Stranger Than Fiction Special Edition: Blu-ray Preview
Starring: Will Ferrell, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Emma Thompson, Dustin Hoffman
Director: Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace)
Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Release Date: Dec. 2, 2008
Length: 113 minutes
Stranger Than Fiction is back on Blu-ray again, wrapped up in the very-attractive holiday packaging of “Special Edition.” Or rather, wrapped in Sony’s attempt to slide another hand into your wallet with a film that many were surprised to see on Blu-ray in the first place – it’s certainly not an audio or video masterpiece, and it wasn’t exactly a blockbuster release that everyone was looking to snap up.
So why the double-dip? More on that later. First the film.
Stranger Than Fiction is the story of Harold Crick (Will Ferrell), an oddball IRS man who has choreographed his life into a series of routines, down to the smallest detail of brushing his teeth. His days go by like mundane clockwork, until one day his fate is taken over by a narrator, author Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson), who is unwittingly writing Harold as the leading man in her latest novel.
With a few taps on a typewriter and what she thinks is just the harmless third-person omniscient, “Little did he know…,” Eiffel changes Harold’s life with the prediction of his imminent death.
Forthcoming narrated death aside, this film could easily be written off as just another maudlin romantic comedy – or dare we say chick flick – with a slightly creative plot twist, when Harold sparks a love interest with the brash-talking, government hating, tattooed baker Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal). But it’s got one thing that a lot of films in the romantic comedy genre don’t normally have: depth.
Ferrell, Gyllenhaal, Thompson and Dustin Hoffman (who plays an offbeat literature professor helping Harold’s diagnose his narration) flesh out the characters in this film and give the mostly-fluffy plot some serious weight and credibility. Every character has a realness that is understandable and relatable, despite the unlikelihood of the situations they find themselves in.
Have our lives ever been dictated to us by the voice of a novelist? No. But that doesn’t mean we can’t connect with the film’s underlying themes of love, loss, courage and finding yourself, all of which live and breathe in each of the characters. While the plot is fun and the concept is fairly fresh, it’s the cast that makes this film a must-see.
Video resolution: 1080p
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
As mentioned earlier, there’s really nothing about this film that makes it a showcase for Blu-ray. Done in 1.85:1 1080p MPEG-2 transfer, images are crisp and clean, but a basically dull color palette and some digital processing makes for pretty blah visual appeal.
But if you look at the wardrobe – yes, that’s how we’re gauging the video in this film – the blahness could be intentional. As Harold begins to shake off his routines, he trades in bland brown suits for a deep red sweater and blue jeans, and color intensity seems to pick up in the film. Trust us, the fashion says a lot.
English: PCM 5.1
English: Dolby Digital 5.1
French: Dolby Digital 5.1
Audio’s another Blu-ray let-down, but with the plot of the film, you can’t expect a whole lot. Despite being despised as an IRS man, Harold isn’t likely to be starting any gun-fights and he’s far too reserved for a high-speed car chase. Not much use of surrounds either, though it is easy to get enveloped by Emma Thompson’s smooth narration.
(Standard and high definition)
Special Editon, Special Features – you would think the two go hand-in-hand, but the Stranger Than Fiction special features are sorely lacking. You do get a few more extras than in the original Blu-ray release, but it’s a sad offering of predictable extended and deleted scenes and probably more commentary than you really need. Here’s what you get:
Audio Commentaries: One from director Marc Forster, Will Ferrell and Dustin Hoffman (it’s nice to see big-name actors taking the time), and another from Forster, producer Lindsay Duran and the production team.
Featurettes: No new featurettes. A sample includes the cast-congratulating Actors in Search of a Story), an inside look at screenwriter Zach Helm’s script in Words on a Page, and Picture a Number: The Evolution of a G.U.I. which gives details on the film’s graphic overlays.
Delete & Extended Scenes: Two was more than enough in the original Blu-ray release, but this time around you’ve got nine selections that were pared down or hit the cutting room floor.
BD-Live: BD-Live will be enabled on this Special Edition release, but not until Dec. 2.
Back to Sony’s double-dipping. We can appreciate a good Special Edition, with extended scenes spliced into the movie and some amazing special features that really add to the understanding of the film. But sadly, you’re not getting any of that with Stranger Than Fiction’s special edition. You get the same great movie, fair enough, but there’s certainly no motivation to run to the shelves over the so-called bonuses of this new release.
It was great to see this movie released on Blu-ray, adding a little diversity to the shoot-em-up action and war flicks that dominate the market. But if you already have the movie in its regular Blu-ray release, save your money and just watch the film again. You’ll get more value out of the experience and you’ll sleep easier knowing you haven’t supported Sony in its shameless holiday gouging.
Well your tag line slandering Sony for wanting to release a fairly good movie on Blu Ray was a pretty big tip.
Hey now...my carefully use of the word "many" should save me from slander and libel charges! As in "many" people found stranger than fiction was a surprise on Blu-ray.
If anything I would applaud Sony for putting out this film, and any other that might appeal to a broader audience than the action demographic.
But there are many reasons stated in my review for why there was no need for a Special Edition re-release. I say, put some effort into it if you're going to release something under Special Edition. One or two more featurettes and some boring deleted scenes doesn't cut it, and that's got nothing to do with format.
I have never seen one article from you guys about the new formats that doesn't bash Blu ray. No one likes a sore loser.
Dude... does someone have a case of the Mondays?
If you actually read beyond the tag-line you'd see the review criticizes a blatant double-dip with almost nothing to offer over the original disc released in '06. But it's high praise for the film and the disc's quality if you don't already own it.
This MirrorMask review [audioholics.com] is a recommendation of a great diamond in the rough Blu-ray disc.
This article grades studios on Blu-ray [audioholics.com]releases giving high praise to consistently good performer - including Sony.
Here a Sony Blu-ray player [audioholics.com] is actually recommended over a budget no-brand player.
If you're referring to views express during the format war... you're barking up some very old news. A retread of audio/video history would belong in a different thread.
I have personally championed Blu-ray as the best way (today) to view high-def movies with high-resolution multi-channel audio.
But that's just my personal opinion. It shouldn't deter anyone from enjoying media any way they see fit.
Don't worry, Sheep - smile and be happy! Everything is all-right. There are no sore losers here, nobody lost anything.