When Grindhouse and Zodiac opened this spring the reviews were ecstatic. By the time they finished their runs with a victory lap at the Cannes Film Festival (Grindhouse on one leg, having amputated Planet Terror), it was clear that audiences didn’t agree. Domestically, neither film grossed half its reported production budget. Why did two of the year’s finest American films end up as flops?
We’re not talking about obscure art films here, though both employ strategies more common to the avant-garde. These are genre films by famous directors with large, popular followings. Was Grindhouse actually too much fun? Is there a limit to how many exploding heads, hot babes, and next-level vehicular insanity people can handle?
The failure of Zodiac is less surprising for a number of reasons, starting with the fact that failure is the subject. Where Grindhouse delivered everything it promised but failed nonetheless, David Fincher’s meticulous recreation of the hunt for the Zodiac killer thwarted every possible expectation of what “the new serial killer thriller from the director of Seven” would deliver. You can’t blame Paramount for selling it on those terms. What were they supposed to do with a movie completely uninterested in a legendary psychopath but exhaustively fascinated by his effect on institutions (law enforcement, media, family)? “From the mind that deconstructed masculinity in Fight Club comes a perversely intelligent vision of life in the information age. ‘Neurotic!’ hails the New Yorker, ‘Obsessive!’ raves the New York Times,’ ‘Termite art par excellence!’ says the Village Voice.’”
The good news for Zodiac fanatics is that the DVD version released today offers new angles on futility and frustration. The bad news is why. Fincher enthusiasts who remember the director’s early embrace of the format with his feature-packed Fight Club disc will be surprised by the total lack of extras on the Zodiac DVD. Other than watching the film itself, the only option is to click on “Previews,” where the mystery is explained. “Look for the Zodiac director’s cut featuring footage not seen in theaters, including commentary by [everyone], an in depth examination of the Zodiac’s actual crimes including all new interviews with the original investigators, survivors and informants and extensive behind-the-scenes supplements covering nearly every aspect of the creation of David Fincher’s landmark film.”
Look where, under “audio set up?” No. “Coming 2008.”
Excuse me but what the fuck is that? It’s like activating your brand new iPhone only to find a text message announcing a 20GB model for $300 on sale next year.
I planned on using this space to find out if I was correct in predicting that a director’s cut of Zodiac would be “amazing—and intolerable.” I was eager to discover if certain qualities that made Zodiac so compelling on the big screen—such as the inventive high-def cinematography by Harris Savides, so crucial to the success of this digital meditation on analogue information processing—might grow ever richer on DVD. Plenty of critics have noted Zodiac’s affinity with classic 1970’s procedurals like All The President’s Men, but what about the kinship with network cop shows or the system-based narrative of The Wire? If there is a sense in which Zodiac addresses the fragmentation and isolation of the mass media audience, could it prove more resonant as an individual home viewing experience than a collective theatrical one?
Yet even this half-assed Zodiac got under my skin. Intentions were thwarted, questions unanswered. My quest goes unresolved but not abandoned, with hope held out for future revelations. Comes with the territory.
TOP FIVE DVD RELEASES THIS WEEK
1. Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007, Paramount Home Video). All bitching aside, this featureless disc—call it the Sucker Edition—still contains the film, and that film is a masterpiece.
2. Avant-Garde 2: Experimental Cinema 1928-1954 (Kino Video). Another blast from the avant-garde canon courtesy of Kino. Essential films by Stan Brakhage and Gregory Markopoulos among others, plus the rarely seen 111-minute version of Traité de Bave et D’Èternité, the legendary cine-manifesto by Letterist prime mover Jean Isidore Isou.
3. Classic Musicals From the Dream Factory, Vol. 2 (Warner Home Video). Garland. Minnelli. Astaire. Donen. Temple. Kelly. ‘Nuff said.
4. Five Dedicated to Ozu (Abbas Kiarostami, 2003, Kino Video). Last seen as a five-screen installation complementing the Kiarostami retrospective at MOMA, this elegant experimental feature by Iran’s most celebrated filmmaker is packaged with “Around Five,” an illuminating guide to its methods, principles, and poetry.
5. The Host (Collector’s Edition). (Bong Joon-ho, 2006, Magnolia Pictures). Monster movie madness Korean-style. Overrated but still pretty awesome.
Commentary Track, Nathan Lee’s DVD column, runs biweekly.