Elf appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Though not an awful transfer, it seemed awfully lackluster.
Sharpness usually seemed fairly mediocre. A smattering of more distinctive shots emerged, but a lot of the film looked flat and bland. I suspect that some heavy-handed use of Digital Noise Reduction led to this. When I reviewed the DVD in 2004, I noted that it was pretty grainy, but that wasn’t the case here. I’d guess that some of the DVD’s “grain” really stemmed from artifacts, the elimination of those didn’t account for the oddly smooth look of the film on Blu-ray. I got the impression excessive DNR got rid of the grain – and smoothed out a lot of the detail.
No jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and edge haloes remained absent. Source flaws also weren’t a factor; I noticed no specks, marks or blemishes here.
Elf offered a varied and vivid palette, but I didn’t think the tones often came to life. The flick stayed with a moderately flat look that meant the colors looked okay but they didn’t boast the vivacity one would expect from this sort of tale. Black levels appeared deep and dense, but low-light shots tended to be a little murky. None of these concerns made Elf unwatchable, but it seemed bland and without the clarity I expect from Blu-ray.
At least the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack of Elf provided a relatively satisfying experience. While it lacked great flair and flash, the mix worked well for this film. For the most part, the audio image remained biased toward the front channels. When it appeared, rear usage seemed pretty good, especially during the movie’s more active sequences. However, those occasions occurred fairly infrequently. Overall stereo imaging appeared good, and the auditory impression remained reasonably broad and lively.
I found no issues related the quality of the audio, as the mix consistently sounded positive. Dialogue seemed natural and crisp, with no issues related to edginess or intelligibility. Effects came across as realistic and clear, and they presented some very fine low-end material when appropriate; explosions and big sounds like that appeared deep and rich. Music sounded full-bodied and vibrant and also displayed solid bass. Ultimately, the soundtrack lacked the ambition to merit a grade over a “B”, but it seemed positive nonetheless.
How did the picture and audio of the Blu-ray compare to those of the original 2004 DVD? Honestly, it didn’t show substantial improvements. I thought the Blu-ray might’ve been a bit cleaner and smoother, but the DNR meant that it lacked the boost in definition that would make it a real step up over the DVD. In addition, the lossless TrueHD mix seemed pretty similar to its DVD counterpart. While the Blu-ray was a little better than the DVD, it wasn’t a substantial improvement.
Most of the DVD’s extras reappear here. We find two separate audio commentaries. The first comes from director Jon Favreau, who offers a running, screen-specific track. He provides a genial and reasonably informative chat.
During the North Pole sequences, he mostly focuses on the visual trickery used, but he branches into other areas once Buddy gets to Manhattan. We learn about the cast and character choices, cuts and story issues, locations and sets, influences and inspirations, and many general notes about the shoot. At times Favreau meanders into story narration and general banalities, but those problems don’t occur often. Instead, he usually offers a fairly neat examination of the appropriate topics.
For the second track, we hear from actor Will Ferrell, who also tosses out a running, screen-specific discussion. He talks about why he took the project, his approach to the role, working with the other actors and some of the challenges related to visual effects, stunts and other elements of the shoot. Those who hope for a rollicking, laugh-filled track from Ferrell will leave disappointed; he makes a couple of funny cracks but plays it surprisingly straight most of the time.
With or without the humor, this is an average commentary. Ferrell gives us decent insight into his approach to the character and tosses out some reasonably interesting glimpses behind the scenes, but I’m hard-pressed to cite anything terribly memorable. It’s listenable and that’s about it.
We also get a fact track. This subtitle commentary claims to “reveal history, facts and other trivia relating to Elf and its story”. And that’s what it does. We learn a little about the cast, the historical elements connected to Christmas, and filmmaking techniques. The material seems sporadically interesting, but the factoids don’t pop up frequently. I doubt many people will want to try to attend to the film itself and read the fact track at the same time, as it could become distracting. On the other hand, if you check out the movie just to examine the subtitles, you’ll feel irritated by the infrequent use of the feature. Chalk this up as a fairly spotty text commentary.
Next we locate a collection of eight deleted/alternate scenes. When viewed via the “Play All” option, they run a total of 11 and a half minutes. These include an elf hockey game as well as extensions to segments like the one in which Papa Elf spills the beans about Buddy’s past, Walter’s meeting with a nun over financial strains, Buddy and Leon the Snowman, and Buddy’s first night at the Hobbs home. Some fun moments pop up here, so the clips are worth a look, although they don’t provide anything scintillating. (The Leon bit is cool to see partially because it shows the scene before effects added the stop-motion snowman.)
We can watch the scenes with or without commentary from Favreau. The director covers elements of shooting the sequences and also lets us know why the bits got the boot. He goes through the elements concisely and provides useful notes.
”Documentaries” contributes nine pieces. Tag Along with Will Ferrell runs seven minutes as we follow the actor on a typical day. He goes through hair, makeup, wardrobe, shooting on the sleigh with Santa, in the Gimbel’s mailroom, and pickups for the snowball fight. It gives us a very entertaining look at the the various shoots.
Film School for Kids runs 20 minutes and 35 seconds. It includes shots from the set and many comments. We hear from Favreau, Ferrell, writer David Berenbaum, producers Todd Komarnicki, Shauna Robertson and Jon Berg, unit production manager Penny Gibbs, first assistant director Jim Brebner, second assistant director Andrew Robinson, second second assistant director James Bitonti, third assistant director Misha Bukowski, production assistants Tashanna Ducharme and Scott Spencer, key makeup artist Victoria Down, key hairstylist Sherrt Gygli, first assistant hairstylists Donna Bis and Ian Ballard, costume designer Lara Jean Shannon, director of photography Greg Gardiner, camera operator William Waring, second camera assistant George Majoros, dolly grip Greg Forrester, key grip Dillard Brinson, sound mixer David Husby, boom operator Kelly Zombor, stunt double Mike Carpenter, script supervisor Jessica Clothier, and video assist John Sanderson.
Though the title implies this will be a dumbed-down look at moviemaking, “Kids” actually provides as nice primer. It goes through a mix of crew activities and defines them nicely. The elements from the production continue to be illuminating, and we learn a lot of details about the creation of the flick. Adults should learn from this good program as well as younger ones.
Next we find the 11-minute and 30-second How They Made the North Pole. In it we get notes from Favreau, Gardiner, Shannon, production designer Rusty Smith, art director Kelvin Hummeny, lead carpenter Samuel Pritchard, head scenic artist Vaughan Baker, lead laborer Chad Calder, on-set dresser Patrick Kearns, property master Bryan Korenberg, on-set carpenter Mikal Williams, on-set painter David Pirrie, visual effects producer Joe Conmy, visual effects assistant Katie Quinn, visual effects supervisor Joe Bauer, They cover the visual design of the North Pole elements and their execution. It goes through all the appropriate areas in this concise and interesting piece. I especially like the look at adapting things to make the elves seem tiny.
We get more about visual effects, we head to Lights, Camera, Puffin!. This six-minute and 36- second program we hear from stop-motion animators Charles and Stephen Chiodo. They chat about their childhood interest in animation, character design, creating the figures, shooting amid live-action elements, and actually animating the pieces. I like the glimpses at the brothers’ childhood experiments, and the rest of the show presents another tight examination of its subject.
After this comes That’s a Wrap. In the 12-minute and 12-second piece, we look at post-production with Favreau, Conmy, Bauer, post-production supervisor Jay Vinitsky, editor Dan Lebental, visual effects editor Paul Wagner, visual effects supervisor Ben Girard, supervising sound editor John Leveque, supervising dialogue editor Kimberly Lowe Voigt, foley artists Jeffrey Wilhoit and James Moriana, supervising foley editor Lisa Varetakis, New Line music executive Bob Bowen, head orchestrator Brad Dechter, film score mixer Shawn Murphy re-recording mixer Jon Taylor, and composer John Debney. They go through editing, visual effects, audio, the score and the premiere. Ditto my comments about the prior featurettes, as this one rips through the requisite elements well. It caps the series of programs nicely.
Kids on Christmas goes for six minutes, 29 seconds. It offers what you’d expect: a bunch of kids tell us about various aspects of the holiday. It’s very cutesy and virtually worthless.
Called Deck the Halls, the next featurette lasts 10 minutes and 23 seconds. It looks at the efforts people make to decorate their homes. We hear from Californians in a community where pretty much everybody goes all out, as well as others in Massachusetts. The piece offers a moderately interesting look at the extremes of holiday decorating, though the woman who dresses as Frosty gives me the creeps.
Next we see Santa Mania. The six-minute and 29-second program shows us “Surfing Santa”, the creation of Santa costumes, and a massive Santa sculpture. As with “Halls”, this show provides a decent slice of the way the holidays impact on average folks, though in a quirky way.
For the final “Documentary”, we get the six-minute and 50-second Christmas in Tinseltown. Mostly via comments from honorary mayor Johnny Grant, it looks at historical Hollywood Christmas celebrations along with what the community does today. It fits with the other featurettes as it gives us a marginally intriguing piece.
In addition to the flick’s trailer, we find some Focus Points. These offer brief featurettes that appear as you watch the movie; a little disc icon appears on screen to prompt you to press “enter” and watch the snippet. We get 80 of these brief pieces. Across these, we learn about makeup, costumes, props, sets, effects and animation, working with kids and animals, deleted scenes, stunts, music, editing and audio, the script’s origins and development, cinematography, views of the set, outtakes, and the film’s premiere.
Some of the tidbits come from featurettes found elsewhere on the disc; for instance, we see more of those grating kids’ thoughts about Christmas. We also get repeats of the deleted scenes, though at least these pop up at the right places in the movie.
Much of the content is new, though, which is good and bad. It’s a positive because it means that the “Focus Points” aren’t a redundant waste of time, but it’s a negative because the interface is such a drag.
On most WB-issued Blu-rays, you can access the “Focus Points” independently of the movie. Sure, you can check them out as the flick goes, but you can also get to them on their own. For those of us who don’t want to sit through the film to get through them – and thus depart the story 80 fracking times - this is the way to go.
Without that option, it becomes a chore to wade through the “Focus Points”. I like the content, and the disc does make it a little easier to stick with them since you can advance from one to another when each clip ends; you don’t have to sit and wait for the next icon to get there. Nonetheless, the execution left me with a literal headache. I like the content, but the ability to access it frustrates.
The package ends with “Fun ‘n’ Games”. Elf Karaoke lets you sing along with three different songs. Read-Along covers Buddy’s tale in text format. As with most features of this sort, you can read it on your own or check it out with accompanying narration.
What does the Blu-ray lose from the DVD? It drops some games/activities as well as a feature that let you jump to the movie’s songs.
The listing above covers everything on the original 2008 Blu-ray, which is the same disc that we get here. In addition, the “Ultimate Collector’s Edition” provides some non-disc-based materials. We get a Magnetic Picture Frame with “I Just Like to Smile” and “Smiling’s My Favorite” written on it. A magnetic illustration of Buddy appears in it, but you can replace it with whatever image you’d like. It’s a pretty cheap extra that doesn’t add much.
Though similarly inexpensive, I prefer the 15 Elf Gift Tags. These are stickers with Buddy’s image on them; a few also offer quotes like “Does Somebody Need a Hug?” on them. They probably cost about 2 cents to produce, but they’re cute.
Next we find a five-track CD Soundtrack Sampler. It features the following tunes: “Pennies from Heaven” (Louis Prima), “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” (Eddy Arnold), “Santa Baby” (Eartha Kitt), “Nutcracker Suite” (Les Brown and His Band of Renown) and “Santa Claus Party” (Les Baxter). All of these appear on the 12-track full “Music from the Motion Picture” CD, which will prove to be more satisfying for fans. This is a decent toss-in, but given the price of this Ultimate Edition, I’d be more impressed by the full 12-number CD.
Finally, we get a 14-inch Plush Elf Holiday Stocking. This is the nicest item of the UE’s gewgaws, as it’s a reasonably well-made little stocking.
Note that the Blu-ray package includes a digital copy of Elf. However, this is useless for consumers. To access the digital copy, you must use an included code – a code that expired in the fall of 2009! New Line did nothing to update this release; this is literally the same Blu-ray package they put out in 2008.
By all rights, Elf should have been a crass one-note experience in tedium. However, the flick overcomes its inherent restrictions and turns into something charming and amusing. Much of the credit goes to a surprisingly delightful and charming performance from Will Ferrell. The Blu-ray presents mediocre picture quality with pretty good audio and a strong collection of supplements.
This is a fun film, but I’m not wild about its treatment on Blu-ray – and I’m even less excited about the Ultimate Edition. The Blu-ray costs $29 on its own, while the UE lists for $50. If that extra $21 brought some quality materials with it, I’d be happy to recommend the set. However, I just can’t do that; some of the UE’s trinkets are fun, but they’re not worth the extra money. Frankly, the old DVD – with its $15 MSRP – offers the best bang for the buck; if you gotta have Blu-ray, just go with the separate edition, as both it and the UE share the same discs.
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