Judge Ryan Keefer wants an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle!
Our reviews of A Christmas Story (published December 19th, 2000), A Christmas Story: Special Edition (published November 6th, 2003), and A Christmas Story (HD DVD) (published January 8th, 2007) are also available.
"You'll shoot your eye out, kid."
Of all the holiday films that have been released in the last quarter century or so, did anyone envision that the sleepy low budget film A Christmas Story would be near or at the top of the list? And for all of the fan following and adoration surrounding the film, it's not received a proper treatment on DVD. So now that we're here on Blu-ray, does A Christmas Story stick its tongue on the proverbial frozen pole?
Facts of the Case
Jean Shepherd wrote a screenplay for the film based on the material from his book In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, and Bob Clark (Porky's) directed. Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley, Elf) is a kid growing up in 1940s Indiana and wants a Red Ryder air rifle for Christmas. He puts up with school bullies, parents who don't listen to him, and every other adult warning him of the perils of such a toy for recreational use. The film follows his quest for the rifle, hoping that Santa rewards him for his nice to naughty ratio over the past year, along with anything else that might come up.
I've never used an air rifle. I used an air pistol once or twice growing up, but nothing more. I never had a mail-in decoder ring which required me to consume mass quantities of a product. I never ran into bullies with yellow eyes. And I never took a dare to stick my tongue to an aluminum pole in the middle of winter. However, I was a kid and while many if not all of those things occurred outside of my era, Ralphie goes through the same general urge for a Christmas gift that we've all gone through. I can barely tell you what happened to me two hours ago, but I can sure tell you about the basketball game I wanted for Christmas back when I still believed in Santa Claus. To feel the huge weight of anticipation be relieved from my shoulders, when I opened that gift, was one of the coolest things to happen to me as a kid. My Dad didn't work on the furnace all the time like Ralphie's Dad (played by Darren McGavin, Raw Deal) and my Mom didn't wash my mouth out with soap like Ralphie's Mom (Melinda Dillon, Magnolia), but I had the quiet, stoic Dad and the loving but firm mother, and they punished me when I was insolent and cared for me when I needed it. I can safely say, for almost all of us, having that part of your life—the part where you were cognizant of what was around you but were free of obligation or other cynical action—was something exceptional in our lives. That kind of timelessness is what continues to make A Christmas Story such a beloved piece of art.
Technically, the 1.85:1 widescreen presentation for A Christmas Story appears to use the same transfer that the previous edition had, and the VC-1 encoding does the film a small justice. It's not the sharpest film, and the shot composition doesn't have any depth to speak of, but there's a certain degree of clarity with the use of digital noise reduction that gives things a nice nostalgic feel to them, presumably reproduced as Clark was hoping. On the flip side though, there's only a Dolby mono track, and it's an average track at best.
From a supplements perspective, this is also the same as the 2006 Blu-ray and HD DVD releases. Billingsley and Clark contribute an audio commentary. The two have good recollection about the production, and since Billingsley has gotten more involved in the business by producing some of Jon Favreau's films, he was able to ask more technical questions about the work on set, and Clark discusses working with the kids, and briefly touches on work in his other films. In terms of interesting trivia, apparently Jack Nicholson was very interested in doing the role, but because of budgetary reasons was ruled out in favor of McGavin. The pair also discusses where some of the cast members are now. Overall, it's an excellent track. From there, the featurettes are a little underwhelming. "Another Christmas Story" (18:18) features new interviews with the kids who, of course, are no longer kids, along with their director. They talk about life on the production and discuss how the film has effected their lives, but the piece is more fun than informational. The same could be said for "Daisy Red Ryder: A History" (5:18), covering the history of the prized airgun. There are some pages on the script which are available as an extra, along with trailers for the film and for the exotic lamp that Mr. Parker receives, along with a separate piece on the making of the lamp (4:35).
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Simply put, the only difference between this and the previous high definition releases is new packaging. There's also an Ultimate Collector's Edition with more holiday-themed items in a collectible tin. I never figured Warner Bros. to be a studio that would greedily double-dip, but as additional titles are scheduled to receive similar treatment (300 and I Am Legend), it's definitely a disturbing trend from what was previously a consumer-friendly studio.
A Christmas Story might not be the best looking or best sounding high definition disc I've ever seen, but I had never before seen the film from beginning to end and I really enjoyed how it panned out. It very easily took me back to my early years. McGavin and Dillon could have very easily portrayed my parents, and the story itself has stuck in everyone's hearts and minds for good reason. If you haven't picked up a Blu-ray copy yet and you have the standard definition disc, I'd say you're not missing all that much technically, even if you're losing a couple of supplements to boot, so hold onto that copy.
The accused are acquitted of the charges, though Warner Bros. is being carefully watched for additional crimes.
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