Stranger Than Fiction Blu-ray Review
PictureStranger Than Fiction is presented on BD with 1.85:1 1080p transfer that I found quite superb throughout. Although hardly the most visually demanding of material - no explosions, vast landscapes or intricate, fast-paced action here, folks - the movie takes in numerous locations and never looks less than bright, warm and colourful at any time. Colours are nicely saturated and betray only slight digital enhancement. Their edges are crisp and well-contained and the overall palette is always engaging for a film that steps in and out of lots of different rooms. Flesh-tones looked fairly natural to me - some characters are notably healthier in appearance than others, such Hoffman's Prof Hilbert and Ferrell, himself, whilst the likes of Thompson's Eiffel is sickly pale and tired. Black levels are exactly as they should be, deep and convincing. This is not a film that relies on shadows for atmosphere or effect, so the darkness of the transfer is totally part and parcel of the different environments and the occasional night-time scene. And, as such, they work a treat. Contrast is reliable, as well, as are the odd transitions from light to dark and vice-versa. Daylight exterior sequences come over well, with a nice balance between light and reflection and depth of field up and down the busy streets.
Close-up detail is often quite striking, with faces, eyes, bookshelves and the guitars in the music shop all popping off the screen with sharpness and clarity. Ferrell has always reminded me of softer-edged Ron (Hellboy) Perlman, and the pore-perfect presentation that this transfer allows just seems to enforce that illusion.
A great image, folks.
SoundAnother Blu-ray release, another PCM Uncompressed track ... and another winner. Though the film is primarily presented across the front speakers, the effect is still pretty engaging as the mix manages to be both immersive and lively. Whilst the rears really only come into play whenever the soundtrack demands it - The Jam's classic “That's Entertainment”, for instance - the PCM gives the film a nice open atmosphere that makes the city streets and the frequent bus rides around Chicago sound involving and natural.
Dialogue, essentially, comes over with distinction throughout, and I noticed no other areas for concern with a track that is undemanding, but warm and complimentary to the movie.
There is also a DD 5.1 track but, again, the PCM outshines it even though there is no bombast to be exploited. The PCM just sounds cleaner, sharper and more natural.
ExtrasWell, at first glance, there appears to be quite a bit of added value to this package, with all the special features that graced the SD version ported over for the Blu-ray disc. But, upon closer inspection, the roster of featurettes are of the hum-drum, easy-please variety and actually amount to little more than a perfunctory icing on the production's cake.
First of all we get Actors In Search Of A Story, which runs for 18.37 mins and delves into the creation of seemingly each and every character in the film - including the blink-and-you'll-miss-her Linda (The Year Of Living Dangerously) Hunt, and offers cast insight into their own and their fellow actors' contributions. Ferrell, unsurprisingly, gets most of the attention, although he, himself, barely appears. Reasonably interesting, but still slightly padded and a little too nice 'n' light for my liking.
Building The Team is nine minutes of getting to know the crew behind the camera and the story of how the project got started.
The next featurette is a ten-minute expose of the Chicago locations called, predictably enough, On Location In Chicago. Although hardly revelatory, this is quite a nice little section that centres around some rarely-seen areas of the oft-filmed city, and I have to say that the environment, as evidenced by what we see in the movie, looks interestingly refreshing.
Possibly the most insightful feature is Words On A Page (9.27 mins) which focuses on Zach Helm's intelligent screenplay and allows us entry into the thoughts and themes that he wanted explore with such a wacky, yet sublime story. His intentions were sincere and he has certainly achieved what he set out to do, in making a film that was different, yet commercial enough to attract a strong cast and an audience.
Picture A Number: The Evolution Of A G.U.I is stretched out over 17 long minutes of tedium. Focusing on the film's visual look and the use of those annoying on-screen graphics, this seems to go for far too long about an element that was possibly best left alone as its relevance is all too apparent.
On The Set is simply a three minutes of people messing about in-between takes, dancing and basically having a laugh behind the scenes. Set to some truly awful music, this is not the sort of outtake footage that you would ever return to. Trust me.
Presented in 1080p are two Deleted Scenes which offer possibly the best addition to this disc, by far. Centring around the Book Channel interviews that we see briefly on the TV in Hoffman's study, we get to see a couple of complete semi-improvised interviews. One has Emma Thompson as Karen Eiffel being quizzed by the sycophantic OTT presenter Darlene Sunshine and then the next sees an eccentric fictional author called Prothero (actually played by the film's Visual Effects Designer) come in for the same treatment. These two sequences run for almost twelve minutes combined and well worth a look.
To round out the package, there are also trailers for The Pursuit Of Happyness and Marie Antionette.
VerdictThe film is a strange brew indeed, one third subdued hilarity, one third fantastical quest of self discovery and the final act a melancholic, and genre-busting cocktail of head-scrambling poignancy and soulful loose-end tying. But presented upon a top-notch Blu-ray disc, Marc Forster's intelligent tragicom looks and sounds superb and delivers its warped tale with style to burn. Ferrell is superb, as is Hoffman and Thompson, all adding huge dollops of depth and pathos to the otherwise standard character stereotypes that they occupy. And while Thompson seems to have a terrible time of moping and cerebral hand-wringing, Hoffman positively relishes his role and brightens up the screen whenever he is on it. A good, but unusual film that takes a very, ahem, novel idea but walks with it when it could have so easily have ran.
Extras-wise, the package is of the puff-pastry style, but what is included is certainly welcome. The image is wonderful though, and shows off a relatively quiet film with visual dexterity, warmth and clarity and a tremendous sense of hi-def polish.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £24.16
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