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Christmas Story - Special Edition

Warner Bros. // PG // October 7, 2003
List Price: $26.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by James W. Powell | posted September 29, 2003 | E-mail the Author
I remember seeing A Christmas Story when I was 11 years old. During the days leading up to Christmas that year, I recited lines from the film continually, and I laughed every time I asked my mom if I could eat dinner like a pig. Twenty years later, the movie still takes the top spot on my holiday film list, and I'm still reciting those hilarious lines and laughing as I do so.

A Christmas Story was, and still is, funny because it never tries to be something it isn't. It's just good, clean fun. It's a real story we can all relate to because it's told from the child's perspective. Based on the stories of Jean Shepherd (or provides the narration for the film), A Christmas Story tells the story of Ralphie (Peter Billingsley), who has no stronger desire than to get a BB gun for Christmas. To be precise, he wants the Red Ryder Carbine Action, 200-Shot, Range Model Air Rifle. And his scheming little mind won't let him rest until he's planted all of the necessary seeds to get it.

Unfortunately, things don't go according to plan:. He messes up the perfect chance to drop a hint on his father (Darren McGavin); his mother (Melinda Dillon) won't hear of it because he'll shoot his eye out; and his school teacher (Tedde Moore) doesn't like his essay on what he wants for Christmas. Even Santa Claus (Jeff Gillen) won't hear him out. It could be a very bad Christmas for this little boy.

The cool thing about this film is that it works on so many different levels. As a kid, I loved the blunt humor of Ralphie's dream sequences and the terror of the neighborhood bully, Scut (Zack Ward). Now as an adult, after numerous viewings, I find myself enjoying the more realistic side of the film, like the friends' need to dare each other to do things, or Ralphie's look of shear horror when he says the F-word around his father. Although the scenes I found funny as a kid are still entertaining, I realize now that the film is able to maintain its edge because Ralphie's family is just like mine was growing up. I could be Ralphie!

A Christmas Story has so many memorable scenes and one-liners that it's a perfect film for family holiday gatherings. It's an entertaining film for both young and old, which is why I'm so excited about the prospect of sharing this DVD with my niece and nephew this season. It's on a very short list of films an entire family can enjoy, that's why it should definitely be a part of your DVD rotation this winter season.

If all you want for Christmas is a new enhanced widescreen version of A Christmas Story, then you're in for a treat this year. Warner Bros presents A Christmas Story in the film's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio that makes the film look better than it did on its opening day. Colors are bright and vibrant, and skin tones look spot on. For proof, look no further than the rosy red cheeks of the kids during the outdoor scenes. Darks do look a tad light, perhaps, but this is a non-issue.

Detail is generally very crisp, but certain scenes, particularly those at night or in dark interiors, have a slight murkiness to them. Some scratches and dirt are evident here and there throughout the picture, and the film has a general muted look to it. While some may knock this transfer for these last two issues, I actually like them. In a way, they enhance the film's sense of nostalgia. So whether intended or not, I'm all for these minor "flaws."

Oh yeah, there's also a full frame version on the disc.

I was surprised twice when it came to the audio on this DVD. First, I was chagrined to find out it was only presented in 1.0 Dolby Digital. Second, I was pleasantly surprised to note that the track was more than adequate. The movie is mostly dialog and voice over, and this track presents these voices with precise crispness. Needless to say, there is little bass and no rears to speak of, but that's fine since the comedic sound effects are perfectly natural and the music is loud and clear. Considering its original mono presentation, this one more than does the job.

For the most part, the special features on this anniversary edition of A Christmas Story are fun, but not exactly interesting enough to stand up to multiple viewings. Along with the film on disc one, you'll find a screen specific audio commentary by director Bob Clark and actor Peter Billingsley. The two seem to have a nice relationship as they talk about shooting the film (including insider info on how that tongue/pole scene was shot) as well as dissect what the film means to audiences. There are a decent amount of short silences, but luckily the film's volume increases during these gaps. Although not the best commentary I've heard, I had no problem listening for the duration.

Also on disc one is theatricle trailer enhanced for widescreen TVs and a hidden easter egg that contains the script for a deleted scene. I triple dog dare you to try and find it.

The rest of the goodies are on the second disc. The biggest and best extra is the featurette called, "Another Christmas Story." These 18 minutes are filled with interviews with the cast, now all grown up. Billingsley, R.D. Robb, Scott Schwartz, and Ward all explain what it was like to work on the film, its impact on their lives 20 years later, and other tidbits about what Christmas is like around their house.

You also get a trivia game in which you answer incredibly easy questions about the film and a decoder game in which you select the appropriate phrase to go with a specific scene. Both are diverting if nothing else.

Also on tap is the radio feature that allows you to listen to two Jean Shepherd stories, read by the author himself. If you enjoy hearing his voice in the film (and who doesn't?) then you'll enjoy these stories.

Lastly are two history featurettes. The first details the history of the Daisy Red Rider gun and is actually pretty informative. The second plays more like a joke, even if it's not. One look at the title and you'll have an understanding of what it's about: "Leg Lamp: Shining Light of Freedom."

The menus on these two discs are pretty plain, with only a few shots from the film surrounded by Christmas colors and decorations. The odd thing about the second disc is that you have to click on "Special Features" to access that menu. This is odd because the second disc holds nothing but special features.

A Christmas Story is a holiday classic that has been shown on television for years and already has two lackluster versions on DVD. Still, it's time you picked up this one? The extra features are fun even if they aren't worthy of multiple viewings. But really, it's the movie that sells this disc. With a good video and audio transfer, it's definitely worth the $25 you'll need to pay.

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Highly Recommended

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