Fargo: Special Edition DVD

Dom Robinson reviews
Fargo: Special Edition

A homespun murder story. Distributed by



  • Cert:
  • Cat.no: 17279 CDVD
  • Running time: 94 minutes
  • Year: 1996
  • Pressing: 2003
  • Region(s): 2 (UK PAL)
  • Chapters: 32 plus extras
  • Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1
  • Languages: English, French, Spanish
  • Subtitles: 10 languages available
  • Widescreen: 1.85:1
  • 16:9-enhanced: Yes
  • Macrovision: No
  • Disc Format: DVD 9
  • RRP: £19.99
  • Extras: “Minnesota Nice” documentary, Interview with The Coen Brothers, Trivia Track, The Coen Brothers’ Family Tree, Trailers and TV spots, American Cinematographer article, Photo Gallery, Audio commentary


      Joel & Ethan Coen

    (Barton Fink, The Big Lebowski, Blood Simple, Fargo, Hudsucker Proxy, Intolerable Cruelty, The Ladykillers (2004), The Man Who Wasn’t There, Miller’s Crossing, O Brother Where Art Thou?, Raising Arizona)


    Ethan Coen


    Joel Coen and Ethan Coen


    Carter Burwell


    Jerry Lundegaard: William H. Macy
    Carl Showalter: Steve Buscemi
    Marge Gunderson: Frances McDormand
    Gaear Grimsrud: Peter Stormare
    Jean Lundegaard: Kristin Rudrud
    Jose Feliciano: Himself
    Soap Opera Actor: Bruce Campbell (uncredited)

Fargo tells the true story of events which took place in Minnesota in 1987. The names have been changed to protect the innocent, but the rest has been told exactly as it occured.

Jerry Lundegaard is a stressed-out executive car salesman on the verge of failure who arranges for his wife Jean to be kidnapped, in the hope that splitting the ransom with the kidnappers will enable him to finance a new business venture. When one of the kidnappers goes off the rails and events career out of control, it falls to Marge Gunderson, Chief of the Brainerd Police Department, to set things to rights.

William H. Macy was best known at the time for his role as Dr. Morgenstern in the hit television series, E.R., although he has since had roles in the films Murder In The First, The Client, Air Force One and both of Paul Thomas Anderson’s tour-de-forces, Boogie Nights and Magnolia.

Here he does very well as a man who is trying not to suffer a nervous breakdown. He just wants a good life for himself and his family, despite having a job which doesn’t appreciate him, but the methods he employs to do this have a strong possibility of going wrong. In my original review of this film for the 1998 DVD release, I was later questioned by one reader as to whether I thought he really was trying to provide a good life for his family, considering the way things turn out, but I still think he believes that at least – he’s just got a dippy and misguided way of going about things, with ill-throught-out and potentially disastrous consequences.

Frances McDormand, also a star of the Coen Brothers’ Blood Simple, won an Oscar for Best Actress for Fargo, although I can’t really see why as her role requires her to do little more than go round asking questions about the increasing number of dead bodies that turn up in and around town, or to mention the fact that she’s “carrying a load here” (ie. pregnant), when all the other cast on show totally outshine her.

It was an inspired piece of casting to pair Steve Buscemi together with Peter Stormare, the latter being an actor I hade never seen before and who looks like an extremely tired Bruce Willis lookalike, although who has since turned up in more Hollywoodised fare such as Armageddon, Windtalkers and the forthcoming Bad Boys II.

Steve Buscemi, who has many films to his credit including Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and who made his directorial debut with Trees Lounge, plays a fast-talking small-time criminal who is just interested in making a quick buck with as little hassle as possible along the way, while making his grievances as vocal as possible whenever anything goes wrong.

Peter Stormare, on the other hand, plays a character who we don’t get to find out much about and is a man of very few words. It’s clear that he also wants to get the job done, but his methods are more severe. If someone gets in their way, or poses a threat to him, the simple answer is a bullet through the head… or sometimes worse.

There’s also an uncredited cameo from Evil Dead actor Bruce Campbell in the trite soap opera viewed by Stormare, a programme which is at odds with the cold-blooded maniac we see onscreen.

Overall, this film is definitely one of the Coen brother’s better offerings alongside Barton Fink and Hudsucker Proxy and is one that can be watched time and time again, mainly for the class acting on display and the writing, for which they received an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Even five years since I first saw Fargo, it can make me laugh nervously one minute and be appalled at the actions of certain characters all within the space of one minute.

Some of the cast had a bloody good time on-set.

Filmed and presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, the original release had a very good print, albeit not perfect, while this one looks flawless. There’s a few close-up facial shots which show off the quality, not to mention the gorgeous snow-covered landscapes captured on film by Joel Coen (and an uncredited co-directing from his brother Ethan). The original release also contained a fullscreen version on the DVD, but such was a pointless exercise – it was pan-and-scan as opposed to an open-matte transfer, so you would lose approximately 28% of the original 1.85:1 film image by watching that format.

The original’s disc came with a Dolby Surround soundmix that was very clear throughout the film. The new Dolby Digital 5.1 version doesn’t seem vastly different but is welcome nonetheless. The soundtrack is used mainly for the memorable musical score, any scenes featuring only ambience, plus those which have clear gunshot sounds, or the rather gruesome scenes in which Steve Buscemi makes his last appearance in the film…

With the 1998 release, a few cast and production notes and mentions of other DVDs released was all we got in terms of extras, plus the disc came presented in those dreadful plastic cases that Universal and Columbia used for a time before backing out when it became clear that they could smash when simply falling and hitting the floor accidentally… but I digress. The extras on this special edition are as follows:

  • “Minnesota Nice” documentary (28 mins): An interesting and mildly informative look at the making of the film, with chat from all the principal cast and crew members. The title comes from the fact that all the residents have an overly-nice attitude to the other residents and all visitors.

  • Interview with The Coen Brothers (20 mins): and Frances McDormand. Mainly talk about Fargo but also harking back to Blood Simple, the debut movie for all three of them. I’d rather have seen William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare in the hot seat though.

    The interviewer is a pain in the backside. It’s like he doesn’t listen to the answers to his questions and when he asks them to describe the background to a scene before they play a clip, they start talking and then he immediately waffles over the top of them describing it instead. What an irritant!

  • Trivia Track: After you’ve seen the film once, watch it again with text appearing onscreen all the way through that gives more detail about all aspects of it.

  • The Coen Brothers’ Family Tree: An interesting concept – a ‘tree’ linking all the main – and some less-main – cast members who have appeared in their films.

  • Trailers and TV spots: Two anamorphic widescreen trailers (2 mins each) and a 30-second 4:3 TV trailer.

  • American Cinematographer article: Text and static pictures about Roger A Deakins.

  • Photo Gallery: A series of 70 pictures, but stuck in a tiny ice-surrounded window.

  • Audio commentary: with director of photography Roger A Deakins.

With this re-release, and now on MGM’s label, there are a much-improved 32 chapters to spread the movie out compared to the original DVD’s 17, as well as many more subtitle options – 10 in total: English for the hard of hearing, French, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, Polish, Greek, Croatian, Czech and Hungarian. The main menu features some subtitle animation and sound of a cop car driving into the distance, preceeded by a the thud of an ice-pick making contact with blood splatted onscreen.


Review copyright © Dominic Robinson, 2003.

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