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WARNER

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Bob Clark
Cast:
Melinda Dillon, Darren McGavin, Peter Billingsley, Ian Petrella, Scott Schwartz, R.D. Robb
Writing Credits:
Leigh Brown, Bob Clark, Jean Shepherd (also novel "In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash")

Tagline:
Peace. Harmony. Comfort and Joy ... Maybe Next Year.

Synopsis:
The Christmas spirit isn't served up with more observant hilarity than in this beloved adaptation of Jean Shepherd's holiday story. In 1940s Indiana, nine-year-old Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) dreams of his ideal Christmas gift: a genuine Red Ryder 200-shot Carbine Action Air Rifle. But when gruff dad (Darren McGavin) and doting mom (Melinda Dillion) regularly respond with "You'll shoot your eye out!" Ralphie mounts a full-scale Santa-begging campaign. He encounters a slew of calamities from snowsuit paralysis to the dreaded tongue-on-a-frozen-flagpole gambit. We triple-dog-dare youito unwrap a more welcome Yultide classic!

Box Office:
Budget
$4 million.
Opening Weekend
$2.072 million on 886 screens.
Domestic Gross
$19.294 million.

MPAA:
Rated PG

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio:
English Dolby Digital Monaural
French Dolby Digital Monaural
Subtitles:
English
French
Spanish
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
None

Runtime: 93 min.
Price: $19.99
Release Date: 11/4/2008

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Director/Co-Writer Bob Clark and Actor Peter Billingsley
• Theatrical Trailer
• “Another Christmas Story” Documentary
• “Triple Dog Dare” Game
• “Radio” Readings from Jean Shepherd
• “Decoder” Game
• “Daisy Red Ryder: A History” Featurette
• “Get a Leg Up” Featurette

PURCHASE @ AMAZON.COM

EQUIPMENT
Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


A Christmas Story [Blu-Ray] (1983)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 16, 2013)

Today’s sign that I’m getting old: the fact that 1983’s A Christmas Story has long been regarded as a holiday classic. It’s weird for something that hit screens during my 16th year to turn into something seen as an “old” flick anyway, but I guess that’s life!

Actually, Story didn’t do much at the box office when it first hit. Only on video did it prosper, and now it’s become a holiday institution, largely through the choice of a cable network to run it for 24 hours non-stop on Christmas. It seemed like an odd choice for director Bob Clark, the man behind the prior year’s trashy and smutty hit Porky’s. Clark leapt from that crude and tasteless world to the charming and sly humor of Story, and he made the latter a surprisingly likable affair.

One couldn’t call Story heavy on plot. The film focuses on the family of little Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley), a pudgy bespectacled nine-year-old. Set in northern Indiana circa 1940 or so, the film mainly consists of small episodes in his life during the weeks that lead up to Christmas.

These include a scene in which a friend gets his tongue stuck to a frozen flagpole, the controversial arrival of a “major award” won by his Old Man (Darrin McGavin), the continual torment leveled by a neighborhood bully named Scut Farkus (Zack Ward), and many other little slices of life. The only overriding theme comes from Ralphie’s attempts to pursue his ultimate dream Christmas present: a Red Ryder 200-shot range model air rifle.

Adapted from the stories of Jean Shepherd and narrated by the author, Story easily could have turned into a cheesy and tacky piece of nostalgia. However, Clark maintains Shepherd’s innate cynicism well through this flick. Story always views its world with a sense of reality and bite; it never turns gushy or gooey. However, Clark amazingly avoids glibness or any nasty turns. His view of the era lacks sentiment but still feels warm and engaging. No one ever expresses much in the way of loving emotions, but you know they’re there.

No one embodies that quite as well as McGavin in his wonderful turn as the Old Man. McGavin becomes something of a force of nature here, as he makes the Old Man charmingly free from charm. Like much of the movie, McGavin gives his role a mildly cartoony feel, but he never turns his character into a spoof or a parody. Instead, he invests all his energy into the Old Man’s worldview and makes him crusty but amusing and likable.

Much of Story’s charm really does come from the fact it never tries to win over the audience. It never turns cutesy or precious, though its natural warmth comes through even with all the cynicism. For example, the Old Man seems to display a veiled layer of contempt for his own family. Nonetheless, we can still tell he really cares for them, and when he demonstrates this, it feels natural and true to the part.

Another reason Story works so well comes from its other actors. When it first hit screens in 1983, I recall that I sneered at it due to the presence of Billingsley. He’d also appeared on the lame TV series Real People and he seemed to me to represent the typical precocious and cloyingly adorable Hollywood kid actor. Because of that, I thought his presence would undermine Story.

I was badly mistaken. Instead, Billingsley keeps Ralphie well ground in the real world and deftly underplays all of his scenes. Ralphie feels quite real and never turns into a stereotypical cute kid. The same goes for all the other young actors, as they bring a great level of believability to their roles. Contrast them with the tots of something like Daddy Day Care and you’ll see much of the reason the latter fails but Story succeeds.

Clark also deserves credit for the film’s period feeling. Story feels like they shot it back in the Forties due to Clark’s attention to detail. Of course, the warm and fuzzy cinematography helps, and all of this makes Story come across like an accurate capture of its time.

Really, A Christmas Story works because it gets all of the little things right. It’s not an epic flick that bowls over the viewer. Instead, it creates a tartly cynical but still warm and likable look at childhood that avoids the usual precious pitfalls. A Christmas Story earns its place as a holiday treat.


The Blu-ray Grades: Picture C/ Audio C/ Bonus B-

A Christmas Story appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This was a pretty mediocre presentation.

For the most part, sharpness appeared satisfactory. The film came across as somewhat fuzzy and ill defined on occasion, though. While most of the flick was reasonably accurate and concise, it seemed a little tentative at times. Was this an intentional artifact of gauzy “period” photography? Possibly, but the result remained somewhat fuzzy.

I saw no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, and edge enhancement failed to appear. Print flaws caused mild problems, as the image came with a smattering of specks and marks; these didn’t dominate but they were more noticeable than I’d expect.

Colors varied. Exteriors mostly looked pretty accurate and well defined, but the tones often came across as somewhat flat and lackluster. Some of that seemed to result from the film’s intentional subdued palette, but since the intensity of the hues varied for no apparent thematic reasons, I couldn’t chalk up the occasionally drab colors for stylistic reasons. (Undoubtedly, the film stocks of the era contributed as well.)

Black levels tended to be reasonably dense but slightly on the inky side, and shadows were a bit thick and dull. The image of A Christmas Story didn’t do much that seemed particularly wrong, but it also rarely presented a picture that stood out as very positive.

Similar sentiments greeted the Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack of A Christmas Story. Speech was intelligible but fairly flat, as the lines lacked much of a natural feel. Some poor looping/lip-synch didn’t help matters. Effects demonstrated a little distortion at times, particularly during the fantasy sequence with Ralph’s BB gun. Otherwise those elements seemed lackluster but acceptably accurate and clean.

Music didn’t present much range, though some decent dynamics occasionally appeared. Still, the score failed to present any real problems, and it sounded fairly clear and bright. Ultimately, the audio of A Christmas Story seemed average for its era.

How did the Blu-ray compare to the 2003 DVD? Audio was virtually identical – the Blu-ray failed to bring us a lossless option – but visuals showed improvements. While the Blu-ray’s image wasn’t impressive, it still gave us a mild step up compared to the DVD.

Most of the DVD’s extras repeat here, and we locate an audio commentary from director/co-writer Bob Clark and actor Peter Billingsley. Both men sit together for this running, screen-specific piece. While the pair offer some nice remembrances, this ultimately becomes a pretty average track.

Clark and Billingsley touch on a decent variety of topics. We learn about the different sources of the story and how Clark brought it to the screen. They discuss locations and production challenges as well as the prickliness of author Jean Shepherd. We also get a nice mix of interesting anecdotes from the set plus some discussion of the film’s initial reception and subsequent life.

Clark seems really bitter about the many criticisms leveled at Porky’s over the years and appears happy to point out that Story might not exist without his earlier success with the sex comedy. We even find out which major actor almost got cast as the Old Man.

Unfortunately, the guys often do little more than just talk about what they like, and more than a few empty spots appear. I learned some intriguing bits from this track – who knew Clark shot a sequel? – but it’s a spotty commentary as a whole.

Next comes Another Christmas Story, an 18-minute and 18-second retrospective. It mixes movie snippets and interviews with director Bob Clark plus actors Peter Billingsley, R.D. Robb, Scott Schwartz, and Zack Ward. They tell us continued reactions from the public toward the film, their own Christmas memories, and a number of anecdotes from the shoot. The program doesn’t remotely attempt to present a full examination of the film’s creation, but it includes some good notes and seems generally interesting.

The next featurette looks at the gun that remains the movie’s prized possession. Daisy Red Ryder: A History runs five minutes, 18 seconds. It launches with quick comments from Bob Clark and actors Schwartz, Robb, and Billingsley, but then we head to the Daisy factory to hear from co-curator of the Rogers Daisy Airgun Museum John Ford, customer service manager Orin Ribar, public relations manager Susan Gardner, and advertising manager Steven Ribar.

We get notes about the history of the airgun, modifications made for the model used in the movie, and airgun safety issues. We also find out a little about the use of the gun on the set. No one ever does tell us if you can actually shoot out your eye with an airgun, but this is a reasonably efficient and interesting look at the subject.

Get a Leg Up finishes the disc with an examination of the movie’s other most coveted item, the leg lamp. In this four-minute and 35-second featurette, we see DVD producer JM Kenny chat with lamp creator Joe Egeberg and tour the latter’s plant. We also hear from leg lamp manufacturer Dave Smith. I could live without Kenny’s snarky attitude, but it’s still kind of cool to learn that you can actually buy these things.

Under Script Pages, we get a text extra. It shows the screenplay excerpt for another scene in which Ralph fantasizes about how fabulous life would be if he got a BB gun. It’s a fun bonus.

Two ads finish the set. We find the movie’s trailer and a promo for the Leg Lamp.

While A Christmas Story made little box office impact in 1983, it found a huge audience via home video and cable broadcasts. The film deserves its positive reception, as it presents one of the better holiday flicks. The Blu-ray offers mediocre picture and audio along with a few decent bonus materials. This becomes the best version of the film on the market, though I can’t say it represents an enormous improvement when compared to the 2003 DVD.

To rate this film, visit the Special Edition review of A CHRISTMAS STORY

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