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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Miracle on 34th Street - Special Edition
Miracle on 34th Street - Special Edition
Fox // Unrated // November 21, 2006
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Michael Zupan | posted November 14, 2006 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie

Nothing says 'Christmas' quite like the classics can. We've already seen It's A Wonderful Life get a proper DVD release for the year, and next up is the original Miracle On 34th Street.

What's to be told about the plot of this film? Almost everyone, including those who haven't even seen this movie knows the premise behind the film. An old man with a chubby belly, a white beard, and a heart full of gold gets hired as a Macy's department store Santa for the holidays. He's wonderful with the children and seems to be genuinely full of that Christmas spirit.

It's not before long when people become suspicious of the old man once he claims to be Kris Kringle himself. Many seem to take it as a delightful and harmless holiday prank in order to preserve the spirit of Christmas, yet his boss Doris Walker doesn't find it cute at all. Her complications with this Kris Kringle are brought into play when he continues to insist that he really is Kris Kringle. Doris has actually raised her daughter to think realistically, stripping her daughter away from the wonderful world of imagination.

Eventually other people seem to think that perhaps Kringle's frame of mind isn't as sound as it should be, and declare him insane. It's up to a lawyer who has Doris as his love interest, yet also believes in Santa Claus, to prove to the world Kringle is who he says he is.

I don't think I could say anything about this film that hasn't been said before. All of the main characters in the film play their role out to perfection. Maureen O'Hara and Natalie Wood do well as a mother and daughter team that start on the same page but end up flip-flopping and playing off of each other based upon their beliefs from the evidence they've seen. John Payne is the love interest and lawyer for Maureen O'Hara and plays the perfect opposite that helps bring Natalie Wood's character into the world of make believe. None of this would have worked though without the memorable performance by Edmund Gwenn as Santa Claus. He's warmed many hearts over the years as the kind and caring old man that brings joy to the children all around the world.

It's a tale that may have been parodied time and time again, but it was original then and it still holds to be original today. It's a cleverly woven story that takes Santa Claus and debates his very existence and finds a way to actually find a nice little loophole that brings about a miracle in and of itself.

Extras

There are two discs to talk about here. On the first disc we have a commentary with Maureen O'Hara who played Doris Walker. Her commentary is very informative with little tidbits that are often times cute and fun to hear, such as when she talks about the parade. Maureen informs us that the people watching the parade had no idea that Edmund was the Santa Claus on the float that day, yet all the children had believed it was the real Santa that was up there. Some of her comments are pretty 'captain obvious' material, such as 'this movie was shot in bits in pieces such as all movies are'. All in all though she's entertaining when she speaks, but there are a lot of long pauses between the bits of information she gives us. She's probably watching and trying to recall anything she can. It was a long time ago this movie had been filmed, after all.

Disc one had been single layer for just the feature in color and the commentary, but the second disc is dual layer for all it holds. Here we're given the original black and white version of the film, so no double dipping for those who want to have a 'complete' collection and prefer to own both versions of the film on a single set.

The same commentary with Maureen is presented here on the black and white version as well, just so you won't have to switch discs around in order to view the additional material.

The AMC Backstory for this feature is included. It covers everything about this feature. It had a pretty dismal looking beginning as it opened in June, yet won the hearts of many and brought Edmund an Academy Award as well as the feature winning an Oscar itself three times. This weighs in at twenty two minutes and is a very nice feature to have, especially for those who can't sit through commentaries without wanting to go drink some 'holiday spiced' egg-nog.

The Movietone News: Hollywood Spotlight is a short feature that shows us when Edmund won his Academy Award, gracefully saying he now knows there's a Santa Claus.

Back in the old days of film making, there had to be a snazzy little film itself acting as the trailers for the feature films they were promoting, and that promotional short is present here.

The 20th Century Fox Hour Of Stars is the TV version that aired as an hour special minus commercials of Miracle On 34th Street. It's none of the same actors but it's mostly the same content as the full length feature. Obviously some things had been cut out in order to be an hour special, and most of you probably won't watch this as you would prefer the full length feature such as I do. All in all though, this is a nice feature to be able to have.

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade: Floating In History covers in about fifteen and a half minutes a quick history of the parade as well as informing us as to how the parade filmed in the movie was the actual parade itself that year.

Also included is a poster gallery.

Video

The color version of Miracle On 34th Street is very nice. Of course there's some over saturation in the colors themselves. This obviously had not been filmed in color but the colors don't over saturate everything to where the picture is soft. The picture is quite sharp in its 4:3 presentation for being a black and white film that had been colorized. There is some 'shimmering' that happens every once in a while, perhaps from some damage to the black and white negatives that 'confused' the colorization process. It's noticeable at time but not to the point where it distracts from a film that already has shown its age for years anyway.

Here's where the odd part comes in. Take a look at this comparison which shows in this order, the new color version, the black and white version on the new set, and the transfer on the old DVD by Fox.


The color version looks as you would expect. The old black and white version by Fox seems to look a little sharper and it also appears to have better contrast. The difference isn't huge and it especially won't bother you while you're watching the feature and not comparing, but it's kind of funny to see the difference here isn't it? The old disc with it's better contrast looks as if it could be just a little too bright in some spots, but more detail comes out. The compensation that seems to have been made for the new set was to dim the very light areas so they weren't so bright to provide a more natural tone in the black and white picture. Unfortunately they seemed to go a little too far here and remove a little bit of the sharpness and detail due to it. All in all though the loss of detail is very minimal, and I mean very. I'm glad that we have a better area of 'natural' blacks and whites that go hand in hand with each other, instead of displaying too much contrast.

Audio

You can choose between 5.1 Dolby Surround, or mono tracks in English, French, or Spanish. The surround track actually isn't too bad. I usually cringe when I hear that some 'audio restoration' is taking place, where it wants to force a mono track into a surround one. Fortunately this track isn't really harming the sound at all. When you're at the parade or when you hear the music, you'll notice it coming from all of your speakers, but it's not over exaggerated. The rest of the movie still sounds very much like a mono track in all other aspects. Of course the mono tracks sound pretty nice, as they should since we've been watching the movie with its original track for some time now! Subtitles are also available in English or Spanish.

Overall

As I've said, nothing says 'Christmas' like the classics can. The classic is exactly what you get here on this set, and much more. There are two discs here to enjoy for this holiday feature that you almost can't let a year go by without seeing. One features the original black and white version, but the first disc includes a newly colorized version of Miracle On 34th Street. I would highly recommend this title to anyone, especially if they haven't already seen it. Now is the best time yet to get your hands on this holiday classic as you can have both versions of this film, as well as the shorter TV version and other informative features. This set is packed with enough to show that a lot of care has gone into this set. The picture quality seems to be a little better on the old release funny enough. I think there was a little compensation being made for how bright the lighter shades looked before by dimming them a little for a better black level, but may have gone a little too far. All in all this set is definitely worth the upgrade for the features and the two disc packaging alone. No Christmas is complete without this movie, as it's up there as one of the most cherished holiday classics of all time. Grab this set and find out why.
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