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The Coen brothers. You either love their work, or hate it. Masters of dialogue, these film makers have created many well respected movies in their time including O Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Big Lebowski, The Hudsucker Proxy and of course the Sam Rami/Bruce Campbell flick Crimewave. Fargo has been released on DVD before however the disc was apparently awful. The worldwide release of the region free disc suffered from an awful picture. It didn’t even have a Dolby Digital soundtrack, instead it had MPEG 2.0. The region one DVD faired slightly better with a Dolby Digital soundtrack however it lacked any extras. That is where this Special Edition DVD comes in.

Fargo SE

The Film
Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, Fargo tells the story of Jerry Lundegaard's (William H. Macy) attempt to have his wife Jean (Kristin Rudrüd) kidnapped in order to force her brash, rich father Wade Gustafson (Harve Presnell) to pay a huge ransom demand. Working as a car salesman Macy creates a whimpering sad character who could easily be compared to Macy’s character in Jurassic Park 3. He does not come across as a man strong in spirit, easily beaten down by his father-in-law Wade. In financial trouble, Jerry concocts this plan to ease his monetary worries. Through a recently paroled car mechanic Jerry is hooked up with two thugs Carl Showalter and Gaear Grimsrud (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare respectively).

These are not men to be messed around, however Jerry is still convinced he can make sure he receives a lot of cash from his father-in-law. Telling the two thugs that the ransom money will be $80,000 he says he will split it with them 50/50 so they each take home $40,000 however Jerry tells Wade that the ransom is for $1 million and plans to keep the rest. His little bit of protection in the deal is that the kidnappers will only talk to him and no-one else. This sort of scam is not new to Jerry’s character as early on in the film we witness him almost forcing (in a whimpering and pathetic way) a couple to pay an extra $500 for some form of top coat on their new car. The plan sounds simple, but of course, it all goes horribly wrong.

For starters only one of the kidnappers was recommended to Jerry by the mechanic. The other is unknown to the mechanic, and that kind of lets you know that he is going to be some form of virulent gentleman. This is confirmed when he drags a traffic cop into the car via the window and then shoots him in the head. So now not only is there a kidnapping, but a murder too. To top that all off, a car passes the scene as Showalter is dragging the corpse away from the car and slows down to get a good view.

Fargo SE

Fargo is a small town, and small time towns have small time police. Frances McDormand plays Marge Gunderson the police chief in charge of the kidnapping case. The interaction between her and Jerry is interesting in that he is petrified of being found out while all she is asking are small relatively innocent questions with a huge smile on her face. And the scene where she interviews two young ladies in the bar is just prime time classic script writing.

The story unfolds and the money changes hands. However, who’s hands does it end up in? You’ll have to watch it as I really don’t want to spoil any of this cracking little film. The dialogue between characters is excellent and the actors do a wonderful job of helping to bring the story of Fargo to the silver screen. Each actor plays their role very strongly indeed, almost making it easy to sum up each character in a line or two. Perhaps that means the characters are quite shallow but so be it. In this case it doesn’t make the story any less enthralling and actually helps drawing the audience in to the different battles between the characters. You have to remember that these are normal people not action heroes or bank robbers. Just everyday folk, and that’s what makes it different. I for one really enjoyed this film and I think a lot of people are happy now it has a Special Edition release.

Video
Presented in 1.85:1 and anamorphically enhanced the print is good with little dust or grain which is surprising given the total budget for the production. Colours are toned down and the bland landscapes almost induce a feeling of a black and white film. A lot of contrasting environments of the dark night to the bright snow also add to this mirage.

Fargo SE

Audio
Word of the film is “Yah”. And it’s mostly said out of the front centre speaker. There is music in the film however but while a lot of it uses the rear speakers, it is not a very loud and therefore while the track is surround sound Dolby Digital you probably wouldn’t know it except for a few of the gun shot echoes, but that doesn’t make it a bad audio track. It does the job as well as is needed and while it doesn’t add anything much to the film, it certainly doesn’t detract from the film in anyway. It is clean and tidy and wraps the DVDs quality presentation up well.

Just a quick mention for all the subtitles. Not speaking other languages very well I can’t say for definite but it would appear there are English, French and Spanish subtitle tracks for the main film, the trivia track and the commentary plus English for the hard of hearing (incidentially the trivia track is featured as part of the subtitle selection so it is not a subtitled trivia track, however it is available in the represented languages).  

Extras
Not exactly a plethora of extra features here but a reasonable amount for one disc and a couple of them are very good. The menus are the first thing you notice here. Beautifully crafted, snowy and white they are excellently animated but do not go one for ever and a day like some annoying menu systems. White flakes are wiped from the screen giving the impression of looking out a window or windscreen at the start point of each menu. I liked it a lot.

Now we get to the real meat of the extras. I shall start with the documentary entitled “Minnesota nice”. It’s called this because of this almost strange “niceness” that is associated with this place. You can easily see this from the all the characters in the film especially the extras who smile and are “nice” so much that it almost made me cringe. The documentary goes into the detail that the Coen’s put into their script. Almost everything Jerry says is in the script, all the fumbling over his words, everything. Now that is attention to detail. The documentary then goes into interviews with each character about their roles in the film. It’s a great twenty eight minute presentation with a few film clips also included to prove certain points. The Coen’s give a good interview talking about the accents for the characters, the lack of snow, the partnership between them as well as the cinematography. It wraps up with a lot of praise for the brothers and a few comments on the “true story” part of the film, with a mention to the poor Japanese woman who believed the film was true, and flew to Minnesota to find the money, and lost her life. It’s as intriguing as the film and a welcome extra feature.

Fargo SE

Next up is an Interview with the Coen’s. Presented in 4:3 this goes into the truth behind the story and is hosted by someone I don’t recognise who could be called Charlie Rose and who has highly animated hands. The interview is ok but Charlie is annoying. Maybe that makes him a good interviewer and he asks some good questions. A few film clips are inserted in the interview and each is set up or introduced by the brothers. This runs for a smidge over twenty minutes.

Now we get to what a lot of people would have been waiting for – the commentary track. However it is not with the  director/writers as a lot of people would have hoped but with the Director of Photography (Roger A. Deakins). While not what a lot of people wanted to hear, it’s a decent enough commentary I guess but not what I was hoping for, talking about the way shots are composed, and the locations used in the opening scenes. There is a little about character interaction but most of Deakins’ experience is with the setting up and capture of scenes that is what he focus’ on. Interestingly enough it is subtitled which I have not come across before (a commentary with subtitles that is). Watching the film, with the commentary on, and the trivia track is a lot to take in one go however there are a lot of times when the commentary is silent.

Which brings me to the Trivia track. I like trivia tracks. I liked the one on the Spider-Man film (related connection – Spider-Man director worked with the Coen’s at least once). However this trivia track has a lot of almost Trivial Pursuit style questions which I was not too happy with. If I want to be known as the weakest link, I’ll apply to the BBC. It does however mention some methods for making fake movie blood, and the first is the same that Sam Raimi used for the Evil Dead series of films. I wonder if that was a small homage to the link between the three directors. However, it might have just been coincidence.

Fargo SE

The Coen Brother’s Family Tree is an interesting interactive feature which allows you to select a person and then to view the films they have been involved with together. Then selecting a film from their filmography will take you to that film listing all the actors in that particular movie with a selection available that can be further clicked on to see what other Coen films then have been involved with. It’s an interesting and different way from doing this kind of thing however its not gripping enough to make me click on all of the names listed as there are a lot!  

Spanning about forty pages, the article from American Cinematographer is a detailed piece written to cover funnily enough the cinematography of the film. Forty pages is a lot and reading text on TV is not something I enjoy doing. If I want to read I’ll buy a magazine or book. Again Deakins takes a large role in this article being the Director of Photography however both Coen’s also are quoted many times throughout.

Two trailers and one TV spot are included on the disc with at times quite shocking video quality for the exterior scenes. Both trailers are presented in 1.85:1 while the TV spot is 4:3. The TV spot comes with the incredible talents of voice-over-man.

Finally the Behind the Scenes Photo Gallery is three and a half minutes of photos with a new photo every three seconds approximately. The photos are shown bordered with “snow” and only fill up about a third of the screen which was a little annoying. A lot of photos, mainly of the brothers directing various scenes as well as some off screen chortles.

Overall
This is a great film and I really enjoyed the extra features. The video is presented well however I couldn’t compare it to the prior release which was a shame. I approached the film with a little trepidation as there was a lot of hype surrounding it however I can safely say it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Lovers of good films should make sure they have seen Fargo at least once and this new release is probably as good as reason as any to add it to your collection.


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