White Christmas appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. Expect a mix of highs and lows from this presentation.
Sharpness varied from excellent to decent, though the former dominated. Occasional wider shots could be a little on the soft side, but those were rare, as the majority of the film exhibited very good – and often stunning – clarity. Moiré effects and jagged edges created no concerns, and I noticed no edge haloes or digital noise reduction; the movie came with a nice sense of light grain.
Unfortunately, print flaws were a moderate distraction, as I witnessed a fair number of small specks during the movie. These were never heavy, but they cropped up more than expected. Most Blu-rays come free from any marks, so the presence of quite a few blemishes was unusual.
Colors occasionally came across as slightly muddy – especially in terms of some overly tan skin tones - but these instances were rare and they were easily outnumbered by the scenes that displayed vibrant and vivacious hues. Some of the production numbers featured a nicely varied palette and the tones were reproduced in a bright manner. For example, during the “Minstrel” piece, I found stunning reds and blues.
Black levels also could be quite impressive, as they appeared consistently deep and rich. Shadow detail looked slightly heavy at times but generally seemed clear and appropriately opaque. The occasional softness and the print flaws knocked the image down to a “B-“, but it often merited “A”-level consideration.
I felt less impressed by the muddy DTS-HD MA 5.1 remix. The soundfield seemed like glorified mono, as the imaging rarely strayed too far from the center channel. Mainly it was the movie’s songs that emanated from the side speakers, but don’t expect stereo, as the track lacked noticeable separation. Some effects cropped up from the back speakers – mainly during the early war sequences – but these weren’t especially impressive. They added a little breadth but not in a natural manner.
Audio quality seemed acceptable but unspectacular. Dialogue appeared fairly natural and distinct with no concerns related to intelligibility. Effects were similarly bland but reasonably clear and realistic. When they popped up in the surrounds, they didn’t come across as particularly accurate, though; they worked better from the front speakers.
The music had a few more concerns, unfortunately. Songs seemed slightly distorted at times, and the music displayed excessive warmth during much of the film. There was an underlying boomy tone to many of the tunes that seemed unnatural. This remix seemed mediocre at best.
The disc also provides the movie’s original monaural soundtrack, and I examined it to determine if it sounded better than the 5.1 mix. It did – by a little, at least. This was mainly because the songs sounded a bit clearer and more natural. They could still show some distortion, but they weren’t as boomy and muddy. While not a great track, the mono version was the one I preferred.
How did this Blu-ray compare to the original 2000 DVD? Audio was a wash, as both discs offered erratic soundtracks. However, the visuals were a good upgrade; even with the Blu-ray’s flaws, it looked tighter and better defined. It wasn’t cleaner, unfortunately, but it provided a peppier image overall.
The Blu-ray replicates the original DVD’s extras and adds some others that also appeared on a 2009 DVD. We start with a running audio commentary from actress Rosemary Clooney. Although I didn’t much enjoy the movie, I looked forward to this track because I thought Clooney would provide a unique perspective on the film and the era. Unfortunately, the resulting commentary is deadly dull and adds little in the way of useful information.
The vast majority of the track passes without any remarks from Clooney, as her statements are few and far between. Even when she does speak, it’s rarely to offer any details about the production or anything insightful.
Instead, she usually just laughs or echoes what the characters in the movie say; she doesn’t seem to understand that she’s supposed to tell us stories or details and not just mutter an occasional phrase as she watches the picture. Every once in a while, Clooney gives us some nice information, usually about Bing Crosby and her relationship with him. For serious fans of White Christmas, Clooney’s commentary may merit a listen, but anyone less than in love with the movie or its cast should skip this dull and frustrating track.
The disc also includes a slew of featurettes. Backstage Stories from White Christmas lasts 11 minutes, 56 seconds and provides notes from film critic DX Feeney, USC Film Professor Dr. Drew Casper, film historian Larry Billman, Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams author Gary Giddins, and dancer George Chakiris. “Stories” looks at the film’s roots and development, cast and performances, the VistaVision process, what director Michael Curtiz brought to the project, the movie’s release and legacy. The featurette emphasizes a perky tone – with lots of praise involved – but it delivers enough good details to succeed.
In the 13-minute, 26-second Rosemary’s Old Kentucky Home, we hear from Rosemary’s brother Nick Clooney, museum owners Steve Henry and Heather French Henry, singer/daughter-in-law Debby Boone, sister Nina Clooney, niece Mica Darley, and Paramount archivist Randall Thropp. We learn a little about Rosemary Clooney’s life in Kentucky as well as her home there and its use as a museum. This occasionally feels like an ad for the museum, but it throws out some interesting notes about Rosemary’s background.
Under Bing Crosby: Christmas Crooner, we get a 14-minute, 16-second piece with remarks from Giddins, Bing’s widow Kathryn Crosby, son Harry, Hofstra University Professor Ruth Prigozy, and Crosby Curator Stephanie Plowman. “Crooner” gives us a general look at Bing but emphasizes the “White Christmas” song and his work on the film. Like “Kentucky”, this is a fluffy piece, but it gives us some useful tidbits along the way.
Danny Kaye: Joy to the World lasts 13 minutes, 10 seconds and find notes from Billman, Kaye’s daughter Dena, Feeney, actor Robert Wagner, composer/lyricist/writer Leslie Bricuse, actor/producer/director Robert Spiotto, and UNICEF Special Projects Producer David Koch. “World” acts as a complement to “Crooner”, as it covers aspects of Kaye’s life and career. It’s another warm ‘n’ fuzzy piece with decent informational value.
We look at the title song via Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas”. It goes for seven minutes, 22 seconds and features Boone, Casper, Giddins, Prigozy, Berlin’s daughter Linda Emmet, RHO President Theodore S. Chapin, White Christmas: The Stage Musical producer Kevin McCollum and RHO Director of Music Bruce Pomahac. This one mixes some notes about Berlin’s life/career with specifics about the song “White Christmas”. Like its predecessors, it gives us a frilly but generally interesting program.
Next comes the four-minute, 21-second White Christmas: From Page to Stage. It features McCollum, Chapin, Pomahac, White Christmas: The Stage Musical co-author Paul Blake, and director Walter Bobbie. They provide some notes about the stage adaptation. This is essentially just an advertisement.
A holdover from the original 2000 DVD, A Look Back with Rosemary Clooney lasts 16 minutes and 46 seconds. This program works much better than the commentary, mainly because it condenses the information into one neatly-packaged piece. I dislike Clooney’s commentary mostly because we hear so little over such a long period.
That’s not a problem during the retrospective. Clooney adds some nice details about her career, her costars and the production; none of her statements are absolutely fascinating, but they provide a positive complement to the film.
Lastly, the disc includes two trailers. We find one for the movie’s original theatrical release. It’s distinguished mainly by the fact it often touts the use of VistaVision back when widescreen films were new. There’s also a re-release trailer; it seems to have come from a period not too many years after the movie’s original 1954 issue, but I couldn’t establish exactly when it appeared.
Many consider White Christmas to be a holiday classic, but I don’t think it deserves that designation. At best, it’s a moderately watchable rehash of a superior movie, 1942’s Holiday Inn. White Christmas never becomes a truly bad film, but it seems consistently uninspired and bland. The Blu-ray provides erratic but usually strong visuals along with a fluffy but informative set of supplements and mediocre audio. Though the Blu-ray doesn’t dazzle me, it still becomes the movie’s best home video release.