[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=1165[/img]Starring: Will Ferrell, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Emma Thompson, Dustin Hoffman
Director: Marc Forster
Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Release Date: Dec. 2, 2008
Length: 113 minutes
It’s possible you’ve seen or purchased Stranger Than Fiction on Blu-ray, given its first release date in 2006. But if that’s not the case, you have another opportunity to watch / own a film that we’ll describe as the most ordinary foray into the extraordinary - or maybe the most extraordinary foray into the ordinary? - with Sony’s just- in-time-for-the-holidays special edition Blu-ray release.
Stranger Than Fiction is the story - literally - of Harold Crick (Will Ferrell), an average IRS man with just a spice of OCD and awkward charm to make him interesting enough for the lead role in a movie. Despite his oddities Harold’s life is dull, composed of a series of routines from which he never diverges. That is, of course, until the day when his life is no longer left up to him and his fate is placed in the hands – or rather the words – of a mysterious narrating voice that just happens to predict his imminent death.
“If you knew you were going to die – possibly soon – what would you do?”
That’s a question Harold poses in the film, but what the plot really comes down to is how far would you go to change your fate and what can you do to make life worth living for?
It’s certainly a theme that’s been done before and almost to death, and believe us (no spoilers) there are many points at which this movie could have been written off as just a loosely concealed heartstring-tugging romantic comedy. But there is one really excellent reason why it doesn’t – the cast.
Actors Who Found a Story
The billing for Stranger Than Fiction is star-studded, with acting heavyweights Emma Thompson (as author Karen Eiffel) and Dustin Hoffman (Professor Jules Hilbert) paired with fresh and exciting actors like Maggie Gyllenhaal and, of course, Will Ferrell.
Ferrell, whom we all know for his shenanigans in over-wrought comedies, shows surprising depth in his portrayal of Harold Crick, bringing to life a fish out of water with a finesse and grace you might not expect. He captures the right amount of warmth and desperation in Harold for the audience to really care about his fate, inflating what could easily have been a very flat role.
Maggie Gyllenhaal, as Harold’s love interest Ana Pascal, matches Ferrell in acting skill, providing a counterpoint to Harold’s lack of luster with just the right amount of perky in-your-facedness. Taking her edginess too far would’ve meant hating her character, but as she plays it, all you can do is hope she’s the one with gumption enough to pull Harold out of his routine and save him from his imminent demise.
Couple Ferrell and Gyllenhaal’s performances with Emma Thompson’s magnificently subtle portrayal of a red-eyed, tortured writer with a fierce nic habit and Dustin Hoffman’s carefully crafted ability to be Harold’s voice of reason through spouting only the entirely unreasonable, and you’ve got a cast that can save a film from its potentially tired theme and meandering plot.
Video resolution: 1080p
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Unfortunately, Stranger Than Fiction is by no means a visual showcase for Blu-ray, and it can’t be said that the special edition release brings anything new to the table. Both the original Blu-ray release and the new are 1080p/MPEG-2 (1.85:1). While details in the film were for the most part clear and warm, the film’s bland color palette (perhaps a mirror of Harold himself?) isn’t a model for the richness of high definition.
English: PCM 5.1
English: Dolby Digital 5.1
French: Dolby Digital 5.1
Ditto for audio. Although the original Blu-ray Stranger Than Fiction was released in uncompressed PCM (48kHz/16-bit) and the special edition is in Dolby True HD 5.1 Surround Sound (again, 48kHz/16-bit), it’s hard to believe that the film features any audio sequences where you could detect a difference. No gunshots, no car smash-ups – the only audio point of note here is Emma Thompson’s smooth, deep narration, and we have to think that would sound engaging any format.
Special Features: :1star:
(A mix of Standard and High Definition)
Hold on to your hats, it’s time for Special Features, a place where any good special edition release becomes worth the money. But alas…this film falls short again. Save for a few extra commentaries and some deleted and extended scenes, there’s nothing new in this re-release. What you get is:
Audio Commentaries: One from the director Marc Forster, Will Ferrell and Dustin Hoffman, and another with Forster, producer Lindsay Duran and a smattering of other backstage players.
Featurettes: Identical to those of the original film, unfortunately. To name a few, you get Actors in Search of a Story (a fairly over-congratulatory spiel on the cast, with primary focus on Will Ferrell); Words on a Page (a look inside the ’70s-inspired script with screenwriter Zach Helm) and Picture a Number: The Evolution of a G.U.I. (which provides an overly in-depth description of the creation of the film’s numerical graphic overlays.)
Delete & Extended Scenes: Possibly the worst of the Special Features offering, a collection of nine (as opposed to the original two) extended or deleted scenes that, while occasionally funny, remind us why films have editors.
Trailers: ’Nuff said.
BD-Live: BD-Live access is available on the Special Edition release, but until Dec.2 is not enabled.
Stranger Than Fiction is a showcase of great acting carrying a decent story. If you don’t over-think the film, it’s certainly worth watching. But is this special edition worth shelling out for? Not a chance. At least, not if you already own the film. If you’re looking to buy, by all means go with the special edition and enjoy the (minimal) bonuses it proclaims to feature. But if you already own the film in Blu-ray, feel no guilt over skipping Sony’s shameless attempt at double-dipping. Trust us, you won’t be missing much.