For all its mood, rain, and explicit gore, Seven’s highlight doesn’t come until past the hour mark. The film is gripping prior, an incredible depiction of depravity and mood, a film that loves its sadistic side. It captures your attention almost immediately, but completely absorbs you once the killer is inadvertently discovered at his apartment.
David Mills (Brad Pitt) and William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) have their man, running him though dim alleys as rain continues to bombard the city. Howard Shore’s score ramps up (before a background event to keep the dramatic flowing), and the editing becomes frenzied. A film that once was suffice to stick with its murder victims, now is more concerned with the thrill of the chase.
Maybe it’s a release, the audience beginning to feel the wear on Mills’ face, his frustration as a rookie detective unable to track down someone this dangerous, a relentless murderer who enjoys his work. Seven’s serial killer is more of a serial torturer. He never actually kills someone until the end of the film, forcing his victims to do the deed themselves, and never in a quick, painless manner.
If anything, it’s the lack of identity and casual nature of Seven’s killer that makes it effective. His plan is precise, his methods clear, and his reasons completely valid within his mind. He is a man who lives in an apartment that should have been condemned, littered with artifacts of his own thoughts, and must have been content with his ways. He sees nothing wrong with leaving someone tied to a bed for over a year, paying that person’s rent, and leaving him there for authorities to discover. It makes sense in his mind.
Seven is filled with graphic visuals, bodies in various states of decomposition, and this after they’ve been tortured. While its dark, intense noire style is impossible to avoid, it’s the assault of sound, present in every scene, that creates its true atmosphere. There’s hardly a quiet moment, a film enamored with the growing possibilities surround sound was able to produce, and running with it. It’s not a gimmick, but a blessing that might not have been available to this degree five years earlier. The constant stream of rain depresses, the somber music forces additional emotion, and the circling helicopters adds to the chaos of the now famous closing moments. The panic doesn’t exist just on the face of the actors, but in the world around them.
Seven is a film that uses all possible filmmaking techniques to create its experience, not just its story. Fifteen years past its release, it’s as modern as the day it hit theaters, so far beyond other films of its era it’s staggering. That ensures it won’t date itself, or pull anyone from the grip of its story, especially during that alley chase.
Critical to Seven’s look are shadows. It requires deep, rich, intense blacks to succeed, and hardly a better disc on the market resolves them better than this. Shadows are so full as to create an image with more dimensionality than mere screens could ever present.
It’s an experience to see this VC-1 encode at its best, a little troubling at the start with a slightly noisy grain structure as Freeman gets ready for work, then kicking in for the rest of the film with hardly any faults. Sharpness is king here, resolving minute details at all levels, from the long shots of the city to the intricate close-ups brimming with high-fidelity texture. Into the vivid sunlight of the finale, the focused lighting reveals immense and flawless levels of facial detail, some of Brad Pitt’s final close-ups at 1:59:20 amongst the best on the format. Fabric also carries visible stitching patterns, and the complexity of the suits worn by Freeman for most of the film are a non-issue here, just more eye candy.
A few trouble spots occur in the mid-range, R. Lee Ermey a little too digital at 16:56. However, it doesn’t seem like it’s any fault of the encode. The compression seems fine, and no other anomalies of this nature are noted. The film was color corrected specifically for this release, so it’s likely something occurred there. That said, despite the lack of film-like quality in that one scene, picking up the fine detail in the room and even a hair of high-fidelity texture on Ermey’s face is still possible. If you’re nitpicking, some aliasing may bother you on the desk lamp at 1:02:46 (running through the scene), and some additional aliasing/flicker occurs on the power lines at the end.
Colors here are never brilliant, and they’re not supposed to be. There is a richness to the flesh tones that make them stand out against the cold, dreary backdrops by design. Things warm up as the detectives are taken to the open field to conclude the story, delivering a variety of orange and yellow shades, each beautiful in their own right, and causing no problems with the encode.
New Line remasters the audio again, this time with a DTS-HD 7.1 mix that emphasizes all of this film’s aural qualities and then some. It doesn’t take long for the incredible layer of ambiance to set in, the city coming alive at 2:15, the sounds of cars, passer bys, and sirens coming through each channel. Dialogue is fully maintained.
The pounding rain that practically becomes a character by itself for the majority of the film is easily a highlight of the audio experience, even inside the car 13:20 as it pings off the roof. Placement is nothing short of precise, enveloping the viewer in a clear, realistic effect that places those characters directly inside that car along with the viewer.
Seven has true highlights as well. The apartment/alley shoot-out is nothing short of awesome, gunfire registering beautifully on the high and low end. Each shot is greeted by a bass-filled punch, completely natural and in balance with the rising intensity of the musical score. There are no instances of surround use for the sake of surround use, everything placed right where it should be in relation to the on-screen action. As the SWAT team busts into an apartment, they slam the door, producing a truly thunderous burst of subwoofer activity.
Even with the available action, it’s the smaller moments that bring this track to life. The clarity of the classic music playing in the library at 28-minutes, initially over a tinny stereo, is slowly brought into the present as it becomes part of the score. Definition here is mesmerizing, so full and detailed, plus aided by an ample helping of surround bleed. It’s everything hi-def audio should be, preserving what in this case is an unusual audio score that isn’t just here to be aggressive, but fully enhance and give the film its own character.
Seven’s Blu-ray debut comes in DigiBook packaging, loved or loathed depending on your viewpoint. Regardless of the book info (which is generally basic), it remains what’s on the disc that counts… and there’s a lot to go on here.
Four commentaries are included, one with the stars, the second with those responsible for the overall story arc, the third focused on the look, and the final on the sound design. Eight deleted and extended scenes are followed by two alternate endings, one left unfinished. Still photos used in the film can be viewed in their grisly glory next.
Three versions of the alternate title sequence are included, with six different audio choices, two of them commentaries. A theatrical promo featurette can be forgotten, while a series of featurettes on the sound, video, and color correction are fine, but completely out of date. There’s nothing here on the Blu-ray, but the remastered DVD, and everything is in SD. The impact isn’t there anymore. An additional Telecine comparison includes three scenes with varied sound and video mixes, but again, this is all in SD.