Fred Claus (Blu-ray)
Directed by David Dobkin
Studio: Warner Bros.
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 1080p VC-1 codec
Running Time: 115 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese
Subtitles: English. French, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, Korean
MSRP: $ 35.99
Release Date: November 25, 2008
Review Date: November 23, 2008
A holiday film with funny, original ideas wrapped in a predictable and underwhelming package, David Dobkin’s Fred Claus is a disappointment. There is a fantastic cast of actors at work, and the notion of a holiday story concerning Santa’s older brother is a promising one, but the mix of sarcastic and smarmy motifs is paint-by-the-numbers holiday comedy, and despite a sterling physical production, Fred Claus is ultimately mediocre.
Continually frustrated living in the shadow of his famous younger brother, Fred Claus (Vince Vaughn), a Chicago repo man always in for the next big score or scam, finds himself arrested and in need of bail money from younger brother Nick (Paul Giamatti). Practicing tough love urged on him by loving wife Annette (Miranda Richardson), Nick demands that Fred spend three days at the North Pole assisting him in getting everything ready for Christmas Eve. Compounding Nick’s problems this year is the presence of an efficiency expert watchdog Clyde (Kevin Spacey) who’s eager to close down the North Pole and open up a more streamlined and efficient operation at the South Pole. He gives Nick three mistakes during his visitation at which time the facility will be closed and everyone fired. Of course, with the recalcitrant Fred present, things are bound to go wrong.
The sibling rivalry between Nick and Fred is established early in some flashback scenes showing the growing resentment of his perfect younger brother by the hurt, jealous Fred. All of Fred’s endeavors to work in the Naughty or Nice Department at the North Pole lead to problems and crises galore. Dan Fogelman’s script has some very funny sight gags with the tall Fred surrounded by the tiny elves, under the watchful eye of head elf Willie (John Michael Higgins). Director Dobkin handles those shots with aplomb and manages to blend the many special effects sequences with live action filming to perfection. He’s blessed with an award-winning cast, too, who all give their parts, even those dreadfully underwritten like Rachel Weisz’s Wanda and Jeremy Swift’s helpful elf Bob, the best they have to offer.
Vince Vaughn is allowed to improvise much of his dialog, and it’s the same fast-talking shtick that we’ve heard so many times before, especially in something like Wedding Crashers also directed by this film’s David Dobkin. Paul Giamatti’s St. Nick is a warmer, more appealing presence, even when he finally gets fed up with his loutish brother and has a snowball fight with him (one of the film's real low points). Kevin Spacey is in oily, nefarious mode (think Superman Returns without the killer mentality) while John Michael Higgins, whose entire performance is only from the neck up with his head digitally placed on the body of a little person, gives the best performance in the film. Miranda Richardson, Rachel Weisz, and Kathy Bates (as Nick and Fred’s mother) aren’t given very rich comic material to work with.
There are some truly ingenious ideas (Fred attends Siblings Anonymous with some surprising members with more famous brothers; the elves get their reward on Christmas morning being able to watch children across the world open their presents) in the movie. Given the mundane and banal treatment here, however, negates much of the surprise and delight that should be a part of any Christmas-themed confection.
The film’s 2.40:1 theatrical aspect ratio is presented here in a 1080p transfer using the VC-1 codec. This is one of the most ingratiating live action transfers available on Blu-ray with fine object detail on fabrics, wood bark, and faces literally popping from the screen. Colors are warm and rich in the Santa interiors while being bright and natural in other locations. Saturation levels give everything a sumptuousness that only high definition can deliver in home theater. Black levels are among the deepest seen on Blu-ray, and every scene has that added dimensional quality that one gets with the best Blu-ray transfers. The film has been divided into 23 chapters.
Disappointingly, there is again no lossless audio track provided by Warners. The Dolby Digital 5.1 (640 kbps) track which is present is a typical movie comedy mix with a fair spread across the front soundstage, voices glued to the center channel, and the rears and subwoofer underused.
Director David Dobkin contributes the audio commentary to the film. He’s proud of the work which went into the movie and talks consistently of his aims for the film and his pleasure in what was achieved. With only a few silent moments, Dobkin’s track is worth listening to for fans of the film who are interested in some inside scoop on casting and how certain special effects scenes were pulled off, information that isn‘t present in the bonus featurettes.
“Pause for Claus: Elves Tell All” is a tongue-in-cheek featurette with the actors staying in character talking about their work to bring Santa up to speed for Christmas. Showing some scenes from the film and some behind the scenes shots as well, this 1080i featurette runs 9 minutes.
“Sibling Rivalry” is a 1080i featurette featuring Vince Vaughn and the three famous siblings (no spoilers) who take part in the Siblings Anonymous sequence. This lasts 9 ½ minutes.
“Meet the Other Claus: Behind the Scenes of This Winter Wonderland” is the film’s making-of documentary, a 13-minute 1080i set of puff piece interviews with the director, many of the principal cast, and the production designer.
“Vince and Paul’s Fireside Chats” are five brief question answering sessions from the main stars that first appeared on “Moviefone Unscripted.” They can be watched separately or in one 4-minute group. They’re presented in 480i.
The disc offers 13 deleted scenes which can be watched in one 25 ½-minute grouping or individually. They’re all in 480i.
A holiday themed rap music video by Ludicris is presented in 1080i and runs 1 ½ minutes.
The package contains a digital copy of the movie and instructions and a key code for downloading to your computer.
Also contained in the package is a Fred Claus DVD game disc entitled “Race to Save Christmas,” a series of Claus games set in six different cities around the world. There is an instruction booklet enclosed also in the package explaining game play.
Not reaching its inherent potential, Fred Claus is a mediocre entertainment. The younger members of the family, however, may enjoy some of the rather excellent special effects and some fetching and fanciful views of the North Pole. The Blu-ray certainly does the visuals proud with its really superlative high definition transfer.