Fargo (UK - BD)
Chris takes a look at the Fox release of the Coen's black comedy from 1996...
Jerry Lundegaard (William H Macy) is a Minneapolis car salesman who has managed to get himself into financial difficulty. So desperate is he that he hires a couple of shady lowlifes, Carl (Steve Buscemi) and Gaear (Peter Stormare), to kidnap his wife, promising them a split of ransom that he intends to obtain from his wealthy farther-in-law. Unfortunately things go awry and the thugs shoot and kill a State Trooper and two innocent bystanders, drawing the attention of local Police Chief Marge Gunderson. Although initially unaware that the two incidents are connected, Marge’s investigation eventually leads her to Jerry and one step closer to uncovering his dirty little secret.
Fargo arrives on Blu-ray with a theatrical-ratio 1.85:1 widescreen transfer (1080/24p AVC). Prior to this review I hadn't watched the film for a long time, but I seem to remember that the old region one DVD was full of grain and had contrast issues, so I fully expected this Blu-ray to offer a substantial jump in quality. I was initially quite worried by the heavy grain and edge halos in the opening scenes, but as things progressed the image proved to be quite a bit better than the first few minutes suggested.
Grain is ever-present, especially during the exterior daytime shots where the sky literally teams with it, but it is an improvement over the DVD release. Colour rendition is actually pretty good, with accurate flesh tones and a natural palette, while contrast and brightness hold steady throughout (I was actually surprised by the depth of the blacks in some scenes). I also found the image to be fairly detailed in spite of the heavy grain; I was able to pick out the writing on Marge's police badge easily from my normal seating position and close-ups revealed individual hairs and pores in faces. All things considered this isn't a terrible transfer - in fact it's a marked improvement over the DVD version - but the heavy grain and haloing will surely annoy some people.
The disc includes two English audio options: Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. I went with the latter for the purposes of the review, but to be brutally honest there's not a huge amount in the 5.1 track that will make you sit up and take notice. Everything is well balanced, from the score through to the effects and the dialogue, the latter of which is of paramount importance in a relatively 'talky' movie of this nature. Most of the atmosphere derives from the presence of the score in the rear channels, but other than that there’s not a lot going on in the way of surround effects. The odd car might pass by, the wind might whistle, but that’s about it. I’m in danger of making the track sound like it’s a bit of a let-down, but it’s really not. It’s a fairly faithful representation of the source material, but as that was never particularly dynamic to begin with you have to set your expectations at a realistic level.
Commentary with Director of Photography Roger A. Deakins: This is a particularly dry technical commentary with numerous periods of silence. I’m not really one for commentaries of this nature (I much prefer director or group commentaries), but I appreciate that there are many who are interested in the art of cinematography for whom this will be a much bigger draw.
Minnesota Nice Documentary (27:48 SD): This short documentary includes interview footage with the principal main cast and the Coen brothers, who discuss their experiences making the film. There's a particularly nice bit where Bill Macy explains that he didn't quite get the gag about the film being a true story, which brought a smile to my face. Call me naive, but this was also the first I knew about Frances McDormand being married to Joel Coen...
Trivia Track: Select this option if you want to watch the film with accompanying titbits of trivia. I now know that the MGM lion is called Leo and that the Latin inscription on their logo means 'art for art's sake'. Well, there you go.
Photo Gallery: Yay, a photo gallery! Seriously, there must be someone out there who enjoys these?
Theatrical Trailer (01:58 HD): As usual this is pretty self-explanatory. The trailer is presented in full 1080p with accompanying Dolby Digital audio, which makes a nice change for a Fox catalogue release.
TV Spot (00:32 SD): This TV spot plugs the film, but it's too short to offer any real insight.
American Cinematographer Article: This is a thirty-eight page article that explores Deakins' approach to shooting the film and his working relationship with the Coens. There are a few images included to break up the text.
Fargo is an odd little film in so much as I can’t quite put my finger on why I find it so enjoyable. I guess the performances play a big part, but it’s also the everyday depiction of events that would normally be presented in a much more dramatic manner on the big screen. It's actually quite an eventful film, but it seems as if very little happens for much of the running time due to the matter-of-fact way that events unfold, and I find that hugely entertaining. This disc is unlikely to convert anyone to Blu-ray (demo material it isn't), but it is currently the best available version of the film. I guess the real question for die-hard fans is should they buy it? Yah, you betcha, but just don't expect it to look like it was shot yesterday.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 4th May 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby 2.0 Surround English, DTS 5.1 Castilian Spanish, Dolby Digital 5.1 Brazilian Portuguese, DTS 5.1 French (Parisian), DTS 5.1 French (Quebecois), DTS 5.1 German, DTS 5.1 Italian, Dolby Digital 5.1 Latin Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, English Commentary, Castilian Spanish, Castilian Spanish Text, Castilian Spanish Commentary, Brazilian Portuguese, Brazilian Portuguese Text, Cantonese, Croatian, Czech, Dutch, French (Parisian), French (Parisian) Text, French Commentary, French (Quebecois) Text, German, German Text, German Commentary, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Italian Text, Italian Commentary, Korean, Latin American Spanish, Mandarin, Polish, Portuguese, Thai, Turkish
Extras: Commentary with Director of Photography Roger A. Deakins, Minnesota Nice Documentary, Trivia Track, Photo Gallery, Theatrical Trailer, American Cinematographer Article
Easter Egg: No
Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Cast: William H. Macy, Frances McDormand, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare, Kristin Rudrüd, Harve Presnell,
Genre: Comedy and Drama
Length: 94 minutes
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