David Fincher’s Zodiac and Digital Cinema Problems

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My parents visited last week to see their grandchildren and offered to babysit a few nights so my wife and I could go out on some much needed dates.

On the second date we went to see David Fincher’s Zodiac. As usual, the movie theater experience was less than satisfactory. I was distracted the whole 160 minutes of the feature by red light blooms on each bottom corner of the screen (I assume from EXIT signs, how dare the theater choose fire safety over my videophile ideals?). In the film’s many darkly lit scenes the red reflections were the brightest element in my vision. I also didn’t appreciate the jabber-jaws sitting two seats to our left (what luck with only like eight people in the entire theater).

Zodiac was shot in HD digital and then processed with slight de-saturation and sepia for a vintage 70’s look (to my eye, more detail on the Cinematographers’ Guild (click on magazine and then find the 3/2007 issue with the Zodiac article)). A problem I had with this style is a complete loss of color in dark scenes and shadows o brighter scenes. The effect looks like a gray-green posterization in the shadow of a face that should be a deep brown as in the screen cap above). The reason this look bugs me is that it’s a common artifact of an underexposed, noisy digital still camera image. It just looks like a mistake rather than a pleasing effect. Other movies that exhibit this artifact include Zathura and Serenity. (My real gripe with this “dead shadow” look is I thought it was my projector’s fault, or more specifically, my custom calibration of the projector, as I’m more confident about my calibration skills now, I know it’s the sources’ fault.) I saw a film print of Zodiac so maybe there was a problem with the digital printing to film, though I doubt it, we’ll see if the DVD looks different.

Other than my visual quibbles I really enjoyed the content of the film. The murder scenes are very point blank, matter of fact and Fincher slo-mo detailed all at the same time. All the investigation and theory bits reminded me of one of my favorite movies: All the President’s Men. Every performance was great, including Jake Gyllenhall as obsessed and unreliable cartoonist/crime author Robert Graysmith (intrigued by the film, I read Graysmith’s first book Zodiac in a few days, then I was confused by some differences between the book and film and found the Zodiac Killer site where message board members fact check Graysmith’s books and shoot holes in many of his accounts which are twisted to fit his prime suspect. The Zodiac wiki may be more objective.)

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