DVD Review: 'Zodiac: Director's Cut'
After an initial stripped down DVD release, David Fincher's procedural masterpiece finally gets the DVD it deserves
Out on DVD on Tuesday (Jan. 8), "Zodiac - The Director's Cut" is coyly packaged to resemble one of the eponymous psycho's chicken scratch letters and offers all of the bonus features any completist could hope for.
Formulaic studio films have often been created as correctives to real life events -- think Rambo getting to refight Vietnam as just one example. "Zodiac" is the rare movie that's a corrective to that trend. If "Dirty Harry" was made to reassure viewers concerned at the police's inability to stop serial killers like The Zodiac, Fincher's period drama is intentionally unreassuring, intentionally disquieting, intentionally involved in the idea of police work as an arduous process that can sometimes conclude without resolution.
As a result, mainstream viewers whose idea of a serial killer film was shaped by Fincher's differently remarkable "Se7en" may have been disappointed by the idea of watching a cartoonist (Jake Gyllenhaal's Robert Graysmith), a cop (Mark Ruffalo's Dave Toschi) and a crime reporter (Robert Downey Jr's Paul Avery) become frustratingly obsessed with a case whose result (or lack thereof) is in the public record.
The movie hit theaters in a slightly trimmed form and Fincher's director's cut offers validation for both the studio and the "Fight Club" helmer. On one hand, none of the added scenes vastly enhances the depth of the expanded movie. In fact, I watched the director's cut without checking on which scenes had been added and couldn't immediately recall the differences from the cut I saw back in March. On the other hand, the movie doesn't feel a second longer or slower with the extra minutes.
Fincher's engaging solo commentary emphasizes the director's notorious attention to detail. That meticulousness is also central to the behind-the-scenes featurettes, particularly the hour-long "Zodiac Deciphered," which does an excellent job exploring the film's exhaustive period accuracy, as well as Fincher's renowned willingness to do copious takes of the most mundane shot (Gyllenhaal's reaction to to throwing a sketchbook aside 36 times is priceless). While the behind-the-scenes stuff is all about Fincher, he doesn't directly participate, perhaps preferring to let his commentary doing his talking.
The DVD's second commentary includes occasional insights from Gyllenhaal and the always amusing Downey, but the actors are just spice for a separate recording session that includes screenwriter James Vanderbilt and author James Ellroy, who describes the movie as "one of the half-dozen great American crime films." There's perhaps a bit too much Vanderbilt and not quite enough Ellroy, but the track is well worth listening to.
The bonus features are divided into "The Film" and "The Facts" and the latter section may be even more interesting, a tribute to the production's dedicated research.
Directed by David Prior, the feature-length "This Is the Zodiac Speaking" includes on-camera interviews with an impressive assortment of the real people involved in the Zodiac investigations. It's over-long and a bit unfocused, but the opportunity to watch Zodiac survivor Bryan Hartnell return to Lake Berryessa is rather amazing.
The slightly shorter "His Name Was Arthur Leigh Allen" is an impressively pragmatic look at the case's leading suspect, as friends and outside observers recall and analyze the case's leading suspect, remaining uncertain as to his guilt or innocence.
While "Zodiac - The Director's Cut" will keep most fans busy for a while, I'm not sure it's quite as definitive as it could have been. Compared to the myriad technical commentaries on the "Fight Club" and "Se7en" DVDs, the absence of direct commentary feedback from DP Harris Savides and Graysmith is a minor disappointment. In addition, while the behind-the-scenes footage teases the existence of deleted scenes, none are available on the DVD. Since there were rumors that Fincher's initial assemblage was far longer than this, it might have been nice to see some of those sequences. As it stands, though, this is a more-than-satisfying start.