Stranger Than Fiction: Special Edition Blu-ray Review
The disc presents a theatrically correct widescreen 1.85:1 1080p transfer that has been mpeg-2 encoded. Apart from Hellboy 2 and Chungking Express, this has to be one of the most film like Blu-rays I've seen in a long time such is the grain. Detail is very good from close up skin defects and hair to distance buildings; take a look at Professor Hilbert's office and all the book titles and general disarray; all clear and precise, look too at the destruction of Harold's flat, the brick work, and debris and the grass; wonderful!
Colours are rather subdued due to the pallet which is somewhat earthy, so greens and browns are strong and bold without being overblown and vibrant, blues too fair very well without bleed or wash.
Brightness is set to give deep strong blacks, though the film rarely uses them with contrast set to give decent enough whites, combined they give some distinct 3d pop to the image.
Original print is free from any defects and digitally there are no compression problems though there was the faintest whiff of edge enhancement. In all an excellent transfer.
The disc has two Dolby Digital TrueHD sound tracks, English and French; I concentrate on the former. A very subtle track that belies its excellence in a sea of ambiance rather than obvious effects. Being a dialogue heavy film this is obviously the most important aspect and it is met extremely well, dialogue is perfectly natural and given the odd bit of directionality when needed, the narration is suitably deep and is spread across the front three to help deepen the sound. Effects are also very natural sounding, I point to the scene on the bendy bus which pans the sound across the sound field matching the visuals. The score too makes good use of all the speakers placing you well in the centre of the sound. The film is not action orientated so there is no bombast nor is there any significant bass effects excepting the demolition scene, however there is enough bass to keep everything within a good range. Not a track to set you speakers alight, but one that is extremely good at providing atmosphere and sounding natural and as such I am very pleased with it.
- Audio Commentary
With director Mark Forster and actors Dustin Hoffman and Will Ferrell. A somewhat irreverent chat between the three results in a pretty good listen. Hoffman, oddly, takes the reign as moderator and tends to guide the talk along. Because he is in so few scenes he tends to talk about what is going on and thus drawing the others into conversation, Ferrell talks well and is not 'madcap' as one might expect with Forester being, actually, quite quiet throughout. In all a decent listen and engaging.
- Audio Commentary
With director Mark Forster, production designer Kevin Thompson, visual effects designer Kevin Haug, director of photography Roberto Schaefer, producer Lindsay Doran and executive producer Eric Kopeloff. There is an obvious rapport between these six individuals and each bring something to the mix, Forster takes the moderator role in that he asks pointed questions or guides the chat with “Why don't you explain ...” etc. Plenty of topics covered and is far more technical in nature, strangely the occasional pause is evident, but these are few making for an engaging and interesting listen.
- Actors in search of a story - 0.18.37
A series of cast and crew interviews as they explore the ideas behind the story and how their respective characters came out of those ideas. Bulked out with plenty of behind the scenes filming and (a bit too much) film material. Nothing particularly insightful really.
- Building the Team - 0.08.32
More than just a look at the creative team behind the film we get interviews with producers and the director and discussions about where the film was heading and what was the goal of the picture. Again backed up by behind the scenes filming and film stock and nothing revolutionary but a more interesting feature than the one above.
- Words on a Page - 0.09.28
Somewhat of a continuation of the above feature but looking more closely at the scripting and plot of the film. Interviews with all the same people and backed up with the same.
- Picture a number: the evolution of GUI - 0.17.13
Interviews and discussions with the graphic and computer designers that worked on the graphics that Harold sees in his everyday life as he's working through his numbers; including the initial idea through their development to the final product. A huge amount of information is given here backed up by behind the scenes filming and finished film stock.
- On the Set - 0.03.00
A series of video shots taken during the filming set to music, best ignore.
- On location in Chicago - 0.10.29
Back on track with the behind the scenes featurettes, and contains interviews with all the usual suspects on why Chicago was chosen for the films setting.
- Deleted and extended scenes - 0.06.57
A total of nine scenes presumably edited for pacing, fair to say there is little of interest here, mainly improvised dialogue; although the full TV interview with Karen Eiffel is a particular delight.
For Blu-ray, Talladega Nights and Lakeview Terrace.
- BD Live
Although the disc is BD live, there is no exclusive material, only the standard Sony interface; shocker.
Apart from the deleted scenes everything is presented in standard definition, considering that it is all available already on the original release, you'd have though something would have been done to help spice up the package? As it is we have a couple of, admittedly quite interesting, audio commentaries and a few more deleted scenes but that is it.
Stranger than Fiction is an odd little film, reminds me a little of Donnie Darko (2001) (coming to a Blu-ray soon folks) in that is doesn't quit fit into any mould and because of that I really quite like it. The main cast are a joy to watch and as the story unfold you find yourself becoming absorbed into their plight and willing a change of direction; how often can it be said a film has that affect huh?
As a Blu-ray package this 'special edition' appears to have pretty much identical picture and sound (albeit Dolby TrueHD as apposed to PCM) and a near identical extras package making the upgrade question somewhat redundant. However, if you are new to the film then this would be the package to pick up since it has more and is generally cheaper that the original. However I wish companies would think long and hard about 'special editions' and really make them special or otherwise just release them as a full package in the first place.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £17.95
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- Audio Commentary