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Blu-ray Review: A Christmas Story

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A Christmas Story is one of those movies that will never go away. It’s a bona fide holiday classic. A Christmas Story is loaded with comedy, family togetherness, and a sense of wonder that many family-oriented films can’t match. In fact, there is no other film that has so flawlessly nailed what it’s like to be a kid on Christmas.

Peter Billingsley plays Ralphie, a kid who wants nothing more than an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle. It’s a simple request, but one that causes nothing but grief as Ralphie struggles to make his point. Sadly, Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifles have a small problem:

You could shoot your eye out.

That now iconic line is the stuff of film legend. However, it would mean nothing in a lesser movie, and A Christmas Story is anything but. It works on every possible level. Families have a wonderful story of holiday mayhem, kids see their own wishes come true, and the sense of imagination is handled with incredible care. It’s hard to believe director Bob Clark came from Porky’s into this.

There are two things that separate Christmas Story and made it what it is (and neither of them are the usual Turner TV all-day replays during the holidays). One is Billingsley’s performance, who acts better than nearly any other child actor you can think of. There’s a sense of wonder and a glow in his eyes that’s incredibly natural, and his facial expressions sell every line.

Secondly, Jean Sheperd’s narration. It’s not that the dialogue doesn’t have some wonderfully funny lines, but Sheperd adds that extra touch. Quotes like “My little brother had not eaten voluntarily in over three years,” carry the scene through to huge laughs as opposed to minor chuckles. The performance is pure comedy gold, and sells the action on screen more so than the action itself.

When the big day comes, it’s either a feeling of warm nostalgia from your own Christmases as a child or a sense of wonder if you’re in the same age group as Ralphie. It’s not manipulative or overdone, and the chaos to follow ensures it’s not all about winning the audience over. Even given the time frame of the film (taking place sometime in the ‘40s), it’s timeless and could never go out of style.

A Christmas Story is never supposed to be hi-def material (unless it’s to fill Warner’s pockets). The film has a dream like quality to it that makes it not necessarily soft, but hazy. As such, fine detail is hard to come by, and differences between the DVD are negligible. Colors vary depending on the scene, black levels are always faded, and artifacting is noticeable. This is the same transfer used for the HD DVD, and nothing has changed. It’s not terrible (it could be considered dead-on accurate), though the transfer is not a reason to upgrade.

If the video was a let down, then the audio is an even bigger downer. Containing a mere 1.0 Dolby Digital mix, there is little here worth mentioning. Highs sound strained, dialogue is marred by low fidelity, and the mix is incredibly quiet. You’ll need to turn it up well past your normal levels.

Extras carry over from the 2-disc DVD edition, although not all has made the trip. Included here is a commentary with Peter Billingsley, Melinda Dillon, and Bob Clark. This is followed by the longest featurette on the disc, Another Christmas Story. Just shy of 20-minutes, this brings together much of the cast to reminisce on the shoot, and to let audiences know tons of little tidbits.

Two featurettes on props, one on the BB Gun and the other on the leg lamp (the latter played for laughs) are nice, informative extras. A text script page details a deleted scene.

Unfortunately, that’s it. Missing from the DVD are a trivia game, Decoder challenge, and a fun radio feature that had Jean Sheperd reading stories the film was based on. There’s no excuse not to include this stuff.

The infamous “tongue stuck to the pole” sequence was handled in a unique way. Scott Schwartz put his tongue into a small hole in the pole and suction was created via a vacuum. In a small way, he actually was stuck until the crew shut off the device.

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About Matt Paprocki

Matt Paprocki has critiqued home media and video games for 13 years and is the reviews editor for Pulp365.com. His current passion project is the technically minded DoBlu.com. You can read Matt's body of work via his personal WordPress blog, and follow him on Twitter @Matt_Paprocki.
  • http://www.alt-flix.co.uk/misguid/chrsguid.htm stann

    A great review of a great film. I’ve sent off for the ultimate Blu-ray edition of the film that includes all the tacky extras (like Xmas tree lights and cookie cutters).
    Last year we ran a poll on our movie website about the favourite Christmas movie and I wonder if you can guess where A Christmas Story ended up in the poll.
    Best (Xmas) wishes to you.
    Stann

  • http://www.squidoo.com/christmasblu-raymovies Treasures By Brenda

    A great review, I cannot believe that I have not seen this film! I have created a page dedicated to Christmas movies that are available on blu-ray at http://www.squidoo.com/christmasblu-raymovies.

    Brenda