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.
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:
- [*]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).
[*]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…
[*]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.
[*]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.
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.
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:
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
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):
|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.|
|[b]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.|
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.
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.
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.
[b] Sound Quality: 4 / 5
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.
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.
[b]RECOMMENDED with mixed feelings