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ZODIAC
2 Disc Director's Cut

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr., Anthony Edwards, Brian Cox, Elias Koteas, Donal Logue, John Carroll Lynch, Dermot Mulroney
Director: David Fincher
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Paramount
Features: See Review
Length: 162 Minutes
Release Date: January 8, 2008

“This is the Zodiac speaking…”

Film ****

David Fincher is one of few directors whose films I immensely look forward to seeing on the day of release. Fincher is both a visionary master and dynamic crafter of truly chilling stories. Since his feature directorial debut with Alien 3 fifteen years ago, the former music video director has established himself as one of the most gifted filmmakers in the business.

And yet after all the amazing films that followed on his resume; Se7en, The Game, Fight Club and Panic Room, Fincher has managed to surprise with perhaps his boldest feature to date; Zodiac. The surprise in this case is that Fincher has actually strayed away from concentrating on the visual style that was so highly present in his past films, and managed to make a straightforward period piece. And the level of eeriness and discomfort only seem to increase minute by minute in this near two hour and forty minute masterpiece.

The film, adapted from the book of the same name by Robert Graysmith, chronicles the investigation of a series of brutal murders committed by a man known only as Zodiac. The opening sequence is quite a chiller; as it captures the graphic murder of a man and a woman on July 4th, 1969 in Vallejo, CA. And trust me when I tell you that as a result of this scene, you won’t be able to listen to Donovan’s classic “Hurdy Gurdy Man” the same way again.

The killer soon sends letters to three Bay area newspapers, including The San Francisco Chronicle. It is in the letters where the killer confesses to the July 4th murder, as well as a murder which occurred the previous Christmas. In another letter to the Chronicle he officially gives himself a name; Zodiac.

As Zodiac continues his taunting of San Francisco, the movie depicts the determination of both the journalists and detectives to put a face on the faceless killer. Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) is the Chronicle’s political cartoonist who is fascinated with puzzles, a trademark of the Zodiac, thus inspiring him to become an unlikely sleuth. Reporter Paul Avery (a brilliant Robert Downey, Jr.) intends on bringing the Zodiac out from hiding by way of writing up unflattering portraits of the killer in the Chronicle.

On the police procedural side, detectives Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and Bill Armstrong (Anthony Edwards) are assigned with the Zodiac case. During the course of the Zodiac case, and despite more letters sent to the Chronicle indicating the promise of more carnage, the detectives seem to come across nothing but dead ends with every lead. Added to this, the Zodiac surprises both the police and the newspaper by going in to hiding before suddenly popping back up with a letter. Sometimes a few months, sometimes several years.

The remaining portion of the film details Graysmith’s obsession with tracking the Zodiac killer down himself. After conducting interviews and painstakingly going over old case files, he is convinced that all the evidence points to a key suspect who at one point had been arrested. The Zodiac’s murder spree has since stopped during this point, but Graysmith’s driving force behind his personal investigation is that he needs to know the identity of the killer, just as anyone would want to know.

Fincher’s research of the material is evident on screen. Never before have I seen a film with so much detail applied in the recreation of a police investigation. For the entire film, you feel as if you’re investigating along with the police and journalists.

What’s more, Fincher has flawlessly captured the look and feel of the time period in such an awe-inspiring way. San Francisco in the 60s and 70s look as incredibly authentic as ever. The soundtrack of classic rock tracks is pure dynamite. Every little detail of the production design is riveting, and I hope the film is remembered at Oscar time, though given the film’s release early in the year, that seems quite doubtful.

And as a bonus, Fincher incorporates a hovering shot of the Golden Gate Bridge that would even make Hitchcock proud! Plus, the film opens with the late 60s style Paramount logo, which for me gave me chills seeing on the big screen!

Zodiac is already high on my list of the best films of 2007, and is yet another remarkable triumph for David Fincher. It may be his greatest piece of work yet, but truth be told I have it tied with Fight Club simply because that film still has an impact on me. But how many films can you say work brilliantly as a period piece, a murder mystery, and character piece all at once? Not too many, and Zodiac works flawlessly in all three departments.

Video ****

“You can’t look at this case in normal police terms.”

It was one of my choices for best looking discs of 2007, and it remains a fantastic triumph for Paramount. A great deal of the quality comes from the fact that David Fincher shot the movie in the digital ViperStream film format, which allows enormous detail to be seen in the frame, particularly in the background. The anamorphic picture delivers tremendously, as image clarity and color appearance both score superb high marks. And all around image detail is frequent in the film right from the remarkable opening shot. Excellent work.

Audio ****

“Are you sure there’s nobody else in the house?”

The 5.1 mix is simply stunning. The production consistently has so much to deliver, audio-wise. From music playback to periodic suspenseful moments to even some instances of in-your-face sound surprises, the surround sound level is phenomenal from beginning to end!

Features ****

“I’m not the Zodiac. And if I was, I certainly wouldn’t tell you.”

One of the only features on the first DVD release of Zodiac was a brief preview for this fully loaded 2-Disc Director’s Cut release. There were no other extras on the previous disc, but this new release is an all around fantastic release from Paramount that already has a guaranteed spot on next years DMC Awards in many areas.

Disc One includes two commentary tracks, one with David Fincher, the second with Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., screenwriter James Vanderbilt, producer Brad Fischer and author James Ellroy.

Disc Two contains some of the most outstanding documentary material ever to make it to a DVD release, and what’s included goes both into the movie and the actual facts surrounding the Zodiac case. Regarding the film itself, there’s “Zodiac Deciphered: The Making of Zodiac”, which extensively covers multiple areas of the film’s production, and “The Visual Effects of Zodiac”, which looks at the film’s many visual effects that you probably didn’t spot when watching the movie. And there’s Previsualization, a split-screen comparison between animatics and finished film for numerous scenes. There’s also a Theatrical Trailer for the movie.

The documentary material surrounding the facts of the case is most riveting. The documentary titled “This Is the Zodiac Speaking” runs an hour and forty minutes long and covers every detail of the real life Zodiac investigation, and features interviews with the actual investigators of the case and even several surviving victims. There’s also an equally chilling documentary titled “His Name Was Arthur Leigh Allen”, which reveals quite a bit about the only suspect in the Zodiac case, and includes interviews with investigators and those who knew him.

Summary:

Zodiac is riveting filmmaking at its highest. David Fincher has crafted a masterful piece of true life reflected in cinema. Outstandingly directed, written and acted, this is a must-see masterpiece and one of 2007’s truly best films, and this new 2-Disc Director’s Cut release is the edition to grab hold of, and Fincher fans will gladly add this stellar release alongside the outstanding DVD releases for his past films.

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