Stranger than Fiction, released theatrically in 2006, was a surprise for fans of Will Ferrell. Unlike his other string of films, which were lewd and crude, Stranger than Fiction was a quieter affair for fans of the comic. Although the trailers painted it as a film in which Ferrell would let loose with his usual comedic style, it was instead a more touching event that was also coupled with plenty of head-bending antics. While the plot may have turned a few off with its absurdity, the mixture of visual aids and genuine connections between characters really made it a much more unique occasion.
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.
I wasn’t sure going into this film what to expect, simply because the trailers screamed something else, while my eyes were telling me that this wasn’t going to be another Old School. I settled in for the film and immediately was impressed not only by how laid back the film was, but also how laid back Ferrell was. It was odd to see him so calm, but it was something you quickly adjusted to as his character was so believable. He didn’t even stand out when next to Hoffman or Maggie Gyllenhaal, who plays the love interest, which is remarkable considering those two are some of the stronger character actors to this day.
Also unique to this film was the heads-up-display that would accompany Harold. It was a real treat to see how the HUD would float and move around with his every movement and definitely wasn’t something you would think would be in a film starring one of SNL’s most memorable comics. I know I’ve spent a lot of time harping on that fact, but when you make your living on college comedies like Ferrell did, to see him in a film like this is a welcome change of pace.
Although I was unsure how I felt about the film upon first viewing, watching it this second time definitely made me a fan of it. I loved how simple of a story it was, yet it worked in all of these complex head-twisting elements like how the character could possibly be hearing the things he was. It was ridiculous a concept to be sure, yet the film rarely feels wholly unrealistic. It’s similar in nature to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, although less of a head trip, but you get the same sense of wonder and disconnected reality.
Perhaps the most enjoyable element of the film outside of the quirkiness was just the general interactions between the characters. Ferrell and Gyllenhaal had remarkably good chemistry and Tony Hale as Ferrell’s best friend made for some entertaining bits (though anyone who is a fan of Hale’s role on Arrested Development may be surprised by much more…lively he is. In fact it’s almost as if he and Ferrell switched roles for the type of characters they usually play). As previously stated it’s an overly simple film but one that is genuinely a lot of fun to watch.
Overall this review was probably a rambly mess about the film, but it’s not something that you can pin down easily. It’s unique with its story and characters and it makes for a genuinely entertaining time. You may not know how to feel about it immediately after seeing it…but you should find it to be an enjoyable experience nonetheless. Recommended.
Well that’s interesting. Of all films you’d expect to double dip on Blu-ray, this isn’t one of them. It’s not terrible obvious why it’s receiving a repeat release either, as there are very few new extras to behold on it. Still, Stranger than Fiction arrives on Blu-ray with new cover art and not much else. Menu system is simple and easy to use (although the constant stair-stepping of the menus gets to be a bit of a hassle to back out of)…but really, not much else is here to distinguish this from the previous release.
Moving onto the video and audio transfer, there isn’t a whole lot new here either. An MPEG-2 encoded 1080p transfer is carried over once again (this is officially the first MPEG-2 encoded Blu-ray I’ve seen…but I didn’t hop on the band wagon early when they were in greater supply, so that’s probably why) and it looks quite remarkable. It’s an incredibly clean and distinct transfer that never falters and always provides a consistently clear image. I noticed at first that there was a bit of a dreamy “haze” over the transfer, but it’s nothing that obscures any detail. Overall a solid transfer, which makes me wonder why more studios don’t use this obviously still perfectly capable codec (though it probably doesn’t compress as well as AVC or VC-1).
New to this release is a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio mix. Previously we had a PCM 5.1 track, but this time the film is given the TrueHD treatment. Although honestly it doesn’t matter for this particular movie as there isn’t a whole lot that demands to be heard in surround or requires a lot of LFE output, but overall it’s a fine mix. Also available are French and Spanish TrueHD 5.1 tracks as well as English, English SDH and French subtitles.
Moving onto the extras, this is where things get a little hairy. All of the featurettes, Actors in Search of a Story (18:38), Building the Team (8:33), Words on a Page (9:28), Picture a Number: The Evolution of a G.U.I. (17:13), On Set (3:01), and On Location in Chicago (10:29), are included (and in standard definition), as are the two audio commentaries, Director and Cast Commentary and Filmmakers Commentary. The new elements are tucked away inside of the “Deleted and Extended Scenes” tab, which mixes in the old with the new.
You can view the scenes individually or simply hit “Play All” and be treated by four separate groups of scene collections. Each of the scenes are precluded by text intros and they’re split up into the following run times and aspect ratios: Deleted and Extended Scenes (6:57, HD), Deleted and Extended Scenes (6:39, SD), Deleted and Extended Scenes (13:38, HD), and Deleted and Extended Scenes (5:07, SD). As you can probably guess, the HD content is what is new here. It’s a solid mixture of removed and added pieces and the new scenes in particular are quite funny in some cases.
Overall you really aren’t seeing much of a difference between this release and the past release. In fact, aside from the TrueHD and extra deleted/extended pieces…there isn’t anything that is new here. If you already own the film on Blu-ray then I’d just past his one by, but if you’re in the market than this one is definitely Recommended—the new audio and scenes aren’t must-see (or hear), but the MSRP of this Special Edition is $10 less than the old release. Plus there is some BD-Live functionality thrown in as well, if your player is capable.
Stranger than Fiction: Special Edition arrives on Blu-ray on December 2nd.