DVD Review: Zodiac (Director's Cut)

Zodiac (Director's Cut) (Paramount)

Director David Fincher took James Vanderbilt's crackling, obsessively dense screenplay about obsession -- a newspaper cartoonist's obsession to find the cryptic, media-teasing, self-styled "Zodiac" serial killer that stalked San Francisco during the '60s and '70s -- and turned it into a gripping, atmospheric, retro-stylized police procedural epic spanning 20 years. And it's one of the most accomplished films of 2007.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays the real-life Robert Graysmith, whose books about the case are the film's source. The other hunters out to bring the killer to justice, largely by outlasting the police and the dysfunctional bureaucracy when the trail goes cold, are superb Robert Downey, Jr.'s drunken crime-beat reporter, and determined homicide cops Mark Ruffalo and Anthony Edwards. Likewise standing out in this standout cast is Chloë Sevigny as Graysmith's exasperated wife. Fincher, more subdued that we're used to seeing him and aching for a return to the smart suspense films from the likes of Sidney Lumet and Alan J. Pakula, pulls us by the collar into the frame and cranks the sense of menace taut without cheap tricks or cop-out gimmicks. The fact that the killer was never caught isn't one of the film's points. Instead, this fine film explores the lengths and depths that ordinary, driven people will go when everyone else throws in the bloody towel.

Out now in standard def and HD DVD, this Director's Cut edition -- packaged unnervingly in a case that recreates one of the Zodiac's letters to the San Francisco Chronicle -- adds a few minutes to the original cut, with no fundamental changes impacting the new running time of 162 minutes. (Andrew Fitzpatrick details the Director's Cut additions at his blog The Blood Spattered Scribe.) The image (anamorphic 2.35:1) and DD 5.1 audio are quite good, identical to last July's bare bones DVD.

Where this new edition really shouts out is through its second disc and quality extras. On tap are two commentary tracks: a solitary track by Fincher and a composite track with Gyllenhaal, Downey Jr., Brad Fischer, James Vanderbilt and novelist James Ellroy. The extras on Disc 2 are separated into two categories: The Film and The Facts. The first group holds "Zodiac Deciphered," an hour-long, eight-part examination of the production, beginning to end, with behind-the-scenes footage of rehearsals and shooting. "The Visual Effects of Zodiac" gets into the surprisingly complex CGI work that went into such a grounded, beneficially "old school" film. "Previsualization" presents three before-and-after clips showing how Fincher used computer animatics to plan his production. Under The Facts we get "This is the Zodiac Speaking," a feature-length comprehensive documentary about the real-life events that inspired the movie, with interviews with actual investigators and surviving victims. Then a 42-minute featurette, "Prime Suspect: His Name Was Arthur Leigh Allen," collects interviews with people who have reason to believe that they know who the Zodiac was.