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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Fargo (4K UHD Review)


The Film
The Video (Overall)
HDR Effect
The Audio
The Supplements


Inept and in debt, a Minnesota car salesman arranges to kidnap his wife to get the ransom money from his father-in-law and the criminal plans go awry.

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

In 1996 not many could have guessed that the Coen brothers could have made such a quietly understated yet intriguingly dark film with subtle direction and beautifully reserved cinematography by Roger Deakins. With the critically acclaimed, but in-your-face films such as Barton Fink and Raising Arizona in their resumé, Fargo came as a welcome and pleasant surprise that helped catapult the brothers from cult status straight into the mainstream.

Returning to tales of their native Minnesota to craft a dark comedy that walked a thin line between fact and fiction, Joel and Ethan Coen probed the depths of the human psyche in this often psychotic, yet strangely amusing tale of the foibles of rural and suburban upper Midwestern life. Going down as easy as the pretensions of “Minnesota nice,” as cold-blooded and coldhearted as an ex-girlfriend from St. Paul, Fargo draws you in with its lilting locally inflected dialogue.

Bumbling car salesman, Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy), in debt up to his ears from embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars, hires two thugs (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) to kidnap his wife, Jean (Kristin Rudrüd) so he can get the ransom money out of his shrewd, but rich, father-in-law Wade (Harve Presnell). Unfortunately for Jerry, the inept kidnappers quickly make a hash of things and turn the situation into a triple homicide involving a Minnesota State Trooper before a ransom is ever made.

Halfway into the film we get our first glimpse of the seven-months-pregnant Fargo Police Chief Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand), who’s drawn into the investigation of the triple homicide of the Minnesota State Trooper and two other passersby. Marge and her husband Norm (John Carroll Lynch) are the prototypical hayseed Midwestern family, right down to Marge’s flip hairdo and Norm’s cardboard box personality and profession as a duck painter competing to get his designs on postage stamps — you cannot get much more corn fed than these folks. But, Marge’s innocence and unflappable politeness even in the face of gruesome killings and recalcitrant suspects helps her stumble into good police work, and she begins to unfold the mystery behind the Sate Trooper’s death and close in on Jerry Lundergaard in the process.

Although titled Fargo, after the North Dakota town where the first scene of the film takes place as Jerry meets with the kidnappers, the film takes place mostly in Minnesota — in Brainerd and Minneapolis; none of the scenes were filmed in North Dakota. What really makes the film, however, is its authenticity. Never mind the actuality that most metro-area Minnesotans don’t speak with that deep, Scandinavian-inflected deadpan that the Coen’s scripted down to every last “Yah” and “You Betchya,” but it fits and the acting by the two leads, William H. Macy and Frances McDormand, is so natural that there is no sense they are milking the dialect for effect. They make viewers feel at home with these characters — the ineptitude of the man-child Jerry and the homespun sincerity of Marge open us up for acceptance to the sometimes off-kilter events and wildly violent incidents that could only take place in “Stepfordian” worlds such as this.

Through it all, Roger Deakins’ gritty, and geometric cinematography helps make Minnesota itself a looming character in this uneasy fable of fables as he turns his lens on the great white north lands and turns the shade white into a brilliantly stark palette.

Since the release of Fargo, the Coen’s have done a number of films that surpass it in its scope and success, such as The Big Lebowski (1998) and No Country for Old Men (2007). Fargo still keeps a special place in the Coen’s catalogue with its dark comedy and visceral violence being the blueprint for not only further Coen successes but for other films to come along. It holds up just as well today as it did in 1996.

  • Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare in Fargo (1996)
  • Frances McDormand and James Gaulke in Fargo (1996)
  • Frances McDormand and John Carroll Lynch in Fargo (1996)
  • Fargo 4K Ultra HD Combo (Shout! Studios)
  • Fargo 4K Ultra HD Combo (Shout! Studios)
  • Fargo 4K Ultra HD Combo (Shout! Studios)
  • Fargo 4K Ultra HD Combo (Shout! Studios)

The Video

 Shout! Studios’ release of Fargo is a new 4K scan and restoration of the original camera negative supervised by director of photography Roger A. Deakins. The medium-to-high speed Eastman EXR 200T 5293 35mm film stock comes across with a rich amount of detail and densely packed grain structure. The color palette moves from the warm indoor scenes such as when Jerry Lundegaard meets with the two hired kidnappers in the restaurant, to the cool, desaturated outdoor scenes in the snow. The color of the white snow shifts from very cool, stark white to off-white and even, as the film progresses, dirty brown mingled in with the white. The 1.85:1 2160p (4K UHD) Dolby Vision encodement presents the color variations very well, and we can even see the subtle gradations in the clouds against the cerulean blue backdrop of the sky over the glimmering snow.

The Audio

The Fargo lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio mix is subtle, but well-balanced. It works in the context of this dialogue-driven film, with the string-based orchestral score and dialogue coming through naturally and with a relaxed dynamic range. The surround channels carry low-level atmospheric effects and ambience while the spread across the front channels is satisfying, with clear stereo imaging. Lower frequencies are enough to give the sound a solid base but are otherwise a non-factor.

The Supplements

In this edition there is nothing new included on disc, but there is also a Deluxe Limited Edition that includes a limited edition rolled poster,  reproduction of the I “heart” Golf notepad, a limited edition glass snow globe.

Bonus Features:

  • Commentary by Director of Photography Roger A. Deakins

On Blu-ray Only:

  • Minnesota Nice – Featurette (1080i; 00:27:48)
  • Interview with Coen Brothers and Frances McDormand (1080i; 00:20:32)
  • Theatrical Trailer (1080p; 00:01:58)
  • TV Spot (1080i; 00:00:33)
  • American Cinematographer Article
  • Still Photo Gallery (1080i; 00:05:57)

The Final Assessment

Fargo is one of the classic films of modern cinema. Its darkly comedic examination of the seething undercurrent of violence suppressed in outwardly polite societies combined with its beautifully simple cinematography make it a worthy candidate for film school curriculum and film enthusiasts’ collections everywhere. Years on, the film is still as evocative and profound as it was when it first exploded onto screens with its stark whites and violence. This 4K restoration from Shout! Studios has the film looking better than it ever has on home video. Highly recommended.

Fargo is out on 4K Ultra HD Combo November 7, 2023, from Shout! Studios

  • Rating Certificate: R (for strong violence, language and sexuality)
  • Studios & Distributors: PolyGram Filmed Entertainment | Working Title Films | Shout! Factory
  • Directors: Joel Coen | Ethan Coen
  • Written By: Ethan Coen | Joel Coen
  • Run Time: 98 Mins.
  • Street Date: 7 November 2023
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Video Format: HEVC 2160p (4K UHD)
  • HDR Format: Dolby Vision (HDR10 Compatible)
  • HDR10 Metadata:
    • MaxLL: 509 nits
    • MaxFALL: 140 nits
  • Primary Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1
  • Secondary Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo
  • Subtitles: English SDH

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Inept and in debt, a Minnesota car salesman arranges to kidnap his wife to get the ransom money from his father-in-law and the criminal plans go awry.Fargo (4K UHD Review)