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ZODIAC
Blu-ray Edition

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 TrueHD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Paramount
Features: See Review
Length: 162 Minutes
Release Date: January 27, 2009

“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 was 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.”

As far as I know, this is the first of David Fincher’s films to make it to Blu-ray…and what a perfect movie to start with. This is a film that was made for HD, as it brings out an extraordinary level of image detail not even the regular DVD could bring out. I concentrated on every single frame of the movie, and I was marveled by everything I saw. So much attention is given to the color and detail throughout the movie. Both day and nighttime sequences look astonishing! Without question, one of the best looking Blu-ray releases I’ve ever seen!

Audio ****

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

The TrueHD audio is downright astounding! Fincher’s films always carry with them a significant level of sound, and this presentation makes the most of it…and then some. Everything from music playback to suspenseful moments to dialogue delivery, the surround sound level is absolutely phenomenal from beginning to end!

Features ****

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

All of the features from the 2-Disc DVD release have been converted over to this Blu-ray release, only here they are in HD. 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 Blu-ray 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 it now serves as one of the best reasons around to invest in a Blu-ray player, as it offers one of the best all around presentations I’ve come to experience in HD.

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