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Paramount Home Video presents
Zodiac (2007)

"I need to know who he is. I need to stand there, I need to look him in the eye and I need to know that it's him.
- Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal)

Review By: Dan Heaton   
Published: July 23, 2007

Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Rufalo, Anthony Edwards, Robert Downey Jr.
Other Stars: Brian Cox, John Carroll Lynch, Chloe Sevigny, Elias Koteas, John Getz, Dermot Mulroney, Philip Baker Hall, Adam Goldberg, James LeGros, Clea DuVall, Ione Skye
Director: David Fincher

MPAA Rating: R for some strong killings, language, drug material, and brief sexual images
Run Time: 02h:37m:00s
Release Date: July 24, 2007
UPC: 097363460145
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- AAA- D-

DVD Review

We've observed this type of scene countless times in movies. A young couple drives into a vacant area to engage in some amorous activity. Creepy music begins to play and a stranger appears, but we only catch blurry glimpses of him. Without warning, he commits a violent act, ending the lives of our foolish youngsters. Audiences love this type of suspenseful sequence, but they generally expect a certain level of over-the-top silliness to keep the scenes from feeling too real. There is little of that frivolity in David Fincher's Zodiac, an intelligent thriller that uses this standard opening but shifts the genre in a completely different direction. Instead of concentrating on the killer's identity and motives, the talented filmmaker focuses on the police detectives' and journalists' diligent efforts to solve the case.

Fincher (Seven, Fight Club) has not directed a picture since 2002's Panic Room, and the lengthy break hasn't softened his ability to get under an audience's skin. Several early sequences involve brutal murders and an unseen killer who attacks without remorse. These scenes are effective, but they represent only a small portion of the clever procedural. In a style reminiscent of All the President's Men and other ‘70s classics, Fincher delves into intricate details like handwriting matches that rarely see the light of day in the movies. Working from an excellent script by James Vanderbilt (Basic), he takes his time and follows numerous leads that appear positive but often lead nowhere. Substituting searches through boxes of files for action sequences, this picture makes the quest for information fascinating. Similar to Michael Mann's The Insider, this real-life adaptation generates amazing suspense without resorting to cheap thrills or gimmicks.

The story is based on the actual events surrounding the infamous Zodiac killer, who murdered at least five people in Northern California during the late 1960s. Following the attacks, the Zodiac submitted letters to several newspapers that included strange cryptograms. The search for the killer obsessed both cops and journalists, and his presence raised the fears of many during this time. His violent acts inspired numerous films and television shows, including Dirty Harry, Exorcist III, and an episode of Millennium. In this film, Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Robert Graysmith, a cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle who becomes fixated on Zodiac (the real Graysmith eventually wrote a book on the subject that was adapted into this very picture). Gyllenhaal would not appear to be the ideal choice to play this eccentric character, but he is convincing. The script avoids making him a saint and shows the unfortunate personal effects of his tenacious pursuit. Following an odd blind date, he starts a relationship with Melanie (Chloe Sevigny), but she quickly becomes secondary to his relentless investigation.

At the Chronicle, Graysmith works with crime beat reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.) to track down the Zodiac. They are an unlikely pair but recognize in each other an interest in the case that outweighs their fellow journalists' focus. Avery struggles with drinking and enters a downward spiral that is only exacerbated by the case. During the middle act, the focus shifts to police inspectors David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and William Armstrong (Anthony Edwards), as they investigate a prime suspect. The mystery appears headed for the expected solution, but nothing is easy in this realistic environment. Ruffalo and Edwards are completely believable as partners and inspire great interest in fairly straightforward characters. Working with journalists and local police, they develop a wealth of details that look promising, but still face serious obstacles. The plot developments remain unpredictable and keep our attention throughout the lengthy picture.

The Zodiac investigation was even more complex because of the heightened coverage of the killings. It became difficult to determine if the same person was even involved in each of the murders and whether the letters and other puzzling communications were authentic. Fincher perfectly captures these complexities by presenting the conflicting views within the police departments and press rooms. As the months progress, Graysmith, Avery, and others are worn down by personal pressure to find the true killer, which might be impossible. The film documents their tenacious pursuit and reveals the determination required to even discover a possible suspect. It might lack the visual inventiveness of Fincher's previous work, but it retains his sharp originality and attention to detail. The tone is more adult-oriented and showcases a confident, mature director continuing to stretch his craft.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Zodiac utilizes a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that presents the attractive picture in excellent fashion. David Fincher shoots San Francisco in the '70s confidently, and the remarkable images shine on this release. The colors remain bright throughout the lengthy feature, and the grain is minimal, even during the darker moments. The consistently sharp picture enhances the film and helps to deliver an engaging presentation.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Frenchyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: This disc provides an effective 5.1-channel Dolby Digital track that conveys the sense of dread felt by the Zodiac's victims. The rear speakers contribute to this eerie feeling during several late moments. I would have enjoyed having a DTS option, but it's hard to complain about this memorable audio transfer.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 27 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Zodiac: Director's Cut DVD Preview, Next, Perfume: Story of a Murderer
Packaging: unmarked keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Interested in the actual history behind the film? Sorry, you'll have to wait until 2008 for the director's cut of Zodiac, which promises to include a commentary featuring David Fincher and author James Ellroy, plus multiple documentaries with plenty of background information. The only extras here are a preview for that double-dip release and trailers for Next and Perfume: The Story of a Murderer.

Extras Grade: D-

 

Final Comments

David Fincher began his career directing music videos, and is well-known for delivering visually stunning, energetic films. However, his work also includes strong human performances, ranging from Michael Douglas' suicidal loner in The Game to Morgan Freeman's weary detective in Seven. He employs this personal focus effectively in Zodiac and delivers a compelling look at a difficult, lengthy investigation. I highly recommend this film, but do suggest that you wait for the director’s cut before purchasing the DVD. The lack of any extra features makes this a rental choice until next year's more substantial release.

 


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