It's hard to believe that it's been 15 years since Se7en came to theaters. Following David Fincher's creative excoriation from Fox bosses for his take on the third Alien film, he moved over to New Line and with both a convincing story and three marquee "above the title" names in his cast, Se7en was a tour-de-force in suspense storytelling, combined with Fincher's proclivity for dark visuals that we've grown to love and admire in films like Fight Club and Zodiac.
From a screenplay by Andrew Kevin Walker (Sleepy Hollow), the film first starts by showing us Detective Somerset (Morgan Freeman, Invictus), who is working a crime scene in an anonymous metropolitan city. He's been long jaded from the general apathy pervading his town and plans on retiring in the next week, when his replacement, Detective Mills (Brad Pitt, Burn After Reading) arrives. They seem to conflict in every possible way; Somerset is single, Mills is married to a young wife named Tracy (Gwyneth Paltrow, Iron Man). Mills' investigative style is more vigorous, even 'gung-ho;' Somerset's is more measured and patient. However, they encounter a deranged psychopath who is murdering his victims and citing the seven deadly sins at the crime scenes. Somerset and Mills are tasked with finding and capturing him.
One of the things that's nice about a film you've seen several times (particularly this one) is marveling at the journey that gets you to the film's climax which still pulls the rug out from everyone who sees it for the first time. It's hinted at in glimpses throwaway lines from the characters, but that's the benefit of hindsight. Yet the one thing that still remains effective every time are Fincher's shots. Somerset working that first crime scene before finding Mills, you can see that everything is dark and gloomy, and it's not compromised when given a spotlight. After the first deadly sin murder (which later turns out to be 'gluttony'), you're brought into the medical examiner's room where you spent a lot of time with Mills and Somerset as they receive details from the doctor and examine the body. By today's world of countless Saw films it may not be as gruesome as you'd think, but at the time I remember it being something I hadn't seen before. The detail is cold but necessary in order to find out more about the murders and who might be committing them. And as the gruesomeness of the murders escalates, you find yourself moving over to Somerset's perspective as the film goes on.
Freeman does an excellent job as Somerset. As we are repulsed by the graphic nature of the crimes, Somerset's repulsion has long been numbed by seeing it countless times before, and the only thing that could garner a reaction from him would be the degree of pettiness that such a crime would occur. While we see him walk around the pre-credit murder sequence with calm and poise, later on when talking to his Captain (R. Lee Ermey, Toy Story 2) he recounts a story about a crime where no one came to the aid of the victim. The fact that people have lost most personal communication would seem to be just as much of a tragedy to him as the crimes that occurred during this seven day span.
But for all of Somerset's pessimism, Mills and his passion to find the killer does become infectious. It causes him to momentarily forget what he knows about the city he's in and he warms to Mills' point of view to a degree. Mills' youth and vitality are injected into the previously held stoicism of Somerset. At the beginning of the movie, Somerset is counting the days until his retirement but by the end of the film (and just before John Doe walks into the police station and surrenders) he decides to extend his stay on the force. And yet when we get to the final scenes, you wonder if further down past the end that he might possibly regret making that decision, and that he perhaps would see it as a moment of kindness or generosity that could never be returned. Perhaps he would be better practicing throwing his switchblade as you see him do in the film, as he might have been happier relishing his isolation.
Those larger themes remain just as intriguing to mull over now as they were when the movie first premiered. Once you've been on the journey you can enjoy spending the time to marvel at the path, not to mention those that are on it. Combine that with the unadulterated joy at watching Se7en on Blu-ray well, not to borrow the clichéd expression about seeing the film the first time all over again, but it feels pretty damn close to it no matter how many years have gone by.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Presented in 2.35:1 high definition widescreen using the VC-1 codec, Se7en looks amazing on Blu-ray. Fincher's blacks are replicated in deep, dark consistent form throughout the film, skin tones and soft lights are reproduced accurately, with a thin layer of film grain popping in now and again during the feature. What knocks me on my butt is the level of detail that the film still possesses to this day. When either Somerset or Mills come from the rainy exteriors inside to inspect a crime scene, the individual water drops beading on their raincoats. If they're in the police station, you can spot detail clear on the other side of the room. In the end sequence when Mills, Somerset and Joe all travel to the place in the countryside, you can see the heat (or is it electricity from the towers?) rising through the air. I was startled at just how amazing Se7en looked, it's just that amazing.
Along those same lines, the DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track also is outstanding. Howard Shore's score for the film is excellent, helping to set the mood of Fincher's gloomy images. Dialogue is well-balanced in the center channel with little (if any) bleeding into the other front channels, and the low-end from the subwoofer is powerful when called up. I had forgotten how little occurs; this is more an environmental experience and less your car chase, shootout police procedural, but when Somerset meets Mills and his wife at their home, the subway sounds like it's right outside your own abode and rattles everything in it. A very natural sounding, perfect sound experience.
It looks like all of the extras from the amazing Platinum Series two-disc release in 2000 have been retained, and the extra step of making this Blu-ray a digibook release is a nice touch, with more than 30 pages of interviews, biographies and pictures from the film. Although the pages are perhaps a little too glossy considering the nature of the film, but that's neither here nor there.
Starting things off in the "Behind the Story" section you've got your four commentaries. The first is with Fincher, Pitt and Freeman, with the latter edited into the track. He discusses his approach to roles and the preparation that it entails, while Fincher and Pitt touch more on this film and what the symbolism of a particular scene may be. Between this and the Fight Club commentary you can understand why they leap at the chance to work with one another. The anecdotes recalled in casting John Doe are brought up too, and for those who might not have seen the film, there's a reason why I haven't mentioned the name of who plays him, but it comes out of nowhere, to be sure. The next three tracks are hosted by British author Richard Dyer who wrote a book on the film. The first is with Fincher, Walker, editor Richard Francis-Bruce and former New Line head Michael De Luca. This goes over the genesis for Walker's idea and what Fincher and De Luca thought of the draft which had the ending that was in the film. Walker goes into more detail on the story and the conflict he wanted to create and everyone shares their thoughts on the story overall. Fincher for obvious reasons focuses more on the story aspect of the production to boot. Third is Fincher, Bruce, Director of Photography Darius Khondji and Production Designer Arthur Max, and the group talk about the visual and design intents that Fincher wanted for the film, inspirations for the respective cast members and film influences to consider as part of the process. They all recall their respective goals for what they wanted to accomplish and how to go about doing it. The fourth is with Fincher, Shore and Sound Designer Ren Klyce. They hit on some of the same general themes that the third track does and oddly (or appropriately) enough, there's gaps of silence where you're sitting and listening to the film. There's good reason, as extended stretches are an isolated score track to boot. A smaller "Still Photographs" section includes stills in five different areas of the film's production.
And yet, there's more! The "Additional Footage" section includes eight deleted and extended scenes, including the film's original opening, with optional commentary (19:20). You get some of Somerset marveling over his retirement home, and Mills' wife mulling over life in their new home. The alternate ending area includes the original test ending and storyboards of an unshot second one (12:56). The "Exploration of the Opening Title Sequence" is just that, where you get a choice of watching storyboards or two different versions of the sequence, along with four different sound options and two different commentary tracks on both. It makes for engrossing viewing. The "extras" section includes the EPK (6:40) and three different sections of home theater mastering. The audio, video and color correction sections of the disc run 23:18 in total and while technical, are very interesting to watch and listen to (each section has its own commentary). You can also look at three different telecine galleries which include the original and new video masters, along with the old (and new) Dolby 5.1 surround tracks. The trailer (2:28) closes things out.
By providing some outstanding technical qualities and replicating an already impressive supplements package, Se7en can safely be add next to Fincher's other work on high-definition as some of the best looking Blu-ray titles out there. Hopefully someone's working on getting Panic Room and The Game and then we can all breathe a sigh of relief. In the meantime, see this if you haven't, and buy it without reservation.