Se7en: Deluxe Special Edition (1995)

Directed by David Fincher

Produced by Arnold Kopelson & Phyllis Carlyle

Starring Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, Gwyneth Paltrow, R. Lee Ermey, Richard Roundtree, John C. McGinley, Kevin Spacey, Richard Portnow


Back in 1991 I walked out of a darkened cinema into the blinding light of day and thought to myself "David Fincher�now there's a name to watch!". The film was "Alien 3", a production that almost ended Fincher's career before it had begun, and as usual I wasn't far from wrong. Fincher's entry in Fox's sci-fi (horror, truth be known) franchise was, and still is, the best thing the series has produced since Ridley Scott's 1979 original and one day I hope to cast my eyes over that 136 minute Director's Cut that Fox UK promised almost a decade ago. Sadly, it was to be another four years before the cinema-going world would catch on to Fincher's dark cinematic excursions. Released in late 1995, by early '96 nearly everyone had the words "seven" on their lips. If you haven't seen it by now, this is your big chance to catch up with one of the more disturbing exercises in cinematic horror to have graced the silver screen in the last decade.

The story should be elementary to most readers of the site by now, but for the sake of completeness here's the "Cliff Notes" (nyuk nyuk) version. Detective William Somerset (Freeman) is days away from retirement, when a ghastly homicide punches its way into the twilight of his career. At first seemingly random and without motive, carefully hidden details reveal something far more sinister and Somerset finds himself with a serial killer on his hands. His captain (Ermey) assigns him gung-ho rookie detective David Mills (Pitt) as his partner, and together the polar opposites commence their investigation. Basing his murders on the Seven Deadly Sins, the serial killer meticulously engineers each crime, as a statement, and as a measure to both keep the police at bay and (perversely so) to gradually unveil his identity. Nicknamed "John Doe" (after the nameless corpses that turn up in US police morgues every year) he is a calculating, cunning, and morbidly attention-to-detail driven monster. As each successive Sin is unveiled, the detectives symbolically descend the "Seven levels of Hell" (as described In Dante's "Inferno") towards the case's inevitable and ultimately shocking conclusion.

"Se7en" is a film that sits uncomfortably amidst the pinnacle of serial killer cinema, an exercise in pure unmitigated modern horror. Fincher permeates most every scene with an unsettling sense of morbid dread, instilling unease in even the most placid of scenes. It is a film that generates the cinematic equivalent of the proverbial "monster at the door", creating that frightening tension even when in reprieve that something mortally horrifying is just around the corner. The oppressive look and mood of the film steers it directly into the viewer's subconscious, toying with your preconceived notions of "safe" Hollywood fare and pulling the rug out from under you just when you feel you have steady footing.

From the creepy remix of Nine Inch Nails' "Closer" that opens the film, to Bowie's "Heart's Filthy Lesson" under the end titles, Fincher takes hold and manipulates you for two solid hours. By the climax, the viewer is spent, worn out from the turgid revelations of Andrew Kevin Walker's masterful screenplay. Sad admission guys, but this is one of the few films I almost walked out of (around the "Sloth" sequence), finding it almost too disturbing to endure. Push my face in graphic horrors and I'll laugh it off, get inside my head and mess with my psyche and I'll quietly freak out until I pull the pin. "Se7en" was one of the few that held that unsettling power, still managing to retain much of that even now.

Given the complete overhaul for its Special Edition re-release, under Fincher's guiding hand, "Se7en" looks and sounds about the best you will ever experience it, short of venturing back into a theatre to view it as it was meant to be seen. The image has been torturously cleaned, re-framed, remastered and colour-corrected to give home theatre audiences the best possible rendition of quirky Dave's nihilistic thriller they will probably ever see. And what a spectacle it is! I could go into details, but you really have to see this one to appreciate the splendour this spit & polish version unfolds upon the viewer. Stunning is too polite a word. Three audio options for the main feature are included, entailing DTS 6.1 ES, Dolby 5.1 EX and Dolby surround 2.0 (why bother with both of the former present?). Whatever your system's capabilities, this disc will make the most of it!

Now comes the hard bit�I guess the "Hannibal" and "Silence Of The Lambs" DVDs spoiled me as to what to expect of classy genre twin-disc sets. Technophiles and DVD junkies will get boners the size of town-houses out of "Se7en's" extra features, but frankly I was bored shitless. Apart from the multiple audio commentaries there are no zippy hour-long retro docos with principal cast and crew, no peeks inside Rob Bottin's extraordinary effects tour-de-force, no nothing resembling what REAL movie buffs might want. Instead we get interminably (and painfully) long vignettes on near every technical aspect of the DVD restoration process, coupled with less than thrilling "behind the scenes" looks at the production design on the film. What makes these (overly) lengthy featurettes even more arduous is the facile commentary provided for each by the people involved, making you wish they'd never been given a microphone to drone on monotonously in front of!

Even the alternate endings disappoint phenomenally, but at least they finally dispel the rumours we've all heard for years. Quite frankly, short of the EPK and cinema trailer, the extras disc for this classic thriller left me so cold that you could have splintered me and used the remnants as an additive for a particularly stiff Scotch. This is one instance where the DVD buying public's thirst for a cavalcade of extras has been caught up in the stride of what can only be termed "overkill'. A word to DVD producers out there: we're not ALL complete slobbering techno-geeks, and some of us prefer more "cinematic" themed extra materials. "Se7en" is a prime example of how NOT to do a Special Edition that you expect film buffs to part with their hard-earned cash for. My sermon endeth here.

So, there you have it, a film that still manages to knock my socks off with its undiluted approach to psychological horror, that has unfortunately been marred by a Special Edition geared more directly towards the sector of the DVD community that gets off on the format's techno-jargon than actual film (and genre) enthusiasts. Of course, this is my only my opinion and I am sure many out there will find the disc's extra materials deeply fascinating. I did not. In fact, as clearly stated above, I found them to be an utter bore and completely overblown. In retrospect, I would personally consider the Special Edition a massive letdown (and pricey waste of money), preferring instead a "movie only" edition that eliminates the unnecessary chaff that fills the second disc while retaining the audio commentaries. A film of this calibre really deserved a lot better.

Review by M.C.Thomason

Released by Village Roadshow Home Entertainment
Classified R(18+) - Region 4
Running time - 127m
Ratio - Widescreen 2.35
Audio - DTS 6.1 ES, Dolby digital 5.1 EX, Dolby surround 2.0
Extras :
Audio commentaries x 4 (Fincher, Freeman & Pitt; Editor, Screenwriter & New Line exec; Director of Photography & Production Designer; Composer & Sound Designer), Exploration of Opening Title Sequence (multi-angle & audio), Deleted scenes & Extended takes, Cast & Crew Filmographies, Production designs, Alternate endings, Still Photographs, Promotional Material (trailers & EPK), John Doe's Notebooks, Mastering for the Home Theatre (multi-angle/audio vignettes featuring image & audio remastering)