Every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas I make it a point to watch some holiday movies with my family. Films and shows like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, It's a Wonderful Life, Frosty the Snowman, and We're No Angels (with Humphrey Bogart in a comic role) get screened, and they're all movies and TV specials that I enjoyed as a kid. With one exception: A Christmas Story. This modern day classic was released after I was in college and didn't do too well in the theaters, but has really come gained a second life on cable and home video. That's because it does what very few other films can, it transports viewers of any age back to the simple days of their childhood where the whole world revolved around Christmas and the magic that would happen at that time of year.
Nine year old Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) is a child of simple needs. For Christmas he doesn't want world peace or even a lot of toys. All he wants is a Red Ryder 200-Shot Carbine Action Air Rifle with a Compass in the Stock. The problem is his mother: she plays the one ploy every child dreads the old "You'll put your eye out!" Writing an essay for school, he makes the case to his teacher, but she points out the dangers too. Mom had obviously gotten to her. When even the Santa at the local department store claims he'll shoot his eye out, it seems like Ralphie has few options left.
In between Ralphie's attempts to get his air rifle (that would come in so useful around the house too!) he has to deal with school bullies, being dared, double-dared, and even double dog dared, the long wait for his Little Orphan Annie Decoder Ring, and his father winning a wonderful prize that will go down in the family history. In short, it's the best time of year to be a kid.
Based on the works of humorist Jean Shepherd, this magnificent film
really captures what it's like to be a kid at Christmas time: The
joy of not having to go to school, the excitement of buying a Christmas
Tree and the cold winter days that meant Christmas was near. But
most of all it captures that magic time when anything could happen.
On Christmas morning there's no telling what would be under that tree.
To a nine-year old it was the best moments of life, and in a lot of ways,
things will never be better. This movie brings back all of those
memories from Christmas past, before mortgage payments, rush-hour traffic,
and looming deadlines were the things that filled your life. This
movie allows you to look back at those innocent days of youth once again,
and to relive them. What more could you want from a film?
The Blu-ray Disc:
The VC-1, 1080p encoded 1.85:1 image presented on this disc seems to be identical to the one on the previous BR release. That is to say it looks fine but not outstanding. This was a low budget film and the image quality has never been great. It may have been intentional, an attempt to recall the hazy days of yesteryear, but the film has never been really bright and the whole production has a muted feel to it. There isn't a lot of eye-pop and the picture is a bit soft in places while in others it looks fine. The night scenes, such as when the family is buying a Christmas tree, tend to be a bit grainy and exhibit a bit of noise. Other scenes however, like when Ralphie tries on the bunny suit, are well lit and have nice solid colors. Blacks are not as deep as I would have liked in most of the picture either. Having said all that, the fact that the sharpness isn't consistent is most probably is a problem with the original negative, and this Blu-ray disc is a significant improvement over the SD DVD.
The film comes with the original mono soundtrack, in Dolby Digital. I was a little disappointed that there isn't a lossless track, but this mono audio fits the film perfectly. There isn't much bass but the highs sound nice and the dialog is clean and clear. The narration is at an appropriate level and never overpowers the other sounds on the screen. There's really no reason to re-mix this film for 5.1 (or 7.1 for that matter) as the show is all dialog based, and this track is perfectly fine.
Grumble, grumble, grumble... I was hoping for some new extras, or at least all of the items that appear on the 2003 "Special Edition" DVD but this disc ports over the same bonus material (all in SD) that appears on last year's release. Not that it's a bad group of extras, I was just hoping that they'd include Jean Shepherd's readings at least. So what's on here? First off is an audio commentary with star Peter Billingsley and director Bob Clark, who discuss the film, tell some anecdotes, and generally give an interesting talk. Next up is a five-minute look at the present Raphie covets, "A History of the Daisy Red Ryder". "Another Christmas Story" is a featurette where the main child actors and the director reminisce about the movie, and "Get a Leg Up" is a look at Leg Lamps that runs about 4 minutes. Rounding out the discs bonuses are some script pages from a scene that was cut from the film, a trailer, and a fake commercial for the Leg Lamp.
The new things included with this disc are all packaged with it. The Blu-ray comes in a nice large tin that also holds a small string of Leg Lamp Christmas Tree lights. The lights are cute and will be fun to hang someplace this holiday season.
If you have an earlier HD release, there's no reason to double dip unless
you really want the packaging tin and string of lights. If you don't
have this classic film on HD, why not buy it this year? It's a classic
film, one of my all-time favorites, which will make you laugh out loud
and, better yet, remember those long-gone days as a kid when Christmas
was the most exciting and magical time of the year. Highly recommended.
Note: The images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc and do
not necessarily represent the image quality on the disc.