In the late 1960’s
The film is based on books written about Zodiac by Robert Graysmith, so it shouldn’t be surprising that Graysmith is really the central character here. While one must applaud his impressive determination to solve the case, the truth is he isn’t that interesting a character. With all due respect to Graysmith, he managed to turn a story about an infamous killer into a story about himself. It’s no surprise that his newspaper specialty was cartoons. As the film’s hero of sorts, Graysmith must contend with two thirds of the story where his character was only minimally involved. Yet we spend entirely too much time on someone who only really begins to do anything in the film’s final hour. Jake Gyllenhaal does about as much as he can with the character, but let’s face it, he doesn’t have much to work with. You would think that he might make himself a bit more dynamic. Robert Downey, Jr. has likely the best role as Paul Avery, whose career at the Chronicle was destroyed by the Zodiac case. We actually feel for him even though we don’t necessarily find him all that redeeming. It was either a very brave choice or a really stupid one to have
The true killer in this movie isn’t the Zodiac at all. Fincher should be charged with capital murder of our three hours. He really didn’t need that much time to tell this story. I could cut this film down to about an hour and a half and deliver as much punch as Fincher does in three hours. From what I’ve read, the film is loaded with inaccuracies. I can accept that from a
Zodiac is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. There is unfortunately nothing exceptional about the transfer. Fincher works in his usual moody filming style, which means a lot of dark and moody scenes, often tinted with yellow filters. All of this works hard to undo any detail the transfer might have preserved. It’s also a three hour film on one disc, so some compression artifact is inevitable. I’ll admit it’s kept to a minimum here. Black levels are fair, but again, it becomes hard to judge when Fincher insists on so much color correction and saturation for the sake of atmosphere. The entire print has a feeling of being artificial, and likely it was intended. At least the print is clean and free of any defects.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 appears almost exactly as in the original release. There are plenty of nice uses of ambient sounds here, but the film is mostly a talker, so it’s really dialog that drives the whole thing. In that respect it is an excellent presentation, as even the most soft-spoken words come through just fine. The score isn’t terribly dynamic, but again that’s intended.
There are two audio commentaries to choose from:
Director David Fincher has the first track. While sounding quite laid back throughout, it is actually amazing the amount of minutia he delivers. Fincher does a great job of revealing the small details that are often not discussed in these tracks. There are definitely some film class moments to be found here.
Robert Downey, Jr. and Jake Gyllenhaal make up the second and more animated track. The trouble is there is a separately recorded track with James Vanderholt, Brad Fischer, and crime fiction author James Ellroy. It is very hard to follow as the tracks intertwine while not on the same subjects. About the only thing good about this track is that the two actors appear to be having a blast, and you’ll be told when you are watching the new footage added to this edition.
The film and commentary can be found on disc one while these features are on the second disc. When you put in the second disc there are two areas to explore:
Zodiac Deciphered: This clip runs nearly a full hour. This piece incorporates interviews with just about every major contributor to the film in both cast and crew. You get some good detail into both concept and design. Plenty of behind the scenes footage allows you a rather complete and intimate look at the film from all angles: props, costumes, locations, casting…
The Visual Effects Of Zodiac: This 15 minute feature examines the f/x for the film. The two f/x houses that supplied the work give you short peeks at how some of it was done. When you think of Zodiac you don’t really think in terms of f/x as you would a space film, but there are some very interesting things done here that makes this a welcome if totally unexpected feature.
A Trailer ends this section of the bonus disc.
This Is The Zodiac Speaking: Now this is what I’m talking about. This almost 2 hour feature covers the actual case and is far more interesting than the film. You get to meet the real principals and hear in their own words the story of The Zodiac. This is not a typical documentary, as it is told almost exclusively in the words of people actually involved with the investigation.
Prime Suspect: Again you get another 45 minutes of stuff directly from participants in the case. Here they discuss the film’s prime suspect, Arthur Allen. No one really knows if Allen was indeed the Zodiac, but make no mistake, he was a pretty twisted guy when you get to know him. These last two features are the sole reason to buy this new release of a very average film.
Serial killers have always fascinated me. When I helped to develop the curriculum for the law program in my county’s high schools, I added a chapter on these fascinating psychopaths in my own class. I’ve seen films and documentaries on just about all of them and even lived through a scare here in