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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"A CHRISTMAS STORY: ULTIMATE COLLECTOR'S EDITION"


 
The journey of A Christmas Story is the stuff of legend. When it was released in 1983, the film was largely ignored, despite some decent reviews. But the cinematic landscape was changing in the 80's, as videotapes and cable channels like HBO were taking movies out of the theaters and bringing them directly into America's homes. Suddenly, it was possible for overlooked films to have a second chance at finding an audience. A Christmas Story was one of the first to make the transition from overlooked gem to classic via this method.

These days, just try to find someone who hasn't seen it. The passion for Bob Clark's homespun comedy (based on the writings of Jean Shepherd) has grown enough that some channels run it on a continuous 24-hour loop over the yuletide. If, like so many others, you're a passionate admirer of this holiday masterpiece, 2008 is a very good year. Starting Nov. 4, A Christmas Story will be available in an Ultimate Collector's Edition that's even juicier than a Red Ryder BB gun.

There is not much to say about the movie itself that hasn't already been said over the years. The tale of little Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) and his desire for an air rifle is something everyone can relate to. We’ve all experienced that childhood longing for a present our parents don't want to buy us. (In Ralphie's case, his parents are afraid that - say it with me - "you'll shoot your eye out!") The film has a vintage look and feel that reminds you of a Norman Rockwell painting, yet it's infused with a sly sense of humor that cuts through the "perfect" façade. Because it rings so true while still capturing the warmth of the holiday spirit, this is a movie that you can laugh at again and again, without it ever getting old. A Christmas Story is truly timeless.

The Ultimate Collector's Edition is guaranteed to make your mouth water like the smell of Christmas cookies baking in the kitchen. First and foremost is the disc itself. For this review, I checked out the Blu-Ray version, which looks and sounds great. Granted, the movie was made 25 years ago and is not filled with fancy computer effects; nevertheless, the transfer is quite good. Billingsley and late director Bob Clark provide audio commentary on a separate track, recounting their experiences making the film as well as its subsequent discovery by audiences.

In the bonus features department, you will find a 20-minute documentary called "Another Christmas Story." Four of the movie's now-grown actors - Billingsley, Zack Ward, Scott Schwartz, and R.D. Robb - talk about how the movie was made, and they also reveal some backstage antics: While bored in their hotel rooms, they would frequently drop water balloons out the windows. The men share amusing antidotes about some of the more famous scenes, such as the beloved tongue-stuck-on-a-cold-pole bit. An air hose hidden inside the pole made the sequence work, and between takes, the kids all wanted to take turns getting stuck to it. The best part of this feature, though, is the sense of amazement shared by all the stars. None of them ever expected A Christmas Story to achieve the immortality that it has, and their awe is palpable. Clearly, their lives and careers were changed by the public's unexpected affection for the film.

There are two other mini-docs. "A History of the Red Ryder" is exactly what it claims to be. A visit to the Red Ryder factory also reveals an interesting secret: the model Ralphie covets didn't really exist. Jean Shepherd inadvertently mixed remembrances of several models into one, and insisted that the company build what was in his mind. "Get a Leg Up" tours the factory that manufactures the infamous "leg lamps." Unfortunately, this segment is presented as more of a comedy piece, with the interviewer asking silly questions, and editing designed to make his subjects look stupid. A more straightforward look at the leg lamps would have been more effective.

That's a small gripe, because the Blu-Ray also contains a selection of original readings by Jean Shepherd, an interactive trivia challenge, and the theatrical trailer.

And then there's the package itself. The Ultimate Collector's Edition comes with a variety of physical goodies that tie into the film. Perfect for holiday gift-giving, the set includes five collectible cookie cutters in iconic Christmas Story shapes (leg lamp included), a 48-page cookbook with recipes inspired by the film, a custom-designed chef's apron, and a leg lamp light strand. Everything comes in a retro holiday cookie tin.

It's safe to say that any fan of A Christmas Story would love to wake up and find the Ultimate Collector's Edition under their tree. If you prefer it without the extra goodies in the package, you can purchase the Blu-Ray by itself. All the bonus features mentioned above are included.

( out of four)

A Christmas Story: Ultimate Collector's Edition - Own it on DVD and Blu-Ray November 4

Purchase it online here

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