Zodiac is another one of the 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.

Overall Zodiac is a remarkably well done film and is another in the growing line of superb films from David Fincher. While the film may not have much replay value after the revelation is revealed, it is engrossing through and through and comes Highly Recommended.

Zodiac arrives on DVD in a single disc amaray case, no insert, generic Paramount disc art, animated menus and not a single special feature. True, there are a few trailers, but when the first trailer you see is for a 2008 directors cut release of Zodiac, you get rather angry. Still a similar thing was done with Flags of Our Fathers, so it’s not that hard to guess that a second, more bountiful release was on its way. As a brief bit of solace to those who purchase or planned on purchasing this version of Zodiac, the theatrical cut will only be available on this bare bones release, as the upcoming loaded edition will have the director’s cut only.

For the DVD portion of the film itself, the audio and visual aspect is superb. The video is clean and clear and without any signs of artifacting or compression. The film is mostly dark and the black levels are strong throughout. Audio is mostly focused on the front channels, and I was disappointed there wasn’t more rear channel action in the more tense scenes, like the arrival of the SFPD at the Zodiac’s trailer, which was rampant with squirrels and would have made the already tense scene even more so. Still, even with the lack of rear channel action, the audio is clean and clear and David Shire’s score comes through beautifully.

In the end, while the film is recommended viewing, simply Rent this DVD and then purchase the director’s cut when it hits in 2008. As wonderful as this film is, it’s not worth purchasing now to only double dip a few months later.

Zodiac arrives on DVD on July 24th.