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A better value for Coen fans, and Fox makes a good effort
on August 31, 2011
Four great Coen Brothers early works from Fox, and a couple licensed from MGM. Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, and Miller's Crossing are all instant classic films from the Coen catalog, and Fargo is an Oscar favorite bundled with this set and previously available. The die-hard Coen fans probably already own Fargo, making its inclusion here a little annoying for them, but it's still a better value (at current prices) than buying the others as individual discs. For those who have been waiting to get Fargo, or want a headfirst introduction to some of America's coolest filmmakers, this is a great bargain and a fantastic set; for the rest of us who are already Coen converts, buy the set, enjoy it, resell or give your extra Fargo to a friend, and try not to stew too badly thinking about Barton Fink, which yes, would have been better suited for this set.
Fox has given us individual cases for each movie, which I like a lot better than the cheap cardboard packaging of other sets. The discs themselves look and sound great. Most knowledgeable Blu-ray buyers know that there's a sliding scale, the age of the film and the cost invested in the release will determine how good it will look, and those films that have suffered from poor storage or mishandling are special challenges. I think, on the sliding scale, the Coen Brothers films included here look fantastic. These are mostly independently made films, in the range of twenty to twenty-six years old (excluding Fargo), none of them using Hollywood blockbuster money. I think Fox has done a bang-up job on their MGM license releases, and the Coen Brothers set continues that streak. The colors are as vibrant as each film's color palette allows, and a welcome amount of detail is brought out on Blu-ray. For artistic and intelligent films, the Coen Brothers employ a lot of kinetic camerawork and striking visuals, more in line with big-money Hollywood films, and these releases showcase that better than the DVDs I've seen. Occasional softness or a little grain notwithstanding, these are very well-done Blu-ray, and I think easily the best these film have looked since they first hit theaters.
The sound is very solid, though I have to admit my system isn't the best way to test that. No noticeable flaws to me. English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby Digital Surround on Arizona and Miller's, Blood Simple is English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital and French 5.1 DTS on Arizona and Miller's, no other language tracks on Blood Simple. Fargo is the same as before, English 5.1 DTS Master Audio and Dolby Digital Surround, Spanish, French, German, and Italian 5.1 DTS, Portugese and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital. All are 50GB dual layer discs, ACV @ 39 MBPS (Blood Simple), 31 MBPS (Raising Arizona and Fargo), and 30 MBPS (Miller's Crossing).
Special features are a little thin, but we would be complaining about the wait if Fox put off these releases until the Coen Brothers wanted to contribute more in-depth features and commentary. Raising Arizona essentially gets nothing (trailers and TV spots, and if ever a film was overdue praise, it's this one. A loaded special edition may be planned for some time (25th anniversary is next year), but for anyone who wants the film looking its best (or pretty damn good), this edition is commendable. Blu-ray buyers know the bread and butter of most studios are new releases, not catalog titles, so this is nothing we haven't seen before, and better than a lot of them.
Menus and playback features are pretty stylish. Studios seldom get credit for that, but the extra work is appreciated.
It would have been downright heroic to get Barton Fink with these other early Coen Brothers favorites for the same price, but Fox probably makes a better profit including a previously-released film which has already been paid for, and they've been pretty generous to make the other three titles individually available, if you only want one or two. Not a bad compromise. These are excellent films, fantastic stories and great acting, incredible directing and original ideas, must-owns for me, and if they haven't been given Lord of the Rings-level attention, they've at least been treated pretty respectfully. I'll wait for Barton Fink to get its own release, and get my Coen Brothers fix in the meantime with the four that are included.