Zodiac (2006)
Paramount Home Video
Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downing Jr.. Jake Gyllenhaal, Anthony Edwards, Brian Cox

The Zodiac murders sent shockwaves through the California Bay area during the late sixties and seventies for a number of reasons. First there was the viciousness of the killings which shocked people, the seeming fearlessness of the killer who would attack people in open daylight, or in the middle of busy San Francisco, and then go ahead mocking the police with letters of confession, pillorying their inability to catch him. But also the fact that police was not able to pinpoint the perpetrator and the for years the murders would continue without anyone being able to put an end to them were enough to keep people scared and on their toes. David Fincher took the story of the Zodiac killer, based on the books of Robert Graysmith, and turned it in to a dark movie that is now available on DVD from Paramount Home Entertainment.

Without wasting any time to set up the viewer, the film starts with the Zodiac's most notorious murder, two young people making out in lover's lane on July 4, 1969. It sent waves of chills down the Bay Area's collective citizenship especially when the killer sent a letter to a number of newspapers, requiring them to reprint his letters as well as cryptic ciphers along with them in order to prevent further murders. Nonetheless, soon more murders appear and one in the heart of San Francisco where a cab driver is found shot in the head with the police missing the killer by a mere few seconds.

Inspector David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) is heading up the case for the SFPD and with his partner William Armstrong (Anthony Edwards) they truly try their best to put an end to the string of murders. But the killer remains elusive and his taunting letters keep coming in. Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.) is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle and he becomes obsessed with the case also, trying to find additional clues on his own. Sadly he is interfering with the official police investigation so much that he constantly collides with Toschi. He is eventually fired from the newspaper but not before he discovers a link between a much earlier murder in Southern California that carriers the Zodiac's handwriting all over.

Robert Graysmith is a cartoonist at the Chronicle and he, too, becomes obsessed with the Zodiac murders. While only on the outskirts of the investigation he observes the case closely and collects all information he can find. When after more then a decade of lose ends in the case the police seems to drop the Zodiac case, he is determined to shed new light on it. He decides to write a book about the case and in the process hopes to be able to unmask the Zodiac. He forgets though, that by doing so he puts himself right in the line of fire.

"Zodiac" is a very cool movie, I found, that surprised me. I was expecting a movie that was more exploitative, I suppose, but once again Fincher shows his craftsmanship by taking us down alleys that are less predictable. Instead of overly focusing on the killings, the movie's focus is on the people trying to solve the murders. At first it is a film about Paul Avery and David Toschi and as it evolves, it turns into a film about Graysmith's undaunted efforts to find the truth and his desire to keep the case alive. Many times in the film the focus is put on the fact that no matter how long ago these murders where – at one point of the film they are over 22 years in the past – they were still murders. People lost their lives, families lost their loved ones and a killer went free. It is, in fact the central message of the film, that there can never be an expiration date on unsolved murders because their price is simply too high. This extremely human tone is what took me by surprise in the film and what made it so likeable. The fact that people dedicated their entire lives and careers to hunting down the Zodiac is what drives this story.

Paramount Home Entertainment is presenting the movie in its original 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio on this DVD. The transfer is free of any blemishes or defects and not a hint of grain is visible. The dark – we're talking Fincher-dark here – cinematography is perfectly reproduced with deep, solid black levels that give the image remarkable depth and an almost noir quality. Colors are nicely reproduced, reproducing the somewhat muted look of the period and evolving as time goes by. The level of detail is good but it is here where the DVD shows its only shortcomings. I may be absolutely spoiled by now viewing so many high definition titles but I found a noticeable lack of detail in the picture. Shimmering was evident in a number of scenes where fine texture on clothing was problematic. I also noticed excessive jaggies in certain shots where lattice patterns are part of the picture and even close-up shots occasionally seemed to be a tad too smooth. Overall a solid transfer no doubt, but definitely with room for improvement.

Audio comes via a 5.1 channel Dolby Digital track that is strong and engaging. Spiced up with cool music to underscore the era the different stages of the movie play in, the movie makes good use of the surround channels. Not overly aggressive it uses them not so much for special effect but for ambient uses to expand the sound stage and to create a natural-sounding presentation. Dialogues are well integrated and always understandable without problems.

I was totally fired up after seeing the movie to learn more about the real Zodiac murders and was eagerly looking for the Special Features section only to find none. Wow, what a bummer. Here we have a remarkable film based on real events and the studio lets its customers down by adding not a single feature. In fact, to add insult to injury, the first thing you'll see when selecting the "Previews" section of the disc is a trailer for an upcoming "Zodiac: Director's Cut" version, complete with commentary track, featurettes and interviews with some of the original investigation members. Everything you're hoping for. Of course I am all excited about that, but the fact that Paramount makes you buy this version only to tell you that another, fatter version is coming in 2008 deserves a slap on the wrist. Studios should put their cards on the table and tell people about these plans in advance, giving their customers the chance to decide which version they want to purchase instead of trying to sucker them into buying titles multiple times.

Apart from Paramount's lack of respect for their customers, "Zodiac" is a remarkable release that thriller fans should check out. However, you may want to wait for the Director's Cut Special Edition version to be released in 2008, unless you are prepared to double-dip, because this DVD contains not a single extra.