Miracle on 34th Street (1947) 
Blu-ray Drama
Written by Noah Fleming   
Wednesday, 21 October 2009

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The original, 1947 "Miracle on 34th Street" is a true holiday classic, ranking up there with "It's a Wonderful Life."  This is a film that defines what Christmas should be all about.  Ironically, commercialism has only gotten worse since this film's debut.  This film is the original tale about the need to believe in goodness and faith and reject the commercial and skeptical nature that the Christmas season has evolved in to.

"Miracle on 34th Street" is about a young girl, Susie (Natalie Wood), who has been raised by her single mother to be practical.  She doesn't know any fairytales and she doesn't hang out with other kids who like to play silly imagination games.  Susie's mother, Doris (Maureen O'Hara) is jaded after being abandoned by her husband.  When Doris' next door neighbor, John Galley enters their lives, he starts to re-introduce the notion of fiction into their lives.  Doris, of course, resents this behavior.

This becomes more interesting when the real Kris Kringle enters everyone's lives during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.  Eventually the skeptical nature of the community leads to Kris being committed to a mental institution.  This results in a Supreme Court trial to decide if the man before them is the real Santa Claus.

"Miracle on 34th Street" is wholesome and inspiring.  The acting is terrific on all accounts.  This is real filmmaking.  It doesn't have all the CGI hoopla.  It is straightforward story.  It is quite refreshing after all this time.  It brings back memories for many.  I know that my father remembers seeing this film as a child in the theaters.  Seeing again, brought such great memories back.

Okay, let's settle this once and for all.  Fox made a goof.  Yes, the package is colorized, but don't be fooled.  This Blu-ray disc does not contain a colorized version of the film.  The back of the box art reads, "an all-new, colorized Blu-ray version."  However, further down in the specifications box it does read, "B&W."  Surely, Fox will be re-issuing the Blu-ray release with appropriate cover art.  Just be forewarned.  I still see this release leading to a lot of store returns.

That being said, the Blu-ray contains a rather remarkable original transfer.  Purists will surely enjoy the black and white version of the film.  Although, I'll admit, I was looking forward to a colorized version.  It would have been nice to have both on the disc.  The biggest issue with this transfer is the contrast level.  Black levels are quite good.  Some crushing does appear in select shots, but it is hardly noticeable.  However, what is disconcerting is that the bright whites never appear white.  The whites only reach the gray level.  Details are improved from the standard DVD.  While the film probably couldn't look much better, the image is a bit flat, even for a black and white film.  Nevertheless, we can't expect the restoration job like that of "Snow White."  The other noticeable issue with the transfer is the wobble from the warping of the film rolls over time.  All in all, this is a decent transfer for its age.

Fox has included a remixed 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track on this Blu-ray release, as well as the original mono audio track.  Without question, this is an instance in which the 5.1 remix is better than the mono track.  The dialogue is much clearer in the remix.  The frequency response of the dialogue track is surprisingly wide for the age of the film.  However, the music track is rather tinny, lacking any low-end definition.  The surround channels are generally empty, but occasionally ambience can be heard in the rears.  Largely, the audio track is still mono, but with a little separation.  Job well done on this audio restoration.  I appreciate the fact that the audio restoration engineers left the crackling noise in the audio track.  There are few things worse than digital noise reduction in the audio.

The Blu-ray comes with original bonus materials.  There is an audio commentary by Maureen O'Hara.  This track is largely empty, but when she does comment she has interesting things to say.  "Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade: Floating in History" is a 15 minute look at how the film actually shot at the Thanksgiving Day parade.  "AMC Backstory: 'Miracle on 34th Street'" is a 22-minute documentary that examines the production and marketing of the film's June release.  "Fox Movietonews: Hollywood Spotlight" contains some archived footage.  Lastly, there is a photo gallery and a marketing trailer used by Fox when the film was released.

"Miracle on 34th Street" is charming and will always be a classic favorite.  While this Blu-ray does not contain a definitive transfer, I still highly recommend this disc.
Studio 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
MPAA Rating Not Rated
Starring Maureen O'Hara, John Payne, Natalie Wood, Gene Lockhart, Porter Hall, William Frawley, Jerome Cowan, Philip Tonge
Director George Seaton
Film Release Year 1947
Release Year 2009
Resolution(s) 1080p (main feature) • 1080p (supplements) • 480i (supplements)
Aspect Ratio 1.33:1
Running Time 1 hr. 36 mins.
Sound Formats English Dolby Digital 1.0 • English DTS-HD Master 5.1 • French Dolby Digital 1.0 • Spanish Dolby Digital 1.0
Subtitles English SDH • Spanish
Special Features Audio Commentary by Maureen O'Hara, "AMC Backstory: 'Miracle on 34th Street'"; "Fox Movietonews: Hollywood Spotlights"; "Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade: Floating in History"; Promotional Short; Photo Gallery
Forum Link http://www.avrev.com/forum
Reviewer Noah Fleming

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