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David Fincher loves the night. Not the inky, blanketing darkness of Michael Mann, but something less robust, more thinned out and drained, like an anticoagulant for late-evening heart sufferers. Which in Fincher's new Zodiac (well, in all his films actually) boils down to a kind of superfastidious control that leaches away color and puts the expressive clamps on tone: whereas Mann's Miami Vice seduces with a sodium-vapor array of mauves and lavenders and burning-ember browns, whole palettes of muted designer colors you've probably never heard of (not to mention highlights from the depths, those discrete starbursts of gunfire, etc), Zodiac goes gray on you right away—and stays in the twilight area all movie long. But Mr. 70 Takes in the Doorway (ask Jake Gyllenhaal) is nothing if not precise in the effects he wants to achieve . . . or maybe I should say "effect," since he always seems to be operating at the same denatured speed. But that chilly crepuscular efficiency eventually takes its toll: it's asphyxiation by dullness in a half light that never ends.
Night-crawler fixation aside, what's most interesting to me about Fincher's serial-killer thriller (since there's really not a lot else: all anodyne and pointless, like a TV cop procedural) is its having been shot with the same kind of digital equipment Mann used in Vice (as well as his earlier Collateral)—an HD camera called the Viper. Not that you'd ever guess it—or at least I didn't: the idea never dawned that Zodiac was digital at all till I read about it afterward (specifically a full tech report on Fincher's "100 percent raw data" solution in the winter issue of Filmmaker)—since the results are so disparate: what's runny and grainy in Mann (except I like it! I like it!) is almost a layer of veneer in Fincher, polished to a near perfect "celluloid" sheen. So much for the purported "quality deficits" of commercial HD filming—in terms of image definition, color fidelity, fugitive and/or random highlights (from whatever light source), plus all the distracting bits of subliminal business that the standard 24 frames/second doesn't capture. I never thought I'd see the day when I couldn't tell conventional 35-millimeter product from the HD digital option: guess that's another pet illusion shot to hell!