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Deck the Halls (2006)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 11/6/2007

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2
Audio: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/31/2007

I don't know about other people, but movie trailers elicit a visceral reaction from me. It's not unusual to hear phrases such as "First in line!" or "Not on a dare!", or my favorite, "Flop!", following the conclusion of a trailer. (Theater patrons love me!) However, I distinctly remember seeing the trailer for Deck the Halls last summer and having no response whatsoever. The preview for the movie left me blank. This reaction carried on into seeing the film itself, as the movie was exactly what I though it would be.

Deck the Halls is set in the small town of Cloverdale, Massachusetts. Local dentist Dr. Steve Finch (Matthew Broderick) loves Christmas and oversees the town's winter festival every year. He lives with his wife, Kelly (Kristin Davis), and their children, Madison (Alia Shawkat) and Carter (Dylan Blue). One night, a new family moves in across the street. Buddy Hall (Danny DeVito) is loud and obnoxious. His wife, Tia (Kristin Chenoweth), is bubbly and vivacioius. And their twin daughters, Ashley (Sabrina Aldridge) and Emily (Kelly Aldridge), are scantily-clad teen bomb-shells. Steve is courteous to Buddy, but he's put-off by the man's brusque manner. Steve is further concerned when Buddy begins to decorate his front yard for Christmas. Buddy's decorations start off a bit over-the-top and get more ostentatious from there. As Buddy's light-and-sound show get bigger and bigger, and draws more and more attention, Steve's jealousy grows. Soon, he finds himself attempting to sabotage Buddy, and thus, driving away his family.

Deck the Halls is an odd movie which seems to be struggling to find its own voice. In one way, it wants to be a classic holiday film. Steve and Buddy lose sight of what the holidays are all about, and it's up to their families to show them the truth. Once Steve and Buddy realize that their feud is petty, they will be able to embrace the important things in life. This part of the film follows a time-honored pattern as Steve makes the journey of a man who loves the pageantry of the holiday season, the comes to loathe it, and then goes back the other way. Buddy is a man who goes overboard with giving, as he loves the reaction of the people who view his light display.

But, Deck the Halls is somewhat of a mean-spirited film as well. In my recent review for License to Wed, I wrote about uncomfortable comedies, and Deck the Halls nearly spirals into this genre. As Buddy’s display grows bigger and more popular, Steve continues to resort to crazier tactics to stop Buddy. We are forced to sit and watch this character who seemed to be a nice and decent man at the film’s outset grow more and more reckless. And, of course, all of his plans backfire. This wouldn’t be so bad if Steve wasn’t convinced that he was doing the right thing. So, we have a character who mistakes multiply throughout the movie, leaving the audience to wince. In another odd move, the bulk of Deck the Halls if fairly family-friendly, save for a character who is a cross-dresser. Why did they feel that this was necessary? It certainly isn’t funny.

All of this leads me to the impact which Deck the Halls is going to have on the viewer -- which is very little. The movie doesn’t have a very original feel and much of it seems to have been lifted from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (and a little from Christmas with the Cranks), most notably the Christmas lights which are visible from space. The movie isn’t particularly funny, and the makers of Deck the Halls made a huge mistake by having the funniest line in the film come in the first few seconds of the movie. The characters are either annoying or underwritten. The movie’s attempts at boosting holiday spirit are admirable, but a present this bland deserves to be sent back.

Deck the Halls slides down the chimney onto DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The DVD contains both the widescreen and full-frame versions of the movie. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced by for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is fairly sharp and clear, as grain doesn’t stand out and there are no defects from the source material. As Deck the Halls is about Christmas lights, it’s a very colorful film and the colors look very good here, most notably the reds. The backgrounds are often snowy, but there’s no “white out”. The nighttime scenes are never overly dark. However, my preview copy did show some pixellation at times and the some scenes lacked in overall detail. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are fine, and there is a nice amount of surround sound from the in-movie music and the crowd scenes. A certain scene involving explosions provides a burst of bass response.

The Deck the Halls DVD has few extras. We start with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from director John Whitesell and actor Danny DeVito. This is a fairly lifeless commentary as neither man has much to say about the film. DeVito sounds as if he doesn’t remember making it. They talk about the actors and shooting conditions, but not much else. In “Construction of the Houses” (4 minutes) production designer Bill Brzeksi illustrates how two real house were built in a neighborhood and then a structure was put over them to simulate night. “Lighting Design” (3 minutes) gives us a closer look at the task of creating the Christmas light displays. We learn about fake snow in “Winterizing/Shooting a Christmas Movie in July” (4 minutes). In “Dylan Blue Cast Interviews” (4 minutes), the young actor tours the set speaking with other actors. The DVD contains 3 DELETED SCENES which run about 5 minutes. There is one good scene here involving Jorge Garcia. Finally, there are 41 BLOOPERS (!?!?) which run about 7 minutes.

Review Copyright 2007 by Mike Long