu-Ray?
Fincher is known for his perfectionistic ways, and it's no different in ZODIAC. Combing through Zodiac case files nearly two years before the production began, Fincher manages to keep the film entertaining and compelling, and without delving into something that borders on a Law & Order episode in terms of dryness. Forgoing the previous dark and stylish his past films enjoyed, this is a straight-up, in-depth film that perfectly encapsulates the era's look and feel. The director's cut of the film, clocking in at 162 minutes compared to the 158-minute theatrical cut, still flows quite nicely, even with the added scenes (which are kind of necessary when you think about them).
Acting-wise, everyone (including Vincent Gallo vacuum ChloŽ Sevigny) were on the ball. I'm always fascinated by Robert Downey Jr.'s performances, and here it was no different, watching a guy spiral down into a sea of despair after seemingly letting the Zodiac case consume him. Likewise, Jake Gyllenhaal plays Graysmith as another guy who obsesses over the case, but manages to keep his head on straight. Mark Ruffalo comes off looking like a young Columbo, which is great because it makes Ruffalo that much more enjoyable as detective Dave Toschi.
If anything, the best thing about the film is also the worst thing about it. The Zodiac killer case was one that captured the dark side of the 60's and 70's, and held San Francisco in its grip for what seemed like an eternity. The fact that the Zodiac was never caught ups the chill factor, along with the diabolic and audacious clues and tauntings left by the killer. Really, you wanted the guy to be caught, if only to find out the basic questions. Unfortunately, we may never know. These kinds of questions rocked in SE7EN, but being based off of real-life events, it sucks to know that justice was never served.
Coupled with a fantastic bleak score by David Shire, the look and feel of the film, the meticulous direction and the superb acting by everyone involved sucked me in and left me craving for more. There's no doubt that the film was criminally overlooked here in North America, which makes it that more urgent that you see this film. It is the Zodiac speaking, after all.
Video: If you thought the original transfer of the film was awesome, the high-def version will have you creaming your pants with glee. Shot in HD, the 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is sharp and beautiful, in its grungy kind of way. Black levels are strong, and the yellowish haze that permeates over much of the film adds to the uncomfortable feeling and atmosphere of the film.
Audio: Featuring a 5.1 Dolby TruHD track, the audio matches the transfer. While the dialogue is crisp and clean, the score by Shire is the real star, giving your bass the workout it needs for those pulse-pounding moments.
Surprisingly, aside from the obvious upgrade to HD, the extras are the same ones found on the original 2-disc DVD set, though that's not a bad thing.
First up are two commentary tracks. The first commentary track features director David Fincher going solo, but that's ok. Fincher manages to keep things rolling without repeating himself, suffering gaps of silence or making throw-away comments on the scene at hand. Plenty of info on production and the actual case are found in here, making the track as interesting as the actual film.
The second commentary track mixes a recording session by Gyllenhaal and Downey Jr. and a track by writer James Vanderbilt, producer Brad Fischer and crime author James Ellroy. More info on the actual Zodiac is found here, along with the various experiences on filming the movie by Gyllenhaal and Downey Jr.
Over on the second disc are mammoths of documentaries, divided into two sections: The Film and The Facts. Zodiac Deciphered kicks off the disc, delving into the production of the film, mixing on-set footage with interviews with author author Robert Graysmith (who wrote the book the film is based on), Fischer, Vanderbilt, costume designer Casey Storm, set decorator Vincent Zolfo and prop master Hope Parrish. Those not familiar with Fincher will probably think the guy is off his rocker with his obsession with perfection in his takes. 36 takes for dropping a book into a car's passenger seat!? You better believe it. The whole thing feels comprehensive, even though some overlap exists between the commentaries and this documentary.
Next is a 15-minute feature entitled The Visual Effects of ZODIAC, which obviously covers the various effects used to transport the film back in time. Interviews with Visual Effects Supervisors Eric Barba and Craig Barron appear between various clips detailing the journey between stages of effects, including showing off computer-animated storyboards of scenes alongside the final shot. Being the digital graphics junkie that I am, I supremely enjoyed watching this one, as will anyone else interested in digital effects.
Finishing off The Film side is the theatrical trailer.
Starting off The Facts section is a huge four-part feature-length documentary clocking in at 102 minutes entitled This is the Zodiac Speaking, featuring new interviews with an array of folks tied to the Zodiac case, including surviving victims Mike Mageau and Bryan Hartnell. Crime junkies will eat this one up, as the doc also goes into the inconsistencies found in Mageau's and Hartnell's recollections, even questioning their actions.
Finishing up the extras is His Name Was Arthur Leigh Allen, a 42-minute doc that focuses on the prime suspect in the killings, Arthur Leigh Allen. The man was an oddball, and this documentary certainly doesn't hide the fact that Allen was up against a lot of circumstantial evidence in the investigation. If you felt the film pointed the finger at Allen, this documentary won't change your mind. Hell, even those who knew him talked about him like he very well could have been the Zodiac. At the same time, the doc also leaves some open questions and alternate opinions to further wrack your brain, and not flat-out pin everything on Allen.
Topping everything off is the cover art, which like the original 2-disc DVD set, mimics the envelope sent to the San Francisco Chronicle by the Zodiac. To me, it's not as effective given the blue plastic, but it's still a great piece of art.
Trailing only NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN and THERE WILL BE BLOOD for the film that appeared in more top ten lists in 2007, ZODIAC is a masterful piece of filmmaking by Fincher. And because it's Fincher, there was no doubt that the extras in this set were going to be top notch (which they are). While those of you who own the 2-disc DVD version of the film want to abstain from getting this (or not), the rest of us who've been waiting for the Blu-Ray version can safely make this purchase without any regrets.