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DVD Reviews

HTF DVD REVIEW: Fred Claus



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#1 of 5 OFFLINE   Ken_McAlinden

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Posted November 24 2008 - 05:40 AM

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Fred Claus

Directed By: David Dobkin

Starring: Vince Vaughn, Paul Giamatti, Kevin Spacey, John Michael Higgins, Miranda Richardson, Rachel Weisz, Kathy Bates, Trevor Peacock, Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges, Elizabeth Banks


Studio: Warner Brothers

Year: 2007

Rated: PG

Film Length: 116 minutes

Aspect Ratio: 16:9

Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish

Release Date: November 25, 2008

The Film

Fred Claus tells the story of its title character (Vaughn) who is the lesser known older brother of Santa Claus (Giamatti). Fred is a fast talking repo man living in Chicago who clearly still has issues related to his more famous younger brother. These come to a head when Fred must hit his estranged brother up for bail money and a loan. Santa agrees to help if Fred will come to the North Pole and work with him for a week during the busy pre-Christmas season. The simmering sibling rivalry is exploited by efficiency expert Clyde Northcut (Spacey) in his efforts to shut down Santa's operation.

If the preceding synopsis makes the plot of the movie sound a bit dopey and facile, then I have done my job. The screenplay is little more than a transparently formulaic three-act structure from which are hung a bunch of opportunities for Vince Vaughn to work his familiar motor mouthed confidence man shtick. As such, the appeal of this movie will almost entirely depend on:

a)How much the viewer enjoys said shtick
b)How well the other actors play against it

I normally enjoy Vaughn's act and was somewhat amazed that the filmmakers were able to assemble a cast that included the likes of Paul Giamatti, Kathy Bates, Kevin Spacey, and Rachel Weisz. Giamatti and Weisz are particularly funny in their scenes with Vaughn. One gets the sense that Giamatti and Vaughn could improvise through any of their scenes for hours at a time without losing a beat. Weisz plays her long-suffering girlfriend character as the unstoppable force of "no" colliding with Vaughn's immovable object who will not take it for an answer. Any scene involving Vaughn and kids, or relatively childlike elves such as the one played by John Michael Higgins, is a hoot since he employs the same confidence man rap that he uses on the adult characters.

As a result, I found the film to be funny on a scene by scene basis, with cleverly conceived Claus Family intervention and "Siblings Anonymous" support group scenes being stand outs. In the end, though, the paint by numbers story does not allow the film to add up to a particularly memorable experience.

The Video

The film is presented on the top side of a double sided single layered DVD-10 "flipper" disc in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio transfer that is enhanced for widescreen displays. The flip side of the disc contains a 4:3 reformatted presentation that I did not watch for this review. The widescreen presentation suffers greatly from compression artifacts which are easy to spot in scenes with a moving camera or lots of motion and detail. The artifacts will move from noticeable to annoying as the size of a viewer's display increases. That is a shame because the transfer does not suffer from any other obvious deficiencies.

The Audio

The English Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, encoded at a bitrate of 384kbps also suffers from being bit-starved at times. The 5.1 sound field is occasionally used creatively, with the mix adding a multi-dimensional element to whooshing snowballs and rocketing sleighs. The audio fidelity, though, is hit and miss. Most of the film sounds quite good, but there are occasional moments where things start sounding a bit rolled-off and compressed, usually when all of the channels are being engaged aggressively. Alternate language dubs are available via French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks

The Extras

When the disc is first spun-up, the viewer is greeted with the following series of skippable promos. All are presented in 4:3 video, letterboxed as appropriate, with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound:
  • Anti-Piracy PSA with scenes from Casablanca (1:00)
  • Speed Racer DVD Trailer (:32)
  • DVD Trailer for A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and the Peanuts Holiday Collection
  • DVD Trailer for Jack Frost animated TV special with an added plug for How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Year Without a Santa Claus at the end (1:08)
From the proper Special features menu, the first item is a Commentary with Director David Dobkin. Dobkin offers an earnest and nearly gapless commentary on how he went about assembling the film. He was clearly much invested in the project, and frequently uses words like "amazing" and "unbelievable" to describe the efforts of his collaborators. He provides a lot of specific background information on his approach to the narrative, thematic, and technical aspects of the production. His comments on the structure of the story do illuminate how he thought of it in somewhat simplistic and mechanical "screenplay 101" terms (e.g. the audience will be invested in the characters if I do the following things in Act One, etc.). Near the end of the commentary, he does fall into the trap of narrating the action and stating the obvious, but he has covered enough ground by that point to earn a pass from me.

Next up is a set of Deleted Scenes (25:36 w/"Play All"). The scenes are described as follows:
  • Nick Goes Caroling, Fred Fishes Alone (1:21)
  • Extended Santa Chase (1:45)
  • Elf Fight #1 (:46)
  • Fred and Willie in Bed (1:54)
  • Candy Cane Montage (5:28)
  • Guess Who's Not Coming to Dinner (4:00)
  • Willie Brushes His Teeth(2:15)
  • Elf Fight #2(1:49)
  • Siblings Anonymous (2:06)
  • DJ Donnie Alt.1(1:09)
  • DJ Donnie Alt. 2(1:08)
  • DJ Donnie Alt. 3(1:08)
  • Ninja Snowballs Alt.(:40)
Almost all of the deleted scenes are scene extensions which would have made redundant character points or would have been unnecessarily protracted had they been left in the film. A number of them feature additional slapstick violence which is often funny, but was likely scaled back to keep the film's family/holiday tone from going off-track. The most substantial is the "Candy Cane Montage" which introduces a whole new story beat where Fred pulls a Tom Sawyer fence painting-style scam in the candy cane painting department. Least significant are the three "DJ Donnie" variations which are exactly the same scene except for the music that is used for a mini montage of Donnie doing various poses and dance moves when he is introduced. The film's method for rendering the actors playing elves frequently involves digitally replacing the head of a little person with the head of another actor, which occasionally struck me as disturbing looking. The DJ Donnie intro montage was one of those instances, so watching it three times consecutively was trebly creepy. Your mileage may vary.

Packaging

The double-sided single-layered DVD-10 is packaged in a standard Amaray case. The hard case is in turn inserted into a cardboard slipcover that reproduces identical cover art. An insert contains a code to unlock a reduced-price digital copy of the film that can be downloaded for Windows PCs and Playsforsure/Vista compatible portable devices from the CinemaNow web site. It does not support Macs, iPods, or iTunes.

Summary

While falling far short of status as a holiday perennial due to its formulaic plot, Fred Claus offers a fair number of laughs for fans interested in a family-friendly version of Vince Vaughn's familiar fast-talking wisenheimer persona. It is presented on DVD with a clearly bit-starved audio/video presentation. A reasonably informative director's commentary and an amusing set of deleted scenes are the only extras.

Regards,

Ken McAlinden
Livonia, MI USA

#2 of 5 OFFLINE   Stephen_J_H

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Posted November 24 2008 - 06:05 AM

Although hardly a masterpiece, I'm puzzled as to why Warner even bothered with a 4:3 version on this disc. With the number of 16:9 displays in homes on the rise, they could have released this as a dual layer disc with better A/V and maybe a couple more special features than it currently has, and it still would sell about the same. Of course, there's the question of whether Warner actually cares about SD sales now that Blu-Ray seems to be the new game, but that's for another thread.
"My opinion is that (a) anyone who actually works in a video store and does not understand letterboxing has given up on life, and (b) any customer who prefers to have the sides of a movie hacked off should not be licensed to operate a video player."-- Roger Ebert

#3 of 5 OFFLINE   Ken_McAlinden

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Posted November 24 2008 - 06:47 AM

Warner definitely cares about SD sales. That's where the volume and $$$ are for the forseeable future. I think what you are getting at is that they are catering new release SD titles less towards the high end A/V geeks enthusiasts who are largely moving to BD. Plus, retailers are probably even more averse to the extra inventory of separate widescreen and 4:3 releases now that they are dedicating shelf and floor space to BD.

Regards,
Ken McAlinden
Livonia, MI USA

#4 of 5 OFFLINE   Dave Scarpa

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Posted November 25 2008 - 06:10 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ken_McAlinden
Warner definitely cares about SD sales. That's where the volume and $$$ are for the forseeable future. I think what you are getting at is that they are catering new release SD titles less towards the high end A/V geeks enthusiasts who are largely moving to BD. Plus, retailers are probably even more averse to the extra inventory of separate widescreen and 4:3 releases now that they are dedicating shelf and floor space to BD.

Regards,

Warner might still Care about the SD Market they just don't put much effort into the releases, or maybe they are just moving on for the good transfers and extras to blu ray
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#5 of 5 OFFLINE   Andrew Radke

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Posted November 25 2008 - 08:11 AM

I saw this in the theater last December and found it to be a fairly decent family holiday film. It's not hysterical by any means but I enjoyed the story. I'll most likely grab this from a 'previously viewed' shelf after the holidays.
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