Blu-ray Review: SE7EN; David Fincher’s genre classic is an essential purchase

David Fincher has ever touched has turned to gold, including, it seems, 'The Social Network', since he started out in feature film-making with 'Alien 3'. While that project didn't exactly turn out as planned (Fincher famously announced that he would rather die of colon cancer than make another movie), it inherently informed the way he went on to make movies. 'Se7en' is arguably the best of all of Fincher's films. It is less self-congratulatory than 'Fight Club' (beautiful though that film is) - and established a visual aesthetic and tonal manifesto that would make the director one of the most sought after artistic commodities on the market. After that box was opened, that Wrath was revisited, and the dust settled on the incredible film experience that is 'Se7en', few people would even consider Fincher's association with 'Alien 3' as anything other than a necessary stumbling block in his development. And now, 'Se7en' is available on U.K. region Blu-ray, some fifteen years after it was released to cinemas. But was it worth the wait? Even broken down to its most simple synopsis, 'Se7en' is hugely gripping. In a cold, nameless, perpetually rain-soaked city, Detective William Somerset (Morgan Freeman), a brilliant veteran with a week left on the job, teams up with his newly transferred partner Detective David Mills (Brad Pitt), an enthusiastic newbie, to try and solve a series of increasingly grisly murders inspired by the Seven Deadly Sins. It also sounds like a simple genre movie - a conglomeration of ideas that had already been played with in other films, or which seem so familiar and so seminal that we presume they have already appeared, but that would be to ignore some of the strongest aesthetic and tonal work ever combined on screen. It would also likely disregard the film's iconic status. Fincher films are rightly often considered to be filmic events, and this week's Blu-ray release of the excellent 'Se7en' (after many special editions I might add) is no different. The high-definition release can easily be considered an essential purchase, even without the issue of the quality of transfer, simply because of the film's importance and the value that each new format and special edition release of the film has added to DVD collections. The thing is, 'Se7en' added an incredible amount to the crime thriller genre, announcing a shift in tone, aesthetic and style that would directly influence almost every cop movie that followed, and melding the thriller genre with a gothic horror feel with serious flair. But not only that, the film accomplished all of that stylistic genesis while retaining an intricate narrative hook that combines an airtight high concept with one of the most memorable endings ever committed to a genre movie. Fincher's own opinion is rather at odds with the intricate detail and quality of the movie, he revealed his reasons for attaching himself to the project by calling it a "connect-the-dots movie that delivers about inhumanity. It's psychologically violent. It implies so much, not about why you did but how you did it". Broken down in those terms, the film sounds far more simplistic than it actually is: in fact, ignoring the generic innovations, 'Se7en' is arguably one of the greatest police procedural movies I've ever seen (followed not so far behind by 'Zodiac'), and it works so well precisely because of the incomplex way it was filmed. Fincher worked closely with cinematographer Darius Khondji to mimic the shooting style of procedural police TV shows like 'Cops', and you really get the sense that Fincher is enjoying himself with the camera, building up a shooting style that would later influence sequences in his other films as he matured as a film-maker. In a way, we probably have the relative disaster of 'Alien 3' to thank for Fincher's approach to making 'Se7en', because that experience so frustrated him, and the only way he would have got back into film-making would have been entirely on his own terms- thank God he was able to find his filmic voice then. The film works on every level: the script is brilliant, twisting established genre cliches delightfully; the characters are well rounded and compelling and aesthetically, the movie is just gorgeous. Add to that the fact that Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Spacey are all on excellent form and you have some very persuasive arguments for its high quality. It is rather sad that 'Se7en' is often dismissed as being merely genre, considering how important it has been to the genesis of so many other amalgamated genre movies and indeed an entire police procedural sub-genre of TV shows. And when it comes down to it, 'Se7en' is a genuine classic. But then we already know this- as I said, 'Se7en' should be a staple part of any DVD collection, so it is the business of the high-definition transfer that is really under review here.

Quality

Incredible, especially considering the fairly limited use of light throughout, and the use of the bleach bypass technique that retains the silver within the film stock and overlays a black and white image over the colour image, creating more tonal extremes and richness in the completed print. Even more impressively for a film that used that technique, which usually increases graininess as a side-effect and gives the film a delicious noirish feel (I don't know what it is, but I welcome grain as a generic staple of noir films thanks to some happy confusion or other), the film is almost immaculately preserved in the transfer.

Fincher turned to the bleach bypass technique to add the tonal depth and a bleakness to film's aesthetic, establishing a cold, harsh world painted with a limited pallet resplendent with deep, ominous shadows, and the high-definition transfer does incredible justice to the contrast between dark tones in those shadows. There are enough different variants of tone to rival the pallet of a black and white film.

The movie's intentional grain remains, which was a wonderful discovery as other companies with such a film in their hands may have been tempted to strip the image back with the twin evils (okay, maybe necessary evils in some cases) of noise reduction and edge enhancement. The detail level is also incredible: and even to those who don't take it upon themselves to nit-pick over the quality it is obvious that the transfer is rich in every level of detail from the very outset.

Warner Brothers have a lot to be proud of here, and are quickly building up a reputation for themselves as the best major studio for high-definition transfers- strong words perhaps, but when you hear how well they have treated Fincher's soundtrack for 'Se7en', you may well agree. Even in its original guise, the soundtrack was beautifully constructed, building crescendos through scenes and cumulatively through the entire film that near unbearable levels of tension, but in high-definition they are rich and busy and ludicrously compelling. It's like an aural assault at some points, and that is a wonderful thing, considering how much attention to detail the soundtrack goes into.

Just brilliant.

Extras

If you own the previous best special edition version of Se7en- New Line's Platinum Edition- you'll recognize pretty much everything included on the new blu-ray edition. Four Commentaries Featuring Director David Fincher, Actors Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman and Other Collaborators on the Film Additional/Extended Scenes Alternate Endings Exploration of the Opening Title Sequence from Multiple Video Angles with Various Audio Mixes and 2 Commentary Tracks Production Design and Still Photographs with Commentaries Telecine Gallery Theatrical Trailer Mastering For The Home Theater 32Page accompanying glossy booklet.

Final Verdict

An absolute classic, given the kind of treatment film-makers must have collectively wished for when the blu-ray genre was first announced: the transfer is immaculate, and will stand proudly near the very top of my Best High-Definition transfers for a good while.

'Se7en' is released on Blu-ray in the U.K. today.

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