Monday, 22 September 2008

DVD review: Zodiac Director's Cut

When the history books remember the best films of 2007, There Will Be Blood and No Country For Old Men will be at the forefront by virtue of their victories at the Oscars. Quite how Zodiac missed out — not even scoring a single nomination — remains a miscarriage of cinematic justice akin to Ordinary People beating Taxi Driver to Best Picture. At the very least, Zodiac should have won for special effects (witness the supplementary featurette for an insight into the seamless digital work involved throughout, from adding blood to creating entire city blocks), although this extraordinary film deserved much more.

A triumph from David Fincher, who reined in his usual stylistic flourishes to present a simple, disciplined, study of the serial killer who terrorised the San Francisco Bay area during the late 60s and 70s but was never caught, Zodiac is a densely detailed police procedural, a meticulous, near obsessive examination of the murders and the subsequent investigation by San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Gyllenhaal) and homicide detective David Toschi (Ruffalo) that includes virtually every frustration, misstep and dead end, but which goes so far as to identify a prime suspect whose guilt is debated on the accompanying ‘His Name Was Arthur Leigh Allen’ documentary. It’s a movie about obsession, too, and its consequences: particularly for Graysmith, whose two books about the Zodiac form the basis for the script, but also Fincher. Raised in Marin County, just across the bay from San Francisco, Zodiac was the bogeyman of his youth, and he spent three years checking every piece of evidence, tracking down every living person involved in the case to figure out “the closest thing to the truth” before shooting began.

This Director’s Cut is four minutes longer than the theatrical, with just a handful of new scenes, among them an audacious sequence where the screen goes black for a full minute and we hear a music montage that marks the passage of four years. Fincher shot Zodiac on HiDef, and the result, at the cinema, was astounding. Disappointingly on DVD, the picture appears a shade muddy and soft. Blu-Ray, clearly, is the way to go. Nevertheless, the film’s forensic attention to detail carries over to the extras which are both bountiful and a boon. Fincher’s typically measured and erudite commentary is again essential for anyone interested in the art of filmmaking; while the second, spliced together from separate chats with Gyllenhaal and Downey, and another with screenwriter James Vanderbilt, producer Brad Fischer, and novelist and “fan” James Elroy, makes for hugely entertaining listening.

The impressive behind-the-scenes documentary ‘Zodiac Deciphered’ reveals Fincher’s Kubrick-like quest for perfection, whether shooting 36 takes of Gyllenhaal tossing a notebook onto a car seat, helicoptering in trees to recreate a murder site exactly, or insisting on changing one line of thread in an executioner’s mask. Even better is the stellar feature-length ‘This Is The Zodiac Speaking’, a disquieting chronicle of the murders featuring crime scene photos, vintage news footage and interviews with many of those involved in the case, as well as surviving victims, Bryan Hartwell and Michael Mageau, all of whose lives seem forever altered. Sadly, there’s no contribution from Toschi or his SFPD partner Bill Armstrong. That minor quibble aside, this is a monumental package for what Elroy terms “a luminous work of art”.

Extras: Commentary by director David Fincher; Commentary by Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr, screenwriter James Vanderbilt, producer Brad Fischer and novelist James Elroy; ‘Zodiac Deciphered’ documentary; ‘The Visual Effects Of Zodiac’ featurette; ‘Previsualisation’ featurette; ‘This Is The Zodiac Speaking’ documentary; ‘Prime Suspect: His Name Was Arthur Leigh Allen’ documentary

* originally published in DVD & Blu-ray Review.

14 comments:

J.D. said...

This is a great, great film, probably Fincher's best to date. And yeah, it was robbed at the Oscars. At the very least, Mark Ruffalo shoulda got a nomination. I've been a big fan of his for awhile and really hits out of the park with this one. Here's my thoughts on the film in more detail:

http://rheaven.blogspot.com/2008/04/zodiac.html

Good review of the DVD, although, I didn't have a problem with the colors. But you're right on about the supplemental material, in particular the commentaries which were my fave... esp. Ellroy's comments. That guy cracks me up. Downey was a hoot as well.

Mark Salisbury said...

I agree, the colours on the DVD were a little to muted for my liking. And while I think it's a masterwork, I'm still a Se7en man myself.

I shall take a gander at your thoughts tomorrow when I'm feeling more awake.

Gerard said...

Love this on blu-ray. 'Twas my first purchase after making the plunge and I've already watched it twice. Now, to get to those commentary tracks...

Also, completely agree about this being shafted by Oscar. Same goes for Jesse James. Sweeney, at the very least, scored that nod for Depp and a much deserved win for Dante Feretti; how the other two were overlooked in EVERY.SINGLE.MAJOR.CATEGORY (Casey Affleck aside) still turns my brain into mud.

J.D. said...

SE7EN is a great film to be sure, but I'd rank it *just* below FIGHT CLUB which I've always felt was Fincher's masterwork before ZODIAC came along.

Mark Salisbury said...

I love it when Fincher fans start debating his best movie. Pretty soon it starts to get bloody...

Gerard said...

I'm gonna put in my vote for ALIEN 3!















...just kidding.

Mark Salisbury said...

See, I would argue that Alien3 is a good film. It's just not a good Alien film. Although when you know the background to the production, you know it wasn't Fincher's fault.

Gerard said...

Hell, I like Alien3 too - but it certainly ain't my fave Fincher :)

J.D. said...

Yeah, it's not my fave either but as has been pointed out, the film had a very troubled production history. What does everyone think of PANIC ROOM? I thought it was technically amazing and engaged me on a stylistic level but was pretty ordinary story and character-wise.

Gerard said...

I totally dig Panic Room. Alien3 aside, it's the least of his films, but makes for a hell of a Friday night in.

Mark Salisbury said...

I like Panic Room too, but it's arguably a little slick for what was originally conceived to be a quick 'n' dirty film. Koepp's script began, I believe, with the phrase: this film is short, this film is fast, but Fincher shot for more than 100 days and went through two DPs making it.

And while we're on this thread, is there any love out there for The Game which I like more every time I see it?

Gerard said...

I never knew any of that about Panic Room - I was reasonably young when it came out and had not yet commenced seeking out film news beyond what was coming out when. How interesting...

And The Game is great. I rewatched that recently for the first time in a few years and was totally hooked all over again.

J.D. said...

I really like THE GAME as well although it doesn't get talked up as much as his other films. I always felt that Michael Douglas' character in that film was Gordon Gekko from WALL STREET a few years later having moved out to the West Coast.

I really wish the extras from the Criterion Collection laser disc would surface some day. This film is long overdue for a Special Edition DVD treatment.

Mark Salisbury said...

I think they're on the region 2 special edition which has the commentary too.