Zodiac is another one of the last year’s great films that seemed to arrive in theaters with a fair amount of press but quickly disappeared afterwards. Perhaps it was the trailers portraying the film as another scary serial murder thriller or more likely it was just a general lack of interest from the audience. Whatever the matter, it’s disappointing to see that Zodiac was trounced in it’s opening weekend by Wild Hogs, which, while I haven’t seen it, I highly doubt John Travolta and Tim Allen could bring the solid amount of entertainment as Zodiac.
In Zodiac a huge cast gathers to tell the story of the 1960 and 1970 “Zodiac” murders which shook San Francisco and took hold of the investigators and newspaper journalists of the time. However, despite being a tale of the murders the Zodiac committed, we don’t see too much actual on-screen bloodshed; what little we do see is reserved for the first hour or so of the film and the rest is focused on the characters of Inspector David Toschi (Mike Ruffalo) and Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), who both get deeper and deeper into the Zodiac case until one is fired (Toschi) and the other has his wife leave him (Graysmith) due to his inablity to let go of the Zodiac case.
While the film has a lengthy run time (157 minutes) and I found myself glancing at the DVD player when it hit the one hour mark and wondered how they would extend it for another hour and a half, the remainder of the film flew by. I became so engaged in not the murder aspect of the film but the characters that became so obsessed with finding out who Zodiac really was. Along the way and through the years the films progresses through, we lose a few of our main characters, Inspector William Armstrong (Anthony Edwards) and Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.), due to retirement and job moving and the film shifts it’s focus towards Robert Graysmith, who picks up the torch of the Zodiac investigation after the Police’s investigation of the case goes dry.
It seems odd that Graysmith was able to discover so much out about Zodiac when the cops investigators had information he wasn’t privy to for years or why no one decoded the second cipher when it was originally sent, but it’s not something you can blame the writing for as the movie is based on a true story (granted some things could have been changed, but considering the wealth of special features on this set [read: none]). Still, seeing Graysmith shift through all of the police files and eventually make a connection is extremely engrossing and you, as a viewer, become just as engrossed in the story as Graysmith is, a testament to Gyllenhaal’s acting and Fincher’s directing.
Although I mentioned before the murders aren’t the exact focus of the film, we do see them all re-enacted. While they’re your basic gun murders for the most part, the one by the lake is the most troubling, visually, with the graphic stabbing of the Zodiac’s victims. I’m used to violence in movies at this point and not much phases me but I almost had to look away when he started stabbing them. Combined with the sound and the rapidity of the stabbing motions it was quite a disturbing sight to behold.
The acting by the cast cannot go unnoted. With each cast member that sways in and out of the movie, each one is fully fleshed out. Even the secretary opening the mail for the newspaper is given a bit of life when she opens up the Zodiac letter with a piece of bloody shirt in it and her scream echoes throughout the office. Gyllenhaal brilliantly plays the obsession of Graysmith and Gyllenhaal ends up adding more to the film than any of the other actors, especially in the final act of the film where his obsession becomes the focus of the film.
While the above is a review of the original cut of the film that we originally in back in July for the original single disc release, a few things have changed in this directors cut. While there wasn’t a whole lot added, only five minutes of additional scenes that really just add a few more character elements to the film that neither really add or detract, it was interesting to watch Zodiac again a few months down the line from the original viewing and see that it was just as good a second, third and fourth time. It’s really such a strong film in every sense of the word that, unless you have a queasy stomach and can’t handle the killings or don’t like the vulgar language in the film, I challenge you to find something that’s not completely engrossing bout it. While it approaches the three hour mark even further with the additional footage, the film never feels like its struggling to move along.
Overall, Zodiac in either the original or directors cut form will not fail to please. It’s really one of the strongest films that came out of 2007 and one that seems to suffer from a lack of exposure. Hopefully this second DVD release, packed to the brim with extras, will garner more attention than the previous bare bones release. I cannot stress enough how great this film really is and it comes Highly Recommended.
The biggest “cheese off” factor of the previous bare bones release was not that it was barebones, although that was certainly enough to annoy one. No, the biggest annoyance was that a trailer for this two-disc release was included on the release. Indeed, the only Zodiac centric extra on the previous release was an extra that told you a DVD with more extras was coming. I’m not entirely sure why this DVD couldn’t have been released from the get go, but it was certainly worth the wait—there are near nine hours of extras spread across this two disc set. So it can easily go without saying that this release totally and completely obliterates the original release in every way.
The first extra of this release isn’t on the DVDs, rather it’s the packaging. In an “Envelope” style packaging, this two-disc directors cut of Zodiac comes with an authentic “zodiac” letter reproduction front and rear cover. While there are things such as the films name and the disc specifics on the front and rear cover, it’s certainly a more eye catching cover than the previous “floating heads” release for the single disc. The extras on the rear cover are denoted with the phrase “speshul features”, the “special” misspelling a reflection of the Zodiac’s own letters. Unfortunately the interior of the standard amaray two disc packaging isn’t quite as impressive, as we get two standard grey disc art covers with the movie title and disc contents etched into the discs.
Onto the actual discs, the first extras we receive are two commentaries on the first disc. Both commentaries offer up something unique on each, with David Fincher going solo on the first track and providing an insightful look into the film. While it can get dry at times, the commentary is littered with great anecdotes about the film, revolving around the Zodiac story itself as well as stories from the set and shooting decisions. On top of the Fincher track we have a second one with Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., Brad Fischer, James Vanderbilt and James Ellroy. In essence this second track is really two, as the Gyllenhaal and Downey Jr. tracks were recorded separate from Fischer, Vanderbilt and Ellroy, but I guess there were enough dry and quiet moments throughout that warranted the merging of the two. As usual the actors are entertaining to listen to, but the most interesting comments come from Ellroy, who is an author of crime novels and has great insight on the whole genre. Like Fincher’s track, there’s plenty of information about the Zodiac case dropped in this track as well. I can’t recommend either track over the other, as both are quite the treat to listen to.
Moving onto disc two we stumble upon near four hours extras. First in “The Film” area is “Zodiac Deciphered” (54:12), a seven part documentary that covers the entire production of the film. Cast and crew interviews are strewn throughout and while Fischer and the actor’s crop more irregularly than the others, the rest of the interviewees are still interesting to hear from. Next up we have “The Visual Effects of Zodiac” (15:18) which actually surprised me as I didn’t realize there were that many special effects shots in the entire film. Very cool to see how expertly the CGI in the film was used. Finally for “The Film” section we have “Previsualization”(6:29) which shows a split screen comparison between original computer mock ups for scenes to the final footage shot for the film, three comparisons total.
Now that we’re done with the film aspect, let’s delve into the true events that this film is based off of, shall we? In “The Facts” we are treated to a near two hour documentary on the film. Produced and directed by David Prior, whose previous work includes extras on Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Transformers, takes us on a journey in “This is the Zodiac Speaking” (1:42:10), going through “every aspect of the investigation, including new interviews with the original investigators and surviving victims.” This is without a doubt my favorite extra on the disc, as this whole films mystery element was what intrigued me most about it and seeing it focus so much on the mystery itself was really just a big treat. As if the near two hour documentary wasn’t enough, “His Name Was Arthur Leigh Allen” (42:32) focuses on the prime suspect in the case and includes interviews from the police who investigated him and the people that knew him.
On top of the hours of extras, the video and audio transfer for the film is immaculate. Blacks were dark and there was little compression to be seen throughout the film. The 5.1 surround mix was engrossing at times and had plenty of rear channel use throughout. While there is only a 5.1 English track, English, French and Spanish subtitles accompany the film.
Without a doubt, this Zodiac 2-Disc Director’s Cut is the one of the best DVDs I’ve ever owned and it is a remarkable way to kick off the new year. Whether you buy it on DVD or HD-DVD, this is the version of the film to buy. Fans of David Fincher or of the film in general will find this title a Must Own, while others will find this title Highly Recommended. Either way you cut it, this title should be picked up as soon as possible when it streets on January 8th.
Zodiac 2-Disc Director’s Cut arrives on DVD and HD-DVD on January 8th.