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Stranger than Fiction: Special Edition (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

November 17, 2008 by  



“A unique film featuring an all star cast and showing us that Will Ferrell can shine when given a dramatic role. A beautifully shot film in the city of Chicago and overall, an endearing film that is even better on Blu-ray!

FILM:  Stranger than Fiction: Special Edition

COMPANY: Columbia Pictures, Mandate Pictures, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: Color, Dolby Digital, 16×9 Widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 English

RATED: PG-13

DURATION: 113 minutes

Release Date: December 2, 2008

Written by Zach Helm

Directed by Marc Forster

PRODUCER: Lindsay Doran

CO-PRODUCERS: Aubrey Henderson, Jim Miller

EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: Nathan Kahane, Joe Drake, Eric Kopeloff

STARRING:

Will Ferrell
Maggie Gyllenhaal
Dustin Hoffman
Queen Latifah
Emma Thompson

Will Ferrell stars as Harold Crick, a lonely IRS agent whose mundane existence is transformed when he hears a mysterious voice narrating his life. With the help of Professor Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman), Harold discovers he’s the main character in a novel-in-progress and that the voice belongs to Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson), an eccentric author famous for killing her main characters in creative ways. Harold must quickly track down Eiffel and stop her before she conjures up a way to finish him off.

Will Ferrell definitely shows how he has evolved as a comedic actor and shows that he has what it takes to do a dramatic role.

In “Stranger than Fiction”, Ferrell plays the part of Harold Crick.  A man who works as an IRS auditor, has an obsessive compulsive disorder of counting things.  May he be counting the number of brushes his teeth on each side, to counting the lines on a crosswalk and more.   Basically, Harold lives a life that tends to be quite repetitive each and every day.

But things change for him when one morning, while brushing his teeth, he hears a woman’s voice.  The voice is pretty much narrating his life and not knowing where this voice is coming from and it starts to drive him crazy.

The woman’s voice happens to be a writer named Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson), a woman who lives in a loft, smokes a lot and busy, trying to figure out what to do for her new book but has a problem of writer’s block.  While under pressure from her publisher to finish her book, they send Penny Escher (played by Queen Latifah) to be her assistant to watch over her and make sure she makes her deadline.

Meanwhile, Karen shows Penny her world as she tries to find a way to kill off another of her protagonist/hero in her book by visiting various locations and imaging how her main character can die.

As for Harold, while going on a IRS job to audit a bakery shop, he meets Ana Pascal (played by Maggie Gyllenhaal), a woman with tattoos, very blunt about why she hasn’t paid her taxes and the total opposite of Harold.  But somehow, the voice in his mind tells him how he finds her so sexy.

But as these voices continue, Harold is advised by his psychiatrist (who thinks he has schizophrenia) to go on medication or by answering Harold’s question of what she would do, advises him to seek an author.  And thus, Harold visits Professor Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman) who assists Harold in uncovering the voice that is talking to him.

But one day, he hears the voice talking about how Harold has set things up for his own death and this freaks Harold out because everything voice has said, has happened in his life and now feels he must find who the voice is and prevent the her from killing him off.  Thus the search begins but also a change in life for Harold as he tries to live life differently.

Featuring  an all-star cast, I felt that every person had a special part in this film and played their character incredibly.  Also, the beautiful scenery and locations in Chicago helped enhance the storyline of “Stranger than Fiction” and overall, its an endearing film but also beautiful.

AUDIO & VIDEO:

The majority of the audio is dialogue but the TrueHD 5.1 really comes through during a scene when a crane hits Harold’s apartment.  I literally felt my room shake when the crash came throughout my speakers.

As for the video, the video looked great on Blu-ray.  “Stranger than Fiction” is a colorful film and the colors were quite vibrant.  Especially when you get to see the various scenery of where the film was shot throughout Chicago.  Very good selections of scenery, especially seeing Chicago outside of the windows (these were not green screen).

SPECIAL FEATURES:

The Blu-ray disc is loaded with special features that include:

  • On Location in Chicago
  • Director & Cast Commentary
  • Filmmakers Commentary
  • Actors in Search of a Story
  • Building the Team
  • Words on a Page
  • Picture a Number: The Evolution of a G.U.I.
  • On the Set
  • Deleted & Extended Scenes
  • Needless to say that there is a lot of special features and they are quite lengthy too.  First, let’s talk about the commentary segments.  The first commentary features Marc Forster, Will Ferell and Dustin Hoffman.  Marc Forster was excited of talking about the film, while Will Ferrell and Dustin Hoffman had this deadpan humor during the commentary.  Hoffman having to sit through the whole film, will joke around about himself (especially scenes that were cut) and an interesting exchange between the three.

    The real fun in the commentary actually was between the filmmakers as six of the staff were present and just having fun and discussing certain parts of the film.  Including one gaff at the end where Maggie Gyllenhaal was using a thin sharpie and when you see the scene of a big sharpie being written on the cast.  It was cool to hear the staff chime in on that.  Especially, the ending credits of how Lindsay Doran thought it looked to much like the film “Seven” and wanted it brightened.  A lot of good, creative thought went into this film and really enjoyed the commentary.

    As for the deleted scenes, this one is actually quite important.  There are two major scenes that can have easily been in the movie and really change the tone of the film.  One is an exchange between Penny (Queen Latifah) and Karen (Emma Thompson).  This scene was cut because they need to focus on Will Ferrell reading the script on the bus.  But the scene deleted would you give you major incite on Karen’s character and why she feels terrible, why she smokes a lot and the performance between the two was just powerful.  I don’t know if it should have been cut because it’s such a powerful scene and it would give you tremendous incite on Karen.  But I understand that the focus is on Harold and thus the scene was cut.

    The other scene which Dustin Hoffman talked about in the commentary which was cut was at the end between Karen (Thompson) and Dr. Hilbert (Hoffman).  This one, I didn’t mind being cut but was a cool scene between the two talented actors and the admiration the two had for each other.

    As for the featurettes, you have “Actors in Search of a Story” in which director Marc Forster talks about each cast member.  “Picking the Right Team” in which Forster talks about the importance of selecting a good team for his staff and their contributions for the film.  This was great to see, especially Forster mentioning the teamwork throughout the commentary and this featurette.

    My favorite was “On Location in Chicago” and how Chicago was chosen to be the city of where the film was to be shot but also insight of the buildings used for the film.  “Words on Page” features  Forster, screenwriter Zach Helm and Producer Lindsay Doran talking about the script and how it was unique, “Picture a Number: The Evolution of G.U.I” was an interesting featurette about how the G.U.I. was used throughout the film and the challenges of having it on the film.  “On the Set” features a montage of funny on-set moments.

    And the Blu-ray does have BD Live enabled in case there were additional features or updates planned.

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    Overall, this is what you want to see in a film on Blu-ray.  A combination of a unique and endearing film such as “Stranger than Fiction” but loaded with two commentaries, lengthy featurettes and you really get a good sense of passion that went behind this film.

    Even the little things such as Harold’s OCD and the G.U.I. that went behind that up to the woman who plays the bus driver (who is actually a bus driver) and other things that you may have never thought about, these situations were carefully planned, thought out and executed.

    Marc Forster is such a talented director and his staff have really done a great job with this film and also, showcasing the beauty of the city of Chicago.

    Again, the cast brings so much depth and as one would expect from a lot of these talented individuals, you can’t help but really be proud of how Will Ferrell did in this film.  He’s not just a comedic actor but he can play serious roles and for “Stranger than Fiction”, he truly shined.

    Overall, “Stranger than Fiction” is a unique film.  An endearing film that is truly worth owning on Blu-ray!  Check it out!






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