An intriguing ongoing mystery that has its roots in the 60's
Zodiac Blu-ray ReviewTo start we have the brutal, cold-hearted shootings of a young couple, he's short, wearing layers of clothes to pad out his slight frame, she's young and playing away from her husband. Once parked in a well known area for lovers they are gunned down by a passing motorist; she dies instantly, the lover survives even though the killer comes back to blast him again just to make sure. It's a killing with no rhyme or reason, perhaps though it's the woman's husband out for revenge. It transpires that this is not the case, the killer identifies himself to the local radio station as Zodiac, he tells them where to find the bodies and he taunts the police department to catch him.
After sending cryptic letters to the San Francisco Chronicle he stumbles upon another young couple picniking in a country park. Again he taunts his victims, plays with them and after initially indicating that he will do them no harm the Zodiac killer satisfies his power hungry bloodlust, produces a bowie knife and robs these unfortunate souls of their blossoming relationship and their lives. Again although the male victim is repeatedly stabbed he survives, the same cannot be said though for his poor companion.
And so it progresses, Zodiac exacting his inhuman desires on people who for whatever reason cross his path, they and the authorities which pursue him are essentially his playthings, for him to do with as he pleases. Teasing the police, the newspapers and the general public with his escapades a multitude of characters over the years dedicate themselves to the task of identifying this unknown killer.
Ultimately this is what Zodiac is all about, unlike Se7en where the unfolding nature of the case is what draws the viewer in, here it is the characters and how they are absorbed by the Zodiac case, how they obsess over it and how it affects their lives. Initially we're introduced to the police officers who are investigating, David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo, doing a sterling early Peter Falk Columbo impersonation) and William Armstrong (Anthony Edwards). These two find themselves wrapped up in the case; it overtakes them both until ultimately it becomes too much for one then the other. They leave the case at different times almost drained as if the Zodiac has in fact taken something from them that cannot be replaced. Ruffalo and Edwards play their parts well showing at each stage the frustration which they are continually going through.
Zodiac Blu-ray Picture QualityThe HD-DVD release gave the viewers something they had been waiting for from any HD source, an absolute pristine image in your own home, no noise, no encoding errors of any kind and a depth of field never really matched in my own opinion either before or after. This new BluRay uses the same MPEG-4/AVC codec and is correctly framed again at 2.35:1.
The use of digital HD photography really helped this feature, there's no grain to be found, not that a subtle veneer of grain itself is a bad thing. Also, when this was transferred to disc no encoding errors have crept in. From digital domain to digital domain this disc is still the same high quality that we came to know and love all those months ago.
The depth of field is superb, look at some of the office shots where there's detail way back into the frame, with employees or knick-knacks on desks easily apparent, the opening shot of San Francisco Harbour is similarly stunning in the detail this CGI shots presents. Equally the streets of San Francisco and the surrounding countryside areas are all incredibly detailed; those country or street shots even when shrouded in darkness still reveal all of their hidden secrets.
Like the HD-DVD the whites are perfect with no blooming, no straying into any surrounding objects, from the initial CGI shot to the public park scene where the young couple meet the Zodiac killer. The blue lake in this scene and earlier on the river as they cross the bridge are stunningly beautiful. Each ripple identified, every blade of grass standing out with defined structure. Once again each and every individual scene within this film presents an incredible amount of detail which will have you lifting your jaw off your floor on more than a few occasions.
Zodiac on BluRay again has perfect flesh tones and that detail again in the pores, the fingerprints and the fingernails stands out head and shoulders over other premium releases we have seen in recent months. I found it difficult to find fault with the video presentation all those months ago on HD-DVD and I again find myself looking, searching for any scene which might show some defect; there's none. This is about as good as it gets, it was the best on HD-DVD and now I can honestly say that this is absolutely demo material on BluRay, it's pristine in every sense of the word.
Zodiac Blu-ray Sound QualityThe earlier HD-DVD release only offered a Dolby Digital Plus track and that was fine for then as my HTPC would not have been able to take advantage of any full blown HD audio track. Now though with the Panasonic BD-35/Denon 2808 combo I revel in these new audio codecs and am pleased to say that Zodiac on BluRay goes the full hog with an impressive 5.1 Dolby Digital TrueHD track which somewhat eclipses the earlier Plus version.
From the outset the opening track is deep and distinct from the frontal array, yet the background noises of party-goers travelling from house to house with July 4th fireworks going off in the distance are easily identified. During these scenes the background radio heard from your centre is more distinct than the earlier HD-DVD version. There is better separation up front with each channel more clearly defined, from the excellent 60s tracks and the background score by David Shire. The better separation up front also helps in the panning which appears a little smoother.
Again though, Zodiac is a dialogue driven piece with most of the focus coming from the front stage and the spoken word is mainly from the centre channel. LFE is a little deeper, a little stronger than its HD-DVD counterpart but again nothing excessive, no major crashes or explosions here to kick it into orbit.
Subtle nuances are more detailed with background crickets in the dark parking lots, the crunch of tyres on gravel, the crack of a pistol, the creaking of branches in the wind and even the slashing knife as it's used on its victims. These nuances are more apparent in the surrounds although again this is not a film which is going to fire on all cylinders as far as a multi channel setup is concerned, there really is no real need for it and to fit something in for the sake of it would just prove a little distracting.
This TrueHD track is superior in every way to the earlier Dolby Digital Plus variety. There are better multi channel mixes out there for sure, but in all honesty this track cannot be faulted for what it is; a step up and as such the score reflects this.
Zodiac Blu-ray Extras
- Commentary with David Fincher.
Fincher going solo on this one and covering all the bases from initial research, and the detail which he applied to each and every scene; he certainly comes across as a man dedicated to his task. This attention to detail seems to relate back to the protagonists within the film as though somehow whilst filming he was trying to put himself in their shoes. It's a worthwhile commentary, never dry or silent and up there with the better director commentary tracks.
- Commentary with cast and crew.
Robert Down Jr., Jake Gyllenhall, James Ellroy, James Vanderbilt and Brad Fischer get together for the second commentary track. This is perhaps a more engaging track than the previous one with all the players interacting well, telling their own version of events whilst filming and bouncing these historical events off one another. Like the earlier track certainly worth a listen with more information provided on the adaptation of the events.
- Zodiac Deciphered - 0:54:12 - MPEG-4/1080p
A documentary in seven parts, all of which can be played individually or en masse. The original case is discussed, original crime scene photos are harrowingly revealed, the history of the production itself from when Disney had the initial rights to Brad Fischer and James Vanderbilt (producer and screenwriter respectively) picked up the rights. The production as a whole is discussed, everyone contributing to a team effort to make this film as realistic to the times as possible. They wanted to be true to the people who had to go through these awful events.
- The Visual Effects of Zodiac - 0:15:18 - MPEG-4/1080p
Astonishingly Zodiac implements a fair degree of CGI, I suppose most films these days do; and here certain scenes are discussed which implement this tool. The helicopter shot of San Francisco Bay, the reconstruction of streets within San Francisco, how blood was added to scenes because Fincher doesn't like using squibs. It's an enjoyable piece and very informative showing what can now be done on film without the viewer really knowing that CGI is in use.
- Previsualisation - 0:04:17 - MPEG-4/1080i
Three storyboards where the screen is split showing the storyboard and the end filmed result. The scenes shot follow the storyboards very well.
- Trailer - 0:2:33
As the name suggests.
- This is the Zodiac Speaking - 1:42:10 - MPEG-4/1080p
This has to be probably the most pertinent extra I have ever seen on a 'based on real events' film. The original cases are discussed with the original police officers that attended the crime scenes at the time. Not only that but the two surviving men from Zodiac's rampage are interviewed on camera too. It's a detailed discussion of the events of the time, what was going through their minds and of course the feelings that the survivors had of the events. At times it's a disturbing piece, only due to the emotions that the police officers, now retired, show when on camera. It's not to be missed and compliments the film perfectly.
- Prime Suspect - His Name Was Arthur Leigh Allen - 0:42:33 - MPEG-4/1080p
Another superb documentary where the main suspect in most people's opinion is discussed. 'Friends' or acquaintances of Allen are interviewed on camera much in the same way as the previous documentary. Although most are there to say "yes I think he did it", there are some more rational people who realise that the evidence submitted is really circumstantial. Again this documentary really cannot be missed.
The initial EPK and short on the visual effects are captivating in themselves, especially the CGI content in the film; you really can't see the join.
It's the last two documentaries that will blow you away though and if these were the only extra content included here this section would still get full marks. Full marks because they're not just on there to pad out space, they really do add an incredible amount to the feature itself. I cannot recommend these highly enough.
Is Zodiac Blu-ray Worth BuyingSo it still maxes out on everything bar the sound and the sound is better than the earlier Dolby Digital Plus track. Although, it's just not going to stress your surround system and there are better examples of multi channel sound out there. However, as a set it got full marks from me first time around and I see no reason to change that verdict here. The film is absolutely absorbing. It's not what you expect but what you get is a detailed character piece which breaks down how people get drawn into scenarios that perhaps they're not suited for, how they can become obsessed with these events and how these events can overtake and ultimately ruin your life.
Acting is first rate, it had to be for this to function, anything less and the film just wouldn't have worked. Fincher and his team are respectful of the events in question as well as the dead and offer up their own obsessions in the detail which they have put into this film.The whole crew has to be applauded for their efforts. The video is exemplary and a testament to what can be achieved in this new medium. The audio is a step up from the HD-DVD release so all in all as far as BluRay is concerned this is just onwards and upwards.
Zodiac is a thriller, one which you expect to drive you headlong into the atrocious nature of events in the past, however you get that and more. It's almost 3 hours long but so engrossing that you'll feel the time pass in an instant. When this was initially released I gave it top marks and today that still holds true. Zodiac was one of the jewels in the crown of my HD-DVD collection and now this BluRay edition is sitting proudly on my shelf. I suggested you buy it then and I suggest you buy this now.
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- Commentary with David Fincher.