"A Christmas Story" is a comedy classic and one of the single greatest Christmas movies ever made. If you haven’t seen the film, do yourself a favor and rent this title over the holiday season.
A Christmas Story (1983, Blu-ray)
Directors: Bob Clark
Producers: Bob Clark
Writers: Jean Shepherd
Features: * Commentary * Featurettes * Deleted Script Pages * Trailer * Collectible Tin with Leg Lamp Replica
Melinda Dillon ... Mrs. Parker
Darren McGavin ... The Old Man - Mr. Parker
Peter Billingsley ... Ralphie Parker
Ian Petrella ... Randy Parker
Scott Schwartz ... Flick
R.D. Robb ... Schwartz
Tedde Moore ... Miss Shields
Yano Anaya ... Grover Dill
Zack Ward ... Scut Farkus
A Christmas Story Blu-ray Review
It’s strange. I can’t remember the details of every single Christmas season I’ve experienced, but I could probably tell you when and where I was each year when "A Christmas Story" was watched. The film was a staple of the holiday season for my family. We watched it each year, and loved it every single time.
I had once thought it was just my family who loved the film, as most of my friends had never even heard of the Bob Clark-directed Christmas epic about a boy’s longing for a Red Ryder BB Gun. But, as I got older, I discovered that this little no-budget holiday picture, which did poorly during its original box office run, was a cult phenomenon. In many ways, it was probably the very first cult film I had ever experienced and perhaps the reason I cherish such pictures to this very day.
Today, I look back on "A Christmas Story" fondly and it will remain a staple of my family’s holiday celebration for years to come. But, I also look "A Christmas Story" as another fine chapter in the late Bob Clark’s sparkling career.
While Bob Clark has churned out some truly dire pictures in his day ("Baby Geniuses 1 and 2," "Karate Dog") he’s also responsible for four genre defining cult pictures, and he stands as one of my all-time favorite filmmakers, despite his erroneous stumbles.
The first of his genre defining pictures is the wobbly, but classic "Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things." An unusual horror picture at the time (1972), the film follows a group of teens who attempt to use Satanic rituals to bring the dead back to life. Mixing disturbing images and horror with sparks of goofball comedy, Clark managed to craft one of the very first horror-comedies, a genre more notably defined by Sam Raimi and his "Evil Dead" films. But, Clark did it first, setting the table for things to come.
Clark then moved on to the slasher genre, crafting a horrifically macabre tale long before that genre had been defined. Shot in 1974, the film tells the story of a mysterious killer who stalks sorority girls on the eve of Christmas. The result is the truly terrifying "Black Christmas," one of the most effective slasher outings ever made, besting even some of today’s creepiest slasher pictures. But, John Carpenter’s "Halloween," which came four years later (on an idea borrowed from Clark no less), stands in many minds, as the first slasher picture.
In 1982, Clark moved away from horror, instead focusing his energy on hormonal teens. The result is the memorable teen sex comedy, "Porky’s." Thankfully, many do credit Clark for giving birth to this genre. Unfortunately, by today’s standards, "Porky’s" is both tame and downright boring. But, back in its day, there was nothing quite like it.
Finally, in 1983, Clark went back to Christmas. Paired with a wonderful cast, and a great script, from novelist Jean Shepherd, Clark directed "A Christmas Story," which stands as one of the last decent pictures he makes. The film initially tanked at the box office, but over the past twenty years, has grown a considerable cult following, finally emerging as one of the single greatest Christmas comedies ever made.
It’s a true shame that Clark is no longer with us. His career was riddled with low points, but he was just starting to taste the well deserved fruits of his labors. He was getting critical acclaim for his early work and parlaying that acknowledgment into better, bigger pictures. He’s a true craftsman who had only begun to show this world his talent and he was taken from us far too early. He will be missed.
So, this Christmas, light a fire, sit down with your family and cuddle up with "A Christmas Story." Watch and pay tribute to an underestimated, underrated director whose legacy lives on in his genre defining classics, and remember how great life can be and how important family truly is.
Film Report Card:
Entertainment Value: A+
Film Value: A+
Warner presents "A Christmas Story" on Blu-ray in 1.85:1 widescreen, encoded in 1080p/VC-1 video on a BD25 disc. This appears to be the same master used on the last Blu-ray edition. The film has never really looked very good. Shot with a milky haze of smoke filling the screen, "A Christmas Story" is meant to have a Capra-esque look to it and it succeeds admirably.
Sadly, image detail is not this disc’s strong suit. I did a side-by-side comparison between the DVD and this release, and found very few differences. The image pops just a little more, but barely so. Spots of dust and dirt sneak into almost every scene, but it appears as though DNR has not been applied to the print, so some grain is going to be noticeable. Frankly, I can’t imagine this film will ever look much better than it currently does. But who knows, a frame-by-frame restoration could yield stunning results.
Warner gives "A Christmas Story" a Dolby Mono 1.0 track. This is the same track found on the previous Blu-ray release and on the previous DVD release. No improvement has been made to mix. It’s a pretty hollow, flat presentation with little "oomph." It’s not any worse than the DVD, but it’s certainly not better. I wish Warner would go back and redesign this mix. If nothing else, give fans a stereo track.
Warner ports over some of the special features from the two-disc DVD, but they leave out fun features like Jean Shephard’s original readings and two interactive games. An "Ultimate Collector’s Edition" is also available on DVD and Blu-ray. The DVD set comes packed with extra goodies such as cookies cutters, a collectible booklet and an apron all packed in a collectable tin. The Blu-ray set comes in the same tin, with a collectible mini leg lamp.
• Commentary -- The late writer/director Bob Clark and actor Peter Billingsley join up for this somewhat uneven, but informative commentary. Billingsley (who’s become a pretty big producer now, producing films like "Elf" and "Iron Man") feels a little out of place, but he’s mostly overpowered by Clark who offers up insightful trivia and fun little on-set tidbits.
• Featurettes: ‘Another Christmas Story,’ Daisy Red Rider’ and ‘Get a Leg Up’ (SD) -- The first featurette runs a full 30-minutes and it’s the best of the bunch. It’s packed tight with cast and crew interviews that provide much insight into the production. The second featurette details the history of the "Red Rider" BB gun. The final featurette pays tribute to the infamous "Leg Lamp." There’s even a fun infomercial on the disc. Fans will be pleased to know that the "Leg Lamp" is actually for sale now. Click here to find out more!
• Deleted Script Pages -- Originally a hidden feature on the DVD, here you can read text-based deleted scenes, seemingly never shot.
Nothing. A pop-up trivia track would have been a nice addition.
The disc is packed in the usual ‘Elite’ Blu-ray case. Design is classy and in keeping with Warner’s other titles.
"A Christmas Story" is a comedy classic and one of the single greatest Christmas movies ever made. If you haven’t seen the film, do yourself a favor and rent this title over the holiday season. Unfortunately, the Blu-ray disc isn’t much of an improvement over the DVD in terms of presentation. Making matters worse, fun special features from the two-disc DVD set are missing from this release. What a disappointment. Hopefully Warner will return to this film and restore the print from scratch, complete with all-new special features. Time will tell.
Blu-ray Report Card:
HD Content: N/A
Recommendation: Fans might want to hold out for a better special edition. Newcomers should definitely give this a rent in the meantime.
On Blu-ray Disc: November 4, 2008.
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----R. L. Shaffer