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VELOCITY / THINKFILM

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Alexander Bulkley
Cast:
Justin Chambers, Robin Tunney, Rory Culkin, William Mapother, Brad William Henke, Rex Linn, Philip Baker Hall, Marty Lindsey
Writing Credits:
Kelley Bulkeley, Alexander Bulkley

Synopsis:
Don't miss this spine-tingling psychological thriller based on actual events. Sgt. Matt Parish is a police detective on the hunt for a serial killer whose gruesome murders have kept the residents of a small Northern Californian town living in fear and distrust. As more victims-usually young teenage lovers-fall prey to the madman, Parish finds himself communicating with the killer through a series of cryptic clues that promise to reveal his identity. But with each killing spree, the killer-dubbed "The Zodiac" - becomes more brazen, and Parish must go to extraordinary lengths to protect his family and end the nightmare.

Box Office:
Budget
$1 million.
Opening Weekend
$20.578 thousand on 10 screens.
Domestic Gross
$44.785 thousand.

MPAA:
Rated R

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 1.78:1/16x9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby 2.0
Subtitles:
Spanish
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 96 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 8/29/2006

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Alexander Bulkley, Writer Kelley Bulkeley and Editor Greg Tillman
• “Behind the Zodiac” Featurette
• “Decoding the Zodiac: Zodiac Ciphers”
• “Chronology of the Zodiac Killings”
• “The Zodiac Letters”
• Trailers


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EQUIPMENT
Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


The Zodiac (2005)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 19, 2006)

For a look at a notorious serial killer, we check out 2005’s The Zodiac. The film starts on December 20, 1968, in California’s Napa Valley. We see someone viciously gun down a young couple out on a date. Detective Matt Parish (Justin Chambers) gets the assignment to head up the investigation.

This proves frustrating as the police develop few leads in the mysterious case. His work weighs on Parish and affects his relationships with wife Laura (Robin Tunney) and 12-year-old son Johnny (Rory Culkin), partially because he has to work such long hours. The killing traumatizes the community and means extra pressure for the cops.

Nothing develops until July 4, 1969. The killer finally strikes again that evening as he shoots another couple on Lovers Lane. One of the kids survives this time, though, so the cops get something with which to work. Paired with a call to the police from the killer himself and matters start to heat up again. Eventually the murderer starts to send letters to the press that use a strange code and leads them to call him the “Zodiac Killer”. The Zodiac follows more attacks and the investigation.

I’m not sure what it says about me – and I’m not sure I want to know what it says about me – but serial killers intrigue me. Most murders occur for a purpose that makes sense; it may sicken us, but we understand killings of revenge, anger or for other personal reasons. But for someone to slay people he doesn’t know to satisfy some bizarre psychological need is so stunning that it becomes fascinating.

I count two serial killer flicks among my all-time favorites: 1995’s Se7en and 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs. I didn’t expect The Zodiac to live up to the heights achieved by those classics, but I hoped it would be a heck of a lot more interesting than it was.

Really, Zodiac rarely becomes much more than a cheap horror flick. It even uses a mother startled by her kid for an easy scare even though it has no other point in the story. The film shows the killer as your basic movie monster, and it uses jerkycam and flashcuts to signify mental instability and scariness. We also get the usual ominous music, so this definitely never becomes an attempt at a realistic psychological portrait.

Zodiac keeps the killer faceless and spooky, factors that rob it of any potential introspection. Instead, it prefers to focus on the Parish family, a choice that ends up in a serious dead end. Their tale goes absolutely nowhere. We never care about the problems Matt’s work causes and various story threads – like Johnny’s attempts to crack the code – wander off into the forest, never to return. Perhaps the concentration on the Parish clan could have added some depth to the proceedings, but as depicted, those elements leave us bored.

It doesn’t help that Matt turns out to be a tremendously dull lead character. There’s no life or passion to him, so we don’t care about him, his family or anything else. A dreadfully faceless performance from Chambers makes things worse. This leaves much of the movie as totally forgettable since we see so much of Matt and his family.

Despite all the cinematic tricks, the film remains turgid and uninvolving. If it went the Se7en route with a vivid investigation it’d succeed, but otherwise the anonymity of the killer is a negative. In an odd choice, Zodiac often makes young Johnny seem creepy – you start to wonder if he’s the murderer given his strangely zoned-out portrayal.

At least that would’ve been an interesting twist, whereas the movie itself comes with no intriguing turns. It meanders along for 96 horribly boring minutes and never takes us on any kind of ride. The Zodiac steals overtly from Se7en and Lambs - one scene is almost directly lifted from the latter – but comes with absolutely none of their passion or drama. I didn’t think it was possible to turn such a fascinating real-life case into such a dull film, but The Zodiac proves me wrong. It’s absolutely terrible.


The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B/ Bonus C+

The Zodiac appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The film looked fine but unexceptional.

Sharpness generally appeared good. A few wider shots came across as moderately soft, but those sequences failed to create substantial problems. Jagged edges and moiré effects caused no concerns, and only a smidgen of edge enhancement seemed apparent. As for print flaws, the image appeared free from defects, though some moderate grain showed up at times.

Zodiac presented a generally subdued palette, as the hues often looked a little faded and pale. The movie went with a slightly golden tone and didn’t favor many more dynamic colors. The hues came across as adequate within the production design but not much better than that. Black levels also varied. Mostly they seemed respectably dense and deep, but they occasionally came across as somewhat inky and flat. Shadow detail was decent but lacked terrific definition. Some shots – especially the nighttime ones – looked rather dark and a little too opaque. Ultimately, most of The Zodiac presented a fairly good image, but it never became anything special.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of The Zodiac proved to be sporadically active. Much of that resulted from the murder segments. Those offered a good sense of place and atmosphere, especially in the way the creepy elements appeared around the spectrum. These segments made fine use of the surrounds and created a nicely involving environment. Other scenes also worked well. The movie featured good stereo music that blended well with the rears, and quieter sections featured nice atmospheric elements. The soundfield seemed convincing and accurate, though it rarely became terribly ambitious.

Audio quality also was positive. The lines remained reasonably natural and distinct throughout the movie. I detected no issues connected to intelligibility or edginess. Music sounded rich and vibrant, as the score was clear and smooth. Effects lacked any concerns related to distortion and were vivid and dynamic. Bass response played an active role only sporadically, but low-end elements seemed tight and appropriately powerful. Overall, the audio of The Zodiac was perfectly positive for this material.

A mix of extras fill out the disc. We start with an audio commentary from writer/director Alexander Bulkley, writer Kelley Bulkeley and editor Greg Tillman. All three sit together for this running, screen-specific chat. They talk about the opening credits, research and efforts to retain accuracy, cast and performances, set design and issues related to making a period film, sets and locations, the story and facets of the Zodiac case, and general production elements.

While more interesting than the film discussed, this never becomes more than a serviceable track. The participants mostly chat about the history behind the story, so we don’t get a ton of info directly connected to the movie itself. This is fine, though the program doesn’t tell us a whole lot beyond what we already know from the movie. The commentary progresses at a decent clip and never bores, but it rarely enhances the experience either. It comes across as a perfectly ordinary chat.

Next comes an 11-minute and three-second featurette called Behind the Zodiac. It features movie clips, behind the scenes elements, and comments from actors Marty Lindsey, Justin Chambers, Brad Henke, William Mapother, Shelby Alexis Irey, Rory Culkin, Robin Tunney, and Phillip Baker Hall. We hear a bit about the characters and the story as well as performances and the director, the script and period setting, the flick’s tone, and some shot specifics. Although we get some good shots from the set, not much substance emerges here. The show offers a few generic notes about the flick but it lacks depth.

A few text features follow. Decoding the Zodiac: Zodiac Ciphers shows four pieces. We get three parts from 8/1/69 and an unsolved code from 11/8/69. These show the raw ciphers and their decoded versions. Chronology of the Zodiac Killings breaks down events into dates and times, while The Zodiac Letters shows missives from 8/1/69, 8/7/69 and 10/14/69. These are all interesting to see, even if much of the material already appears in the movie.

The disc includes the trailer for Zodiac and a few Previews open the DVD. We get ads for Down in the Valley, 10th and Wolf, The King and Awesome: I… Shot That.

In his final letter to the press, the Zodiac wrote that “I am waiting for a good movie about me”. If he’s still out there, his wait continues. Perhaps David Fincher’s upcoming Zodiac will live up to the source material, but The Zodiac sure doesn’t. It mopes and meanders without life or pizzazz as it renders a scintillating story neutered and painfully boring. The DVD presents decent to good picture and audio along with a few mediocre extras. This is an average release for a terrible movie.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.5625 Stars Number of Votes: 16
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