David Fincher's Se7en is one of the ugliest masterpieces ever to hit the screen. It lacks vibrant colors, positive-thinking dialogue, and hopeful characters. The "paired cop vs. bad guy" set-up had been skimming moronically comedic waters for years previous, but Se7en is cemented firmly as a tragedy, among other genre labels. Its closest contemporary would have to be Silence of the Lambs, in as much as both were extremely heady serial-killer films that influenced myriad other serial-killer films produced thereafter. (I'm finger-pointing, Saw.) It's been my absolute favorite movie for 15 years now, and it's finally got itself a Blu-ray release. Those in the front row may we get wet, 'cause I'm gushing.
It was 1995, and David Fincher was known mostly as the music-video director who erased all the tension from the Alien franchise. Writer Andrew Kevin Walker was fresh off the Dean Koontz adaptation Hideaway and wanted something more. (Really??) Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt were coasting on the successes of The Shawshank Redemption and Interview with the Vampire from the previous year. Gwyneth Paltrow was relatively unknown, and Kevin Spacey's imminent explosion in popularity was just over the horizon. And then shit got awesome.
Se7en could have been just an everyday police-procedural drama set in the downtrodden slums of a generic metropolis, and part of its success lies within the subtext beneath. Certain sections are merely average, I can admit that. "Somebody phone Guinness. I think we got a world record." However, skilled direction, cinematography, set design, sound design, editing, main cast, supporting cast, plot progression, and ending make you forget about the faults. This just being an update for Blu-ray, it's known that the cast and story aren't going to change at all; I was blown away by how the visual and audio enhancements added to even my own insanely biased appreciation. Every hair on the back of the obese Gluttony victim's neck is countable; the darkness of the city is deep enough to lose your car keys in. The pounding rain and nerve-grinding city noise punctuate the majority of scenes, yet every floor creak or hushed whisper somehow bursts through the din. I think this disc sounds as good as anything I've ever heard. In certain areas, the audio is so crisp there is disassociation between the characters and the dialogue. It's vaguely disconcerting but doesn't distract too much, because Howard Shore's haunting ambience-driven orchestra pulls you right back in.
Detective William Somerset (Freeman) has grown tired of the long life he has given to policing a city held hostage by random violence and depravity. Conversely, young-snot hot-shot David Mills (Pitt) has left behind a less hectic life for the thrill of the big city. Little does he know his first case will be his last. (Mwahaha.) The brutal murders and cat-and-mouse manhunt are the obvious focus of the film, but the emotional undercurrent of Somerset's arc adds another layer, and Freeman's subdued performance carries all the weight.
Se7en's morality tale has lost none of its impact since its release. Somehow, the world has gotten even uglier, and the erraticism of terrorists has generalized and depersonalized "the enemy." Though the villain here stays faceless most of the way through, the precise dedication exhibited scares me much more than random mass murder. Using the Seven Deadly Sins as his grisly motif, the obsessive-compulsive John Doe paints the city red with blood and other bodily fluids. For each crime scene, the filmmakers meticulously created a memorable monument to the sin depicted. Perhaps the epitome of lust inherently has nothing to do with a blade-enhanced dildo, but it's certainly an extension on the theme. A fat man eats himself to death. A pretty girl chooses instant death over a life of ugliness. A criminal who wastes time thieving is strapped to a bed for a year. There's not a lot of subtlety in John Doe's actions, but there is much meaning if you look for it. He keeps thousands of notebooks, each filled with tiny writings of everyday mediocrity and hatred for his fellow man. The apartment set is remarkably detailed, especially those damned notebooks, which get their own special feature.
From opposite ends of the spectrum Somerset and Mills work towards the same goal of identifying and stopping Doe's reign of terror. Somerset is trying to achieve a moralistic balance, and Mills just wants to keep a roof over his wife's head. Even if it's a roof that shakes due to passing trains. The attitudes these characters take allows the film to follow through to its logical (though wholly unpredictable the first time you watch it) conclusion. It is indeed one of the most hopeless endings that will ever be allowed within the Hollywood system, and still feels delightfully unmuted. I love harsh endings, because they feel more true to life, even when taken to ridiculous extremes. It's thinking "outside the box." What's in the box? I'd be getting a-head of myself if I told you. It's nothing to lose your head over. All right, enough of that. Puns have no place in cinematic history.
If a five-star restaurant has a hamburger on the menu, it'd better be a damned good burger. That's how I feel about Blu-rays. Too many lackluster titles get gussied up for no reason and sold at inflated prices. That's not the case here, though. Se7en is definitely worth the transfer. It's humbling to write about a movie I've loved for so long, because I can't express why violent depressing movies please me, or why this is the well-crafted (though not "great") film I hold dearest. Regardless of my own opinions, it's a fact that this is absolute best that Se7en has ever been seen and heard. So don't get angry at me because you envy my copy, avoid laziness and greedily pick up one for yourself; maybe be a glutton and get two or three, but if you're too proud to admit this is a modern classic, you can lustlessly go fuck yourself.
The troublesome and wonderful thing about Se7en's special features is that they were all on the original deluxe edition of the DVD, but they're all of good enough quality to still be worth your time now. The lone addition to this edition is the case itself, which opens into a short book filled with glossy pages displaying photographs and writings about "The Nameless City," the film's stars, and the ending. Very classy.
What's strange is there's a section that offers insight on the transfer of the master audio and video tracks from theater to home theater. It allows you to change angles between the two versions, and flip the audio back and forth the same way. It's all fine and dandy, but it's the same one that was on the DVD, doesn't refer to Blu-ray upgrades at all, and doesn't actually look or sound all that great. Just saying. Onto the meaty stuff.
The behind-the-scenes section contains four commentaries and a slew of photograph features, and though watching them all is a feat of fandom, you couldn't ask for more -- literally. All commentaries are recorded separately and spliced together accordingly. Fincher's track comes in on all four. The first is shared with Freeman and Pitt, and covers performances, how everyone came into the movie, and what they took from it thematically. Numbers two, three, and four are "hosted" by Richard Dyer, author of the Se7en BFI Modern Classics edition. For the second track, he, Fincher, Andrew Kevin Walker, editor Richard Francis-Bruce, and (now defunct) New Line President of Production Michael De Luca talk about the script and the developmental stages it took to get it on the screen. On the third, Dyer, Fincher, Francis-Bruce, director of photography Darius Khondji, and production designer Arthur Max discuss every visual aspect of the film, from camerawork to editing to color themes to font choice. Finally, Dyer, Fincher, composer Howard Shore, and sound designer Ren Klyce go over the ridiculously textured sound and effects for the film, using only an isolated music and effects track without dialogue. Shore introduces the different themes he created for the different sins, which play as standalone pieces minus voiceovers. I'd forgotten that every piece of the score, even the odd electronic sounding stuff, was created by orchestra alone.
There are a bunch of deleted and extended scenes with optional commentary. Most of them are incidental scenes either entirely about Somerset's state of mind, or between Mills and Somerset as partners, with a few dealing with specific crimes. It's a long movie already, so things have to be cut, but most delve a bit deeper into the character mindsets, and enhance even that much of the movie. Add to this another feature showcasing Se7en's alternate endings, at a time when not every other movie had them. One flips the original ending around, and the other is an animated storyboard of a longer, generic ending filled with action and suspense. They can keep it.
The gritty opening sequence is also broken open for introspection. Storyboards and video of the credits, both rough and finished, are available to watch with director commentary. It's rather stunning how many different things had to be done to create all the quick cuts and flashes.
The last chunk of extras come in the form of extensive photo galleries, with commentary given by the photographers. Photo features are the pits on most DVDs, usually containing only a few behind-the-scenes pics of the cast and crew mixed in with theatrical posters. Granted, there is some of that here, but those are swamped by the thousands of high-quality shots that actually reach an artistic threshold. One section covers the year-long captivity of Victor, the "sloth" victim; one covers most of the other crime scenes; and yet another details, through motion video, the notebooks that were created for John Doe's apartment. Oh, and there's also one just concerned with the detail-filled apartment itself. I must say, at least half of the photographs shown are worthy of poster prints, and I'm jealous of those that own this fantastic collection.
If that doesn't sound like enough extra footage for you, then you're greedier than I am. A lack of conventional behind-the-scenes documentaries is refreshing. It's a shame that absolutely nothing new was added here, but I can cope. Unless you're a diehard fan like I am, or a Blu-ray buff in general, there's not a whole lot here to convince you to update the very similar New Line Platinum set. But for those of us who are inclined to be impressed by this sort of thing, the Se7en Blu-ray disc is a must-own until the next generation of video media dates it.
Reviewed By: Nick Venable