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Stranger Than Fiction(2006)
Karen Effiel is an author writing her latest novel about an isolated man named Harold Crick. What she doesn't know is that her fictionalized character is real. The real Harold Crick is an IRS agent who has lived a dull existence and one day begins to hear Karen's voice as she narrates what she puts on paper to what Harold has and is doing. Because of this Harold insists the help of a literary professor to find out what is happening and ends up changing things about his life including beginning a relationship with his IRS client, a government-hating bakery owner named Ana Pascal. Harold, however, finds trouble when he hears that Karen plans to kill him.
For more about Stranger Than Fiction and the Stranger Than Fiction Blu-ray release, see Stranger Than Fiction Blu-ray Review published by Ben Williams on December 5, 2008 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Director: Marc Forster
Writer: Zach Helm
Starring: Will Ferrell, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, Queen Latifah, Emma Thompson, Tony Hale
» See full cast & crew
Stranger Than Fiction Blu-ray Review
Will Ferrell Minus the Manchild
Reviewed by Ben Williams, December 5, 2008
Will Ferrell has made a career out of portraying eerily similar characters. His performances tend to always fall into the over-the-top category with his hyped up and larger than life screen persona. So, it's a true surprise to find him in Stranger than Fiction, a movie that features Mr. Ferrell in a role unlike anything he's yet achieved. Maybe he's more of a chameleon that I originally thought?
Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) is your average, every day obsessive-compulsive IRS agent. He obsesses about stats and figures and the most banal parts of his utterly boring life. It seems that Harold doesn't really have anything in his life other than his job. One strange day, everything in Harold's life will change when he develops a disembodied voice in his head that seemingly narrates his daily activities. Is Harold crazy, overworked or is the mysterious narration really happening?
Stranger than Fiction was billed as being an original and thought-provoking film along the lines of something we might see from Charlie Kaufman. While I do see plenty of reasons to make that comparison, I think that Stranger than Fiction creates its own special brand of surrealistic weirdness. Mr. Ferrell is really very likable and fills the role perfectly despite his lack of experience in pseudo-dramatic roles. I really enjoyed how subtle, sweet and touching his performance is. Maggie Gyllenhaal and Dustin Hoffman also provide extremely strong supporting performances in roles that also break from their normal styles and screen personas.
What makes the film work so well, is how we are shown Harold's daily routine and how, as he discovers that there really is a life out there for him to live, he loses his obsessions and focuses on enjoying life. Stranger than Fiction is really is a very warm and sweet film and it succeeds admirably in overcoming the inherent strangeness of the plot and, instead, finds its center in the emotional interplay between characters.
Stranger Than Fiction Blu-ray, Video Quality
Stranger than Fiction is presented in a high quality Mpeg-2 transfer that again shows that there is plenty of life left in this unfairly derided compression codec. As one would expect, Stranger than Fiction has been presented in 1080p on this Blu-ray release and features the same encode that was used by Sony for their previous Blu-ray release of the film. I guess if the transfer worked well the first time around, there wasn't really any reason to fiddle with it for this second release.
What strikes me about this particular transfer is how perfectly clean and sharp it is. There are many shots throughout the film where graphs and charts are flashed on screen to illustrate Harold's inner thoughts. These graphics just about leap off the screen and even the finest print is always completely legible. Colors are also nicely handled with a lot of rich, smoothly rendered pastel shades. Pay particular attention to Harold's apartment - - there is a ton of color and fine detail in this particular set and this Blu-ray encode finds the perfect balance between detail and filmic textures. As was the case with the first release of Stranger than Fiction, there are no distracting artifacts present on this release. Ultimately, this is a well-rendered transfer without any noticeable flaws.
Stranger Than Fiction Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Other than the slightly different selection of special features available on this re-release of Stranger than Fiction, the only other change to this version is that the film's audio has been re-encoded from 5.1 PCM to Dolby TrueHD. I honestly can't tell a bit of difference between the two tracks.
Stranger than Fiction is pretty run of the mill when it comes to sound design. Not that it needs heavy surround effects or explosive subwoofer action. The TrueHD soundtrack performs exactly as it should with clear dialogue, music placed perfectly within the mix and a light touch of directional sound when appropriate. While the picture will probably wow your friends with its clarity and detail, the sound is much more subtle. In the end, this is a nice soundtrack, but not something you'll be likely to use as demo material.
Stranger Than Fiction Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
What an odd title for a re-release! Perhaps Sony just thought that adding a few features to the already decent set of extras contained in the original release was a sufficient reason to update the film. Everything from the previous Blu-ray release of Stranger than Fiction is included with this set, along with a few new items:
Here's what's included:
-Actors in Search of Story
-Building the Team
-Words on a Page
-On Location in Chicago
-On the Set
-Picture a Number: The Evolution of a G.U.I.
-Deleted and Extended Scenes
I was really quite impressed with the collection of extras offered up on this Blu-ray release of Stranger than Fiction back when the first version of the film was released on Blu- ray a few years ago. AS special editions have improved on the format, this set is less impressive, but still includes some nice features for those interested in the film. The newest items included for this re-release of the film are two audio commentaries and a few extra deleted scenes. The two commentaries are a nice addition and the first of the bunch, featuring Director Marc Forster, Will Ferrell and Dustin Hoffman, is highly entertaining. The six featurettes included dive into various aspects of the production - - from screenwriting to casting to a special tribute to Chicago. If you have any curiosities regarding the production of this film, you are likely to find your answers here. The disc's nine deleted scenes help to flesh out the ideas and story elements of the film and offer a nice step up form the two deleted scenes included on the previous Blu-ray version. Thought not the greatest set of supplements ever created, Stranger than Fiction does have a lot of nice bonus content available for fans of the film.
Stranger Than Fiction Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Stranger than Fiction is a bizarre yet surprisingly endearing film. Will Ferrell really is a revelation here, as he steps outside his normal routine of portraying characters who routinely behave like twelve-year-olds in grown-up bodies. I hope we can expect to see more of this dramatic and subtle side from Mr. Ferrell in the future. On the technical side, the Mpeg-2 encoded video is accurate, colorful and pleasing. Audio is a bit on the boring side, though it is presented in lossless Dolby TrueHD. Supplements have been beefed up for this re-issue and feature two entertaining and informative commentaries and new slate of interesting deleted scenes. So, the big question is, would I recommend that current owners pick up this re-issue? On the grounds of nothing but audio and video improvements, I wouldn't. Nothing has really changed since the first release and I doubt that Stranger than Fiction will ever look or sound any better. However, if your main focus is supplements, then this re-issue is a definite buy. If you haben't ever had the pleasure of seeing Stranger than Fiction, I highly recommend owning the film. It is a surprising, humorous and brilliantly crafted film that just might make fans out of Will Ferrell detractors.
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