Why do we feel scared when a car pulls up on a murderer? Look at the scene in Fargo where Carl (Steve Buscemi) and Gaear (Peter Stormare) kill a cop who had pulled them over. They try to move the cops body, and off in the distance, some headlights pop up on the horizon.
One would think an audience should cheer, the bad guys are about to be caught in the act regardless of who sees them. Maybe the audience should naturally feel fear, knowing headlights could be the sign of another innocent victim. Instead, there is tension built from this scene knowing the killers are in danger of being spotted. You are almost worried for these murderers and kidnappers, the scum of the earth.
You cannot find a better argument for how well developed these two characters are, and one of them barely says a word. They are quirky, but full of disdain and hate. They are as far removed from everyone else in this movie as one could imagine, yet for some bizarre reason, you want them to get away.
At that point in Fargo, the main character has not been introduced. Marge (Frances McDormand) doesn’t appear until nearly the 30-minute mark, sparking an investigation into the murder of that officer, and yes, the people behind those headlights on the horizon.
What works in Fargo is the investigation, and not because of any tension or mystery. The killers are known, so much of what Marge does should be boring. However, everyone in this town is so damned nice, you can’t help but want to see more of them. It does not matter what the topic of discussion is, or if the other person involved in the dialogue is some kind of stalker. They are impossibly friendly, calm and collected.
They also have interesting family dynamics. You can see the burden on Jerry’s (William H. Macy) face as he drowns in debt, his family blissfully unaware anything is wrong. Marge is expecting her first child soon, yet still carries on a familiar routine with her husband.
Fargo took home two Oscars in 1997, and undoubtedly deserved more. Roger Deakins cinematography is outstanding, especially the shot as Buscemi buries a briefcase that showcases the isolation of the area. Then again, Fargo lives on, quotable as ever, while the 1997 pick for Best Picture, The English Patient slowly drifts into an obscured memory. That means far more than a statue.
Oh dear. What happened to this transfer? You could try to be polite like Marge, but with edge enhancement this disgraceful, that is not possible. Thick halos dominate nearly every frame, right from the start where the credits even show a white outline. Some of the beautiful cinematography is ruined, in particular a great shot of Jerry walking alone in a parking lot from above. Not only is he surrounded by a force field, so are the planters, his car, and the lights.
The grain structure is heightened by the artificial tampering, appearing digital instead of film-like. Fine detail, which certainly creeps into the frame in close-ups, is not well delineated. Long shots are flat out processed, and flesh tones waver all over the place, from natural to pink. Flickering is a bother, from Jerry’s striped shirt to the mess that is Marge’s outfit at 55:40. Trees near the house Carl and Gaear stay in are a hilarious mixture of digital processing and edge enhancement.
Colors are subdued intentionally, while the black levels perform admirably, even under the heavy snow conditions. There is a fantastic print under this mess, with only the occasional speck or mark to complain about. With less tampering, this could be a stunner, as the depth and detail that comes through, even with the mistakes, looks great.
Fargo is concerned with its front soundstage, leaving the surrounds inactive aside from a bit of bleed in the score. It uses the fronts well, spacing the dialogue and some ambient effects. Listen to the radio in the car shop early, which pans as Jerry walks in and out of the scene.
Gunfire, while lacking any punch on the low end, is crisp. The shattering of a window early is clean, and delivered free of any distortion. Any yelling or screaming is crisp, bringing a clarity unheard on prior formats. Some of the dialogue delivered over the phone, intentionally drowned out of course to sound like it is coming from a phone speaker, seems mixed a bit low, especially since it is hard to make out in the first place.
A commentary from cinematographer Robert Deakins is first on this disc’s set of extras, followed by the fine 30-minute making of, Minnesota Nice. A trivia track will follow along with the film if you so choose. An article from “American Cinematographer” magazine is hard on the eyes when you try to read it. A photo gallery and trailers remain.