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Warner Home Video presents
A Christmas Story: SE (1983)

Adult Ralphie: Meanwhile, I struggled for exactly the right BB gun hint. It had to be firm, but subtle.
Ralphie: Flick says he saw some grizzly bears near Polaski's candy store!
Adult Ralphie: They looked at me as if I had lobsters crawling out of my ears. I could tell I was in imminent danger of overplaying my hand.

- Jean Shepherd, Peter Billingsley

Review By: Joel Cunningham  
Published: November 02, 2003

Stars: Melinda Dillon, Darren McGavin, Peter Billingsley
Other Stars: Ian Petrella, Scott Schwartz, Tedde Moore, R.D. Robb, Zack Ward
Director: Bob Clark

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: PG for (mild language)
Run Time: 01h:33m:15s
Release Date: October 07, 2003
UPC: 012569576421
Genre: holiday


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A AB-B C-

DVD Review

A Christmas Story is, improbably, one of those movies that just about everyone who celebrates Christmas has seen countless times. I say improbably because it didn't make much of an impact when it was released to theaters 25 years ago (distributors, in their infinite wisdom, pulled it from theaters right before Christmas) and because its period setting and homespun narrative (it's like watching "Prairie Home Companion: The Move") wouldn't seem likely to appeal to the masses that made National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation a perennial favorite.

But somehow, through countless showings on cable TV and monster sales on VHS, A Christmas Story became a classic, and in more houses than just mine, an annual tradition. Now that I've finally seen it properly, in widescreen on DVD, I'd like to say that I have a new appreciation for the film or some new insights to share. But no—it's still the same movie, and still immensely satisfying.

I think it works because its Depression-era setting lends to it timelessness for modern audiences. The plot, such as it is, moves along through a series of vignettes in the life of Ralphie (Peter Billingsley), a young boy living in Indiana (though the state is never identified by name). Adult Ralphie (author Jean Shepherd, upon whose memoirs the film is based) narrates wonderfully. Ralphie really, really wants a BB gun for Christmas (never mind that people keep telling him he'll shoot his eye out) and he frequently fantasizes about how his life will change if only his wish comes true. Which is basically how I remember feeling about every toy I ever wanted. Ralphie's father (Darren McGavin) has a hot temper and a loud mouth (seems familiar). His mother (Melinda Dillon) is sweet to her kids but won't hesitate to stick a bar of soap in their mouths if they're naughty (my mom yelled more, but then, this employment of soap was out of style by the time I was born). And his brother Randy (Ian Patrella) is very, very annoying. But I suppose you'd have to ask my brother if that's an accurate familial representation.

There are so many memorable moments: The leg lamp Ralphie's father wins and proudly displays in the window ("Electric sex!"), and which his mother despises. Ralphie's encounters with the town bully. Mom's efforts to get Randy to eat, or get into his snowsuit, or stop whining. "Oh, fudge." Ralphie's unfortunate gift from an un-favorite relative. Pick you favorite—this is a movie with no bad scenes.

What makes it such a hard film to review is that it's somehow greater than the sum of its parts. The performances are pretty good (the parents are especially well cast), but certainly not outstanding or iconic, except in their universality. Bob Clark's direction is serviceable, though his background in broad comedy (Porky's) is sometimes glaringly obvious when he tries too hard to hit a joke. The real credit goes to Shepherd, whose wry sense of humor and sharp eye for the comedy inherent in mundane family life makes A Christmas Story a true classic—a film that hasn't aged a day in 25 years, and never will.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 OneTwo
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyesno
Anamorphicyesno


Image Transfer Review: Both MGM and Warner have released previous editions of A Christmas Story on DVD, and both were full frame only. Finally, with this 20th anniversary edition, Warner has corrected the oversight—the film is offered in full frame or the original 1.85:1 ratio. The transfer is a vast improvement over the previous release (which was sub-VHS quality thanks to an ugly mastering job), but it still doesn't look great. This is a low-budget 1980s film, and it looks it.

The first thing you'll notice is the rather hazy, soft look. This, I think, was intentional, an attempt to evoke the fuzzy feelings of family memories. The effect carries over fairly well to DVD, once you get used to it. The source print looks a little rough in spots—I spotted a lot of grain and frequent marks and scratches. Colors are generally solid, and this new transfer reveals richer hues than any previous. Black level is a little weak, and many dark scenes looked light and more gray than truly black. There is occasional minor artifacting, but no visible edge enhancement. If you were holding off on a purchase waiting for a worthy reissue, wait no further—this is the best the film has looked on video, and probably the best it can look.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchyes


Audio Transfer Review: Audio is offered in the original mono mix, and it sounds fine. Dialogue is clear; music and sound effects are solid. I didn't notice any distracting elements like background hiss. Fine for a film of this vintage.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
2 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Bob Clark and actor Peter Billingsley
Packaging: 2 disc slip case
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Original readings by author Jean Shepherd
  2. Triple Dog Dare interactive trivia
  3. Decoder match challenge
Extras Review: A Christmas Story is certainly a film that deserves a 25th anniversary re-release. It's incredibly popular—so much so that one cable station shows it for 24 hours straight on Christmas—and the original DVD was incredibly lacking. Sad to say, this release is too. There are exactly two worthwhile features on this over-packaged "two disc special edition."

The first is the commentary on Disc One with director Bob Clark and actor Peter Billingsley (Ralphie). The back of the box lists Melinda Dillon (Ralphie's mom) among the participants, but she isn't present. It's still a good track though, if a little low-key. The two are proud of the film and a little awed by its impact and lasting popularity, and they discuss making it without descending into mutual backslapping. It's also nice to hear Billingsley's adult perspective on something he made when he was 12. Disc One also includes a scratchy theatrical trailer.

The other worthwhile bonus is on Disc Two. Jean Shepherd, author of the books upon which A Christmas Story is based, presents two radio readings of short essays ("Flick's Tongue" and "The Red Ryder Story"). They are pretty similar to what shows up on film, but entertaining nonetheless.

The rest of the extras are, quite honestly, annoying and a total waste of time. The 17-minute retrospective featurette Another Christmas Story tries to spice up dull interviews with the cast (including nearly all of the child actors) and director Bob Clark with an irritating "Night Before Christmas" theme and some weird Pop-Up Video effects. The actor who played the bully, Farkus (Zack Ward), made me want to repeatedly punch either the TV or myself, whichever method blocked out the sound more quickly.

Two phony featurettes fill up space. Get a Leg Up features DVD producer J.M. Kenny's journey to the factory where they make the famous Leg Lamps. He tries to be funny by asking the clueless factory workers questions like, "Do you think of yourselves as heroes?" but it doesn't really work. At all. A little better is A History of the Daisy Red Ryder, a visit to the factory that makes the famous BB gun. But somehow, even at five minutes, it manages to be boring.

Rounding out the crud is a pair of interactive games that are hardly worth describing, let alone playing. The Triple Dog Dare interactive trivia is just that, a remote-controlled trivia game, and you get no reward for answering a dozen or so inane trivia questions at three difficulty levels. And I didn't really understand the point of the Decoder Match Challenge, but it has something to do with matching a quote to a specific scene. The interface is really confusing.

In this case, though, I don't really care that the two-disc classification is nothing more than a marketing gimmick. Yeah, the extras are disappointing on the whole, but at least there is a good commentary.

Extras Grade: C-

 

Final Comments

A Christmas Story is a holiday classic above criticism—not that I have anything bad to say about it. Warner's anniversary DVD is a disappointment in the extras department, but at least the movie can finally be seen in widescreen. That alone deserves an A+++++++...

 


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