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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Blu-ray)
Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Blu-ray)
Universal // PG // October 13, 2009 // Region A
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Michael Zupan | posted October 7, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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How the Grinch Stole Christmas (animated) is one of the most beloved televised Christmas traditions of all time. At a time of year when bumper to bumper traffic, icy road conditions, and putting up with your mother in-law can make you forget about the warming qualities Christmas is supposed to instill, it's classics such as this that act as the antidote for all that noise, noise, noise. It's comprised of 26 short and sweet minutes that are sure to entertain throughout, with the priceless guarantee of warming your heart so you can forget about that fender bender you had while picking up a last minute Christmas gift. Something so classic, so timeless... sometimes it's just better to leave well enough alone. Oscar winning director Ron Howard sure knows how to make terrific films, but his take on the ole' Dr. Seuss tale doesn't get anywhere close to becoming the timeless classic it should have been.

Obviously my opinion of Howard's translation isn't very positive, but I should come clean with you about something: I actually used to enjoy this film quite a bit. My first experience with Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas was actually a fairly positive one. It was funny and even kind of charming at times, and it's obvious a great amount of care and diligence went into bringing a jaw-dropping Whoville to life. Watching the DVD (and eventually HD-DVD) sort of became a tradition every year since, and my wife and I would screen it back to back with the original animated classic. Repeat viewings year after year hasn't done this film any favors though, because it definitely hasn't withstood the test of time. Every holiday season my wife would approach me on a romantic snow-filled evening when it felt as if we'd been sealed off from the rest of the world, and she'd ask, "Can we watch The Grinch?" But every holiday season my excitement and even my willingness to do so have waned. I'm a little ashamed that I was fooled by the smokescreen of a Grinch loaded spectacle that was filled with fantastic looking Who-sets, and of course featured Jim Carrey as its star, but I've come around since then. This Grinch should have been as harmonious as a Whoville tah-tinker, but instead just ended up being another holiday stinker.

I know it sounds rather harsh, especially considering the fondness I used to have for this film once upon a time, but to put it bluntly I've grown increasingly annoyed with the fact this movie is really nothing more than a bloated vehicle for Jim Carrey. Now I'm sure Ron Howard had the best intentions through and through, and I'm a fan of Jim Carrey's work in numerous other projects he's done, but this is The Grinch we're talking about. The original Dr. Seuss book can be read in five minutes flat, and the animated classic was able to stretch the story out to a full half-hour time slot without compromising the integrity of the story. So, does Howard's vision of the nasty green outcast of society get a nice 75-90 minute presentation? Nope. Howard takes a once short and simple tale and turns it into a long-winded, self-indulgent 105 minutes, and he throws every imaginable piece of uninspired storyline fluff at us to be able to do so. We're expected to swallow Whoville's introduction to the Grinch by way of stork, a love triangle with an old flame from grade school and the mayor of Whoville, and even a gratuitous car chase scene through town that ends in a Schwarzenegger-esque explosion.

The real time and tone killer however is unfortunately Jim Carrey himself, because he's smeared his comical stamp throughout every second of the film. It's as if Ron Howard heard from the studio that the Jim Carrey was willing to play the part of the iconic Grinch, so he rushed around like a madman to tailor the script to suit his comedy routines so people would go to see his film in droves. Carrey is quite capable of toning down the ham so he can put forth a serious performance, but every scene that was supposed to be serious or heartwarming was ruined by some kind of comical quip! The amazing Anthony Hopkins couldn't even provide his serious, yet soothing narration without so much as a "SLUNK" from Carrey, and I kid you not, there's a scene where it actually seems as if the director gave Carrey a box of props and said, "Have at it Jim! Do what you do best and we'll just keep rollin' until we think we have enough!" Gee golly heck, even the emotional climax of the film is demolished with a one-liner! If Carrey's role had been toned down enough to remain relevant to the story throughout the film's entirety, a lot of runtime could have been shaved off. Even with all the bogus background fluff, if the 'come one come all, come see the amazing Carrey' showcase scenes had been removed, this actually could have been a semi-decent holiday film offering for the masses. But in the end, Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas ultimately fails by not having a definable voice. There's a lot of heart and holiday cheer that tries to emerge from the first frame to the very last, but is constantly kept at bay by the questionable decision to make all the yuk-yuk jokes the center of attention. If you haven't seen this one yet, do yourself a favor and watch something good instead.


Video


If you were hoping the VC-1 1080p encode (1.85:1) on this release was going to be a worthwhile upgrade over the HD-DVD, you're going to be disappointed. Although the Blu-ray video quality is a decent enough step up from the DVD (which isn't saying much), it's still an incredibly disappointing high-def presentation through and through. I'm well aware the film intentionally utilized a slightly hazy look so it can further reinforce the idea that you're sort of watching a children's book come to life, but it can look a little too washed out at times. The artistic choice made to use a hazy look isn't the real culprit in diminishing the color palette though. I saw this film in 2000 at my local theater and it certainly didn't look this bad. No, the real problem lies with the atrocious black levels. I bet if black levels were accurately represented, color saturation would look as magnificent as it should and the haze that blankets the picture wouldn't even be an issue. As if muddy blacks weren't a big enough problem, this Blu-ray sports the same noise and macro-blocking issues the HD-DVD did. I know that Universal was merely trying to port their HD-DVD catalogue titles to the Blu-ray format this year, but would it have killed them to give us a better transfer here? I know it costs a bit of money, but they boldly state on the back of the case that this has 'Perfect Picture and Purest Digital Sound Available. With how awful the HD-DVD looked, one would think some changes were made, but that's not the case as the same transfer was used yet again.

If 'better than DVD' is good enough for you and you haven't purchased the HD-DVD before, I caution you to rent this before you make a decision, because the upgrade even from the DVD isn't that significant. For everyone else, this is one of the poorest HD presentations I've seen in a while, if not ever.


Audio


The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is certainly adequate enough to present the source without issue, but the mix leaves a lot to be desired. Most of the film is overwhelmingly front heavy and directional sound effects are only sprinkled about in doses that leave the listener wanting more. The music throughout the film is when the 5.1 mix sounds its fullest without question, and although a little more on the low end frequency range would have been nice, the mix that's available is presented as well as could be expected. Although this isn't the most impressive sounding audio on a Blu-ray to date, I can't really fault the audio track for an underwhelming mix from the source.


Extras


Commentary with Director Ron Howard - This commentary track is almost as uninspired as the film itself. I found this to be fairly shocking as I've always enjoyed commentaries Ron has done for other films. He starts things off pretty positively with lots of praise and admiration for all the pieces that culminated into the final product, but soon laces the track with long drills of silence. Jim Carrey isn't really mentioned all that much though, and it's an absolute shame considering what I really wanted was some sort of explanation as to why this film was treated as a comedic showcase for him. Was it Ron's intention all along? Did the studio push Ron into taking full 'advantage' of Carrey's comical abilities? Did Jim raise enough hell to turn this particular film into a comedy? Perhaps Howard's near silence on the matter speaks louder than words ever could, but I just wish I wasn't left with speculation after giving this track a listen.

Spotlight on Location - This behind the scenes featurette includes cast and crew interviews, as well as some behind the scenes footage that was shot on the various Who-sets.

Who School - More interviews and behind the scenes footage, this time showing the process of what it took to become a 'Who' in the film.

Makeup Application and Design - Pretty self explanatory, this featurette goes over the makeup designs that were used in the film. The Who School featurette touched on creating the look of the inhabitants in Whoville, so it probably would have been pretty easy to bridge this featurette to that one, especially considering these shorts thus far are under ten minutes in length a piece. But separating each individual topic makes for an impressive looking extras list...

Seussian Set Decoration - I found this to be a fairly interesting featurette (albeit short like all the rest), because if there's one thing this film did right, it was bringing the hand drawn world that was created by Dr. Seuss to life in a big way.

Visual Effects - This is the longest featurette thus far at almost 11 minutes in length, and as implied by the title, covers the visual effects as featured in the film. You'll get to see them in their unifinalized form as compared to the finished products after all is said and done.

Deleted Scenes/Outtakes - These two features show some of the stuff that didn't make the final cut of the film, and although it's fairly easy to see why they were nixed, it leaves me scratching my head at the same time. There's so much unnecessary bloat that's been tacked on to the final product, it's hard for me to understand why Howard stopped cutting 'the fat' when he did because he should have kept going.

Music Video - Faith Hill - Where Are You Christmas? - Cindy Lou's Where Are You Christmas is one of the few things this film got right when trying to convey the Christmas spirit, and Faith Hill's version steps it up a notch to make it a timeless holiday classic in its own right. The video is incredibly underwhelming however, so you'll probably want to just stick to listening to it in its audio form on your mp3 player.

Also included is the Theatrical Trialer, as well as a D-Box Motion Code track. It's also worth noting that this is a 'combo' package that includes the DVD, which I think is a very nice inclusion. It's a holiday film that your kids are gauaranteed to enjoy, so if you don't want them scratching up your precious Blu-ray, Universal has provided a solution for you by giving you a DVD they can do what they wish with.

All in all the extras on this release are pretty disappointing. They all sound like they could be good on paper, but they're really not much more than short pieces that were probably used to promote the film. Obviously, if somebody is buying a Blu-ray or DVD, they're already sold on the film. There's no need to beat the dead horse and continue to advertise it to us time and time again, just give us some good background info! Is that really too much to ask?


Overall


I think the Grinch said it best in this film: "WHAT... is the DEAL?!" Every time some emotion or heart tried to break through the ice atop Mount Krumpit, Howard and Carrey bagged it and sent it down the garbage shoot to dump it. This film has more fluff stuffed into it than Whoville's coveted roast beast, leaving not a single ounce of integrity from the classic we all know and love left intact. They even managed to destroy the unforgettable You're a Mean One Mr. Grinch for cryin' out loud! Now, I'm not going to deny that this film could be enjoyable in a 'family movie night' setting however. There's no question your kids are going to enjoy the very humor I've found to be so unappealing, and their enjoyment is undoubtedly going to light up your heart... but will your children ever find this film to withstand the test of time? I doubt it. I think after they grow and mature, they'll find this film to be just as flawed as I have. If however you happen to be amongst the minority that actually finds this to be an enjoyable romp despite the fact it crosses every perceivable line of absurdity imaginable, I would still advise you to skip this release. The picture quality is amongst the worst I've ever seen on Blu-ray. It's a faded, washed out and flat mess, and the extras are all too short and broken up to be considered anything but average at best. Universal, you made my heart shrink three sizes this day. To take people's money on such a blatant double dip? I guess there's nothing left for me to say but, you're a mean one Universal...
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