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Christmas Story, A (2008 Re-Release) Print E-mail
Wednesday, 05 November 2008
ImageOne of the nice things about period films – those set in an era substantially earlier than the year of their making – is that they tend to age well. They don’t seem dated, because the filmmakers aren’t throwing in up-to-the-minute details that will time-stamp the whole enterprise a year later.

So it is with "A Christmas Story," which was actually made in 1983 but might just as easily have been made today. Based on Jean Shepherd’s novel ‘In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash,’ "A Christmas Story" is an amusing oddity. Imagine a "Saturday Evening Post" cover as a feature comedy film, and you may get an idea of what this child’s-eye view of a ‘50s holiday season is like.

Peter Billingsley, astoundingly precocious without being overly cute, plays Ralphie, whose greatest desire in life is to possess a genuine Red Ryder 200-shot Carbine Action Air Rifle (by the end of the movie, you’ll be able to rattle off the entire spiel with him). Ralphie spends virtually all of his time dreaming up ways to persuade grown-ups that they are being silly when they spout objections like, "You’ll shoot your eye out!"

"A Christmas Story" is essentially a series of thematically connected vignettes. Most of these are gently funny, while others – especially Ralphie’s fantasies that materialize right before our eyes, hit just the right level of outrageousness. An encounter with a department-store Santa captures the flavor of childhood nightmare precisely; much of its humor lies in its dead-on accuracy.

Director Bob Clark demonstrates that he’s great working with kids but less skilled guiding his adult performers. Melinda Dillon and Darren McGavin have been urged to wildly overplay Ralphie’s parents, although both (Dillon most notably) manage to evoke a few smiles anyway. Billingsley, who was also excellent in ‘Death Valley’ (why didn’t this actor work more often?), is remarkable, combining profound sobriety with impeccable, mature comic timing. The script, by Shepherd & Leigh Brown & Clark, combines with the direction to evoke the nostalgia of a ‘50s or ‘60s Disney live-action feature, period-right and sentimental without being cloying.

This is the second time that "A Christmas Story" comes to Blu-ray, and the third time in high definition, having first been released on the HD DVD format.  This release of the film comes in a 1080p/VC-1 transfer.  Unfortunately, it looks much like the original transfer.  It is decent, but far from equivalent to other films of its produced time period.  Although, it is better than some others, like "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation."  The film style is not typical of a 1980s film.  It is much more like that of the 1970s.  The film is consistently fuzzy throughout.  A layer of mist appears to cover the image.  The print used for the transfer looks to be grainy and dirty.  There are even some scratches that apparently randomly in the film.  The overall image is rather soft.  Surprisingly, the colors are fairly vibrant, despite the nature of the film's stylistic choices.  It is here that the film exceeds the image quality of the standard DVD.  The black levels are weak, yielding a flat image.  There are also instances of compression artifacts and banding in bright color visual sequences.  Still, for lovers of the film it will be a step up from the standard DVD.

Not much attention has been given to the audio.  Warner presents us with a Dolby Digital 1.0 audio track.  While there isn't much going on in this film sound wise, it would have been nice to have a stereo version of the soundtrack presented on the Blu-ray.  Every release of the film previous has had the original mono audio track.  For a collector's edition it needs something more.  At best, the audio is clear and understandable.  However, the high frequencies are a bit shrill, caused mainly by the lack of absorption by a low frequency presence.  The dynamics are so-so.  Not much else going on with the mono track.

While this is a review of the 2008 re-release of the film on Blu-ray, it also is being released as an Ultimate Collector's Edition.  The collector's edition is marked by a tin can presentation, which includes this version of the Blu-ray as well as cookie cutters, a leg lamp stand, chef's apron and holiday cookbook.  This Blu-ray release of "A Christmas Story" can also be purchased separately, without the tin can.

While this is a re-release of the film, the special features are the same form the previous release.  First there is an audio commentary by Peter Billingsley and Director/Co-Writer Bob Clark.  Sadly, Clark died last year in a car accident, so this audio commentary is a bit of a tribute to him.  Also included is the 20th anniversary documentary "Another Christmas Story."  It mainly consists of interviews.  There are two other featurettes on the Blu-ray, "Daisy Red Ryder: A History" and "Get a Leg Up."  The former covers the history of the Red Ryder BB gun while the latter delves into the now infamous Leg Lamp.  Lastly, there are some script pages and a theatrical trailer.

"A Christmas Story" is slight but winning in an offbeat way. Some people swear by it as their favorite Christmas comedy. Most adults will enjoy the outing and kids appear to have a hugely good time with it.

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