Christmas Story, A (4K UHD Review)
Release Date(s)1983 (November 1, 2022)
Studio(s)MGM/UA Entertainment (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B
Based upon Jean Shepherd’s 1966 semi-fictional novel In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash, Bob Clark’s A Christmas Story follows young Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley), a middle class boy in Hammond, Indiana, as he navigates the many social and familial complexities of Christmas 1940. Asked by Santa at the local Higbee’s department store what he wants for Christmas, a panicked Ralphie manages to blurt out “a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle!” at the last minute, only to be told that he might shoot his eye out. Undaunted, Ralphie begins an elaborate campaign to convince his parents (Melinda Dillon and Darren McGavin) that a trusty air rifle is just the thing every young boy needs, even as he and best pals Flick and Schwartz are routinely tormented by local bully Scut Farkus and his toadie, Grover Dill.
As one might expect, A Christmas Story leans heavily upon the nostalgia that most of us feel for the holiday experiences we enjoyed as children. Yet nostalgia alone isn’t enough to make this a classic. That magic comes from the script’s whimsical humor and relatable vignettes, not to mention a pair of terrific performances by Dillon (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, as Ralphie’s doting mother) and McGavin (Kolchak: The Night Stalker, as Ralphie’s surly but sweet, wacky yet warm-hearted “Old Man”). McGavin, who sadly passed away in 2006, will forever be remembered for his role in this film, in which he tilts his metaphoric lance against a malfunctioning furnace (“It’s a clinker!”), the hillbilly neighbors’ dogs (“Sons of bitches! Bumpuses!”), and one slightly-awkward “major award” (“Fra-gee-lay! Must be Italian!”). It also helps that Bob Clark’s direction—particularly his work with the youngest actors here—is superb, though it’s fair to say that little in his prior résumé (which included Black Christmas, Porky’s, and episodes of TV’s The Dukes of Hazzard) suggested that he was about to make an all-time holiday classic. But that’s exactly what A Christmas Story has become.
A Christmas Story was shot on 35 mm film by cinematographer Reginald H. Morris (Murder by Decree, Turk 182) using Panavision Panaflex cameras and spherical lenses, and it was finished photochemically at the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. For its release on Ultra HD (in anticipation of the film’s 40th anniversary in 2023), Warner has completed a fresh 4K scan of the original camera negative to create a new Digital Intermediate, complete with grading for High Dynamic Range (HDR10 alone is available on this disc). The result is modestly impressive, provided that one keeps in mind the unique limitations of this particular title. Filters and diffusion were often employed when shooting (particularly for interiors) to give A Christmas Story the romantic visual quality of idyllic memory (the film is narrated by an adult Ralphie, voiced by Shepherd). So the image has a slightly soft, almost glowing appearance. As such, the shadows are a bit gray in interior shots and thus lacking in detail. But exteriors are gorgeous, and this film has never looked so delicately textured and refined as it does here in 4K—every bit of detail in the negative appears on screen, and that is certainly an improvement upon the 2008 Blu-ray release. So too is the appearance of film grain, which is lighter and more even here than it was on the Blu-ray. Colors are warmly stylized but seldom truly bold (save for the film’s opening titles), but they are more richly saturated and nuanced than before. So while this isn’t a 4K image that genuinely dazzles, especially in terms of HDR, it does impress with its subtleties. And the longer you watch the 4K disc, the more you’ll appreciate the difference.
Audio on the 4K disc is included in lossless English 2.0 mono in DTS-HD Master Audio format (the previous Blu-ray was lossy Dolby Digital). The film’s sound has always been in mono, which lends a deliberate vintage quality to the experience, so this is as it should be. Dialogue is clean and discernible, and the score’s occasional music cues are well balanced in the mix. Additional audio options include French and Spanish 1.0 mono in Dolby Digital, while subtitle options include English (for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing), French, Dutch, and Spanish.
Warner’s Ultra HD package includes the remastered film in 4K on UHD, as well as a newly-authored Blu-ray with the remastered film in 1080p HD. Both discs include:
- Audio Commentary by Peter Billingsley and Bob Clark
To this, the Blu-ray adds the following new and legacy special features:
- Christmas in Ohio: A Christmas Story House (HD – 21:15)
- Another Christmas Story (SD – 18:18)
- Daisy Red Ryder: A History (SD – 5:18)
- Get a Leg Up (SD – 4:38)
- “Flash Gordon” Deleted Script Pages (HD text feature – 3:11)
- Leg Lamp Spot (SD – :49)
- Jean Shepherd Original Radio Recordings
- Duel in the Snow, or Red Ryder Nails the Cleveland Street Kid (38:07)
- Flick’s Tongue (30:50)
- Theatrical Trailer (SD – 2:10)
The audio commentary with Billingsley and Clark is nostalgic and certainly informative, if a bit low key. Another Christmas Story is a fun little retrospective that—along with the other vintage featurettes—was produced by our old friend J.M. Kenny for the 20th Anniversary Special Edition DVD in 2003. It includes interviews with Billingsley and Clark, along with R.D. Robb (Schwartz), Scott Schwartz (Flick), and Zack Ward (Scut Farcus). A surprise here is that there’s a new feature for this 4K release, Christmas in Ohio, with actor Ian Petrella (Randy) and developer Brian Jones, who in 2004 purchased and renovated the Cleveland house used to shoot the film’s exteriors and now runs it as a museum. The Script Pages and Leg Lamp Spot were included as Easter eggs on the DVD, so it’s good to see them carry over. Another nice surprise is that the original Jean Shepherd radio show readings from the DVD—that were omitted from the 2008 Blu-ray—have been restored here. So all that’s missing from the DVD are a pair of interactive games (one involving trivia and the other a secret decoder challenge). Of course, you also get the usual Movies Anywhere Digital code on a paper insert.
A Christmas Story is another modern holiday classic that never fails to entertain, a film that both Gen-Xers and Boomers alike have come to love, but that offers plenty of charm and humor for younger viewers too. With both a solid 4K presentation and a remastered Blu-ray, not to mention a new special feature and a more complete archive of the classic extras too, Warner’s Ultra HD package offers good value for fans of the film. If you count yourself among them, the title is certainly recommended.
- Bill Hunt
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