Fargo: Special Edition

Fargo: Special Edition (1996)
MGM Home Entertainment
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurettes, Interviews, Trivia Track, Photo Gallery, Trailers and more

Minnesota is not one of the locations you see frequently displayed in movies, which made their home state even more attractive to the filmmaking brothers Ethan and Joel Coen. But believe you me, this is not the only thing that makes "Fargo" an original. There’s a whole lot more. Starting with a long establishing shot of a perfectly white landscape that seems never-ending, "Fargo" quickly expands into a ferocious movie that sometimes seems all too real.

Car salesman Jerry Lundegaard (William Macy) suffers from the tight fisted ruling of his boss and father-in-law Wade Gustafson (Harve Presnell). Sick of being jerked around, he wants to invest in a lucrative parking lot project but doesn’t have the money, which brings him to the idea of having his own wife kidnapped and using the ransom money for the venture. Knowing his wealthy father in law will not hesitate to pay the ransom, Jerry hires two thugs, the small-minded Carl (Steve Buscemi) and the tight-lipped Gaear (Peter Stormare). But things go horribly wrong when a policeman pulls over the kidnappers’ car in the middle of nowhere, with their hostage wrapped up in a shower curtain in the backseat. Gaear cold bloodedly shoots the cop and two witnesses who pass by in another car.

Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand), the local police chief, investigates the case in her sharp-witted manner and soon traces back the murders to Jerry Lundegaard without knowing his specific implication in the crime. Now under pressure, Jerry creates an even larger mess in his frenzied attempt to rectify the situation, and what began as the stupid idea of a weak and desperate man swiftly turns into a bloody, chaotic swath of destruction.

Fargo is both a very funny and a very tragic movie, extremely well portrayed by all the actors and the superb cinematography, earning the movie nearly uncountable award nominations and an Academy Award. Frances McDormand stands out as the very pregnant and smart police chief Marge, playing the role in an absolutely convincing natural, down-to-earth manner, adding highly to the movie’s authenticity. As a matter of fact, it is scary how easily things get out of control in Fargo and watching it happen makes you feel like you were actually watching real life instead of a movie. Fargo is an exceptional murder mystery movie. Exceptional in many ways.

The screenplay is outstanding, producing real-life characters that are frightening and heartbreaking at the same time. They are convincing and even the bad guys are not ultimately bad. They are victims of circumstance, confronted with situations they hadn’t even dreamed of. Not knowing how to deal with them, they react frantically, like cornered animals. The visual presentation of the movie with the sluggish ever-white snowy surroundings underscore the stylized violence, and the snow contrasts all too well with the red of blood. The wide landscape shots enhance the desperate and desolate situation of the movie’s main characters, while at the same time demonstrating how insignificant even the most horrific events are in the face of nature.

On the other hand "Fargo" is extremely humorous in its very own way, with the thick accent of the actors making every single sentence a matchless experience. Simply listening to Marge’s repetitious dry "Yah!" will make you crack up more than once. My favorite is the hooker, though, during her interrogation by the police, giving a very helpful description of Carl: "He was kinda funny looking and he wasn’t circumcised!"

For this Special Edition re-release of the film, MGM Home Entertainment seems to have re-used the transfer from the previous versions, though it has evidently been cleaned up a bit. As a result, the presentation of the movie is mostly free of defects and blemishes, perfectly reproducing the bleak images that make up large portions of the film. Given the difficulty of the material, improvements in the presentation quality are definitely visible, putting this transfer a notch over the previous releases. Once again a <$PS,fullscreen> transfer has also been included on the DVD but given the gorgeous cinematography of the film I can only recommend the 1.85:1 <$PS,widescreen> version. Color reproduction is perfect, bringing out the white of the endless snow, the off-white of the covered skies, the colors of the clothing and interiors, while rendering skin tones absolutely natural. Contrast and black levels are equally good, producing deep shadows with good delineation. No edge-enhancement is evident and the compression has been handled well, leaving the presentation free of artifacts.

The DVD contains <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> audio tracks in English and French, complemented by subtitles in English, French and Spanish. The audio is making good use of the surround channels with nice spatial integration, especially during the subtle ambient moments where the icy wind blows around your heads.

Finally we get some extras for this film on DVD, though the extras may not be exactly what fans had hoped for. This Special Edition includes a <$commentary,commentary track> by director of photography Roger Deakins. Ethan and Joel Coen are sadly absent from the track, but Deakins manages to create an interesting and insightful commentary that is certainly a great addition to the release, especially given the significance of the cinematography in this film. Sadly he has trouble filling the entire running length of the film and gaps are all too common.

An all new 20-minute documentary called "Minnesota Nice" is also included, and it is certainly worth checking out. Filled with plenty of behind-the-scenes footage and interesting tidbits about the film, fortunately this is not your average off-the-mill promo featurette, but a segment that does indeed take a good look at the production of the movie and the labor that went into it.

A Charlie Rose segment is also included on the disc, featuring the Coen Brothers and Frances McDormand, as they discuss various aspects of the movie and its production. The DVD is rounded out by a photo gallery, a trivia track with information about the movie, the cast, and other related things popping up during the movie, and the movie’s trailers and TV Spots. Last but not least, a reprint of the "American Cinematographer" article about Roger Deakins’ work on the film is also included in text form.

Finally, is what came to my mind when I first heard of this Special Edition, and I’m sure many other fans of the film as well. I’m glad to report that MGM delivers the goods here, presenting us with a Special Edition that features a great version of the film, complemented by some cool and most importantly insightful and informative extras. "Fargo" is a wicked film and ranks as one of the Coen Brothers’ best outings to date. Don’t miss this release, because you’d be missing out on a cool DVD and a cool movie!