Se7en Blu-ray Review

Before he put him in a Fight Club and made him age backwards in pursuit of an Academy Award, filmmaker David Fincher (The Social Network) had Brad Pitt – alongside Morgan Freeman – chasing a crafty serial killer through the bowels of an urban hell in 1995’s Se7en (aka Seven). Finally after several years of waiting, the film that visualized the seven deadly sins is available on Blu-ray Disc from Warner/New Line Home Video.

Pitt and Freeman star as detectives Mills and Somerset, paired together during the last seven days of Somerset’s law career in an unnamed city. Somerset is as world-weary as they come, fed up with the ugliness of the world that his job brings him. Mills is young, brash and completely inexperienced, someone who sees the world in the most basic instances of black and white. As if their clashing personalities aren’t enough to make the week a long one, the reluctant duo have to deal with a series of killings based on the Seven Deadly Sins, perpetrated by a killer known only as John Doe (Kevin Spacey). Doe is, in the words of Somerset, methodical, exacting and patient. He is also one that is several steps ahead of the law at all times.

I have come to admire David Fincher as a filmmaker over the years. I was completely indifferent to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Panic Room, but I really enjoyed Fight Club and Zodiac. Yet I have to admit that when I first saw Se7en back in the fall of 1995, I was neither indifferent nor completely gaga over it. I found quite a bit to admire amidst the widescreen ugliness: Fincher’s direction was taut and stylish without going overboard, the performances were good across the board (although Pitt’s occasional overacting was unintentionally funny) and cinematographer Darius Khondji and production designer Arthur Max created a remarkable atmosphere worthy of comparison to the likes of 1982’s Blade Runner.

But for the life of me, I could not get past the old wise cop/ignorant young rookie cliché or accompanying dialogue inherent in Andrew Kevin Walker’s otherwise solid screenplay. They simply took me out of the film whenever they reared their ugly head. Even fifteen years on, the clichés make me mildly groan, Pitt’s overacting is still a gut buster and despite her beautiful presence, Gwyneth Paltrow’s Tracy doesn’t represent character as much as she does a prop planted in the first act to be used in the third. Well, part of her anyway.

Those gripes aside, Se7en has aged remarkably well. As our global society continues its downward spiral into the sewer, the grim urban world that exists in the film doesn’t seem all that far fetched these days (aside from the endless rain). The moral issues facing Somerset, Mills and John Doe are more effective now than they were back in 1995 (at least for me, anyway) and, for better or worse (in the case of John Doe), the viewpoints of all three have become even more relevant and valid since the movie opened. The moral ambiguity that Fincher and Walker expertly assess and execute in Se7en gives the thriller the gravitas it needs to set itself apart from the rest of the serial killer genre, and one that makes the still-ballsy ending all the more unsettling (despite Pitt’s overacting).

High-Def Presentation

There are seven deadly sins covered in Se7en. Based on the past history of New Line Home Video’s Blu-ray transfers, you would expect that an eighth deadly sin would be introduced: substandard authoring. I’m very happy to report that this has not come to pass. In fact, under the supervision of David Fincher himself, Se7en looks borderline remarkable on Blu-ray.

The fairly high bitrate VC-1 transfer (2.4:1 aspect ratio) does a fine job at handling Darius Khondji’s dark, pale but ultimately beautiful cinematography. Black levels and picture details are spot on, as are skin tones. Even in the darkest of scenes, nothing is obscured to the point that you cannot make out what is on screen. Film grain is moderately present, while our old friends Digital Noise Reduction (DNR) and Edge Enhancement are not as bothersome on this transfer as other New Line catalog titles. They’re not entirely absent (the finale possesses the most Edge Enhancement), but they certainly aren’t used to the point that we’re watching a Madame Toussaud museum come to life. The picture transfer for Se7en is an absolute beauty, one that is so nice that it makes me wish that David Fincher would be hired to oversee every Blu-ray transfer.

Even more impressive than the video is the audio. The 7.1 DTS HD Master Audio is easily one of the best I have heard from a Blu-ray release since the format’s inception four years ago. The best surround tracks are ones that completely draw the viewer into the action that make the best use out of multiple channels without being gimmicky or overbearing. This is exactly what you get here. Every channel, be it the dialogue, surrounds or left and right fronts, is as clear as a bell. Not to be outdone is the LFE channel, which kicks you right in your midsection the minute the instrumental of Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Closer’ starts up the opening credits. This audio track is demo material… providing you can find an accompanying scene from the movie that won’t creep out your demo audience.

Beyond the Feature

The informative supplements found on previous editions of Se7en, namely the 2000 DVD Special Edition, have been carried over to the Blu-ray release. The disc itself is housed in one of Warner’s hardcover Digibook editions and is filled with 32 pages of photos, production, cast and crew information. A word of warning if you haven’t seen the movie yet: don’t open the book to the last few pages. There is a nice glossy 2-page picture that gives away the ending of the movie. Bravo.

All of the video-based supplements are presented in 480p Standard Definition.

Audio Commentaries – There are four separate commentary tracks the exhaustively cover all aspects of the film’s production. One is with David Fincher, Pitt and Freeman, the second is with Fincher, Richard Dyer, Andrew Kevin Walker, Richard Francis-Bruce and former New Line exec Michael de Luca. Audio track three is with Fincher, Dyer, Francis-Bruce, Arthur Max and Darius Khondji and the final track is with Ren Klyce, Howard Shore, Dyer and Fincher.

Still Photographs – Gather the family around the HDTV for several groups of still photos. The five groups are: John Doe’s Photographs, Victor’s Decomposition, Police Crime Scene Photographs, The Notebooks and Production photographs.

Additional Footage – A collection of…hey! seven deleted and alternate scenes are presented here. The animated storyboards for the alternate opening is also included. An alternate ending is also included in this section, which includes the original “test” ending and animated storyboards of the un-shot ending, which puts a little bit of a twist on the one that made it to the final cut. You can watch everything in this section with or with commentary.

Exploration of Opening Title Sequence – There are three angle options (early storyboards, rough version and final version of the opening sequence) to choose from on this feature that examines the creation of the film’s trend-setting opening title sequence. As if that wasn’t enough, you also get four audio tracks to choose from (Stereo surround, Dolby EX near field mix, DTS ES and 24bit/96khz Stereo). You want some more, you say? Okay, how about two audio commentary tracks? One is on the concept with designer Kyle Cooper and the other is on the sound with Brant Biles and Robert Margouleff.

Theatrical EPK – An electronic press kit from 1995 that gives a quick overview on the film and a few brief interviews as well. Standard puff piece stuff.

Mastering For The Home Theater – An interesting concept that covers audio and video mastering as well as color correction. Each part is accompanied by audio commentary tracks. My only real complaint here is that the Blu-ray mastering process wasn’t also included.

Telecine Gallery – This segment shows viewers the difference (via two angle and audio options) between new and old home video masters. Since this feature was done for the 2000 Special Edition DVD, the introduction should have read “old and older” masters. As with the mastering for home video feature, it would have been nice to have had an updated segment covering the Blu-ray process.

Theatrical Trailer -The film’s theatrical trailer is presented here. Sorry, no audio commentary present.

For better or worse, Se7en has been a genre trendsetter over the past decade and a half (thanks for inspiring someone to make The Cell, Fincher!). While the movie has its issues, it’s still one of the better thrillers produced in Hollywood during the mid-1990s. Warner/New Line Home Video’s Blu-ray edition is one of the better Blu-rays to be released so far this year, terrific in all departments. A must for fans, this release comes highly recommended.

– Shawn Fitzgerald

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