SEVEN and THE PLAYER Blu-ray Reviews

     September 16, 2010

Seven, or Se7en (if you want to be like that) is now an all-timer. Upon release it was hailed pretty quickly, there’s already a BFI book on the film, The Criterion Collection put it out on laserdisc, and there was a super-special edition DVD released. And now the Blu-ray release is a big deal (this has been the year of Fincher on Blu-ray, with Fight Club, this and Alien 3 coming by the end of the year). This could be the last major release of the title (until the next format), and it is the sort of film that rounds out a collection. While The Player is one of Robert Altman’s biggest box office triumphs and one of his most crowd-pleasing films with an insider look at Hollywood. Both have hit Blu-ray, and my reviews of both follow after the jump.

David Fincher’s Seven now has a 1080p transfer, and if you’re looking to upgrade this is the reason. The film looks and sounds incredible, and the added resolution is noticeable. But that’s the best and only reason to upgrade – with both these titles it’s a transfer-only upgrade.

Fincher’s film is much like The French Connection. With both they are so transformative of genre that you can tell which are the cop films that came before it and those that came after. And though Seven could also be compared to A Nightmare on Elm Street by dressing up and combining two genres (arguably Se7en is directly inspired by the success of The Silence of the Lambs but done as a procedural), in doing so the genre got freshness, and the thriller had a new aesthetic to play in. Combining the thriller genre with the look of gothic horror reshaped how Hollywood pursued both serial killer films and thrillers in general. But though the film delivers on a look and feel, it also has a pretty airtight narrative hook, and one of the great endings of genre. And like The French Connection, it shook up a genre that had become complacent and hemmed in by television.

Brad Pitt stars as Detective Mills, who’s come to a big metropolitan unnamed town to work with Detective Somerset (Morgan Freeman) in his last days before retirement. On their first day they find a man who has eaten himself to death, and it becomes obvious that it’s a homicide. When another corpse has a similar themed M.O. it becomes a serial killer case, with the killer enacting the seven deadly sins. The genre conventions are mostly obeyed in there being the wise old cop and the irascible younger partner who start by not liking each other. This rule is followed until things start to change after the two have dinner with Mills’s wife Tracy (Gwynneth Paltrow). But things get even more complicated when the killer (a cameo that deserves not to be spoiled even at this late date) turns himself in with two sins to go.

David Fincher was coming off of a nearly career-killing assignment with Alien 3, and Fox had treated him like a bitch. That the film came together at all is a great comment on the man’s talent. Se7en is the director in commercial mode – or as commercial as he can be – and though the film is dark and ominous, it’s also a thriller with a very talented cast. Howard Hawks told William Friedkin to make a commercial film after struggling and he did so with French Connection. Someone must have given Fincher similar advice. To that point, I think this then this a better version of his later (also successful) film Panic Room, though Se7en has the better script. I don’t know how much Fincher is in this, at least compared to Fight Club or Zodiac. I say that also partly because I think the film is also partly about a tone of fatalism that I connect directly into America in the 90’s. Se7en is a Goth film, but it’s also a gut punch, and the bleakness is not just an affectation. More than anything it’s one of the most perverse “audience pictures” ever made.

Seven’s Blu-ray presents the film in widescreen (2.35:1) and in DTS 5.1-HD surround. If you had any doubt this would be a demo disc, then I don’t know what to say. The pure blacks here are as they should be, and the image is perfect. The film comes with all of the previous supplements from the DVD with the only new addition here being a 32 page booklet. The film comes with four commentaries, the first labeled “the stars” with Fincher, Pitt and Morgan, the second labeled “the story” with author of the BFI book on the film Richard Dyer, screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker, producer Michael De Luca, Fincher and editor Richard Francis-Bruce. The third is labeled “the picture” with DP Darius Khondji, production designer Arthur Max, Francis-Bruce, Dyer and Fincher, while the fourth track “the sound” features sound designer Ren Klyce, composer Howard Shore, Dyer and Fincher.

This is followed by a number of still galleries, the first for production designs (9 min.), and then five still photographs sections for “John Doe’s Photographs” (14 min. with commentary by photographer Melodie McDaniel), “Victor’s decomposition” (2 min, with commentary by David Fincher), “police crime scene photographs” (6 min. with commentary by photographer Peter Sorel), “production photographs” (11 min. with commentary by Sorel), and “the notebooks” (8 min. with commentary by book designers Clive Percy and John Sable). There’s then eight deleted/alternate scenes (19 min.) with optional Fincher commentary, and two alternate versions of the ending (13 min.) with optional Fincher commentary. It’s followed by “exploration of the title sequence” (3 min.) with three angles (early storyboards, rough and final version) and six audio options, with four different mixes and two commentaries. The theatrical EPK is included (7 min.), a section on the mastering for home video (23 min.) with commentary on the audio, video and color correction done for the previous DVD. There are also three scenes available in the original video master and new video master, and in the original 5.1 remix and new 5.1 mix (this does not seem updated for Blu as it is not in 1080p, which is absurd). Rounding out the set is the film’s theatrical trailer. Though I’m not as crazy about the non-commentary supplements, the commentary tracks are definitely worth digging into.

The Player saw Robert Altman – who had spent the majority of the 1980’s as an outsider after the flopping of Popeye – back in good graces, and the film was a surprise indie hit. Partly because it’s one of the rare Hollywood movies about Hollywood that works without devolving into navel gazing.

Tim Robbins plays Griffin Mill, a studio exec who deals a lot with writers. He’s been getting threatening postcards  from a pissed off writer who keeps threatening Griffin with murder, and when he gets enough of them, coupled with his fear that he’ll lose his job to Larry Levy (Peter Gallagher) he ends up tracking down a writer (Vincent D’Onofrio) he thinks might be the one. Griffin kills the writer, and then ends up as the primary suspect, while also romancing the victim’s girlfriend (Greta Scacchi). He’s being tracked by detectives (Whoopi Goldberg, Lyle Lovett), as he gets a pitch for an artistic movie (pitched by Richard E. Grant and Dean Stockwell) he thinks Larry Levy should handle.

Watching the film now, it’s very much of period. Arguably the early 90’s, executives could be seen as having a broader spectrum of cinema history, or at least screenwriter Michael Tolkin gave them some credit. Nowadays to have Griffin reference a number of the films that he mentions, or to have an office with a Blue Angel poster is ludicrous – even paying lip service to the classics is passé. But the great joke of the film is that it’s about how the executives have gotten one over on the writers (with the meta-joke being that this is a writer’s movie about how terrible executives are). And though the film is arguably a bit smug, it works because of the overflow of celebrities walking through the film and how right it gets Los Angeles. It gets LA so right you can tell it knows when it’s faking. And Altman gets great performances out of performers like Lovett, and Whoopi Goldberg, along with its game cameo cast. This is also a perfect role for exploiting Tim Robbins’s inherent mischievousness. The vacuity, intelligence and how he consciously uses his baby-faced looks to get away with things has never been as well used as it is here. This is his best role for sure.

The Blu-ray edition presents the film in widescreen (1.78:1) and in DTS 5.1-HD. This is not a show-off film and the work here is fine, though there’s nothing about either that stands out. The film comes with a commentary with Altman and Mike Tolkin, and an interview with Robert Altman (17 min.) that may have been done for the original video and laserdisc release, which is peppered with some EPK footage. The disc also comes with five deleted scenes (14 min.) with more/extended cameos, and the film’s trailer.

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