Updated: Nov 20
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
(1) Frances McDormand won her first Best Actress Oscar as Marge Gunderson, the resourceful, very pregnant Brainerd, Minnesota, police chief who investigates the murder of three people. (2) William H. Macy was nominated for Best Supporting Oscar as Jerry Lundegaard, the Minneapolis car salesman whose plan to have his wife kidnapped and collect a $1 million ransom goes off the rails.
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4K Ultra HD & Blu-ray, 1996, R for strong violence, language and sexuality
Best extra: Archival commentary with cinematographer Roger Deakins
YOU PROBABLY know that with seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Director, “Fargo” vaulted Joel and Ethan Coen from indie faves to head of the moviemaking class.
And you probably know that the Coens won their first Oscar, for original screenplay (they cleaned up with 2008’s “No Country for Old Men”), and that Frances McDormand won her first of three Best Actress awards (the others were for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” and “Nomadland”).
And you probably know the story:
Beset by bad money problems, Minneapolis car salesman Jerry Lundegaard (Supporting Actor nominee William H. Macy, TV’s “Shameless”) hires a couple of thugs, Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi, “Reservoir Dogs”) and Gaear Grimsrud (Peter Stormare, “Constantine”), to kidnap his wife Jean (Kristin Rudrüd, “Pleasantville”) and have his wealthy father-in-law Wade Gustafson (Harve Presnell, “Saving Private Ryan”) fork over $1 million, with the hoods getting $40,000 – Jerry tells them the payoff is $80,000 – and a new Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera that he stole from the dealership.
The plan goes down in flames when a state trooper spots the stolen car, pulls them over – Jean, unconscious, is wrapped in a shower curtain in the back seat – and is shot in the head by Gaear. He then chases down a couple who sees Carl dragging the body off the road and kills them.
This all takes place outside Brainerd, Minnesota, where Marge Gunderson (McDormand) is chief of police. She’s also seven months pregnant, but that doesn’t slow her down. The call comes in around 2 a.m. and she’s soon on the trail, after her husband Norm (John Carroll Lynch, “The Founder”) fixes her a platen of eggs. Before she gets to the bottom of things, Gaear guns down Jean and Wade, shreds Carl’s body in a wood chipper and is shot in the leg by Marge while fleeing across a frozen lake. Jerry tries to get away, too.
But you probably know all of that.
(1-3) Jerry meets with Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi, left) and Gaear Grimsrud (Peter Stromare), the thugs he hires to kidnap his wife, then sits down for dinner with her, their son Scotty (Tony Denman) and her wealthy father Wade Gustafson (Harve Presnell). (4) Jean Lundegaard (Kristin Rudrüd) comes face-to-face with one of the kidnappers. (5) Jerry discovers that his plan has been set in motion when he brings home the groceries.
What you may not know is that with a new 4K master struck from the original 35mm camera negative, and supervised by Oscar-nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins (he won for “Blade Runner 2049” and “1917”), “Fargo,” new to Shout! Factory’s Shout Select series, looks spectacular. And that may not do it justice. Another review hit the nail square on the head: clarity is pristine, with a nice layer of grain and “the finest details imaginable”; depth of field is super strong; black levels are deep and natural; the bold color reproduction is off the charts; and skin tones are natural and consistent. Really, you just can’t envision the new print looking any better. It defines “reference quality.”
The numbers: The video bitrate consistently tops 80 Megabits per second while the HDR10 peak brightness tops out at 509 nits and averages 140.
Picked up from earlier releases, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track holds up just fine. From the subwoofer to the rear speakers, nothing goes unnoticed. The minimalistic score by Carter Burwell, the Coens’ go-to composer (beginning with “Blood Simple” to Joel Coen’s underappreciated “The Tragedy of Macbeth”), is given plenty of room. Dialogue is clear.
(1-3) Carl and Gaear are pulled over by a state trooper (James Gaulke), who is shot in the head by Gaear. The killer then chases down and kills a couple who witnessed the murder. (4-5) Marge gets ready to investigate, but not before her husband Norm (John Carroll Lynch) cooks up a plate of eggs.
All of them were carried over, too, but start with Deakins’ engaging commentary. Also a Coen regular (he’s worked with them on 11 films), he comes back often to the simplicity of the shoot. Where movies like “The Hudsucker Proxy” required “pyrotechnics,” “Fargo” was more observational and restrained. There are no “vast tracking shots,” no need to “glossy” it up, he says. “Really, it enhances the story. It’s more bizarre because it’s played straight.”
Deakins also recalls the challenges of filming during one of the least snowy Minnesota winters on record. The crew had to keep moving North to shoot in the snow, at one point almost to the Canadian border. Elsewhere, an ice chipper was used to create the white stuff. And while the Coens’ preparation and attention to detail are no secrets, “Fargo,” like their other joint projects, was collaborative, he says.
Other bonuses (on the enclosed Blu-ray) include a wide-ranging interview with the Coens and McDormand (she’s been married to Joel for nearly 40 years) from the “Charlie Rose” show, the making-of feature “Minnesota Nice,” an article on Deakins from the magazine “American Cinematographer,” a stills gallery and the trailer.
– Craig Shapiro
(1) Larissa Kokernot, left, and Melissa Peterman play the hookers who “entertained” Carl and Gaear before the murders. (2) Wade doesn’t think too highly of his son-in-law. (3&4) Carl revels in his big “payday,” but doesn’t get by unscathed.
(1&2) Marge tracks down the killers only to find that Gaear is shredding Carl’s body in a wood chipper. (3&4) After shooting Gaear in the leg, she brings him in then settles down with Norm to reflect on man’s cruelty.