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David Fincher
Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, Robert Downey Jr., Brian Cox, John Carroll Lynch, Chloë Sevigny, Ed Setrakian, John Getz, John Terry, Candy Clark
Writing Credits:
James Vanderbilt, Robert Graysmith (book)

There's more than one way to lose your life to a killer.

Based on the actual case files of one of the most intriguing unsolved crimes in the nation's history, Zodiac is a thriller from David Fincher, director of Se7en and Panic Room. As a serial killer terrifies the San Francisco Bay Area and taunts police with his ciphers and letters, investigators in four jurisdictions search for the murderer. The case will become an obsession for four men as their lives and careers are built and destroyed by the endless trail of clues.

Box Office:
$85 million.
Opening Weekend
$13.395 million on -unknown- screens.
Domestic Gross
$33.048 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 162 min.
Price: $34.99
Release Date: 1/8/08

DVD One:
• Audio Commentary with Director David Fincher
• Audio Commentary with Producers Brad Fischer and James Vanderbilt, Author James Ellroy, and Actors Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey, Jr.
DVD Two:
• “Zodiac Deciphered” Documentary 54:13
• “The Visual Effects of Zodiac” Featurette 15:19
• “Previsualization” Sequences 1:06 4:21 1:01
• Theatrical Trailer
• “This Is the Zodiac Speaking” Documentary 1:42:11
• “Prime Suspect” Documentary 42:32


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.


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Zodiac: Director's Cut (2007)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 26, 2007)

After a long delay, cult favorite direction David Fincher returned to the screen with 2007’s Zodiac. For the first time, he took on a true story, as Zodiac looked at a notorious northern California serial killer whose violent “career” began in 1968. The film starts with his second slaying on July 4, 1969, and then introduces us to those who will become involved in his case.

Much of the film concentrates on folks at the San Francisco Chronicle. We meet young political cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) and alcoholic reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.). The paper gets an odd code from the killer who demands that they run it or he’ll embark on a shooting spree. When deciphered, the message reveals the nutbag’s fantasies, and he eventually gives himself a name: “The Zodiac”.

This killer strikes again in September, as he assails a couple by a lake. These additional developments keep the Zodiac in the news, and he eventually brings his game to San Francisco when he shoots a cabbie. This gets the SFPD involved, and we meet Inspector Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and his partner Bill Armstrong (Anthony Edwards). The rest of the film follows the path the cops and the reporters take to find the identity of the Zodiac.

To date, Fincher has only directed six films over 15 years, and there’s not a dud in the bunch. I’d classify 1997’s The Game as the weakest of his releases. 1992’s Alien 3 is probably the most flawed of his flicks, but I still find a lot to like in it, while The Game just leaves me a little cold.

While I’ve enjoyed all of Fincher’s efforts, 1995’s Se7en remains his masterwork, the one against which all others must be judged. Zodiac creates the most obvious room for comparison with that classic since both involve serial killers. However, they take very different paths, so Zodiac doesn’t come across as an attempt by Fincher to emulate his prior glories. He creates something different here that’s quite compelling.

As I went into Zodiac, I worried that it’d be something of a dud. Sure, I maintain a lot of faith in Fincher, but the nature of the subject matter caused concern. It’s no secret that no one ever conclusively determined the identity of the Zodiac, so that means we get a film without the usual “we got him!” conclusion. Add to that the movie’s long running time of more than two and a half hours and this looked like it could become a yawner.

That makes me pleased to report that Fincher pulls off a minor miracle with Zodiac. At no point do any of its potential negatives like its length and its lack of a clear conclusion mar it. Instead, Fincher manages to milk the material for all its worth to create a dynamic, involving investigation.

Fincher fully embraces the era in which Zodiac takes place. Superficially, he imbues the film with all of the period trappings; anachronism seekers will likely leave this one disappointed. Beyond that, Fincher also manages to make Zodiac feel like it comes from the late Sixties/early Seventies. The movie fits with efforts from that time, as it ignores the hyperactivity and quick-cutting of more recent efforts.

This doesn’t make Zodiac seem like a self-conscious throwback, though. Fincher doesn’t go the pretentious Good German route to create a flick that shoves its cinematic inspirations in our face. The picture’s period feel emerges in a subtle way.

Fincher proves to be a strong storyteller as well. He takes his time to tell the tale but he doesn’t waste space. Indeed, despite the movie’s length, nothing here feels extraneous. All of the elements come across as necessary pieces of the puzzle, so don’t expect fat along the way. This is a tight, well-told piece.

To round out all these successes, Zodiac boasts an excellent cast. They all embrace the low-key nature of the film, and their choices fit the story well. Downey proves especially effective. Yeah, it’s probably not much of a stretch for him to play a substance abuser, but he brings real life to Avery beyond his eccentricities. Indeed, Downey probably downplays the character’s quirkiness. He could’ve made Avery nothing more than goofy comic relief, but he lends depth and soul to this troubled personality.

I doubt that David Fincher will ever direct a film that I prefer to Se7en. I consider that effort to be the best flick of the Nineties and is maybe one of my top ten movies of all-time. However, Zodiac makes a strong case to be number two on the Fincher chart. Tense, taut and involving, it provides an excellent piece of work.

Note that this DVD includes a slightly longer “Director’s Cut” of Zodiac. It adds about five minutes to the film’s running time. What changes occur? I’ll be damned if I know. I saw the theatrical version of Zodiac twice – once in theaters, once on DVD – and I honestly couldn’t discern any differences, at least not with any certainty. I thought I saw some extra investigation material and a few other small tidbits, but there’s nothing here that I could clearly identify as new. This means the “Director’s Cut” of Zodiac and its theatrical rendition work equally well – at least in my opinion.

(Footnote: the audio commentaries pointed out some added segments such as one where the detectives discuss their case via speakerphone. I didn’t alter the statement I wrote above because I wanted to continue to convey my impression that the changes between the theatrical edition and the Director’s Cut are modest at best.)

The DVD Grades: Picture A/ Audio B+/ Bonus A

Zodiac appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Virtually no problems manifested themselves in this excellent transfer.

Sharpness looked fantastic. The movie demonstrated sterling clarity and delineation at all times, as the flick seemed crisp and concise. I saw no jagged edges or shimmering. No issues with edge enhancement occurred, and I witnessed no signs of source defects.

In terms of palette, Zodiac went with restrained colors. Much of the movie featured a slightly brownish tint that meant we found hues without a great deal of vivacity. Within those constraints, though, the colors seemed accurate and appropriate. Blacks appeared deep and firm, while shadows looked smooth and well-defined. This image was essentially flawless, as it looked absolutely terrific at all times.

I also found a lot to like about the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Zodiac. Given the nature of the story, the soundfield focused mostly on environmental information. Some of the murder sequences opened up matters to a greater degree, but general ambience ruled the day. The mix provided a good sense of the various settings as it placed elements accurately and meshed them well. The surrounds added nice dimensionality to the track. They did little to stand out, but they bolstered the front speakers to contribute extra breadth to the mix.

Audio quality was solid. Speech always sounded concise and crisp, with no edginess or other issues. Music seemed rich and full, while effects were dynamic and accurate. Bass response proved deep and tight at all times. Overall, this was a very good track.

How did the picture and audio of this “Director’s Cut” compare to those of the prior edition with just the theatrical release of the film? I thought the two DVDs offered identical audio, but the visuals demonstrated definite improvement here. The original DVD looked very good but suffered from a moderate amount of jagged edges and shimmering. Those concerns disappeared from the DC transfer, so I bumped up my grade from a “B+” for the theatrical DVD to a very solid “A” for the “Director’s Cut” edition.

While the original DVD included virtually no extras, the “Director’s Cut” package gives us a good mix of supplements across its two discs. On DVD One, we find two separate audio commentaries. The first comes from director David Fincher, and he gives us a running, screen-specific chat. He tells us a little about his childhood experiences and their influence on the film as well as research, facts and liberties, cast and performances, visual choices, sets and locations, effects, music, and a few other production areas.

A veteran of audio commentaries, Fincher knows what he’s doing, and he makes this a consistently informative piece. He digs into a mix of useful areas and covers them in a thorough manner. Fincher is always interesting and honest as he covers the film in a very satisfying manner.

For the second commentary, we hear from producers Brad Fischer and James Vanderbilt, author James Ellroy, and actors Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey, Jr.. This track comes from two separate running, screen-specific sessions. The actors sit together for one, while the other three chat together for the second. The final result edits the two into one coherent whole.

In terms of content, we start with notes about the genesis and development of the project. From there we learn about research and the facts behind various subjects, story and script issues, cast and performances, sets and locations, and a few other production tidbits. The Fischer/Vanderbilt/Ellroy trio dominates the discussion, as they pop up much more frequently than the actors do.

For the most part, the commentary works well. I think the biggest problem comes from Ellroy’s inclusion. He had no involvement in the film itself; he’s here as a fan, really, and he does offer some decent appreciation of the piece. However, Ellroy also makes himself the focal point too often. Instead of chatting about the flick, he often comes across as a bit of a blowhard, and he spends too much time on his own issues and not anything related to the flick.

Despite those weaknesses, the commentary offers a lot of good information. I’d like to hear more from the actors, but they give us nice insights, especially in terms of working with Fincher. We also learn a lot about the research and various facts connected to the case. Despite some minor flaws, the majority of the commentary satisfies.

Over on DVD Two, the pieces split into two areas. The Film launches with a documentary called Zodiac Deciphered. The 54-minute and 13-second program uses the usual mix of movie clips, shots from the set and interviews. We hear from Fischer, Vanderbilt, Gyllenhaal, Downey, costume designer Casey Storm, set decorator Victor J. Zolfo, property master Hope M. Parrish, Zodiac author Robert Graysmith, and actor Mark Ruffalo. “Deciphered” looks at the project’s development, research and the writing of the script, and the choice of Fincher as director. From there it examines the shooting of various scenes along with the production elements that correspond to them. Those topics include costumes, props and period details, locations and sets, the depiction of the attacks, camerawork, cast and performances, Fincher’s style as director, and some visual effects.

With “Deciphered”, we get a concise look at the production. It takes on the material in a clear-cut manner that doesn’t attempt to be clever or flashy. Instead, it plows through the flick in a logical manner but not one that ever becomes stiff or dull. Instead, it adds to all that we learned in the commentaries to allow us nice insights about the movie’s creation.

Next comes a 15-minute and 19-second featurette about The Visual Effects of Zodiac. It includes notes from Matte World Digital visual effects supervisor Craig Barron and Digital Domain visual effects supervisor Eric Barba. As you probably expect, this featurette examines the visual effects shots created for the flick. Since the film uses effects in such a natural manner, some of these may surprise you, and the program gives us a solid discussion of the various elements.

Three Previsualization Sequences go for a total of six minutes, 28 seconds. These offer split-screen comparisons for “Blue Rock Springs” (1:06), “Lake Berryessa” (4:21) and “San Francisco” (1:01). For each, we see the computer-animated previz sequences on top and the actual film footage on the bottom. It becomes a fun way to compare and contrast the plans with the final product.

A Theatrical Trailer finishes “The Film” and pushes us toward The Facts. Two pieces pop up here, and we begin with This Is the Zodiac Speaking. The documentary lasts one hour, 42 minutes and 11 seconds as it presents remarks from Benicia Police Dept. Detective Pierre Bidou, Solano PD Patrolman Russell T. Butterbach, Vallejo PD Patrolman Richard Hoffman, Vallejo PD Sergeant George Bawart, Vallejo PD Detective Sergeant Ed Rust, City of Vallejo “355” Operator Nancy Slover, attack survivors Michael Mageau and Bryan Hartnell, Napa County Sheriff Dept. Detective Sergeant Ken Narlow, Napa County SD Acting Sergeant David Collins, Napa County SD Detective Sergeant John Robertson, Napa County SD Dispatcher David Slaight, and San Francisco PD Patrol Officers Armond Pelissetti and Donald Fouke. (Note that the job titles listed reflect what the participants did back at the time of the Zodiac attacks.)

“Speaking” takes us through the events involved with the Zodiac. It starts with the initial 1968 killing – the one not depicted in the film – and leads us through subsequent attacks and other aspects of the Zodiac case.

Probably the most striking aspect of “Speaking” comes from the nature of its participants. I expected a documentary that mostly focused on expert researchers, but instead, “Speaking” solely deals with those who were actually involved in the Zodiac case back in the Sixties. That makes it a unique perspective, for better or for worse.

For the most part, I regard the concentration on true participants as a “for better” since that perspective lends the program an immediacy it otherwise might lack. We get first person history, not the comments of those who viewed the events after the fact.

The “for worse” stems from the same first person perspective. Since we rely on those involved, we get almost 40-year-old memories and all the potential flaws that come with those. To its credit, “Speaking” offers the information without external commentary, so it lets us examine the validity of the details on our own.

Obviously some witnesses come across as more believable than others, and most actually seem very credible. Hartnell offers terrific notes about his ordeal and is probably the most fascinating participant. Without question, Mageau fares the worst. He’s clearly experienced a lot of hard years since 1969, and he now looks like sad, scarred man. I wouldn’t trust much that he says, but I like that “Speaking” gives him his stage and lets us decide for ourselves what we think of his remarks.

Quite a lot of great archival footage materializes here as well. We see a Hartnell interview from his hospital bed, various forms of news reports and press conferences, and even snippets of Melvin Belli on a talk show to which a so-called Zodiac called. All of these prove very cool to see.

All of this adds up to a really interesting program. Again, I like the lack of external judgment, as the show comes without any attempts to support or discard various opinions. We get the memories straight from those who were there, and that makes “Speaking” a valuable show.

Finally, another documentary called Prime Suspect goes for 42 minutes, 32 seconds. It features notes from Bawart, Graysmith, Narlow, Fouke, Slaight, Slover, former Solano County saloon owner Ralph Spinelli, Arthur Leigh Allen’s former friend Donald Cheney, Allen acquaintance/Cheney friend “Sandy” Panzarella, Allen’s college friend Norman Boudreau, criminal profiler Sharon Pagaling Hagan, and Texas State University Department of Criminal Justice Research Professor Dr. Kim Rossmo. “Suspect” looks at why Arthur Leigh Allen looks like he might – or might not – be the Zodiac. It gives us eyewitness commentary as well as interpretation from experts.

Both sides combine well to make this another fascinating show. It creates no answers and doesn’t pretend that it will. Instead, it gives us more evidence and paints a picture of the cases for and against Allen as the Zodiac. Sure, it lets us know that Allen was obviously a fairly sick puppy, but how messed up he was becomes a point of debate. My only complaint is that it’s not long enough; I could watch much more of this stuff.

After five years away from the big screen, David Fincher returned in a big way with the excellent Zodiac. A dynamic and intriguing glimpse of a notorious serial killer, the movie provides more satisfying than expected as it creates a truly memorable piece. The DVD presents excellent visuals, very good audio, and a collection of consistently informative and stimulating extras.

This is definitely a worthwhile release that earns my recommendations – at least for fans who don’t already own the movie-only DVD, and probably for those folks as well. If you have told old one, feel satisfied with its picture quality, and don’t care about extras, then there’s no reason to grab the Director’s Cut. However, I prefer the DC due to its visual improvements and the fine supplements we get here. This is an excellent release.

To rate this film visit the original review of ZODIAC (2007)

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main