Undoubtedly meant to capitalize upon the eminent release of his latest feature, The Social Network, the reissue of David Fincher’s breakthrough Se7en is a reminder of both how far the director has come from a music video director and the de facto cartographer of late-’90s urban malaise and how much he has remained the same. His modern films, even the crime thriller Zodiac, lack the grime that cakes and festers in his early works, but they retain that sense of dreadful hollowness.
Underneath the aesthetic distance of his deep-focus photography, however, is a clear morality. Occasionally, it’s sneering, as it was in Fight Club, with its (justly) condescending look at emasculated fools, but for the more part he’s astonishingly sincere. Zodiac filled the gaps in the real-life investigation by focusing on the effects of unsolved murders on those trying to solve it. Contrary to the “Forrest Gump-redux” accusations leveled at it, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is ephemeral, not a lazy tour through important events so much as a meditation on how quickly those moments pass for those who experience them.
Looking back on Se7en within the context of Fincher’s second period, even the grisly murder-thriller can be said to be inherently moral. Its protagonist, Detective Somerset (Morgan Freeman), lives on the brink of nihilistic despair, the same sort that grips Sheriff Bell in Cormac McCarthy’s later No Country For Old Men. With a week left until retirement, he doesn’t want anything remotely complicated to fall on his desk so that he can retreat to the countryside without any more ghosts that will already tail him out there.
Naturally, fate intervenes, and, despite his wishes, he cannot stop himself from helping his replacement (Brad Pitt), when a serial killer begins leaving crime scenes modeled after the seven deadly sins. Each of these murders is more sickening and disturbing than the last, and the extremity yet sound science of the setups positions the film neatly at the middle of the two most notable pop culture items to be inspired by the film: Saw and C.S.I.
Fincher, at last freed from the yoke placed on him for his feature debut, Alien3, displays the range of his visual talents and establishing many of his trademarks, from the aforementioned deep focus to low-angled tracking shots. Everything removes the audience even as the story grips us tighter and tighter, creating the effect of being pulled apart that only compounds the stomach-churning feeling that the film engenders. Yet by removing himself aesthetically, Fincher prevents himself from getting too into what he’s depicting. Because of this, he never focuses too lasciviously on the murders, even staging the horrific Lust murder in an ingeniously roundabout manner that gives us all the details but leaves the true image of the death for the audience to create in their minds. This remove would serve him even better on Fight Club, but it allows him to remain on Somserset throughout the film.
At its core, Se7en uses the perverted religious fundamentalism of the murders to restore Somerset’s humanity. Unable to walk away from the case in good conscience, he at last realizes that there is something worth fighting for, that Mills, for all his arrogance, is a young man with ambition and a wife (Gwyneth Paltrow) who loves him. Plenty of films use horrific events to restore a religious faith (see Signs), but the great irony of this film is that Fincher uses atrocity based in religion to bring about a genuine humanity, one free of any obligation to anything save the people around us. When Somerset tells his captain that he’ll be “around” after the shocking climax, we realize that, rather than retreat from a world that terrifies him, he will instead continue to help in order to prevent something like this from happening again. So, the greatest surprise and twist of Se7en may have nothing to do with the plot; the biggest revelation is its beating heart.
It should come as no surprise that a David Fincher film would look good on Blu-Ray - the court submits Fight Club, Zodiac and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button as Exhibits A-C - but I was blown away by Warner’s director-approved remaster. The sickly green and scabbed yellow-brown palettes pop off the screen, while the film’s attention to detail benefits from the heightened resolution. Black levels do not appear crushed nor blue, and the density of the film’s deep use of shadows has never looked so good.
The audio, too, has been bolstered impressively. The DTS-HD MA 7.1 track is both nuanced and powerful, with the incessant rain crashing around the speakers and the creaks of rotting buildings echoing until your brain rattles. Technically, this is one of the finest releases of the year, up there with the crop of Spielberg releases that hit the market in 2010 and pushed home theater systems to the limit.
Most of the supplemental features are reproduced from the Platinum Series DVD released all the way back in 2000. Fortunately, those extras were voluminous and so thorough that one could hardly expect any major expansion. Se7en comes with four packed audio commentaries, each involving Fincher and focusing on a specific section of the cast and crew. Remarkably, there is barely any overlap between the four, as Fincher is on-point in all of them and adapts perfectly to each scenario. Listening to him casually shoot the shit with his actors even as he displays a keen insight into their performances, as well as dissecting the nuances of Andrew Walker’s script helps one understand that the director is about more than the visuals. Deleted scenes and standard EPK material also makes the disc, but the addition of bonus material centered on the remastering job done for the Blu-Ray. If simply watching the film doesn’t convince you of the strength of this transfer, just take a gander at the comparisons offered between the old theatrical cut and this reissue. They even compare the audio tracks as well
Warner’s Blu-Ray collection has been exceedingly rewarding almost across the board, and Se7en is one of their finest jobs yet. I would have liked to see a supplemental feature about the film’s impact a decade later and how you can trace both torture porn and the rise of forensic shows to the film, but then that road also leads to a lot of back-patting and redundancy so perhaps it’s for the best that no real retrospective was planned. Even without much in the way of new extras, the transfer alone justifies any hesitation you might have over double-, even triple-dipping. Se7en has never looked so good, and if you’re like me, you might be surprised at how much more is going on beneath the plot turns that make this a film that warrants repeat viewings and deeper consideration.
- Jake Cole is a journalism student at Auburn University, where he regularly avoids people in favor of writing about film, television and music on his blog, Not Just Movies. He aspires to be a critic, partially out of his love for film but mainly because he’s always dreamed of living a life of extreme poverty.
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