Stranger than Fiction: Special Edition (Blu-ray)

January 28, 2012 8 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

For all of the talent that Saturday Night Live has had over the years, they’ve turned out some of the funnier comedian/actors in the last half century. Names like Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, Eddie Murphy, Mike Myers and Chris Rock are all common place to us and thanks to this little show these guys have all made names for themselves as movie stars. It’s been about a dozen years since a cast member of Saturday Night Live has really hit it big and let’s face it, trying to follow in the footsteps of Adam Sandler, Chris Farley, Mike Myers, David Spade and Chris Rock is no small feat. However, Will Ferrell seems to be the exception to that rule and though it seems that nearly every cast member will have at least some post-SNL success, Ferrell seems to have broken the mold and is now, dare we say it, a bona fide movie star. Ferrell still hasn’t broken out of the comedy genre, but if you’re good at something – stick with it. With “Stranger than Fiction”, however, we see a more intense and warmer side of the comedian and you know what? It works.

Ferrell plays IRS auditor Harold Crick, a man of method and routine. He sees the world in numbers (sometimes literally) and his daily life isn’t so much getting the best of him, it’s just the way he is. Everything’s fine for Harold until he starts to literally hear a voice. Understandably confused, he tries to deduce what’s going on until he finally figures out that the voice is narrating his life. He seeks out the help of Professor Jules Hilbert and the two collaborate on the meaning of the voice. Harold finally manages to figure out that the mysterious person is reclusive author Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson). Kay is known for her great fiction and her propensity for killing her leading characters. However she’s suffering from writer’s block and has enlisted the help of Penny Escher (Queen Latifah) to help her finish her latest novel. Meanwhile Harold has fallen for local restaurateur Ana Paschal (Maggie Gyllenhaal) during an audit and is pursuing her. Can Harold find Kay and convince her not to kill him or is he doomed as the protagonist?

Admittedly, I had mixed emotions when I decided to watch “Stranger than Fiction” but I almost immediately loved it. The writing is cute and clever and Will Ferrell gives a pretty decent performance as the nerdy Harold. I’m a big fan of Maggie Gyllenhaal as well and can’t seem to get enough of her. The script is smart and keeps the viewer guessing. It’s been compared to movies like “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “Being John Malcovich” and thought I don’t think I would elevate the movie to this pedestal, it is quite good. Veteran actors Dustin Hofman and Emma Thompson turn in decent performances as well and the always reliable Queen Latifah rounds out what’s already a good cast. I found “Stranger than Fiction” to be quite enjoyable and certainly recommend it wholeheartedly.

Video: How does it look?

The original disc sported an MPEG-2 HD transfer and it was one of the early new to Blu-ray titles on the market at the time. Eighteen months have passed and we dont get a new AVC transfer, instead were still left with the original MPEG-2 codec found on the first disc. The 1.85:1 image is crystal clear in almost every regard and my only complaint was that a few of the scenes looked a bit overexposed and some others seemed a bit soft. Detail is superb, with most scenes being so clean and clear that you feel like you could make out the print on a newspaper. As expected the black levels are right on target and contrast is fine as well. There’s not a whole lot else to say when it comes to how this looks. It’s a new to DVD (Blu-ray) movie and as such, we’d pretty much expect nothing less than the best. And that’s what we get…for the most part.

Audio: How does it sound?

The original PCM track has been replaced by a Dolby TrueHD track that sounds identical to the PCM track on the first disc. Let’s face it, a movie like this isn’t meant to blow the roof off the place but I was fairly impressed with how this sounded. For the most part, this is a dialogue driven movie and some ambient effects creep in throughout. Most of the sound is in the front stage, as expected, and while the sub kicks in a few times throughout -it doesn’t offer a whole lot of help. This is a fairly standard, straight-forward track and listeners certainly will not be disappointed.

Supplements: What are the extras?

With identical audio and video, there has to be a reason for Sony to double dip on this title, right? Two audio commentaries have been added, the first with director Marc Forrester, Will Ferrell and Dustin Hoffman and the trio are pretty chatty. Its a much more informative track than the more technical-minded track with Forrester and his production designer, effects designer and producer. There are a bevy of featurettes that are included on this new Special Edition as well and we start out with “Actors in search of a story” which gives us an overview of the casting process and how they were all chosen. There are some production-oriented segments as well, though I rather liked “Words on a Page” which focused on the script and its origins that beckoned back to films like “Annie Hall.” Finally we have some trailers and some deleted and extended scenes and the disc is BD-Live enabled as well. I dont personally see the need to upgrade, though if you dont already own the movie, this version is certainly the one to choose.

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