BLU-RAY DISC REVIEW: SE7EN (1995)

It begins with the most unconventional of murders – an obese man forced to eat until his stomach bursts. The next crime is no less gruesome – an attorney with a pound of flesh cut from his side, pressed to do the grisly carving himself. For Detective William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) the two crimes have a striking similarity, but nothing concrete to tie them together. But a second pass through the first victim’s house reveals the theme – the Seven Deadly Sins, gluttony being the first and greed the second. With five more sins to explore, the killer’s spree is only beginning.

But Somerset is only days from retirement (who would of thought!?). Chasing after the person behind some of the most horrific crimes he’s ever encountered is the last thing he expected to be doing in the final days of his career, but it’s also, in his opinion, no way for his replacement, Detective David Mills (Brad Pitt), to start the job. Mills feels differently of course – he did everything in his power to get transferred into the city, despite the obvious misgivings of his wife Tracy (Gwyneth Paltrow). If he manages to solve the crimes, it will no doubt make his career, but it’s clear without Somerset’s help he has no idea where to start. Together the two detectives can probably catch up to the serial killer before he finishes his work, but with crimes so calculated and exacting, will capturing him actually stop him, or merely be part of his grand plans?

Though David Fincher’s “Se7en” certainly has its share of the graphic and grisly, it’s a credit to the filmmakers that its oft-discussed ending doesn’t simply go for more of the same. Doing so may have fed into a certain desire to see the killer progressively up the ante in creative, thematic executions, but ultimately it would have diminished the strength of the film as a whole, making into a sort of precursor to the “torture porn” films like “Saw” and “Hostel“. Instead we have a psychologically arresting conclusion that stays in one’s thoughts beyond what any visceral display could have provided, and it’s what makes the film remain as well-regarded today as it did when it came out 15 years ago. Of course the caliber of cast and crew has a lot to do with it as well. Freeman is at his most quintessential as the cynical and world weary detective, Pitt embodies the idealism and ambition of his young character, Fincher shows what he’s capable of putting together when he’s given the freedom and time to do so, and a (then fairly unknown) character actor (Kevin Spacey) demonstrates how chilling insanity can be. Not surprisingly, dark and gruesome crime thrillers continue to be compared to “Se7en,” though few have or will ultimately live up to it. (My Movie Rating: 4.5/5)

 

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THE IMAGE QUALITY

The film is accurately framed at 2.40:1 and presented in 1080p with the VC-1 codec. The film’s dark and somber aesthetic comes across beautifully thanks to consistently deep and stable black levels. Contrast appears manipulated to impart the image an appropriate starkness, but shadows and highlights retain very good detail and delineation. Fine object detail is equally impressive, most often with skin, hair and fabric textures, but wide shots with heavy rainfall also stand out for their incredible depth and definition. Blacks and browns dominate the colour palette, but a few scenes featuring the judicious use of red reveals the extent of the picture’s colour depth. The film’s grain structure appears intact with no signs of excessive noise reduction measures and the image is devoid of physical damage, dust and dirt. This is a reference quality transfer if ever I’ve seen one. Outstanding! (Video Rating: 5/5)

 

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THE AUDIO QUALITY

The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, re-mixed for the home theatre environment, is one of the most immersive and enveloping I’ve heard in a long while thanks to ever-present ambient effects, and incredible detail and dynamic range. Whether characters are standing outside in the rain, inside a busy police headquarters or in the middle of John Doe’s labyrinthine apartment, there’s rarely a moment without some sonic texture or flavor, making it difficult to differentiate recorded sound effects from actual noises taking place in the room or just outside the home. Sometimes the surround channels can overwhelm the dialogue tracks, but the aggressiveness of the mix and skillful presentation makes viewing the film incredibly absorbing. Though perhaps just shy of being called “reference,” it’s a worthy demonstration piece to show off a well-configured home theatre system. (Audio Rating: 4.5/5)

 

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DIGGING INTO THE SUPPLEMENTS

The extras, which are quite exhaustive, carry over the majority of items from the 2001 DVD. The exceptions are the DVD-ROM features, the most significant of which is the printable, original screenplay. Owners of the DVD release will probably want to hold on to it for that item alone. The information about video re-mastering and audio mixing is interesting, though the occasional disclaimer about the methods and technology used at the time being the best available is a good reminder that the information is now over 10 years old.

Commentaries: With four separate commentaries covering specific aspects of the production, there’s something to interest everyone. I imagine the more casual fan will begin with the “Stars” track, while those wanting to delve into the more technical and aesthetic elements will go for the ones on “Picture” and “Sound.”

  • The Stars: Director David Fincher and Actors Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman
  • The Story: Author Richard Dyer, David Fincher, Screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker, Editor Richard Francis-Bruce and New Line President of Production Michael De Luca
  • The Picture: Richard Dyer, David Fincher, Richard Francis-Bruce, Director of Photography Darius Khondji, and Production Designer Arthur Max
  • The Sound: Richard Dyer, David Fincher, Composer Howard Shore and Sound Designer Ren Klyce. Features isolated music and effects cues presented in Dolby Digital 5.1.

Still Photographs

  • John Doe’s Photographs (SD): Images of the victims as photographed by the killer himself. Includes commentary by photographer Melodie McDaniel, who shot and manipulated each photographic prop.
  • Victor’s Decomposition (SD): Images of the “sloth” victim. Includes commentary by David Fincher, who tells the story of how the actor was cast for the part.
  • Police Crime Scene Photographs (SD): Images of the crime scenes shot in the utilitarian manner of police forensics. Includes commentary by photographer Peter Sorel.
  • Production Photographs (SD): Various images taken by Peter Sorel during production. His commentary describes the history and methodology behind shooting still images on set.
  • The Notebooks (SD): A closer look at some of John Doe’s notebooks, with commentary by their creators Clive Pearcy and John Segal.

Production Designs (SD): Sketches of the various sets and environments, with commentary by Arthur Max.

Additional Footage

    • Extended Scenes (SD) with optional commentary by David Fincher.
      • Original Opening
      • Animated Storyboards of Original Opening
      • Car Ride in from Gluttony
      • “Spare Some Change?”
      • “My Future”
      • Tracy Wakes from Light Sleep
      • Raid on Victor’s
      • Pride

[*] Alternate Ending (SD): Includes the original test ending and the storyboards for an un-shot ending. With optional commentary by David Fincher.

Exploration of Opening Title Sequence (SD): The multi-angle, multi-audio feature gives viewers a look at the title sequence in various ways. Three angle options include the early storyboards, the rough version of the title sequence, and the final version of the title sequence. Audio options include English stereo surround at 192 kbps, Dolby Digital 5.1 EX near field mix at 448 kbps, DTS ES at 768 kbps, 24 bit / 96 kHz stereo LPCM, commentary by Designer Kyle Cooper on the concept, and commentary by Audio Engineers Brant Biles and Robert Margouleff on the sound.

Theatrical EPK (SD): Archival, promotional piece includes the typical plot synopsis and sound bites from the lead actors and director.

Theatrical Trailer (SD)

Mastering for Home Theatre

  • Audio Mastering (SD): Brant Biles and Robert Margouleff talk about re-mixing the audio for the home theatre environment.
  • Video Mastering (SD): Colourist Stephen Nakamura and New Line Cinema’s Vice President of Video Post Production Evan Edelist talk about the methods and technology used to re-master the film for high definition.
  • Colour Correction (SD): Stephen Nakamura provides a real-time demonstration of colour correction.

Telecine Gallery: Compare new and original masters and new and original 5.1 mixes, with multi-angle and multi-audio options. Includes three scenes for comparison — Outside Gluttony (SD), Inside Gluttony (SD), and Coda (SD).

(Special Features Rating: 4.5/5)

HOME VIDEO RELEASES
1998 Original DVD
2001 Deluxe Special Edition DVD
2012 Blu-ray


 

SOUNDTRACK RELEASES
1995 Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
2016 Complete Original Score

FINAL THOUGHTS

Warner Brothers turns in an impressive audio and video presentation of David Fincher’s well-regarded serial crime thriller. The exhaustive set of special features carries over the majority of items from the 2001 DVD release, though owners will probably want to hold on to it for the most complete set of extras. For first-time purchasers, the Blu-ray release is an obvious choice, while the high definition audio and video experience makes for a tempting upgrade for existing DVD owners. This is absolute “reference” quality in every sense of the word. A must buy! (Overall Blu-Ray Disc Rating: 4.5/5)

 

Written Review by Adam Stolfo

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