Fargo: 20th Anniversary Edition Steelbook

| August 3, 2017

I vividly remember the first time I saw Joel and Ethan Coen’s Fargo (1996). I gasped—actually, literally gasped—when Carter Burwell’s iconic, haunting score swelled as Jerry Lundegaard’s (William H. Macy) car appeared over a hill outside Fargo, ND in a snowstorm. From that moment on I was entranced, unable to process what I was seeing until the credits rolled, leaving me in tears as it does to this day. The film moved in ways I couldn’t (and in some ways still don’t fully) comprehend. It eschews a traditional film narrative centered on a singular protagonist pursuing a singular goal in favor of something more sprawling and languid, a thriller that moves at the pace of the snowbound Midwest—sluggish and frozen.

I was a 14-year-old Midwesterner myself, obsessing at that point in my life over the gangster movies of Scorsese and Tarantino and devouring all the 1970’s exploitation cinema I could get my hands on. I was interested in the crime and violence that populated the films’ images, and not always necessarily the artistry. That I would move beyond my teenage obsession with crime films for the sake of crime is in no small part thanks to the Coen Brothers and the quirky little bloodbath that is Fargo. I had, in truth, rented the film on VHS because I’d heard a character got put through a wood chipper in the movie and that was a thing I had to see. I’m not sure what I expected apart from that singular scene, but I probably thought it’d be something like a Reservoir Dogs (1992) in the snow (which would just be Hateful Eight (2015), I suppose). Boy was I in for a surprise!

I found in Fargo a film that enthralls me to this day. Not only do the characters generally talk (and look, as the case may be) funny, but the film moves in a way that still confounds me. As noted above, the film foregoes a central protagonist, instead shifting focus from one character to another that we might watch all pertinent events surrounding the kidnapping and murders unhindered by the need to defer to a central character. The decision-making force behind the events of the film is then not one character but instead the combined terrible decisions of all characters involved in Jerry Lundegaard’s plan to have his wife kidnapped in order to extort ransom from his father-in-law. This would seem to indicate that Lundegaard himself is the protagonist at first, but you find that he makes just as many key, plot-driving decisions as do thugs Carl (Steve Buscemi) and Gaear (Peter Stormare) or Brainerd, MN’s pregnant police chief Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand).

The film’s portrayal of Marge has also always impressed me as well, making the film well worth a rewatch now that conversations about the necessity of strong female characters in media have become so prevalent. It wasn’t until I watched the film for the umpteenth time with a friend and his mother that it struck me just how significant it is that Marge is pregnant. Afterward, my friend’s mom expressed how scared she had been for Marge’s baby, as Marge went after those dangerous men. I, to this day however, have never for a moment felt that same fear. And this isn’t because I don’t care about children or anything of the sort (I have a child of my own in fact), but because neither the Coens as filmmakers nor McDormand as the actor portraying the character ever gave me a reason to doubt Marge’s ability to thwart the criminals. She is, in my mind, the definition of a strong female character, one whose strength is made all the more significant given that she is indeed pregnant yet still every bit as capable.

I could go on about Fargo like this for ages, moving from one peculiar character or scene to the next, expressing how incredible it is that any of it works, much less all of it. But suffice it to say that it’s a masterwork by two of the greatest cinematic minds of the modern era, a pair of filmmakers who aren’t afraid to try something new with each subsequent picture they make. Earlier films in their oeuvre like Blood Simple (1984) or Raising Arizona (1987) may have gotten them noticed, but it was truly Fargo that established the Coen Brothers as the artists we know them now to be.

As such, Fargo is a film worth celebrating and that’s precisely what Shout! Factory’s 20th Anniversary Edition of the film, arriving on Blu-ray on August 8, 2017, does with its beautiful new Steelbook packaging. The disc boasts the same remastered HD video transfer as the 2014 Blu-ray. With that in mind, note that there were Blu-rays released prior to that remaster with an inferior (though still fairly impressive) transfer of the film. So if you currently own one of the older Blu-rays and are on the fence about upgrading to the 20th Anniversary Edition, the quality of the video on the 2014 remaster alone makes this edition well worth the upgrade from the previous ones, especially at the current price.

The release also boasts the bonus content previously included on the Special Edition DVD release (with the exception of the trivia), including the vintage Charlie Rose interview with the Coens and Frances McDormand. So there’s nothing new here, content-wise, but at least it includes the Charlie Rose interview, which was omitted from the previous Blu-rays for some reason. So at least that’s something! Plus, the Coens so rarely appear in the bonus content on their films’ home video releases nowadays that it’s nice to hear their personal thoughts on the film, even if it isn’t a new interview. Another important thing that sets the 20th Anniversary Edition apart from the 2014 Blu-ray is that Shout! partnered with Steelbook to release Fargo in an official Steelbook case with new artwork inspired by the film’s late night massacre outside Brainerd. The release is also limited to 10,000 copies, so pick it up now if you don’t want to miss out.

About the Author:

Jef is a writer and educator in Chicago, Illinois. He holds a degree in Media & Cinema Studies from DePaul University, but sometimes he drops it and picks it back up again. He's also the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com and is fueled entirely by coffee (as if you couldn't tell).
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