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A Christmas Story (1983)

Warner Home Video
DVD Released: 11/4/2008

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 11/2/2008

I've written before about how I'm a card-carrying member of Generation X, and like most generations, there are certain defining moments to which most people that age can relate. For us, cable TV must be considered a touchstone. One day, I was getting 5 channels, and then suddenly, there was a whole world of new TV. And along with cable came HBO. HBO was truly a novelty, not just because it showed uncut movies, but because it showed them over and over. So, if there was one that you liked, you could gorge on it during a given amount of time. A Christmas Story was one such film. It felt as if the movie was on all the time, not just during the holidays. I feel that this is part of what made the movie a cult hit. So, having seen the film what seems like dozens of times, it has become a favorite.

A Christmas Story is set in the 1940s in Indiana (Is it Indianapolis? There's a big downtown area), and centers on young Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley). Ralphie is your common 9-year old boy. He loves playing with his friends, Flick (Scott Schwartz) and Schwartz (R.D. Robb) and tolerates his brother, Randy (Ian Petrella). Mrs. Parker (Melinda Dillon) is a homemaker, while Mr. Parker (Darren McGavin) spends his time fighting either the furnace or the neighbor's dogs when he isn't working. As the story opens, Christmas is approaching and the one thing that Ralphie wants is a Red Ryder BB gun. But, of course, his mother is against this idea. So, Ralphie dreams up various schemes of how he can convince his parents that it's an appropriate present. In the meantime, he spends his time dodging the local bully, visiting Santa Claus at a department store, and counting down the days to Christmas.

A Christmas Story is based on the writings of humorist Jean Shepherd, and it's basically a series of vignettes which deal with childhood. The film follows Ralphie and is told from his viewpoint, but to say that the film has a true central narrative would be an overstatement. The movie shows what life was like in the 40s and vacillates between showing Ralphie's everyday life (school, friends, and bullies) and his family's activities around Christmas.

However, that doesn't effect the quality of the film and A Christmas Story has truly become a classic. The film works because of the balance it shows between an idealistic view of life and a very realistic look at the everyday ups and downs of family life. The movie takes a look at a simpler time in American life when things were more innocent. Aside from listening to "Little Orphan Annie" on the radio, most of Ralphie's time is spent with his friends or family, playing and enjoying their company. Events like going downtown to see the department store window displays, buying the family Christmas tree, or Christmas day dinner are very important to the Parkers.

That's all very sweet, but what makes A Christmas Story great is it's skewed, and often very frank, view of everyday life. From Randy's refusal to eat, to Ralphie's humiliation in receiving a present which is not age-appropriate to the crazed finale, A Christmas Story truly clicks when it's reflecting just how odd the average family can truly be. This is where the inspired narration, provided by Jean Shepherd himself, really kicks in. While A Christmas Story has many memorable moments, it's the lines from the narration which will stick in your head.

Of course, the most amazing thing about A Christmas Story may be that it was directed by Bob Clark, who sandwiched this project in between Porky's, Porky's II: The Next Day, and Rhinestone. How did he produce a family classic in the midst of some of the raunchiest movies ever made and one of the worst? I don't know the answer to that question, but Clark guides A Christmas Story with a gentle hand, keeping things simple with Ralphie's everyday life and showing just the right touch of heightened reality in Ralphie's daydreams.

It's rare that we see a period piece which can be embraced by viewers of all ages, but A Christmas Story fits that bill. While some of the material isn't appropriate for younger viewers ("What does he mean by F---?" "Why does his Dad love that lamp?"), the movie does an amazing job of showing what a wondrous and insane time Christmas can be.

A Christmas Story gets its tongue stuck to Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 (despite the fact that the packaging clearly states 1.85:1) and the Disc contains a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 23 Mbps. A Christmas Story is a movie which has always looked quite soft and this transfer is no different. The image is soft and the grain here can’t be ignored. While there are no overt defects from the source material, the image does show some shimmering at times. The image is quite flat, not displaying the depth and detail which we have come to know with Blu-ray Disc. The Disc offers a Dolby Digital mono audio track which runs at 48 kHz and a constant 192 kbps. What else can I say about a mono track? The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects, and that’s about it. The score sounds fine and there’s no hissing or popping to the track. But, nor is there any life either.

This new release of A Christmas Story on Blu-ray comes in two forms. The first is the Blu-ray Disc by itself. This is simply a re-packaging of the release from 12/5/06. The special features on this new disc are the same as those found on that first release (see below) and the encoding is exactly the same. (My PS3 read both discs as being identical.) A Christmas Story is also available on Blu-ray in an “Ultimate Collector’s Edition”. This includes the Blu-ray Disc housed in a decorative green tin which includes a strand of leg-lamp Christmas lights. (In comparison, the DVD Collector’s Edition comes with many more items and costs less.)

The A Christmas Story Blu-ray Disc contains a few extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Bob Clark and star Peter Billingsley. This is a very good commentary, as the two reminisce about the making of the film. They give detailed accounts of the film's production, while they also talk about the story and the reaction to the movie. "Daisy Red Ryder: A History" (5 minutes) takes us to Neoso, Missouri, where we see the Daisy factory. We learn the history of the Daisy air rifle and see some vintage ads for the guns. "Another Christmas Story" (18 minutes) is a retrospective with comments from Clark, Billingsley, Zack Ward, Scott Schwartz, and R.D. Robb. They talk about the making of the film, how it has effected their lives, and what Christmas was/is like for them in real life. We learn some secrets from the film (such as the flagpole) and of course, there's a discussion of the leg lamp. "Script Pages" is a text-only feature where the viewer can read from a scene which didn't make it into the film. "Get a Leg Up" (5 minutes) is an odd piece which interviews employees at a plant in Florida where leg lamps are made. This doesn't really tie into the movie. Finally, we get the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film and a TV Spot for leg lamps which leads to a defunct (was it ever real?) website.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long