Fargo (1996)
MGM Home Entertainment
Cast: Frances McDormand, William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare
Extras: Commentary Track, Trivia Track, Featurette, Article Reprint, Photo Gallery

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 shoots the cop in cold blood as well as two witnesses who happen to 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, in the best Coen Brothers fashion, 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 dry 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!"

MGM Home Entertainment is offering up "Fargo" for the first time in high definition. The transfer is generally clean – though speckles do make a showing on occasion – and holds a good level of detail. The film's inherent graininess is perfectly reproduced on the transfer, adding a slight level of unease to the film as nothing is every really standing entirely still. This is is an integral part of the movie and should not be confused with a problem in the transfer. The level of detail is generally good with a number of scenes standing out in particular, giving the film a high end look that was rather unexpected. Color reproduction is very natural throughout and the whites of the snow-covered landscapes, contrasting with the red of blood, as well as the cosy, warm interiors, all of it comes to life on this transfer like never before on home video.

A DTS 5.1 HD Master audio track is included on this release, making the best of the audio presentation also. "Fargo" is a rather dialogue-heavy film and does not lend itself to extreme surround effects, and yet, the film creates a very nice atmosphere with a wide sound stage that makes the best of spatial ambient effects as well as some focal highlights in the surround channels.

The release includes a number of extras, taken from the previous Special Editon DVD. As such there is a 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.

A Trivia track comes next, filling in all those little details and facts you may always have wondered about. These trivia tracks have become quite frequent new visitors on Blu-Ray releases and I think they do add quite a bit of value as they offer information in a comfortable way that is not too intrusive.

The 20-minute documentary "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.

Also included is a reprint of the "American Cinematographer" article about Roger Deakins' work on the film is also included in text form and a photo gallery.

"Fargo" is a killer flick – excuse the pun – and it packs one heck of a punch. Seeing it in high definition makes it twice as fun to revisit. Grab a copy when you have the chance and I'm sure you will enjoy it every bit as much as I have.