DVD Review HTF Review: Fargo - Special Edition

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Jason Perez, Sep 9, 2003.

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  1. Jason Perez

    Jason Perez Second Unit

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    [​IMG]


    Fargo: Special Edition







    Studio: MGM
    Year: 1996
    Rated: R
    Film Length: 98 minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (1.85:1), Standard (4:3)
    Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
    Audio: English - Dolby Digital 5.1; French – Dolby Digital 5.1






    “This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.”

    So, is this statement, which appears during the introduction to Fargo, true or not? Well, according to Joel Coen (see liner notes), “The basic events are the same as in the real case, but the characterizations are fully imagined.” Clearly, the Coens were more interested in creating a work of imaginative fiction by loosely basing their story on a real event than in doing a detailed documentary about the case. The brothers merely utilized this clever device to get the audience to take greater leaps of faith, in terms of buying into the strange and brutal events that transpire in Fargo.

    What can I say about Fargo that has not already been said ad nauseum? Quite simply, this is a wonderful film, laden with outstanding performances, powerful dialogue, and original concepts. The scary thing is that as good as the film is, it is but one example of the Coen brothers’ amazing abilities as storytellers. Both Joel and Ethan have the gift of being able to take ordinary, run-of-the-mill characters and make them riveting via brilliant dialogue and the surreal situations they place them in. And like their other films, Fargo is brimming with superb performances, dark, quirky humor, memorable lines and characters, and enough subtle nuances to warrant repeated viewings.

    As Fargo begins, we meet Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy), a car salesman who has big ideas, but lacks the brainpower or charisma to carry any of them out. He seems harmless enough, but we soon learn that Jerry has been a bad little mid-Westerner! Apparently, he has gotten himself into a financial bind, and devises a scheme to have his wife Jean (Kristen Rudrud) abducted and held for ransom to bail himself out. Jerry’s goal is to steal the ransom that will presumably be forked over by his wealthy father-in-law Wade (Havre Presnell), who also owns the dealership where Jerry works.

    To carry out his demented scheme, Jerry hires two small time crooks, the gabby, high-strung Carl (Steve Buscemi) and the brooding, violent Gaear (Peter Stormare). For their part in his plot, Jerry offers Carl and Gaear $40,000 plus the car he gives them, from Wade’s lot no less, to carry out the job. Once his wife turns up missing, Jerry tells Wade that the kidnappers are demanding a ransom of $1 million. Obviously, Lundegaard hopes to pinch the $960,000 difference to resolve his debts and purchase some land he has been eyeing for a parking lot venture.

    Jerry is a simple man, and essentially just wants to make some money of his own, only he is willing to go to foolish extremes to do it. Sadly, he never stops to think that he is putting his wife in harm’s way, or of the many other holes in his plan. To begin with, he doesn’t know either Carl or Gaear, so he has no idea of the misery he is about to unleash. Jerry is not worried though, because he knows his plan is going to work.

    Initially, Jean is successfully kidnapped, and Jerry sets the ransom plan into motion, but it is not long before things go horribly wrong. On their way through Brainerd, Minnesota, a policeman stops Carl and Gaear with Jean still in the back seat of their car. To avoid getting caught, Gaear unremorsefully blows the officer’s brains out, then chases down and kills two unfortunate souls who happened to drive by while Carl was dragging the body off the road. Unfortunately for Jerry, Brainerd’s Police Chief, Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) is soon following Carl and Gaear’s bloody trail, which ultimately leads to him. The film takes several twists and turns as it winds its way towards a rather grim conclusion, but to reveal any more plot points would be doing you a great disservice. As such, I will move along and rave about the cast a little more!

    In a word, Frances McDormand is fabulous as Chief Gunderson, who is perhaps the most unique gumshoe to ever grace the silver screen. McDormand infuses the character with a constant giddiness and homespun qualities that lend greater authenticity to both the character and the film. At first glance, she appears to be rather slow on the up-take, but in short order she proves to be an intelligent, insightful police officer whose quick wit belies her pleasant demeanor and folksy speech patterns. For example, the scene where Marge breaks Jerry down with a very simple line of questioning is absolutely priceless!

    While Frances McDormand’s turn as Marge is the heart and soul of Fargo, the Coens’ unique knowledge of the region gives the rest of the film an easy, natural feeling. Hailing from the area, the Coens were able to create characters that look and sound exactly as one might expect, as well as an environment perfectly suited to them. The carefully crafted dialogue, and accurate portrayal of mid-Western culture add up to a cohesive and entertaining whole, and the film never feels anything less than authentic.

    Perhaps more importantly, at its essence Fargo is a fascinating exploration of human behavior, and how terrible things can happen to people when simple plans go awry and situations spiral out of control. This even holds true for the criminal element in the film, like Carl, who gets involved in a lot more then he bargained for when Gaear snaps and starts killing people.

    In Fargo irony is also used to great effect by the Coens, who put the worst qualities of human beings on display in a seemingly pristine, wholesome environment. With that in mind, it would be remiss of me not to mention the dream-like camera work by Roger Deakins, which is in stark contrast to the brutality that transpires on-screen. Joel Coen’s skillful direction makes it all work though, as he artfully blends subtle humor with violent, depressing imagery (what a mix!).

    Despite the unique artistry present in their films, earlier Coen brothers works, like Blood Simple went largely unappreciated by the masses. All of that changed with the release of Fargo, however, when mass appeal came knocking on the Coens’ door with a vengeance. Indeed, when all was said and done, Fargo garnered no less than seven Academy Award nominations, including wins for Best Actress and Best Original Screenplay. Fortunately, their success has not altered the Coens’ original approach to filmmaking, and they are still intent putting their personal, twisted stories on celluloid and endeavoring to offer discriminating audiences a fresh cinematic experience every time out.

    In this reviewer’s humble opinion, Fargo, the Coen brothers’ magnum opus until a little film called O Brother, Where Art Thou? came along, is a masterpiece, worthy of its place on in the American Film Institute’s Top 100 Films list. Unquestionably, this film’s subject matter may turn some people off, and I cannot presume that everyone will enjoy this film as much as I do, but I believe this is a film everyone should experience at least once!





    So, How Does It Look?
    This Special Edition rendition of Fargo, which features anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) on one side of the disc and standard (4:3) on the other, easily bests the video quality found on previous DVD releases of the film. The natural color palette is rendered very effectively, flesh tones appear quite natural throughout, and shadow detail is outstanding, thanks to consistently deep blacks. Happily, edge enhancement never becomes an issue either.

    The print is also very clear, and almost completely free of pixelization, dirt, or debris. This is noteworthy because the pure white or ominous gray skies present in many of the outdoor scenes would magnify any abnormalities in the image. Fine detail is exceptional as well, giving the transfer a rich, filmlike texture. For example, smudges are evident on the windows of the tan (excuse me, “burnt umber”) Sierra that Gaear and Carl drive, and I could almost “feel” Peter Stormare’s five ‘o clock shadow. On second thought, that is pretty gross, so let’s just say that it doesn’t get much better than this! Well done, MGM!



    What Is That Noise?
    Fargo is a film that relies heavily on dialogue to get its messages across, so this is not the most dynamic mix I have ever heard, but the sheer quality of the new Dolby Digital 5.1 mix left me somewhat impressed. Surround use is very limited, but whenever the score is present or gunplay is involved, the rear channels do an effective job of embellishing the audio information in the main channels. The subwoofer even makes its presence felt when needed, giving the violent sequences in the film a bit more punch.

    Dialogue is also crisp and well presented, with the unique vocal quality of each actor accurately reproduced. The front soundstage is nice and wide as well, making dialogue easily discernable, and the score sounds full and natural. Despite all of its positive qualities, this is not an audio track you will want to demo your home theater with, but when it comes to accurately and effectively reproducing the source material, it gets high marks in my book!



    Extras, Extras!!!

    ** Audio Commentary:
    This feature length commentary track by Director of Photography Roger Deakins was somewhat disappointing. I must admit that I have never been too fond of commentaries that do not include either the director or lead actors, and the fact this commentary lacks participation from the Coens, McDormand, Stormare, or Buscemi is almost unforgivable. For a film of this magnitude, I wanted some insight from the individuals responsible for creating these wonderful characters or the actors who breathed life into them, not Mr. Deakins, who did neither.

    Yes, Roger Deakins did a hell of a job giving Fargo its look and feel, and he is incredibly talented, but he does not have a lot to offer outside of details about how shots in the film were executed. Thankfully, Deakins does not overwhelm the listener with technical mumbo-jumbo, and he does provide a few interesting tidbits, like the fact that he used simplified shooting techniques to accurately capture the bleak winter landscapes of the upper-Midwest. Unfortunately, most of this track is silent, and thus the interesting comments are few and far between.

    **“Minnesota Nice” Featurette:
    This nearly 20-minute featurette was newly created for this release, and features the Coens, McDormand, Macy, Stormare, and Buscemi discussing a variety of interesting things related to the film. In addition to the material that is generic to these types of pseudo-documentaries, there are some bona-fide highlights, including:

    ---The Coens discussing their familiarity with the Midwest, and their previous desire to make a movie that incorporated the culture.

    ---How the dialogue was carefully structured to have a rhythmic quality to it.

    ---How the Coens made up the story, and inserted the part about it being true to get the audience to have a stronger reaction to things they might not otherwise accept.

    ---It was the second warmest winter in Minnesota in 100 years when Fargo was shooting, so the crew had to make snow for some scenes.

    All in all, this brief documentary does not make up for the lack of any of the individuals mentioned above in the feature-length commentary, but it is an enjoyable, well-produced featurette that is well worth the small investment of time needed to watch it.

    **Charlie Rose Interview:
    This interview, conducted by Charlie Rose with the Coen brothers and Frances McDormand, runs for approximately 20 minutes and is really little more than a promotion for the film. Being short, the interview does not get into too much depth about anything that might be of real interest to fans, although Rose does get the Coens to open up a little bit about the case Fargo was supposedly based on. Again, there is not much information here that fans of the film will not already know, but the Coens and McDormand are very likable, so I suspect this interview piece would be of interest to people like me, who had not seen it before.

    **Trivia Track:
    This feature is an homage of sorts to the VH1 music channel’s “Pop-Up Video” show (sans the annoying sounds effects). If you elect to enable this trivia track, you will be treated to colorful boxes that pop-up on top of the film as it plays, offering information about everything from the MGM logo to obscure details about the upper-Midwest. After a while, this gets tiresome, and there is a lot of information that bears no relationship to the film, but there are enough interesting tidbits about the Coens, the cast, and the movie itself to make it worthwhile viewing (if only once).

    **Photo Gallery/Advertising Materials:

    ---Photo Gallery:
    Approximately 70 still color photos taken on the set of Fargo. They are nice, but not terribly interesting, with most featuring one or both of the Coen brothers at work.

    ---Advertising:
    A few promotional material for Fargo have been provided for digestion, including the theatrical trailer, a television spot, and a lengthy article with Director of Photography Roger Deakins that appeared in American Cinematography. Most of the content in this latter article was over my head, but it was interesting nevertheless, as it provides great detail on how the look of the film was achieved. I suppose this article would be of great interest to anyone interested in cinematography or photography.

    ---MGM has included the trailer for the Special Edition DVD release of Blue Velvet as well.

    **“Hidden Menus and Other Surprises”:
    I pressed every button on my remote control’s cursor like a man possessed trying to find these features (advertised on the keepcase), but the DVD has defeated me for now. Perhaps my luck ran out after I unlocked the easy to find extra on Dark Blue! I do not give up easily though, so I will keep searching for whatever treasures may be buried within the confines of this disc, but I welcome anyone who has better luck to post their findings. Happy hunting!




    The Score Card

    (on a five-point scale)
    Movie: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Video: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Audio: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Extras: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Overall: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]



    The Last Word
    I have run out of superlatives! This Special Edition release of Fargo is truly “special”, featuring an almost flawless transfer, a quality 5.1 channel audio track, and with the exception of the commentary, a nice compliment of extras. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the movie is great as well! Does this mean that the Special Edition of Fargo deserves a place in your DVD collection? Yer darn tootin’ (sorry I couldn’t resist)! Very highly recommended!

    Stay tuned…



    Release Date:
    September 30th, 2003
     
  2. Nick Sievers

    Nick Sievers Producer

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    I'll be just glad to finally own the film on DVD, for some reason I kept putting off the other versions and was too late when they went OOP. One of the better films of the 90's. So glad that the DVD is technically great, my Coen collection on DVD will now be complete.
     
  3. Larry Talbot

    Larry Talbot Second Unit

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    Fargo is a great film. But I believe the whole "based on a true story" stuff is a joke and the Coens acknowledged this at some point. Doesn't subtract from the movie at all, it's still well worth owning.
     
  4. Marc Colella

    Marc Colella Cinematographer

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    The film is definitely NOT based on a true story. The Coen's are infamous for their inside jokes.

    Great review.

    I sold the previous version in anticipation of this one.

    Simply put, this film is a modern masterpiece.
    It's still hard to believe that The English Patient won Best Picture instead of it, and William H. Macy and Roger Deakins both walked away empty-handed.
     
  5. Matt Pelham

    Matt Pelham Screenwriter

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    Tell me about it, I consider Fargo one of the most tragic Academy Award "Best Picture snubs". Will be picking up this disc on the 30th!
     
  6. Andrew Bunk

    Andrew Bunk Screenwriter

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    I saw a review on another site that said this is the same transfer as the most previous release-sounds like they were mistaken...
     
  7. DaViD Boulet

    DaViD Boulet Lead Actor

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    so now I'll own *three* versions of Fargo. Sheesh!

    [​IMG]

    p.s. how can I say "no" to improved Picture and sound?
     
  8. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
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    Well, they have finally given me a reason to replace my laserdisc. I almost bit on the anamorphic release, but I was holding out for an SE.

    Regards,
     
  9. Scott_F_S

    Scott_F_S Second Unit

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  10. Lew Crippen

    Lew Crippen Executive Producer

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    Thanks for the review Jason. Good job. [​IMG]
     
  11. Juan Castillo

    Juan Castillo Second Unit

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    Sad that a Japanese woman lost here life (freezing to death no less), looking for the Briefcase supposedly buried by real life person, portrayed by Steve Buscemi's character.

    Great movie though, Guess its time to finally pick this one up.
     
  12. Peter Kim

    Peter Kim Screenwriter

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    Thanks for this review. I've never owned this film, so I'll be looking forward to the 30th.

    William Macy and Francis McDormand are mesmerizing. For me, this is a 5-star film. When I saw Siskel Ebert's review of this film long ago, I thought they went over-the-top with their superlatives.

    I've discovered that I am more enthusiastic about this film then the both of them.
     
  13. earl_roberts

    earl_roberts Stunt Coordinator

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    Fargo was on T.V over here a few months ago and after it they had a documentary on about the girl who died. Has anybody seen it?
    It was really, really sad too. It started out almost comedic when it simply said what happened but then they detailed the girls last day which was when she got to America and then it showed her house in Japan and talked to her neighbours and stuff.
    Still unbelieveable how it happend but it was very sad [​IMG]
     
  14. Magnus T

    Magnus T Supporting Actor

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    Is the framing problem corrected?
     
  15. Chuck Bogie

    Chuck Bogie Second Unit

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    Yah, it's a good movie, except for the funny looking guy. But yah, it's a good movie...
     
  16. Will K

    Will K Screenwriter

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    Great review. Really look forward to picking this one up. You betcha, Fargo is pure movie intoxication.
     
  17. Bob Turnbull

    Bob Turnbull Supporting Actor

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  18. Adam_Reiter

    Adam_Reiter Second Unit

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    Oh man. I feel so vile! How is it that I have never seen this movie? I am going to rent it this weekend. I have always known about the movie, but never really knew what it was about. I am salivating at the thought of watching it now though, based on this review.

    Keep up the damn good work, Jason.
     
  19. Jason Perez

    Jason Perez Second Unit

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    Adam,

    Thank you!!! You do the same!

    Andrew Bunk,

    I cannot claim to know for sure if this release uses the same transfer or not, as I have never owned the other releases. Stupidly, I kept holding out for a commentary by the Coen brothers (which is still MIA)![​IMG]

    Although the press release I received does not specifically state that it this a new transfer, I can tell you with absolute certainty that this transfer looked damn good on my display! It most assuredly looked better than the last edition, which I borrowed from a friend a little while ago.

    Regards,

    Jason
     
  20. Richard Kim

    Richard Kim Producer

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    Well, the Coens aren't really big fans of jam packed special features on their DVDs, and honestly, I wasn't to enthralled by their commentary on The Man Who Wasn't There. The joke commentary on Blood Simple was hilarious though!

    Can't wait to pick this up on the 30th.
     

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