How to describe Fargo? One absolutely classic scene after another, that's how. Movies like this gem from Ethan and Joel Coen, aka the "Coen Brothers", seem to be custom made for home video ownership; watching Fargo is like seeing all the best parts of your favourite film bundled together, except that everything in this movie is the best part. All of which is a clumsy way of saying that Fargo is a brilliantly sustained and beautifully understated crime comedy that entertains at every step. I love it.
This release from our region-negligent friends at Polygram is the perfect addition to any serious DVD collection. Dump that censored full frame copy you taped (illegally) from television last year - here is the finest Fargo available anywhere, at least until further notice.
Note: This DVD apparently has (a) no region coding - it is not clear whether this is intentional or accidental, and (b) glitches that pause the movie on DV-505 players.
Despite a few film artefacts Polygram's Fargo transfer is top notch.
I asked the David Jones staff to demo both Fargo and When Harry Met Sally for me, since no mention of 'widescreen' was made on the slick - buggered if I was going to buy full-screen versions! To my relief they were both anamorphic on one side and 4:3 on the other, although none of us could figure out how to switch the 80cm Grundig into 16:9 mode. I managed to assure them that tall anorexic people on the screen indicated an anamorphic transfer, and yes I'll pay cash for these, thank you.
These days, with 1.78:1 framing I still shudder to think that the image has been zoomed. Because this seems to be the trend I'll try not to dwell on it, except to say that on Fargo, by comparing the 1.85:1 trailer with the 1.78:1 feature, the lower matte has been opened up; all other sides remain the same. So, no zooming here, and it's a good choice because a smaller upper matte is more noticeable than a smaller lower one, to me at least. Anyway, compared to the 4:3 side, the widescreen side gives better compositions and more image on the right and left sides, and less on the top and bottom due to matting. The intended theatrical aspect ratio was 1.85:1. Note that the NTSC DVD is not anamorphic.
The picture quality itself is a joy to behold, though one rough patch occurs during the opening shot of Jerry's car approaching the camera in a snow drift. It contains its own snow in the form of dirt and other black marks on the print; watch this scene in slow-motion to see how much crud there is. I also thought I saw dirt marks around some reel changes, but cannot be sure. These things aside, the transfer is rich, strong and clean: colours are consistently saturated, image detail is sharp, and MPEG dot crawl and source film grain is virtually non-existant. I look at people's hair to see how fine it appears, and while I have seen sharper detail on other discs, Fargo is still ace. Darker scenes also pose no problems. This transfer has a definite 'film look' to it. Edge enhancement or additonal sharpness may have rendered horrible white lines around darker objects in the contrasty snow scenes. None are apparent beyond some faint lines my TV adds.
I noticed some aliasing on the full screen version (the side of a car), but it was less apparent on the anamorphic flipside, so I'll put that down to the lower resolution. When Carl tries to sweet-talk the doomed patrolman at 25:49 there is a misaligned frame, and at 34:10 as a police car drives into the distance there is a split-second picture freeze - an MPEG compression artefact to be sure. At 1:26:53 there is noticeable grain. Considering the foggy nature of many shots I was pleased with how the compression handled them.
Fatal Glitches. On the Pioneer DV-505 there are two places where the player pauses, during the opening and closing credits. Either I got a glitch-free disc or my Panasonic was not worried about these serious problem spots, because it ran fine all the way through. Taking into account the region coding slip-up, one would expect new pressings of Fargo but nothing has been confirmed.
The English captions are generally okay, neat font, but whole lines of fast dialogue are skipped occasionally, which is understandable. Worse than that, single words in short lines of dialogue are needlessly dropped. No excuse. Thank god I can hear properly. I liked the way appropriate words were captialised for emphasis.
Overall I'd give Fargo 8.5 out of 10 for video, but will lean towards a 9.
Unlike the US release, our Fargo is two-channel MPEG. Apparently the German PAL release by Concorde Video (jewel case!) was DD 5.1. On my stereo set-up the sound was clear and punchy with no distortion, unlike the trailer. I particularly liked the throaty kettle drums, but in general all of the music was emotionally rousing, setting up a nice juxtaposition between the grisly true-life subject matter and the Coen brother's trademark black humour. Actually, it's the kind of music score that seems custom-made for an Academy Awards ceremony. Lastly, William H. Macy's voice deserves nothing less than DTS treatment. "Yer darn tootin'!"