Screenplay : Andrew Kevin Walker
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1995
Stars : Morgan Freeman (William Somerset), Brad Pitt (David Mills), Gwyneth Paltrow (Tracy Mills), R. Lee Ermey (Police Captain)
David Fincher's Seven is a imminently disturbing film, an unsettling serial killer police procedural that, for two hours, gets under your skin viscerally until it delivers the final blow with an unexpected ending that is as bold and shocking as it is terribly logical. Aesthetically, the film is a triumph of visuals, of lighting and shadows, of set design and camera angles that create a vehemently grim mood and tone. Every scene is so dense in texture and crowded with so many details that one could spend weeks just looking at them.
When Seven was first released in 1995, Fincher had recently graduated from the ranks of music video direction and had merely hinted at his abilities with the visually outstanding, but narratively flawed Alien 3 (1992). He has since solidified his standing as one of Hollywood's most creative and unorthodox talents with The Game (1997) and Fight Club (1999), but at the time, nothing could have prepared us for the sheer visual intensity of Seven.
The title refers to the Seven Deadly Sins: Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Envy, Wrath, Pride, and Lust. The film successfully points out that, in today's society, these sins are looked upon as normal--what were once considered deadly are now considered everyday. That is, until a serial killer decides to wake people up by killing sinners in ways that symbolize their respective transgressions. The victims in Seven range from a high-price defense lawyer to a prostitute to a vain fashion model, showing how sin infiltrates every level of society.
The two embattled heroes of Seven are Detective William Sommerset (Morgan Freeman) and his eager new partner, Detective David Mills (Brad Pitt). Sommerset is a hardened, experienced cop who is less than a week away from his much-desired retirement. His eyes are always dark and heavy, and we get the feeling that he was seen too much evil in the world. He was once an excited idealist like Mills, but years of probing the underbelly of society have worn him down.
Although the new cop/old cop routine is well-worn, it is an intricate necessity in Seven because it is essential to the shocking finale and denouement. I won't even hint at what it is, but I promise that the relationship between Sommerset, Mills, and Mills' wife, Tracy (Gwenyth Paltrow), is extremely important to the third act. The screenplay, written by Andrew Kevin Walker, has a clear development and a whopper of an ending that is both nihilistic and hopeful, depending on how you look at it. But, either way, it is not the safe, by-the-book ending for which most Hollywood films are willing to settle. Seven goes out on a limb in the first reel and never comes back.
The three lead performances by Freeman, Pitt and Paltrow are all top-notch. Freeman maintains his status as one of the best actors in American film, while Pitt continues to mature and develop. Freeman is an actor who has always seemed to imbue experience and wisdom, while Pitt is the exuberant go-getter who purposely asked to be reassigned to the worst district in the city so he could get in on the action. The movie has several moments of humor, most of which come at the expense of Pitt's eager, frat boy attitude.
I won't reveal the identity of the actor who plays the serial killer because it wasn't listed in the opening credits for the purpose of surprise; but, I will say his performance is appropriately creepy and disturbing. The most unsettling aspect about him is that he is not an insane lunatic, knocking people off while listening to voices in his head. Like Hannibal Lector in The Silence of the Lambs (1991), the killer in Seven is all the more horrifying because he is a genius, so smart that he literally toys with the police, dropping clues on purpose and gleefully leading them astray. He has a dangerously clear view of what he's doing, and his killing spree is meant to be a sermon on how badly society has decayed after getting away from God's virtues. He explains, "Wanting people to listen, you can't just tap them on the shoulder anymore. You have to hit them with a sledgehammer, and then you'll notice you've got their strict attention."
The look of Seven is reminiscent of dystopian urban films like Blade Runner (1982), Batman (1989) and even some of the film noirs of the 1940s. Fincher, cinematographer Darius Khondji (The City of Lost Children), and production designer Arthur Max create a completely believable urban nightmare . The film seems to take place during the present day, but the decaying city where the action takes place is never named. The sky is always overcast with gray-yellow smog, and it is incessantly raining. Everything is dark and grungy, and even in open spaces there is an uncomfortable, claustrophobic feel.
Although Seven seems excruciatingly violent, there is little physical violence depicted on-screen. We never actually see the killer doing the deed--only the results, rendered in harsh detail by make-up special effects artist Rob Bottin. By structuring the film like this, the viewer is placed alongside the police in the role of the outsider who is always following the killer's trail, but never quite catching up. You are saddled with the knowledge that another murder is bound to happen, but you are powerless to stop it.
Seven is an unrelenting film that is as gut-wrenching as it is structurally brilliant. I have seen few films that leave you with the impact this one does. It makes a bold statement about the way we live today, and the consequences of our actions.
|Seven: Platinum Series DVD|
|Audio|| Dolby Digital EX 5.1 Surround |
DTS ES 6.1 Surround
Dolby 2.0 Surround
|Supplements|| Four audio commentaries: |
Multi-angle exploration of the opening title sequence
Deleted opening scene and seven extended takes
Production design gallery
Four still photograph galleries:
Electronic press kit
Original theatrical trailer
Mastering for the Home Theater:
Cast and crew filmographies
John Doe web site (DVD-ROM)
|Distributor||New Line Cinema|
|Director David Fincher supervised this new anamorphic transfer, which was made on a high-definition Spirit Datacine from the original negative. This new transfer is an improvement on both the excellent Criterion Collection laser disc (which utilized the silver-retention process to increase contrast and deepen the black levels) and a quantum leap over the previously available no-frills DVD, whose image was decidedly grainy and lacking in strong detail. In addition, it allowed Fincher to tweak the color timing and also do some minor reframing on a few scenes. The result is jaw-dropping. This is absolutely one of the most gorgeous DVDs I have ever laid eyes on. The image is deep and rich, with an incredibly smooth, film-like appearance. The overall look of the film is dark and somewhat desaturated with extreme contrast between light and dark portions of the screen, all of which is perfectly balanced in a sharp image of pristine clarity and excellent shadow detail.|
|The disc offers both a Dolby Digital EX 5.1 surround soundtrack and a DTS ES 6.1 surround soundtrack, which is a first for New Line. Both are newly remastered and excel in every conceivable manner, especially because both soundtracks were mixed specifically with the DVD home theater in mind. Howard Shore's deep, apocalyptic orchestral score has never sounded better, and the intricate sound design creates an enveloping, utterly convincing aural environment, especially in terms of the cacophony of urban noise that is constantly present all around. The soundtrack is well balanced, with creative use of the surround channels and a strong, but not overwhelming low end that is deeply unsettling at all the right moments. Dialogue is clear and natural, and some of the lines that are mumbled or spoken under the actor's breath have more clarity and distinction than on previous editions.|
| Released as a two-disc set under New Line's consistently impressive "Platinum Series" banner, this new DVD edition of Seven rivals the best special editions on the market in terms of scope and quality of the supplements. Many of the extras have been carried over from the 1996 Criterion Collection laser disc box set (although not everything from the LD is included), but many of them are brand new (so LD collectors have an incentive to both keep their box set and purchase the new DVD). Also, New Line has gone to the trouble of making everything on the disc anamorphic widescreen. |
This edition of Seven ties Fox's two-disc Fight Club DVD for the highest number of audio commentaries with four. Taken together, these four commentaries constitute close to nine hours of running time and cover every conceivable facet of the filmmaking process. Each commentary is focused on one of four aspects of the film: acting, narrative, visuals, and sound. The first commentary, "The Stars," features director David Fincher and actors Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman. These three had contributed a commentary track on the Criterion laser disc, but this is not the same one. The second commentary track, "The Story," features film scholar Richard Dyer, who wrote an excellent monograph on Seven for the British Film Institute's "Modern Classics" series, screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker, editor Richard Francis-Bruce, and New Line president of production Michael De Luca. The third commentary, "The Picture," again features Dyer, Fincher, and Francis-Bruce, along with cinematographer Darius Khondji, and production designer Arthur Max. Finally, the fourth commentary, "The Sound," is really an isolated music and effects track that features some brief comments by Dyer, Fincher, composer Howard Shore, and sound designer Ren Klyce.
The second disc in the set is filled with nothing but supplements. It starts with a multi-angle examination of the eye-popping opening credits sequence, which has been copied and poorly imitated by countless films over the past five years. The disc allows you to listen to one of two commentaries, one by designer Kyle Cooper and the other by audio engineers Brant Biles and Robert Margouleff, while viewing either the initial storyboards, a temp title sequence, or the finished product. It also allows you to switch between a Dolby Digital EX near-field mix and a DTS ES surround mix, which is excellent for comparing the two soundtracks.
An original pre-credits opening scene that was later cut is included (along with the animated storyboards), as are seven extended scenes, all of which include optional commentary by Fincher. You can also view two alternate endings, one of which is simply a differently edited version of the ending included in the finished film, the other of which was an option that was never filmed, but was meticulously designed with storyboards.
This disc offers a half-dozen stills galleries (containing hundreds and hundreds of stills) with commentary by the respective artists/photographers. The production design gallery shows initial concept art for the various settings and vehicles used in the film and includes commentary by production designer Arthur Max. The deterioration of Victor is documented in a series of photographs with commentary by Fincher, and the other crimes in the film are displayed in grotesque detail in the gallery of John Doe's photographs (actually taken by Melodie McDaniel) and police crime scene photographs (taken by unit photographer Peter Sorel). Sorel also has a section of publicity and production photographs. The stills gallery is a wonderful addition because it gives the viewer a rare opportunity to see just how much work went into the sets and make-up effects in the film.
Another interesting edition is an animated gallery of stills taken from John Doe's compulsively scripted notebooks. Four notebooks were actually created for the film, complete with inserted photographs and newspaper clippings and thousands of lines of streaming consciousness written in tiny black letters. Art director for the notebooks Clive Pearcy and notebook designer John Sable contribute an amusing audio commentary explaining how they came up with their ideas and put the actual notebooks together (and freaked out the workers at the local Kinkos who had to make copies of all their grotesque images).
The original electronic press kit is included (which is about six minutes long and provides brief on-set interviews with cast and crew), as is an original theatrical trailer, which is presented in 2.35:1 widescreen and 5.1 surround. Those with a DVD-ROM player and a PC computer can also get into the mind of Seven's serial killer by perusing a comprehensive web site, as well as print out the original screenplay.
However, the supplement that home video fanatics and technical buffs will be drooling over is the extensive "Mastering for the Home Theater" section, which offers a rare glimpse into the post-production work that goes into transferring a film from celluloid to DVD. This section uses visuals and commentaries to look at both the audio and video transfers, and offers a real-time example of how colorist Stephen Nakamura electronically corrected the color timing throughout the film. It is literally like standing over his shoulder and watching him while he works at the computer. Once you've seen the work, you can watch several scenes from the movie and, using the angle button, switch between the old and the newly remastered versions. The difference is amazing, especially when viewed side by side.
©1997, 2000 James Kendrick