Jan 062009

Zodiac is a fantastic film and probably one of my favorites from director David Fincher. It’s a fascinating mystery/crime drama with excellent performances that were sadly overlooked by the Academy. Of course, it didn’t help that Paramount released this in March rather than December.




— 2-Disc Director’s Cut —

Genre(s): Crime, Drama, Mystery
Paramount | R – 162 min. – $36.99 | January 27, 2009

Date Published: 01/06/2009 | Author: The Movieman

Directed by: 
David Fincher
Robert Graysmith (book); James Vanderbilt (screenplay)
Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, Brian Cox, Donal Logue, Elias Koteas, Chloe Sevigne, Dermot Mulroney, Philip Baker Hall

2 Commentaries, Featurettes
Digital Copy: No
Formats Included: Blu-ray
Number of Discs: 2

Audio: English (Dolby TrueHD 5.1)
1080p/Widescreen 2.39
English SDH, English, French, Spanish

The studio provided me with a free copy of the Blu-ray I reviewed in this Blog Post.
The opinions I share are my own.

THE MOVIE – 4.5/5

[Note: Portions of this review come from my HD DVD review.]

David Fincher’s Zodiac is a movie that, like the circumstance it’s based upon, has a lot of intrigue behind it. In terms of the real life events, it has reinvigorated the interest in the Zodiac serial killer and who he is/was. But looking at it as a movie, and a David Fincher movie no less, is also interesting; between the lackluster box office, early release date that no doubt will cost the film any award nominations — for which at the very least Downey Jr. deserved a Supporting Actor nod – and the fact that, outside a couple scenes, this does not come across as another David Fincher movie. It doesn’t contain those melancholy aspects that Fight Club and Se7en contained but instead because it is, for the most part, based on real events (from witness accounts and police reports), it has a very real feel that his previous films lacked in one way or another. It also different in the fact that this is, for all intent and purpose, a period piece spanning from the late 60s/early 70s to the early 80s.

It’s not surprising that Fincher could skillfully direct a movie like this as he has shown time and again his talent. Even if you’re not a fan of his work, his movies are never run-of-the-mill shite you usually see come out of Hollywood (and if he got his way on Alien 3, I think that too would’ve hold true). From the mind-blowing story of Fight Club to his Hitchcock-inspired Panic Room, Fincher never fails to deliver and he doesn’t fail here either as he takes his style to another level.

Taking the story aside, what I loved the most about Zodiac was his use of taking the audience in time from 1969 to the mid-70s. In the most prominent instance, he uses a time-lapse shot, showing the building of the TransAmerica Pyramid skyscraper. Obviously this was done using CGI but the uniqueness of showing the passage of time.

Now after my third viewing, my opinion on the film hasn’t changed all that much, but I do have a better appreciation for some of the performances like Downey Jr. and Jake Gyllenhaal. From its theatrical to barebones DVD to this Director’s Cut release, my rating for the movie has gone from a 3.5 to 4. I still don’t think it’s a fantastic movie or Fincher’s best, but it does have some great performances and direction worthy of hype.

This “Director’s Cut” contains about 5-minutes of new footage. I’ve painstakingly found and timed each one of them and have outlined them for you, the reader. What follows is the time mark when each occur (HOUR: MINUTE: SECOND), the length (MIN: SEC) and a short description of the scene All times approximate. Enjoy:

Warning: A couple of these might be considered minor spoilers…

0:45:13 – 0:45:28 (0:15) — Insert shot
0:45:34 – 0:46:51 (0:17) — Insert shot
0:54:56 – 0:55:12 (0:16) — Melvin Belli talks about his safari trip (when the Zodiac letter came to his house)
1:12:57 – 1:13:13 (0:16) — Toschi introduces himself to Riverside Chief
1:13:30 – 1:13:46 (0:16) — Extra dialogue
1:28:54 – 1:29:35 (0:41) — New scene between Gyllenhaal and Downey
1:34:43 – 1:36:51 (2:08) — 3-Way conversation laying out Leigh as suspect to get search warrant*
1:42:36 – 1:43:26 (0:50) — Extended audio montage (black screen)
2:24:30 – 2:24:34 (0:04) — Extra beat
* a 2-second insert shot was removed

The added scenes don’t really change the movie all that much or even make it better, but they don’t detract from the overall experience either. Although it wasn’t the lengthiest new scene, the extended audio montage when the movie transitions over a course of, IIRC, a decade, will probably be the most talked about. In the theatrical version, this was shorted quite a bit and including it now is actually a bold move since all it is, is a black screen. And only at an extra 50-seconds, I’m sure some in the theater would’ve left and complained about a problem with the picture (hell, if you didn’t know about it, you’d think something was wrong with the disc).

From my original theatrical review:

“I’m not the Zodiac. Even if I was, I wouldn’t tell you.”

These “based on actual facts” kind of movies I normally find troubling. How close to the “facts” do these movies come to and how much is manufactured in order to give the film more thrills or a more rounded story? From my reading around the Net (yeah, I know…), it seems this was very close to the book it’s based on (by the real Robert Graysmith), of course the book has its own problems, apparently.

What Fincher does get right is bringing together a top-notch cast of talent. They may not be A-list stars, but through and through, these are actors who are perfect for each role. Jake Gyllenhaal as the obsessed Chronicles political cartoonist, Mark Ruffalo as the equally obsessed, frustrated homicide inspector, and the immensely entertaining Robert Downey Jr. as Graysmith’s Chronicle colleague all give depth to characters who, like in many Fincher-flicks, don’t get the appropriate amount of back-story.

This is not to ignore the supporting cast comprised of Anthony Edwards, Brian Cox, Chloe Sevigny, Philip Baker Hall and Donal Logue to name a few who round out an impressive cast contributing to the story.

When I first heard this was two and a half hours long, and for a thriller, that’s pretty damn long, I was concerned. However, because of some fine pacing — despite the numerous fade out/ins, going from one time frame to another — I did not once look at my watch. In fact, the time actually went quickly. And I think this is why Fincher, notwithstanding the lack of his usual style, was a good choice to direct. Just as Graysmith’s ultimate goal while hunting the Zodiac killer was to look him in the eyes, and we too want the same thing.

It’s not to say Zodiac isn’t a good movie, it is, but since this is a David Fincher flick, I had higher expectations. As it stands, it is an effective, though flawed, movie. The top notch cast and the compelling and taut story will makes this, even this early on, one of the better films of 2007.


Although this 2-Disc set might not be on par with Fincher’s other uber-releases like Fight Club, Se7en and Panic Room, it is still a fine set that will no doubt make you pay top dollar for. This Blu-ray, like its SD counterpart, has most of the features on the second disc leaving only the feature and two commentaries on disc one.

Missing from this set, unfortunately, are deleted scenes I know exist as they’re shown (via one of those behind-the-scenes camera) in the ‘making-of’ featurette. Maybe Fincher is one of those directors that feel if a scene was deleted it should remain unseen, but I feel uneasy as it would be way too easy for Paramount/WB to use it later in some “Extended Edition”.

Director Commentary – Fincher provides, once again, a fine commentary even with the occasional dead air moments. He has a lot to say both about making the movie and some of the more creative decisions that went into changing or adding a couple things into the real life aspects of the Zodiac case. Adding in a cast member like he has done on previous commentaries would’ve been nice (would’ve been a blast to hear him with Downey Jr.), but as it is, it’s a good track.

Cast and Crew Commentary – This second track is comprised of two groups edited together. The first is Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr. giving fun and raucous comments on their on-set experiences. The second is producer Brad Fischer, writer/producer James Vanderbilt and famed crime novelist James Elroy. This one is also fun but does provide a bit more detail on the making of the movie and what material was added back in. It’s too bad the Gyllenhaal/Downey part wasn’t given its own track because I would’ve loved to hear more from those two (I guess they could’ve been doing a scene-specific commentary even though they do comment on scenes neither was actually in).

Zodiac Deciphered (53:25; HD) – This is a 7-part ‘making-of’ featurette that takes you behind the scenes as they made the film. It features interviews with various crew members and audio clips with some of the cast. Strangely, Fincher is missing from any comments but we do get to see him direct the actors and stage scenes. It starts out with how the project came together to scouting locations and the theme of obsession. One cool thing we see is the real Dave Toschi with Mark Ruffalo. Overall, it’s a good featurette but some more participation and better execution would’ve made it among the best.

The Visual Effects of Zodiac (15:10; HD) – Featurette takes us through the process of how certain scenes were done via blue screen as some could not be done on location (due mainly to changes places went through over the years). It’s actually neat seeing various shots go through the process. You don’t realize how much visual effects could be contained in a psychological drama, but there is quite a bit.

Previsualization (~6:30) – Takes the viewers through 3 key scenes: Blue Lake Springs, Lake Berryessa and San Francisco, and gives a comparison between the final shot and the previs version. For geeks only.

This is the Zodiac Speaking (1:40:24; HD) – I was looking more forward to this than anything on this set as the Zodiac case is fascinating. This one is split into four parts, one for each of the Zodiac’s known killings and features interviews with the people involved with the cases, explaining the crime scene and their thoughts on what happened. The most interesting aspect are comments from the two survivors: Mike Mageau and Bryan Hartnell recounting their experience with the Zodiac killer and their friends who were killed. We also get to see the real places where the events happen and even some defensiveness by some who feel wrongly blamed, like in the case of Paul Stein’s murder, for letting the killer go.

His Name Was Arthur Leigh Allen (41:15; HD) – Probably the most intriguing of the bunch, this extensive featurette contains interviews with those who knew Arthur Allen and provide reasons as to why they believed him to be the Zodiac. It’s not a one-sided argument, however. There are plenty who propose that he couldn’t be the killer so it at least tries to give a fair and balance view on the man some believe, and the film portrays, as the Zodiac.

VIDEO – 4.5/5

Zodiac comes on Blu-ray with a nice 1080p high-def transfer that is probably on par with the previous HD DVD release, but that certainly is not a bad thing. I found the movie, albeit dark, to be great to look at. Not exactly perfect but damn near close, this is well worth picking up even if you own the standard DVD.

AUDIO – 3.75/5

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the audio. Last HD go-around, this release received a Dolby Digital Plus track but Paramount now has gone with Dolby TrueHD. Although it’s a decent audio experience, it was also quite soft in places. My rear speakers weren’t used that much and the subwoofer was fairly quiet. I found myself having to adjust the volume just to hear certain dialogue.

OVERALL – 4.5/5

Zodiac is a fantastic film and probably one of my favorites from director David Fincher. It’s a fascinating mystery/crime drama with excellent performances that were sadly overlooked by the Academy. Of course, it didn’t help that Paramount released this in March rather than December.

In regards to this Blu-ray release, from all I could tell, it is exactly the same as the HD DVD released almost one year ago (it was the last HD DVD I received for review). But if you only own the DVD or haven’t yet purchased this great movie, by all means now is your chance.



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