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HD DVD Review: Zodiac (2-Disc Director’s Cut)

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David Fincher’s Zodiac tells the story of the serial killer who terrorized Northern California in the late 1960s/early 1970s. Based upon the book by Robert Graysmith, a political cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle at the time who became the unofficial main investigator after the police were stumped, the story offers a fascinating look inside the case.

Zodiac made a name for himself by taunting the police and newspapers with coded letters of his deeds. He also terrorized the city of San Francisco with claims of killing school buses full of children. The lead detectives in San Francisco are Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and Bill Armstrong (Anthony Edwards). After dealing with bureaucratic red tape, they combine information with other police departments, which only gets them so far. In 1971, they interrogate a suspect named Arthur Leigh Allen (John Carroll Lynch) and talk with his coworkers and family members. Signs point to him, but a handwriting expert exonerates him.

The crime reporter for the Chronicle, Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.) works the case for the paper, getting in the way of the police occasionally. In his columns, he writes disparaging remarks about Zodiac, which results in Avery receiving a threatening letter. Avery’s drug and alcohol consumption only add to his paranoia.

Eventually the killings and letters stop, yet no one is any closer to discovering Zodiac’s identity. The police department and newspaper no longer have the resources to continue their investigations. Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), who has been deeply obsessed with the case, makes it the sole focus in his life. He has a lot of knowledge about the case and makes inroads, due in part to what Toschi can and cannot tell him. But is it enough to catch the killer?

Zodiac is a great film, top to bottom. It’s a compelling investigative piece, equal to the classic All the President’s Men, which Fincher acknowledges as an influence. It is Fincher’s best film to date and while there’s no heavy hand felt, he’s obviously in control the entire time. There are moments of suspense, humor, and fright, but they all fit within the film’s tone. The cast does a fantastic job, although Gyllenhaal, who does just as fine a job as anyone else performance-wise, doesn’t look like he is of the time period.

Not only one of the best movies of 2007, but David Fincher’s Zodiac – 2 Disc Director’s Cut is already in the running for best DVD of 2008. The colors on the disc are very vibrant, especially the yellows, which jump off the screen. Aside from the extremely informative commentary tracks, one by Fincher and one by actors Jake Gllyenhaal and Robert Downey Jr., producer Brad Fischer, screenwriter James Vanderbilt, and crime author James Ellroy, the “speshul features” also include hours of informative and interesting bonus material in HD that are divided into two parts: Film and Facts.

In the Film section there is “Zodiac Deciphered,” a documentary that covers all aspects of the filmmaking process from conception to final product that creates a heightened appreciation for the film. It includes interviews with producers, actors, production staff and Graysmith, along with on the set material. A tremendous amount of time and effort was put into this film in an effort to be as true to the real events as possible, so they spoke with the people originally involved, visited the crime scenes, and reviewed all of the information available. The crew’s attention to detail is incredible such as only showing the murders that had survivors so that they could realistically recreate the killings rather than guessing what might have happened. The killings with no survivors were only referenced in the film.

There is also a visual effects featurette. It is amazing to learn how much went into a film that you would not think would require a lot of special effects, such as the decision to add the blood effects in post so they could quickly reshoot without having to clean up. “Previsualization” compares the pre-production animation to the final murder scenes shown in the film.

The Facts section includes the documentary “This is the Zodiac Speaking” featuring interviews with the original investigators and surviving victims along with the specific details on all of the murders. It is fascinating to see the real people involved and to hear their stories. It is pretty intense. There is also “Prime Suspect,” which focuses on Arthur Leigh Allen and provides interviews of people who suspected him and those that believe he was innocent.

The bonus material enhances the film watching experience by providing more details and additional information that couldn’t be covered in the film. If you have an interest in the case, this material alone is worth the purchase. It also gives the film more credibility and depth.

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS