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In the late 1960s and 1970s, fear grips the city of San Francisco as a serial killer called Zodiac stalks its residents. Investigators and reporters become obsessed with learning the killer's identity and bringing him to justice. Meanwhile, Zodiac claims victim after victim and taunts the authorities with cryptic messages, cyphers and menacing phone calls.
For more about Zodiac and the Zodiac Blu-ray release, see Zodiac Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on January 15, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey, Jr., Anthony Edwards, Brian Cox, John Carroll Lynch
Director: David Fincher
» See full cast & crew
Zodiac Blu-ray Review
No mystery here: Paramount's latest Blu-ray disc is a must-own.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, January 15, 2009
What follows is based on actual case files.
Director David Fincher's (Se7en) Zodiac represents one of the more unheralded of the modern classics of cinema. The story tightly woven, the directing effortless, the acting flawless, and the pace neither too fast nor too slow, Zodiac features all of the qualities that make a film stand above its contemporaries. What really sets the film apart is that, despite its lengthy runtime, drama- and dialogue-oriented script, and minimal action, Zodiac plays out as an audience-friendly picture. While the story is deep, complex, and requires audiences to pay attention, it's presented with room to breathe through the 162 minute runtime, thanks in large part to Fincher's outstanding direction that never allows audiences to fall out of the story. Oddly, the film was overlooked completely come Oscar season, though it was nominated for several of the "lesser" awards, for everything from the Palme d'Or to the Golden Trailer's Best Teaser Poster Award. Recognized by the Academy or not, Zodiac is prime storytelling, helmed by one of the best directors of his generation, and expertly acted thanks to some of the best in the industry today.
Though titled for the killer who is the subject of the film (and the Robert Graysmith book of the same name), Zodiac is more about the lengthy pursuit of the killer rather than the killer and his deeds. Intercut only intermittently with several short depictions of the slayings and near-slayings, Zodiac tells the tale of San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist Robert Graysmith's (Jake Gyllenhaal, Jarhead) obsession with the case. A cartoonist by trade and one of the more unheralded nobodies in the Chronicle's offices, Graysmith is routinely excused from meetings between writer Paul Avery (Robert Downey, Jr., Tropic Thunder) and the Chronicles's head honchos, particularly those involving chilling messages and cryptic puzzles sent to the paper and its competitors by the so-called Zodiac killer. The demand from the killer is simple: reprint the letter and message, or the city will fall victim to a murder spree. As the case evolves, from days to months to years, the killer is tracked by police inspector David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo, Windtalkers) and covered in the press by Avery, but it isn't until Graystone begins his own personal investigations aided both by his own research and previous police records and leads, does mounting evidence against one suspect finally come to light.
Zodiac simply feels real, the film a classic example of the superiority of the "less is more" approach. Even at a robust 2:40 runtime, the film is allowed the space needed to tell a tale that spans what seems to be an inordinate amount of time for a killer to be on the loose. Still, the film never becomes mired in complexities too much for the time span of about two decades whittled down to less than three hours; the film follows what seems to be exact attention to detail, but only those important details that are needed to tell the story, tell it accurately, and tell it well. David Fincher's direction is excellent in that it goes mostly unnoticed; that's a positive, not a negative. Certainly, the modern-day hyper-edits and relentlessly-paced action films have their place, but so often, style takes over for substance, usually because there is little to no substance to the story. With Fincher and Zodiac, the real-life story and its brilliant depiction in the film are always center-stage. Certainly, the film is aided by fantastic set design and costuming, the film effortlessly capturing its period with painstaking detail, but even then, it goes sometimes unnoticed behind the captivating nature of the story. This is primo filmmaking, and despite not being for all tastes, Zodiac is an excellent example of storytelling first and cinema at its finest.
Perhaps more so than the film's vivid depiction of Graysmith's obsessive hunt for the killer and engaging context that manages to tell a complete tale that spans some 20 years, Zodiac succeeds above all else because of the first-rate acting in all corners of the film, from the headlining stars down to the portrayal of the secondary and tertiary roles. Jake Gyllenhaal turns in an above-average performance as the film's lead character. The compulsive search for the identity of the Zodiac killer engulfs the character, and the performance reflects that of a man with an almost single-minded agenda, losing sight of the world around him, his family, and his career. From a pure performance standpoint, the star of this show is veteran actor-turned recent box office sensation Robert Downey, Jr. Delivering yet another first-rate performance, the actor shows immense talent in his role as the Chronicle's crime reporter, man of interest in the case, recipient of threats from the killer, and later, drunkard. In Zodiac, Downey Jr. once again proves he is one of the finest actors working today. Seemingly out of the blue, his career has skyrocketed to amazing heights, with Oscar-caliber performances both here and in Tropic Thunder, sandwiched around what may be a career-defining role as a playboy/superhero in Iron Man. With these three roles, Downey is positioning himself to be, perhaps, the actor of at least the second half of this decade, his role in the upcoming release of Sherlock Holmes hopefully sealing the deal. The film also features fine performances from Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards (Top Gun), Brian Cox (Troy), John Carroll Lynch (Gothika), and Elias Koteas (Shooter).
Zodiac Blu-ray, Video Quality
Paramount delivers Zodiac to Blu-ray with a gorgeous 1080p, 2.35:1-framed transfer. The transfer is simply incredible. It is often difficult not to become dumbfounded by the clarity, depth, and precision of the image. Zodiac was shot digitally utilizing the Thomson VIPER FilmStream Camera, so there is no film grain to be seen, and video noise is minimal. Detail is impeccable, natural, and honest. Check out an exterior scene in chapter four as Zodiac robs, ties, and stabs a couple on a lakeside. Every last inch of the frame is breathtaking in every facet: detail, from individual blades of grass to tree bark, remain impressively clear in both foreground and background locales; colors jump off the screen with remarkable vibrancy; and the depth of field is highly impressive. A garden sequence in chapter 21 is another excellent example of the transfer's strengths. The many interior shots of the newspaper offices, where there is much detail to be seen but not as impressively and naturally lit as the various outdoor scenes, and appearing a bit more sterile, manage to sparkle. Dimly lit interior shots are excellent, featuring a warm color scheme and retaining a high quality look with a depth and breadth that surpass most high definition content currently on the market. Blacks are perfectly dark and inky. Darker scenes, a nighttime shot featuring a car on city streets as seen from overhead, for example, reveals fine attention to detail on the pavement, which could barely look better if the viewer were looking out a window. Zodiac looks as good as the movie plays, and is a reference-quality Blu-ray disc.
Zodiac Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Zodiac on Blu-ray features a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless soundtrack. This audio presentation is rather basic, front heavy, and not too loud. The disc does an adequate job of sonically recreating the hustle and bustle of the Chronicle's office, but scenes in the building never truly place the viewers inside. Dialogue is occasionally slightly hard to hear over sound effects, but for the most part it is clear and discernible. The rear channels are used sparingly, sometimes seemingly not at all. Atmospherics and environmental support, both in the interior shots alluded to above and in various exterior settings, are mostly handled by the front, and the rear channels rarely carry a discrete effect. In this case, a rather bland sound design is fine; the movie is carried by the strength of the story, the set design, the acting, and the direction, and all the soundtrack needs to do is support those factors, which it does admirably and efficiently. It won't knock the socks off (or even nudge them), but here, that's fine.
Zodiac Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Zodiac debuts on Blu-ray as a massive two-disc special edition, with a pair of commentaries included on disc one, and the additional extras available on disc two. The first commentary track features director David Fincher. The director dives right in, describing in detail the film's establishing shot and moving on to share a cornucopia of information, including the locations, the time period detail seen in various shots, personal memories of the time and subject material, the strengths of the actors, and plenty more. The track is honest, easy, intelligent, and informative. The second track features actors Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey, Jr., producer Brad Fischer, writer James Vanderbilt, and James Ellroy, "King of American Crime Fiction." This track is somewhat more lively than Fincher's, but not necessarily more informative. It's more the mix of commentators that add strength to this track. Each participant shares plenty of pertinent information, including the history of the production and the case, the integrity of the film, the research that went into the film, and more. Both of these tracks make for essential listens.
Disc two begins with The Film. This feature is further divided into four segments. Zodiac Deciphered (1080o, 54:15) takes a detailed look at the history of the production, beginning with a discussion of the case and the subsequent book, and digging into the production of the film, its accuracy to real-life events, and liberties taken with some of the unknown facts. The piece also examines the realism that exudes from the film, including the most mundane of props, files, and documents, and how they changed as the film evolved over the time period it covers. Also included is a discussion of the actors' performances and the characters they portray, shooting in particular locations, and peeking into Graysmith's obsession with the case. The Visual Effects of 'Zodiac' (1080i, 15:18) is just as it sounds, a look at the special effects that lend to the film the desired look and feel and the challenges of getting them all just right. Previsualization (480p) features three scenes with the computer-generated previsualization sequences playing in a window above the finished product. Scenes available include Blue Rock Springs, Lake Berryessa, and San Francisco. Concluding this set of special features is the film's theatrical trailer (1080p, 2:33). Moving along is another grouping of supplements, The Facts. The first of two in this set is This is the Zodiac Speaking (1080i, 1:42:18). This piece plays out as something of a history lesson on the area, the case, and the time period. Some of the actual people involved in the case are interviewed, recounting the crimes, intercut with photos, archival footage, maps, recreations of the scenes, and more. Prime Suspect (1080i, 42:35) more closely examines suspect Arthur Leigh Allen.
Zodiac Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Zodiac is something of a rarity of modern cinema, a well-paced, completely engrossing, nearly epic-in-length-and-feel picture that never becomes too bogged down in superfluous storytelling that takes away focus from the primary plot. The tale is chilling, all the more because it is based on factual events, following the obsessive hunt for one of the country's most notorious killers. Director David Fincher's film is nothing short of brilliant cinema, combining his eye for engrossing storytelling with first-rate acting. Paramount's Blu-ray release of Zodiac is almost as equally compelling. Although the audio is a bit pedestrian, understandable of a dialogue-driven drama, the film's video presentation speaks for itself, an achievement in its own right and breathtakingly rendered on Blu-ray high definition. Rounding out this already irresistible package is an offering of first-class supplements spread over two discs. Zodiac is one of the best films of the decade and worthy of a spot in every collection. Highly recommended.
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