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Seven (1997)
Director: David Fincher

review by Peter Schilling

Simply the ultimate serial killer drama, David Fincher's Seven (or 'Se7en' as the publicity wags have it), stars Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt, as now-traditional mismatched homicide detectives on the trail of a disturbingly cruel murderer (an outstanding portrayal by Kevin Spacey) who commits a string of appalling crimes modelled upon the 'seven deadly sins'.
   That's really all you need to know, but certainly isn't the whole of this puzzling, subtly unsettling and finally shocking story. Fincher loads his downbeat narrative with literary references and visual motifs, while staging a memorable chase apeing Blade Runner, generating more suspense from logic and mystery (not to mention a sense of impending doom) than any number of genre horror movies, and for the first time fulfils the potential for gut wrenching climactic revelation other, earlier, movies of this kind dared only suggest. There's more threatening atmosphere and edge-of-the-seat tension here than you'll find in anything served up by the leering Dr Hannibal Lecter (with or without "a nice chianti").
   Repent - or die, horribly! Perhaps the only way to survive in this film's sinister urban labyrinth is to become as isolated and wearily disillusioned as Somerset (Freeman, exuding scholarly wisdom), or blithely remote like Mills (Pitt, a mix of pumped-up vigour and uneasy ambition). Yet, however one might cope with life in a dark city where victims are ordinary people subject to the harsh enforcement of a moral principle (the killer's crimes are 'sermons') neither of the diverse cops - divided by generation and race - has a clue. Concerns for the degree and depths of dilemma in the narrative extend from characterisation and plot to the physical environment searched for evidence during investigations of various crime scenes. Every hint and trace purposefully left behind by the obsessive killer is intricately created, painstakingly elaborate and meticulously placed, yet barely visible on the screen. The extraordinary amount of detailing here is frequently surprising but it pays off with some utterly convincing backdrops to the action.
   Good does not always triumph over evil, and Seven is one of the curiously few American thrillers to realise this so perfectly. And, furthermore, it does this in an emotionally affecting and intellectually daring manner. Seven is a peculiarly art house Hollywood which addresses themes of inherent darkness within humanity (Lynch's perverse Blue Velvet is comparable but inferior), while attaining a level of highbrow sophistication almost unrivalled in a major studio production.
   DVD extras: splendid two-disc package! Disc One has a re-mastered anamorphic transfer with the choice of stereo, Dolby digital 5.1 or DTS sound, and English subtitles - useful for following the plot while opting for one of the four audio commentaries (each focusing on a different aspect of the production - stars, story, picture and sound). The first track has the director with stars Freeman and Pitt, who discuss acting styles and their approaches to the material. The second, hosted by Richard Dyer (who wrote the BFI chapbook about this film), charts development of the narrative with Fincher, screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker, the film's editor, and New Line studio president. A third commentary brings in designer Arthur Max and cinematographer Darius Khondji to discuss the sets, camerawork, lighting and colour with Dyer and Fincher. In the fourth, composer Howard Shore and the film's soundman talk about the musical score, complexities of aural montage and sound effects. This main disc also features DVD-ROM content in form of a "printable original screenplay with links to the movie." The scene finder has 37 chapters.
   Supplementary material on Disc Two features title sequence explorer to review the storyboards, rough version and final cut, with choice of sound format and a couple of technical commentaries; section on Deleted Scenes & Extended Takes guides us through editing process (with optional director's commentary) of seven clips: original opening plus animated storyboards of same, character backstory during a car ride, screenwriter's cameo as homeless beggar, prelude to SWAT raid, Pride crime scene, Somerset meets Mrs Mills, Tracy wakes from nap alone; text only cast and crew filmographies (scratchy, but they do match house style); Notebooks reveals making of fanatical John Doe's fetishistic handwritten pasted compositions, with creators' commentary; filmed series of paintings and concept art with commentary by production designer giving insights on various domestic and municipal sets; extensive photo galleries in four sections (with commentary) display John Doe's blurry Polaroid snaps, ghastly Sloth pictures, b/w crime scene flash photography, range of publicity stills making this a hugely impressive image file adding a whole extra visual dimension to this great film; alternative endings shows original test version and animated storyboards for un-filmed concept plus optional director's commentary; theatrical trailer; Seven promo reel; Mastering For Home Theatre delivers a fascinating demo of hi-tech digital tweaking process applied to original negative for this superior DVD release that covers audio remix, colour correction, three scenes from telecine gallery in before and after comparison. All told, there's at least a good two or three hours worthwhile browsing here!
previously published online, VideoVista #25
Seven
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