X-Mas Wrap Up (US - )
Gabe looks at three releases for your Christmas Eve viewing consideration...
Santa Buddies (Blu-ray/DVD two pack)
Sigh, the Buddies are back, and this time they’re dragging a very distraught George Wendt into the STV gutter with them. After laying the moral problem of children (and their puppies) being too selfish to understand the meaning of Christmas on as thickly as possible, the film introduces us to a nightmare world of talking dogs and tone deaf elves. Even the kids that the film is aimed at have to find the whole North Pole set up devastatingly bleak. This is followed by more heavy-handed morals, and more dog hijinx. The dog’s blank faces are eerie, the sets are cramped and sparse, and the majority of major characters are selfish to the point of mean-spiritedness. The basic plot and tone are consistently depressing, as the slow death of the Christmas spirit breaks down Santa’s workshop, literally starts to kill Santa and Santa Paws, and the junior Santa dog ‘Puppy Paws’ is captured by Lloyd’s evil dogcatcher (Stan Kruge). Of course everything ends with a happy ending (spoiler alert), but it’s a trudge to the finish, and one not spiked by as many goofy bodily function comedy as the last ‘Buddies’ flick. I suppose embarrassing, white-guy infused hip-hop speak and talking dogs might be enough for the kids, but I have a feeling this one won’t go over very well. Perhaps really bratty kids will learn a lesson through pure guilt. Christian families will also be happy to know that Lloyd finds Jesus at the end too.
Santa Buddies is brimming with terribly fake looking digital effects, but they’re certainly colourful. The Blu-ray disc’s high definition video doesn’t do anything to help the reality of these smoothed over, low detail effects (check out the North Pole exteriors and the digital doggie doubles), but it’s certainly crystal clear, and those colours are certainly pure and bright. The transfer is only as consistent as the material, so real world stuff is perfectly presentable, while the more extensive digital effects shots are really soft. The soundtrack is a relatively centric affair, spiked by a few of the more verbose ‘magic’ sound effects, which rarely find their way beyond the stereo channels. The film’s score, which is repetitive, and like the film, surprisingly bleak, make up the majority of the non-centric effects, but do little to assist the LFE. The extras are quite minimal, including three sing along Christmas sings (3:00, HD), a music video (2:00, HD), and some Disney trailers.
White Christmas: Anniversary Edition (DVD)
White Christmas was a Christmas tradition in the Powers household, though I rarely made it past the half way point before falling asleep with Christmas Eve anticipation exhaustion. Looking back on the film, it’s Danny Kaye’s performance that sells the film beyond the song and dance. Kaye is infectiously funny, and fills the film with life every time it threatens to fold back into its uncontrollable plot, that chugs along without any real thought. I hadn’t noticed over the years how inconsequential the story is, or how non sequitur so many of the songs are (‘Choreography’ being of special note, as its really a snotty indictment of modern dance that has nothing to do with Christmas or WWII). But those willing to float along with the goofiness of the whole thing are treated to some mesmerizing Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney songs (beyond that title piece), and Vera Ellen’s impossibly perfected dance steps. With that extra added punch that is Kaye’s comedic performance it’s a whole lot easier to forget that the film is practically an ad for Bing Crosby: Entertainer (it’s the third of a trilogy of movies where he sang the title track), and forgive the lack of story, convincing characters, and genuinely affecting pathos. It certainly isn’t the best musical of its era, but there’s no other Christmas themed musical that touches its colourful grandeur.
It’s really too bad Paramount didn’t see fit to release White Christmas on Blu-ray, because it’s such a colourful movie, and the original VistaVision release, but if the problems here are any indication, the process would be moot. Besides the inconsistent details and edge-enhancement, which are par for the standard definition course, this particular print is pretty grainy, and has its share of artefacts, including scratches and dirt fleck. The bigger issue is the blue part of the colour process, which seems to slip out of sync with the yellows and reds. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix isn’t particularly impressive, or different than the restored Mono track. Even the musical moments are particularly centric, exception some of the sung dialogue. ‘Snow’ is a good example, where the music is still centred, while the vocal performances work stereophonically according to the actor placement. The extras include a commentary from Rosemary Clooney, taken from an older release, the informative ‘Backstage Stories from White Christmas’ (12:00), ‘Rosemary’s Old Kentucky Home’ (13:30), ‘Bing Crosby: Christmas Crooner’ (14:20), ‘Danny Kaye: Joy to the World’ (13:15), ‘Irving Berlin’s White Christmas’ (7:30), ‘ White Christmas from Page to Stage’ (4:30), ‘ White Christmas: A Look Back with Rosemary Clooney’ (17:00), and two trailers.
It’s a Wonderful Life (Blu-ray)
Is there any other movie that more defines Christmas than It’s a Wonderful Life. Has any film been more mimicked or parodied in terms of Christmas stories? Are there many other movies without a Christmas theme? The Godfather, Citizen Kane, Jaws and Star Wars, maybe? It’s a Wonderful Life is a monster chunk of the American zeitgeist, for better or worse, and a film we cannot ignore. Frankly speaking I’m not a huge fan of the film based partially on super-saturation, but also on the general unlikeability of George. It’s also a pretty harsh climb to that famous catharsis. But one would have to be blind to miss the film’s place in the pantheon, and we tend to miss the intricacies of the well structured script among the bombast of Capra’s emotional overbearing. If you’ve somehow managed to live into adulthood without seeing this particular Christmas classic, this would be a good time to remedy that. At the very least you’re in for some strange scenes of glowing, talking nebulas.
Do you need It’s a Wonderful Life in high definition? No, not really, but there’s no reason to complain about this Blu-ray release, so toss out those blobby copyright free discs, or better yet, re-gift them to relatives. The Blu-ray features both the original black and white and colourized versions of the film (on different discs for some reason). Since I’m not a Nazi, and clearly love America, I only glanced at the colourized version, but the black and white copy is just about perfect. Presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, this print is sharp, detailed, with rich shades, deep blacks, and very little grain or artefacts. The soundtrack is well cleaned, and presented in the original mono. It’s not a fancy uncompressed track, but considering the film’s rather thin sound design there shouldn’t be any call for protest. The b+w disc features the set’s only extras – a making-of featurette and an HD trailer. The featurette (22:45, SD), which has been made available elsewhere (and was clearly made for television), is a bit light tonally, but covers basically everything most fans will want to know about the production, if not briefly, including inception, scripting, production, casting, Production Code problems, set construction, fake snow, and release.
There you go. Merry Christmas everyone, thanks for reading. I’ve got to throw another log on the fire, and make up some hot chocolate in hopes of staving off the crippling altitude sickness…
Editorial by Gabriel Powers
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