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Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents
Stranger than Fiction (2006)

"No, no, it's not schizophrenia. It's just a voice in my head. I mean, the voice isn't telling me to do anything. It's telling me what I've already done. Accurately, and with a better vocabulary."
- Harold Crick (Will Ferrell)

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: June 22, 2007

Stars: Will Ferrell, Maggie Gyllenhaal
Other Stars: Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Queen Latifah
Director: Marc Forster

Manufacturer: DVSS
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some disturbing images, sexuality, brief language and nudity
Run Time: 01h:52m:55s
Release Date: February 27, 2007
UPC: 043396154070
Genre: comedy


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ BA-B+ B-

DVD Review

"Joel Cunningham sits at his keyboard, a look of resignation in his eyes. He's spent the last 45 minutes avoiding the work he sat down to do, instead reading new items about celebrities he hates and blog entries of people he doesn't even know. A lack of ambition that has illustrated the entire picture of his life is magnified in this one simple act: an inability to write about a film he rather enjoyed, writing being his theoretical profession of choice, if not his passion. Joel..."

Hey, who said that?

I don't know about you, but the last thing my self-esteem needs is an omniscient narrator pointing out my flaws. But that's exactly the problem facing Harold Crick (Will Ferrell), a dull, lonely IRS agent who goes about his routine without ever actually living his life until the day he starts hearing a woman's voice somewhat disdainfully describing his daily life and hinting that it will soon come to an end.

Despite the fact that Harold's life seems rather boring—the narrator informs us he goes to bed at the exact same time every day, after brushing his teeth a precise number of times (with onscreen graphics providing a visual tally for us)—he's rather attached it to. His dilemma drives him to consult an expert, Dr. Jules Hilbert, a professor of literature played by Dustin Hoffman at his most idiosyncratic. In order to figure out what it means that Harold is hearing a narrator, Hilbert determines, they must first establish what type of story he's in (a laundry list of questions quickly reveals that it's not in a Miss Marple mystery, nor is Harold a mythical golem). Hilbert advises Harold to start keeping a running tally of events in order to determine whether, at the very least, it's a comedy or a tragedy.

Harold, the dour sort, has enough reason to think it's the latter—he keeps nearly being killed in bizarre accidents even as he becomes more and more distracted at work. The audience, on the other hand, is pretty sure Harold is in a formulaic romantic comedy the moment he meets Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a bakery owner he's tasked to audit. It's obvious opposites are going to attract the minute the militant liberal (she only paid the portion of her taxes that covers social programs, as outlined in a letter to the "imperialist swine" at the IRS) good-naturedly berates "the Man" only to offer him some cookies at the end of the day. Harold is, of course, smitten, but maybe he only notices her because the narrator tells him to. Regardless, it certainly seems like fiction when they begin a tentative romance.

But maybe that's because it is, because meanwhile we're introduced to Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson) a celebrated novelist suffering from a severe case of writer's block. She's known for always killing off her main characters, and she's been having a heck of a time figuring out how to kill one Harold Crick, a mundane IRS agent. She's kind of lost it herself, and we aren't sure if she fancies rooftops and emergency rooms because she's doing research or looking for her own out (I do like the bit where she complains that none of the injured at the hospital look terminal enough).

Eventually, Harold figures out that Karen is telling the story of his life, but it's never explained how—whether she created him, or how her words seem to be governing his existence. But that's not really the point. Zach Helm's clever screenplay is making a larger point about seizing the day and living your life like you know you're going to die—because you are, even if the narrator isn't telling you when. And while the message is hardly original or profound, the method of communication certainly is. Helm has created a lot of zany, likeable characters, and he writes good dialogue. I don't know that he really makes his point all that well—he's striving for but never quite matches the profundity or nuance of something like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind—but he's certainly written the best movie Will Ferrell's been in.

Ferrell, by the way, acquits himself nicely, though his withdrawn, low-key performance doesn't give him much opportunity to show off. Not so for director Marc Forster, however, who finds a lot of room for visual trickery and creative editing, incorporating the stylistic flourishes a lot more successfully than he did with the flashy but ultimately empty-headed
Stay a few years back.

I'm a sucker for a successfully executed high concept, and I can't say I didn't enjoy Stranger than Fiction. It's not quite as profound as perhaps it thinks it is (at heart it's still mostly filled with the tropes of a romantic comedy), but it's clever and novel and sometimes, that's enough.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The image quality is as good as you'd expect for a new release. The colors are bright and the detail is excellent. There aren't any distracting artifacting or aliasing problems, either.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Frenchyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: I can't find too much fault with the 5.1 audio, which present dialogue clearly and provides strong support for the soundtrack of songs from the indie band Spoon. It's not the most inventive mix, but the picture doesn't really call for it.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
2 Deleted Scenes
2 Documentaries
4 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: Stranger than Fiction doesn't have great extras, but there are quite a few of them. If you like a lot of short, glossy featurettes, you'll certainly be satisfied with what's here.

Actors in Search of a Story (18m:30s) focuses on the casting of the main roles, with input from the actors, writer Zach Helm, and director Marc Forster, among others. Building the Team (8m:30s) is somewhat similar, introducing the behind-the-camera crew, from Forster to director of photography Roberto Schaffer and the special effects time that handled the unique on-screen graphics.

The effects also get their own featurette, Pick a Number: The Evolution of a G.U.I. (17m:15s). Of the various piece, it's the one I enjoyed the most, but perhaps that's because the "graphic user interface" that represents the mundane way Harold Crick views the world is actually one of my favorite bits of the film. Anyway, hearing visual effects coordinator Kevin Tod Haug talk about how MK12 Studios created the effect is pretty interesting.

Words on a Page (09m:30s) delves into the development of Zach Helm's celebrated screenplay, offering some insight on the typical production process for a big budget film. On the Set (03m:00s) is a lame montage of on-location footage, minus live audio. Pointless, pretty much. I liked the look at filming provided in On Location in Chicago (10m:30s) a bit more, but I can't promise it isn't because I love to see my hometown on film.

The "deleted scenes" are sort of useless—they're just extended versions of the fake news interviews that serve as a pivotal plot point (they run over 11 minutes combined). A long reel of promotional trailers closes out the bonus material in exciting fashion.

Extras Grade: B-

 

Final Comments

A brilliant concept turned into a pretty good movie, Stranger than Fiction certainly stands out in Will Ferrell's filmography. It's not quite as clever or satisfying as it could be, but it's certainly a big improvement on the typical Hollywood romantic comedy.

 


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