HTF REVIEW: The Muppet Christmas Carol - RECOMMENDED with mixed feelings

Discussion in 'TV on DVD and Blu-ray' started by DaViD Boulet, Nov 23, 2005.

  1. DaViD Boulet

    DaViD Boulet Lead Actor

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    [​IMG]

    Muppet Christmas Carol

    (Kermit’s) 50th Anniversary Edition

    Studio:Buena Vista (DVD Release) Year:1992 RunTime:89 minutes Rating:G Aspect Ratio:16 x 9 encoded 1.85:1 (OAR) & 4x3 encoded 1.33:1 (P/S) on same disc Audio:5.1 DD English, French Subtitles:English (Hearing Impaired) SpecialFeatures:Pepe Presents: Gonzo Profile, Christmas Around the World, Gag Reel, Director’s Commentary with Brian Henson (P/S selection only) ReleaseDate:November 29, 2005





    On DVD…Again...




    When Disney first released this title on DVD in Pan-and-Scan-only just a few short years ago, you and/or several hundred of your DVD collecting brethren contacted Disney to express their displeasure and requested a 16x9 WS OAR DVD re-release. It took a few years, but it’s finally here.

    And it looks gorgeous.

    But it's not perfect...

    This DVD is somewhat of a mixed blessing, and while I personally view this DVD edition as a “glass half full” I can certainly understand other Muppet fans feeling more strongly opposed to this long-awaited DVD presentation.

    What’s wrong with this DVD is that the 16x9 WS OAR version on the film is the “edited” theatrical version while the P/S selection is the full-length director’s version (the cut version is missing a song that the studio chose to trim to speed up the pace for squirming kids...similar to what happened to Pocahontas). Making the issue more painful, the previous widescreen laserdisc had the song as well! One can only wonder at what’s going through the minds of the marketing folks paid handsomely to make such idiotic decisions--decisions which almost seem intended to frustrate the very fan-base that makes up the consumer market for the product in the first place.

    [​IMG]

    I can only guess that someone in the conference room--who’s best familiarity with movies is the weekly power-point-pie-charts with movie-titles scribbled in the corner legend--made the semantic, but incongruous, connection that “hey, the version with the theatrical aspect ratio ought to be the theatrical version…right? Wouldn’t fans love that since it’s all theatrical??”

    You think I’m kidding…

    Whatever the reason this decision was made, I’d like to help educate the Buena Vista marketing team on a few key points they can pretty much count on:
    1. When it comes to Muppets and Disney animation, rest assured that there is an enormous adult audience for these films who want to “collect” them and experience them in the best way possible (i.e., it’s falsehood to ever think that these are “just for kids” movies).
    2. Fans and collectors most certainly want the original theatrical aspect ratio. However, that’s not so much because the movie happened to be shown in a “theater” as it’s because this was the aspect ratio that the director and artistic team who created the movie wanted it to be seen. Which means…
    3. If a director wanted a movie to be a certain way, and someone else at the studio decided to change something (like get rid of a song), fans would like to see the movie the way the director intended.
    4. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, about a P/S version of the film that fans will consider worthy. So you can’t add a scene into that version and think “now fans have both versions” because anything that’s not OAR doesn’t count in the mind of a movie fan.

    I’ve now come down from my soapbox and I hope that I haven’t said anything too offensive to the Buena Vista folks (who by and large do a great job with DVD presentations as far as features are concerned). But I’m assuming they'd like to learn so that the next Muppet Christmas Carol home-video release (Blu-ray???) will make the fans happy and make Disney lots of money. Win-Win.




    The Movie...



    Brian Henson had big shoes to fill following the success of his father’s Muppet films. He met the challenge by taking on a rather ambitious project…to interpret Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol via the Muppets. I say ambitious because not only did he take on the burden of trying to satisfy an audience familiar with the novel and several well-loved film productions, but also took on the task of integrating human characters and Muppets into relationships that needed to confidently cross actor-puppet lines. The result: The Muppet Christmas Carol is not only a successful Muppet film, it stands among its fellow Christmas Carol classics as being one of the most accurate to the written novel (most of the primary dialogue is lifted directly off the page). Ingeniously, but using Gonzo as the omniscient narrator, Brian was able to deliver much of the novel’s own narrative prose not normally heard in other films.

    If I have one criticism of A Muppets Christmas Carol, it would be that I find Michael Caine’s performance of Scrooge to be a bit tepid and mild-mannered. He never quite captures the deep-rooted bitterness that I feel characterizes my expectation for this role. However, I personally esteem George C. Scott’s portrayal as the definitive “Ebenezer Scrooge”, and that’s a tough act to follow. I think if you’re able to watch The Muppet Christmas Carol without bringing in your prior expectations of Scrooge’s character, you’ll be better rewarded. The next time I watch this film I intend to go in with a less predetermined view of how Ebenezer ought to be portrayed.

    Despite what minor flaws you may or may not hold against this cinematic effort, The Muppet Christmas Carol is an entertaining film that doesn’t lose its tether to the deeper message its trying to convey. If you’re a Muppet fan, a Dickens fan, or both, be sure to take the time to get to know this very special film if you haven’t been acquainted with it already.



    Picture...

    Note: The image quality of The Muppet Christmas Carols is nearly identical to that of Muppet Treasure Island. For this reason much of this section appears duplicated in both reviews.


    It’s gorgeous. I mean stunning. It’s beautiful.

    There are some screen captures here for you to view:

    http://www.hometheaterforum.com/htfo...45#post2844845

    Though let me assure you that what I'm seeing projected on my 106" (diagonal) screen looks BETTER than the screen-caps...

    The wait has been worth the while, and those of you who were morally incorruptible and passed on purchasing the pan-and-san-only previous DVD edition have been duly rewarded.

    It appears to my eyes that (unlike The Muppet Movie and The Great Muppet Caper) this new DVD edition of A Christmas Carol is mastered from a new film-tape transfer, which I suspect is hi-definition. The image is silky, detailed, and beautifully film-like. It’s free from any “electronic” signature with no visible edge-ringing or excessive high-frequency filtering from my 1.6 screen-width viewing distance on my 106” screen.

    Colors are generally subdued, which is reflective of the intended look of the film. Fine film grain can be seen from time to time (neither good nor bad, just pointing it out) and doesn’t seem to challenge compression to the point of obvious artifacting (there were a few moments where I may have seen MPEG artifacting if I looked for it, but nothing that intruded when watching the movie). Black level is reasonably solid. Shadow detail is outstanding and blacks are noise-free.

    Allow me to say that that image detail in The Muppet Christmas Carol is about as good as I’ve ever seen for a live-action Buena Vista DVD (and slightly better than Muppet Treasure Island). It’s very impressive. Some scenes were so naturally detailed that I got that “pinch…I’m not watching film…pinch…I’m not watching film” sensation. Very impressive. I hope this is a start of a new trend for Buena Vista DVDs. It would make reviewing very rewarding…


    Picture Quality: 4.75 / 5

    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]


    Rating Rationale...

    In the past I think I've been too ambiguous with my scoring or at least haven't applied it consistently from title to title, so I've endeavored to define my rating system more clearly to help make the scoring more meaningful (for all titles reviewed December 2004 and later):

    Rating Key:

    SCORE Description 1-2 An absolute abomination. Hurts to watch. Think "Outland" (scan-line aliasing, chroma noise, dotcrawl)-- truly horrid. 2-3 Has some serious problems, but one can at least watch it without getting a headache despite all the problems though you might try to talk your guests into picking a different movie to watch if you have a large projection screen. Think Cold Mountain. 3-4 Good or at least "acceptable" on a big-screen, but not winning any awards and definitely room for improvement if you view the image wide-angle (though smaller-screen viewers may be quite content). Think the first extended cut of Fellowship of the Ring...decent picture but still some HF filtering and some edge-halos. 4-5 A reference picture that really makes the most of the DVD medium and shows extraordinary transparency to the film-source elements. Non-videophile observers can't help but remark "WOW". Think The Empire Strikes Back or the Fifth Element Superbit (full “5” would be sans EE) or the new Toy Story 10th Anniversary Edition.



    Viewing Equipment:
    Currently running DVDs on my OPPO DVD player (Faroudja deinterlacing) which scales to 720P, feeding my BenQ 8700+ PJ via DVI, projecting onto a 106” 16x9 Dalite HiPower screen, viewed from approximately 1.6 screen-widths distance. Well mastered DVDs produce a stunningly film-like image in this scenario, and lesser-mastered material quickly shows its flaws.






    Sound...


    The 5.1 mix is “good” though it sounds slightly compressed and slightly front-heavy. Let me clarify: it sounds like a “normal good” 5.1 mix for a drama that’s perfectly fine...it’s just that having just watched Muppet Treasure Island for the second time in a row my ears are now calibrated for “reference” material. [​IMG]

    Surround use is restrained, but it’s all in character with the way this film needs to communicate—in fact, the film is probably better served with an understated mixing style so that the audio doesn’t draw the listener’s attention away from the story and become a point of distraction. I will say that the musical score is very nicely presented with a lush sense of depth and instrumental separation.



    Sound Quality: 4 / 5

    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]




    Special Features...


    We finally get a Kermit’s “50th Anniversary” Muppet DVD with some actual special features. First, we’ve got Brian Henson’s feature-length director’s commentary. Very nice. The bad news is that it’s only accessible when you play the P/S version of the movie (grrr) but that’s because it’s recorded for the director-preferred extended cut…and you already know what I have to say about that. I any case, usually folks listen to commentary after having already watched the feature film all the way through, so hopefully fans can still enjoy the commentary here if they can temporarily overcome their distaste for the having the cropped 1.33:1 image on their screen.

    We also get a cute blooper reel, which I enjoyed though it’s quite short. You get one of those “Pepe Presents”…this time about Gonzo (cute but a bit forced…or maybe I’m just jaded now that I’ve had to consider this as being “the” special feature for 3 other Muppet Movie “Anniversary editions”. And lastly there’s an interesting (though short) feature where Gonzo talks about Christmas customs from non-U.S. regions of the world.




    All Together...



    Why does it have to be like this? Were it not for the debacle of the “director’s cut” in P/S only and the studio-edited “theatrical” version in 16x9 OAR, this would easily be a sure-sell. Image quality is absolutely outstanding…among the very best that I’ve ever seen from Buena Vista with live-action material. Audio is perfectly fine and we finally get a Muppet DVD with an actual bonus feature (commentary) that will interest fans. I’ve given you the picture as well as I can tell, now you need to make up your own mind. As always, I encourage your respectful discussion and look forward to hearing what you have to say.



    RECOMMENDED with mixed feelings
     
  2. Jeff Swindoll

    Jeff Swindoll Supporting Actor

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    Happily it also appears that Disney as re-released the soundtrack on CD.

    Was the deleted song on the old p/s only version since that also had the director's commentary??
     
  3. BarryS

    BarryS Second Unit

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    I loved this movie when I was younger, but I didn't know about the "missing song" thing until just recently. I have only seen Muppet Christmas Carol on VHS and the previous DVD edition, and probably on TV as well since the Disney channel shows it quite a bit. That being the case, is it a safe assumption that I have only seen the "edited theatrical version"? I know for certain that I've never seen it in OAR.
     
  4. MarcoBiscotti

    MarcoBiscotti Producer

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    So let's review...


    You get a hacked up, edited version of the film, minus the commentary track... OR... an even more hacked up pan and scan debacle that's apparently even crappier than the previously released hacked up pan and scan debacle because this one manages to drop all of the significant featurettes: "Frogs, Pigs & Humbug: Unwrapping a New Holiday Classic", "Christmas Around the World" and "On the Set", for a crappy Pepe Presents sketch.

    I'll be picking this up for the new Widescreen transfer... but I can't say I'm enthusiastic about ANY of these new "50th Anniversary" releases. Disney really screwed these up in every way imaginable.
     
  5. Sam Favate

    Sam Favate Producer

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    This was the first Muppet film I had seen since the first one in 1979. I enjoyed the first one, but never made it to the films in the '80s, so I didn't know what to expect with MCC. But I enjoyed it - it doesn't have the same characteristics as TMM, but the Muppets' take on Dickens was always something that seemed waiting to happen. I'm disappointed the edited version of the film in WS, but look forward to picking it up.
     
  6. Paul Hillenbrand

    Paul Hillenbrand Screenwriter

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    Excellent review David![​IMG]



    Hope the Buena Vista marketing team does read this thread and the subsequent comments made by their customer fan base.[​IMG]

    The following inspiration comes from “Jacob” and “Robert Marley” singing to “Scrooge”:[​IMG]

    Dear Disney (Buena Vista?):

    By your deeds, you seem to have taken great pleasure in taking advantage of Joe six-pack while ignoring the Home Theater enthusiasts needs.

    By your track record, you have successfully specialized in causing pain, spreading fear and doubt on what will be the next DVD collectors disappointment.

    By not deviating from your path, your sadistic concentration, on not giving your informed audience what they want, is most apparent.

    Obviously, you should have realized this by now; These “deeds”, have put your captive audience in shackles, captive bound, double ironed, exhausted by the weight; and for you, being doomed for all time, would be a terrible fate! A horror story, written by your crime.

    But most importantly, remember that chains are forged by what you say and do, so be really careful, next time.[​IMG]

    Paul
     
  7. DaViD Boulet

    DaViD Boulet Lead Actor

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    The Christmas Around the worls is still on here (see review) and if "on the set" are the bloopers/out-takes they are there too...
     
  8. Rodney

    Rodney Supporting Actor
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    Does anyone else think it is strange that we get all upset when a studio gives us a Theatrical Edition in the proper OAR, and yet we get vehemently upset when George Lucas WON"T release the theatrical edition of OT Star Wars? Or should we
    be content to see the movie the way the director intended.
    Yes, it would have been nice if Disney would have offered both on the DVD, but I don't think we should complain so much when we get the original theatrical cut of a film in the original aspect ratio.

    You may now commence with the tar and feathering.
     
  9. DaViD Boulet

    DaViD Boulet Lead Actor

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    [​IMG]

    I hear what you're saying, but I think there are some differences that don't make the Lucas comparison a strong parallel...

    I think the issue with folks here is that Brian Henson had *made* his film...song in-tact...to begin with. It was finished and in the proper form, *then* the song was cut by other parties with their own agenda (think DUNE etc.). This wasn't the case of the director making a movie the best way that he could at the time and then revisiting his work years later and digitally altering the film to better suit his supposed original-vision (in the case of Lucas, this "vision" at times changes things that had nothing to do with budget or technology limitations in 1979...like the whole Hans-shoots first thing)...Henson had already *made* the film according to his vision...and then the studio decided to cut the song.
     
  10. Mike_Richardson

    Mike_Richardson Supporting Actor

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    David,
    Great review and I will try and tone down my tenor from your earlier thread (which I apologize for).

    Rodney:
    The situations are not the same or comparable in any way. There's no artistic validity to the theatrical version whatsoever. It's a compromised edit imposed by studio execs who thought they knew better than the people who made the movie. Period.

    Like David said, Henson made the movie WITH THAT SONG INTACT and it was cut at the last minute by American studio executives worried about kids being bored and going to the bathroom during it. Never mind that it's arguably the most dramatic moment in the movie, essential to the film and the song score (since the song performed at the end is a counterpoint to it!).

    I understand about STAR WARS, seeing the movie for the first time, and having the film being subjected to multiple edits over the years.

    On the other hand, what argument is there for the theatrical version of MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL? That some executive concerned with receipts and kids getting bored has a better idea of what the movie is about than the people who made it? Without the song there's a lack of a dramatic center AND a jarring edit where the song was supposed to be. Having heard the CD before I even saw the movie back in 1992, I could tell that song was missing even when I saw the theatrical version! (And as memory serves wasn't the song in the theatrical version of some international territories?)

    You also can't use the argument that audiences are used to watching the movie without it. The song was IMMEDIATELY put back into each and every video release of the movie, from the 1993 VHS and laserdisc to its first DVD edition...making this 16:9 DVD version, quite regrettably, the only U.S. video release that doesn't have it! [​IMG]

    And to use your argument -- if Warner releases the studio-imposed theatrical version of BLADE RUNNER in 16:9 and Ridley Scott's version in Full-Sreen, that would be OK with you too?
     
  11. AndrewWickliffe

    AndrewWickliffe Second Unit

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    I have been incredibly vocal about my anger regarding the "theatrical cut" in other threads and now that's it's over and done with, I'm just dejected....

    If a person (i.e. a poster) doesn't understand why this "theatrical cut" is unacceptable, I don't think there's any way to explain it to them. (I previously used the example of Warner Bros. only restoring the Turner-colorized version of King Kong).

    As for the possibility of a complete, Blu-Ray edition ten years down the line... it's simply too long to wait. "Muppet Christmas Carol" is the best (but probably not my favorite) Muppet movie, and it's probably my favorite Christmas movie (after "Die Hard," maybe), and I'll be watching it this year. But I won't be watching, or buying, this new version. I've got an uncut LaserDisc and I've got a letterboxed Brazilian DVD if I want it cut-up (I don't).

    In the last few weeks, probably because I haven't been thinking about it much, I've noticed a lot of films available on laserdisc that either haven't made the transition to DVD or have made a bad one. I think it's just worse with "Muppet Christmas Carol" because it finally seemed like Muppet fans were getting their just rewards, with the season set (which is cut in R1 and probably cut in R2), and now with "Christmas Carol."

    I was, initially, unhappy that the Hensons sold the Muppets to Disney, especially since I'd had a promising, if brief, e-mail exchange regarding a decent copy of "Christmas Carol" with the Henson Company before that news, but the unhappiness didn't last. Disney listened to people about widescreen transfers on these four releases and I suppose I believe that they just didn't do their homework with the cuts on "Christmas Carol" and didn't have time to do a new master....

    I think "Christmas Carol" is indicative of the problems with DVDs. Before, with VHS and LaserDisc, there were two markets that the studios recognized--audio commentaries used to mean something, for example, and deleted scenes were treasures. If Disney could sell a widescreen, uncut "Christmas Carol" for $40--and have it sell at that price, not 40% off (something LaserDisc buyers rarely got for good releases)--they might release another version before HD/Blu-Ray. But the market isn't structured for that, though HD/Blu-Ray may become the new "elitist" format. I just can't afford it and probably won't be able to until the next format after that....

    So it's "Muppet Christmas Carol" on LaserDisc for me.
     
  12. Malcolm R

    Malcolm R Executive Producer

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    ...so any offense they may take is well deserved, IMO.

    I wonder if I can still find the laserdiscs on Ebay?
     
  13. Brendon

    Brendon Second Unit

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    I only wish you were kidding. Then I wouldn't feel like crying.

    After bypassing the original pan and scan DVD issue of the MCC, I've spent the past few years watching MCC on VHS - a copy I bought before I'd even bought my laserdisc player.

    Regretfully I've already bought the UK region 2 issue of MCC, in the correct aspect ratio but with When Love is Gone, well, gone. Silly me simply presumed that the entire film would be on the disc.

    Words fail me. How can the same company that put out Snow White, Bambi and the like in such stunning beauty put out such an obviously flawed version of Muppet Christmas Carol ?

    Is there anyone left at Disney/Buena Vista who actually WATCHES the films they transfer to disc and put out ?

    I've been waiting for sometime for BV to reissue Evita. I'd rather they didn't now as they might just drop Another Suitcase, Another Hall or some other track the penpushers condsider superfluous to the film.

    Many studios have put out flawed transfers or incomplete cuts of films, but not twice in successesion.

    Is the laserdisc issue of the film complete and in the correct aspect ratio ? I feel the need to "downgrade".

    Idiots.

    Brendon
     
  14. Jesse Skeen

    Jesse Skeen Producer

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    Well, if they had decided to colorize King Kong before its original release and show it that way, I'd want to have that as the theatrical version. Before The Wizard Of Oz was released they were VERY close to cutting out "Over The Rainbow" as the studio heads felt it brought the movie to a stop, so how would you want that handled if that had happened?

    I saw this in the theater and honestly don't remember if "Love Has Gone" was included there or not- I bought it on laserdisc later and it didn't seem like it was anything new. If the internet had been more prominent back then I probably would have known more about this. However, if the theatrical version was first released without it, that version should still be there as a testament to the history of this movie- we should be able to pull this out and see that yes, they really were stupid enough to cut this out of the final prints. Of course the ideal solution is to use seamless branching to put it back in, if it's really considered "integral" to the movie. (As to my opinion on the matter I'd have to go back and see the movie with it taken out again, as I've been used to the laserdisc version for some time now.)

    I may be in the minority, but for better or worse the theatrical release should always be preserved with nothing cut out OR put back in, and there's several titles I've refused to buy when that hasn't happened. If "Muppet Christmas Carol" had been made before home video, the "Love Is Gone" segment might have just disappeared altogether.
     
  15. Adam Sanchez

    Adam Sanchez Supporting Actor

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    If this was answered I missed it so forgive me, but what IS the cut song anyway? The PS Version HAS this song?
     
  16. george kaplan

    george kaplan Executive Producer

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    I almost never blind buy. I've never seen this, but it's something I would have bought blind way back when, except that it was released pan & scan. Now that it's OAR, but edited, I guess I'll keep holding off on that rare blind buy. I've already got 25 Christmas films, and 34 television Christmas episodes to watch between now and Dec. 25, so I guess not picking this up won't be too painful. Still, if they ever do release it OAR and uncut, I will make that elusive blind buy.
     
  17. DaViD Boulet

    DaViD Boulet Lead Actor

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    You sort-of prooved his point. I'd like Wizard of Oz *with* that song.

    It's one thing for a director to make changes to his/her work for artistic reasons. It's quite another for studio execs to insist on changes for their own ideas of "what sells".

    Most folks at HTF are interested in the Director's film...not the studio's film.
     
  18. Stephen_J_H

    Stephen_J_H All Things Film Junkie
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    Is "When Love Is Gone" the cut song? If so, count me out! That song is a pivotal part of the film, and I distinctly remember seeing it when I saw MCC in theatres. To remove that song is a travesty.
     
  19. Brendon

    Brendon Second Unit

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    As David Boulet infered, the distributors had a pie chart that said different. If more directors made films according to what marketing's pie charts say than their own selfish artistic impulses, we'd all be better off. Probably. [​IMG]

    Brendon

    (24 hours on and this is still really needling me!)
     
  20. ScottR

    ScottR Cinematographer

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    I was excited to hear that Disney aquired the rights to the Muppets, but then:

    1. The Muppet Show was edited
    2. Fraggle Rock didn't include some of the original
    "Down at Fraggle Rock" with various characters
    3. The Muppet Movie doesn't have the few minutes cut
    shortly after its first run.
    4. MCC is missing "When Love is Gone", the most
    moving and dramatic scene in the movie.

    Why do the Muppets keep getting screwed, when they have brought so much joy to the world?
     

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