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Introduction
For as long as I can remember Christmas has always been one of my favourite times of the year. The tree, the songs, the time off school and work, and the gifts. Who can forget the gifts? I'll be the first one to admit that I'm bit of a greedy person come Christmas as the idea of getting a whole bunch of free stuff appeals to me. My dad has always been the opposite way and never really liked Christmas as much as my sister and I do. I guess it goes back to the time when he grew up and things were much different. Christmas has turned into a totally commercial holiday in more ways then one. Each year the holiday season gets underway earlier though the official start of the season seems to follow the US Thanksgiving.  One of my favourite Christmas traditions is to watch Christmas movies including "National Lampoons : Christmas Vacation", "Scrooged", "A Christmas Story" and of course "It's a Wonderful Life". There is however one special no matter how many times I've seen it that I watch year in and year out and that is "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" which in my eyes is the definitive holiday activity. This twenty-two minute cartoon featuring the narration of Boris Karloff gives the message of what Christmas is all about. That it's not about gifts it's about the people your with and the people you love.

Given the popularity of the cartoon and children's storybook the Grinch has always been a prime candidate for a full-length live action movie. In fact Hollywood heavyweights have been trying unsuccessfully for about as long as the book's been in print. After a long time Audrey Geisel the widow of Dr Suess (Theodore Geisel) finally entrusted her husbands most famous work to mega producer Brian Grazer who brought on his long time partner Ron Howard to direct. Aside from casting one of the primary concerns was how to take the limited source material (enough for a 22 minute cartoon) and stretch to feature length while still remaining true to Suess's original vision. The result is a good but somewhat troublesome film that tries very hard to becomes a classic but can't overcome its limitations.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Film
"How the Grinch Stole Christmas" is the story of a small mountain town called Whoville where the residents (the Who's) live for the holidays. They love all holidays but the one they love the most is Christmas. As the holiday approaches the town is a bustle with activity and people are shopping, mailing their cards and gifts and decorating their houses with the most festive of lights. In contrast on the mountain on the outskirts of town, a grouchy greedy miser lives with stacks of smelly garbage and his dog Max. His name is the Grinch and his hatred for Christmas is unrivalled.  Meanwhile in Whoville young Cindy Lou Who (Taylor Momsen) is questioning the meaning of Christmas. After she encounters the Grinch in the back of her post office when he pushes her into a sorting machine and then at the last minute chooses to save her she realizes that the Grinch may not be all that bad but instead just misunderstood. She makes it her mission to reunite the Grinch with the Whoville citizens using the local crowning of Holiday Cheermeister as her opportunity. At the ceremony things go fine until the Grinch is given a gift that brings back haunting memories from his childhood. Outraged and upset he goes on a rampage destroying the Who's equivalent of New York's times square Christmas tree. From this point on the story follows the familiar story from the original cartoon version.

The biggest challenge faced by this picture is not how to conclude the story (as ending the film any differently then the classic ending we already know would be a major sin), but is instead how to create a build up to the film's main event where we know that the Grinch will have a change of heart. Commissioned with that task are screenwriters Jeffrey Price and Peter S Seamens whose last produced screenplay was 1999's dreadful excuse of a movie "Wild Wild West". Price and Seaman decided to flush out the story by both expanding on existing characters and using characters that weren't even named in the book. The result is an overly long and drawn out mess of subplots that never really end up anywhere. These characters and situations include romantic subplots for the Mayor of Whoville (played by the always excellent Jeffrey Tambor) and a local women Martha May Who (Christine Baranski), a Christmas light feud between Martha May and Cindy's mom Betty Lou  (Saturday Night Live's Molly Shannon), and the most absurd subplot of all which involves the reason the Grinch doesn't like Christmas. The only real character benefiting from the expanded role is Cindy Lou Who (Taylor Momsen) whose role in the book was smaller but still a main character. The problem here is instead of expanding the characters and giving them a realistic back-story, the beginning of the film seems disconnected from the rest and it doesn't hit the same note that the ending does. I don't think the viewers needed to know what caused the Grinch's hatred of Christmas, as ultimately it's not that important. Even so if for length purposes such a story needed to be created I doubt that the one given would have been a viable option had Dr Suess still been alive today. At a long 105 minutes I think the effort was to try and create a decent length movie when it would have been better off running closer to 90 minutes.

There's not much to be said about the performances in the film, other than Jim Carrey nails the role of The Grinch perfectly. Regardless if you love him or hate him, there is no questioning that he is the only one who could have played this role. Although totally unrecognisable underneath all the hair, makeup and prosthetics, the insanity of one of the biggest comedians of modern times shines through to the max. Jim in this reminds me of Jim in "The Mask" where he was so zany and over the top that words couldn't describe his actions. If there was any question of Jim's genius look no further then this film. He is in more ways then not the modern day Andy Kaufman, a character that he nailed spookily in "Man on the Moon". The second biggest role in this film goes to relative newcomer Taylor Momsen. Momsen creates a loveable on screen character in Cindy Lou and acts as if she were a seasoned pro even carrying an entire musical number on her own. Momsen, who was just seven during principal photography, will be able to go on to a career in Hollywood if she so chooses with her performance here. It's tough to find a child actor who is generally talented, and for this reviewer, who enjoys being around kids, it's tough watching a lot of them on screen. Also appearing is Jeffrey Tambor, best known as Hey Now Hank Kingsley on the Larry Sanders Show, as the major of Whoville. Tambor is pretty funny. If only his character had more of a purpose in the film.

This version of the Grinch holds a sort of a special milestone marker for me as a reviewer, as my initial review of the film during its theatrical run was one of my first published reviews. While a lot has changed since then in terms of my outlook on the medium of film it's sort of nice to be taking a look back at the film that got me started. Sure I had toyed around with reviewing before then but my review of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" was the first one that I didn't write for pure enjoyment. It introduced the world to my unique style of reviewing. Although I don't agree with most of what I said back then and my style has evolved somewhat some of the ideas were there on a basic level.

In the end this version of Dr Suess's classic story is still a good one. It's just not the movie that it could have been and to me doesn't reach the level of a Holiday classic. A better screenplay coupled with better editing would have really made a difference here. Jim Carrey is the Grinch in all his live action form, but for me Boris Karloff will always be the definitive voice of The Grinch. Here's hoping that with this new version, parents don't forget to expose their kids to the classic. I'd hate to see that happen. I think both editions can co-exist well, but come Christmas day I'm still going to be reaching for the original.

Video
By the time I got around to watching "The Grinch" on DVD it had been over a year since my last viewing. Released theatrically in November of 2000, Universal rightly held on to this title and chose to release it in the holiday season to maximize sales. Although it has been awhile in between viewings I still remember the films visual style and was wondering how it would look on DVD. Presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, from the usually rock solid Universal, this transfer came as a mild disappointment to me. Given the film's soft focus fairly tale look, where the films overly soft look could be explained as intentional, I won't deduct points based on that 'problem'. I was, however, less impressed with the use of colour. One thing that stood out at the theatre I viewed the movie at was the richness and depth of the colours used. This isn't the case on the DVD, as colours often seemed dark, muted and generally harsh. While the reds were always warm and well defined most of the colours did not get this same treatment. Print flaws are few and far between but are still present. There's edge enhancement as well but only if you go looking for it with a fine toothcomb. I guess I was expecting more from Universal considering this is a rather big release for them. Universal is capable of a much nicer transfer.  Based on the fact that my expectations may have been set a bit high, I'm going to give this disc the benefit of the doubt though in my video rating.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Audio
Universal has had a chequered past with their audio mix options on discs in recent months. In what seems to be a totally random act, some of their releases contain both DD and DTS, while releases like Jurassic Park were released in separate DD/DTS editions. There doesn't seem to be a logical pattern other than sheer randomness. Universal took some heat over the lack of a DTS track on "The Mummy Returns", a move which lead some to believe an Ultimate Edition was on it's way. Universal doesn't make the same mistake here and presents "The Grinch" in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1.  Since the story of "The Grinch" takes place in a fictional cartoon world it allows the sound designers to take a chance and create a sound mix fit for a fantasy. The resulting mix shows that some chances were taken, but as a whole, things seemed restrained. The film does make use of all the available channels but aside from the more active scenes and the score the surrounds have very little to do. For the most part things remained anchored in the front. James Horner's beautiful score fills the room especially during musical numbers from Jim Carrey, Taylor Momsen and Faith Hill. Dialogue is always easily heard even during the loudest and most active scenes. When comparing the two 5.1 mixes I've have to give the edge to DTS as it has a richer and fuller sound to it.

Also included is a Dolby Surround Descriptive Video Service track. Descriptive Video Service, or DVS for short, is a track that contains a narration of the on-screen action so people with vision impairments can still enjoy the movie. This is a rarely used feature that appears on only a handful of discs. In my 225+ DVD collection only one other disc (Artistan's Basic Instinct) contains a DVS track.

Technically speaking, the Grinch's sound mix is good, it's just not as creative and exciting as it could have been. It's no fault of Universal's as perhaps my expectations were just a few sizes to high.

Extras
When Universal finally landed the Grinch project after numerous studios tried and failed there was no doubt that the eventual DVD was going to be a special one. Fans of the film would be disappointed if the disc were not stacked with extras. The end result is another excellent Collectors Edition release from Universal.

Starting things off we have the usual Universal "Spotlight on Location" featurette.  In general these run anywhere from ten to twenty minutes and are more of an electronic press kit then something of substance. Containing film clips and interview footage with the principals this feature runs a little over seven minutes which is a lot shorter then usual. Compared to other recent Spotlight's this one has a tad more information for those who want to learn more about the film as it does go into discussions on how some of the film was made including some of the special effects. Still it's a fairly promotional piece that qualifies as a featurette rather then a documentary.

Up next we have a collection of deleted scenes, which when combined run for a little under 10 minutes. These scenes are presented in rough widescreen form with editing time code still in place. Most of these scenes were rightfully lifted from the film, as the movie already seemed far too long as it is. It should also be noted that once again a studio has neglected to allow viewers to select each scene on it's own instead permitting only the selection to be played as a group. This is one of my major pet peeves with deleted scenes, as often there's one gem of a scene contained within a long group of them. In the case of fellow Universal release "Mallrats", where there are over an hour of deleted scenes, it just gets ridiculous if you just want to watch one scene.

Moving along we have a section entitled Out takes which is basically 3 minutes of Jim Carrey flubbing his lines or doing Carrey-esque things. Now don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of Carrey, but his shtick can get pretty tiresome and sometimes he's just not funny. This is one of those times. A nice addition but not something I can see myself watching again.

That about does it for the features that will be of interest to the general consumer as the remainder of the features are on the more technical side dealing with aspects of the production.

Rick Baker is responsible for some of the most noteworthy makeup designs in Hollywood having worked on the original "Star Wars" trilogy of films, Michael Jackson's "Thriller", "The Nutty Professor" movies, "Men in Black" and most recently this summer's "Planet of the Apes". He's won seven Academy Awards one of which was for his makeup design on this picture. Make Up Design is a short feature dealing with the makeup design and concepts in this film. Baker talks briefly about the designs for both the Grinch and the Whos. It also features behind the scenes footage of the application process.

As a feature movie "The Grinch" had some pretty cool looking visual effects that were the result of the hard work of Kevin Mack and his team. This ten-minute featurette brings the viewer inside the mind of Mack. It's easy to tell just by looking at it that the movie contained a high number of special effects. In addition to the obvious shots things like adding virtual people into crowd scenes were done. I've heard of it being done in animation and even features before but it was interesting to see the process come alive here.  

Suessian Set Design deals with the set design and production design aspects that were needed to bring the Grinch from the printed page to the big screen. Interviews with Ron Howard and his production designer make up most of this feature. Howard is an interesting speaker and it's a shame that we don't get more of him on this disc.

Who School is a short featurette dealing with the stunt coordinator's struggle to come up with a standard physical body language for the Who's. It's basically a look at the stunt men and woman who worked on this film.

Now there's something for the kids under the menu option Max's Playhouse. These kid friendly features include a rhyming game, a How to Dress the Grinch game, a read-along story and sing along version's of the movie's songs Where Are You Christmas (Movie Version) and Your a Mean One Mr Grinch, which feature the lyrics with a bouncy ball indicator to help kids follow along.

Also included is Faith Hill's music video for Where Are You Christmas, a couple of text based features Wholiday Recipes and By the Numbers (a list of supplies used in the film), the theatrical trailer and the E.T. Re-release trailer both in Dolby Digital 2.0 as well as a collection of DVD-Rom features.

All in all, a good collection of special features that could have been helped by the inclusion of a commentary track. It should also be noted that in a recent interview with director Ron Howard he mentioned that another disc might be released for this title. Could this be an Ultimate Edition with the pan and scan and widescreen versions merged together onto a two-disc set? Only time will tell. It may never materialize, but who knows? Stranger things have happened.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Overall
While it won't go down in history as a Holiday classic, this adaptation of the Grinch does have it's strong points, as does Universal's DVD. From a technical standpoint there is little wrong with the audio/video quality, although I certainly think they could have done a better job on those two key aspects of the disc. The bonus features are pretty good, although a commentary with Mr Howard should have been included. Fans of the film won't be disappointed with this DVD edition. For others it's probably best that you give it a rent first.


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