Miracle on 34th Street (1994) (Blu-ray)
Directed by Les Mayfield
Studio: Twentieth Century-Fox
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 113 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.0 English, 2.0 French
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish
MSRP: $ 34.99
Release Date: October 6, 2009
Review Date: October 18, 2009
Perfectly adequate is about all that can be said for the 1994 remake of the 1947 holiday classic Miracle on 34th Street. The actors are competent, the direction is underwhelming but gets the job done, the story has been slightly modernized but not ruined, and the overall effect is reasonably endearing. Sadly, however, the new film doesn’t have the magic or the charm of the original movie nor does it have the freshness or the fascination that one might experience with a completely new fantasy tale about Santa Claus. For those who are unfamiliar with the 1947 version, this is a passable telling of the tale. For those who do remember the original incarnation, this is a rather stale warmed-over stew.
Department store holiday organizer Dorey Walker (Elizabeth Perkins) hires a jolly, energetic old fellow named Kriss Kringle (Richard Attenborough) to replace a drunken Santa Claus before the start of Cole’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. As the store’s signature Santa, Kriss endears himself to shoppers with revolutionary ideas about shopping for Christmas. No one is more charmed than Dorey’s daughter Susan (Mara Wilson) who’s been taught not to believe in holiday mythology but who is starting to have her doubts about her mother’s strident ideas about Santa’s non-existence. Meanwhile, a rival store owner has elected his two henchmen (James Remar, Jane Leeves) to bring down at any cost this Santa who’s stealing all his customers away.
John Hughes has taken George Seaton’s original 1947 screenplay and adapted it to the late 20th century climate, tossing in some Home Alone-style slapstick, showing us the drunken Santa’s butt crack, and adding other rather mean-spiritedness that lessens this version’s whimsy and potential charm. None of the changes constitute any improvements on the original’s appeal (the moment where Santa speaks to a deaf child in sign language equals in poignancy Santa’s speaking in Dutch to a non-English speaking child in the original), but the changes don’t do major damage either. But the department store names are now all fake, the trial sequence is extended too long, and the “miracle” of the title isn’t nearly as appealing or laughter-through-tears inducing as the resolution of the original film.
The casting here is rather banal, too. These actors are all excellent players, but somehow they don’t have the sparkle, the effervescence needed to make a fantasy like this work. Dylan McDermott as the love interest Bryan Bedford comes the closest the matching original John Payne’s holiday spiritedness, but Richard Attenborough’s big gap-toothed grin just doesn’t have the sly wink of Oscar-winning Edmund Gwenn’s Kris Kringle. Mara Wilson, in the pivotal role of Susan, never quite reaches that wide-eyed wonder and exhilarated thrill of realizing Santa’s existence that Natalie Wood effortlessly possessed in the 1947 version. James Remar and Jane Leeves do have their dastardly sneaks down pat, and their reversals in feeling, though not honestly achieved, make for a nice addition to the story.
The film’s 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully delivered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. The images are bright and colorful for much of the movie though red seems to veer more toward orange here. Flesh tones appear natural, and sharpness is usually very good. However, occasionally a haze seems to descend on the image causing contrast to lessen and the image to flatten out a bit. The film has been divided into 24 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track spreads the Bruce Broughton score and a decent selection of Christmas standards through the entire soundfield making for an excellent utilization of the channels available to it. (Interestingly, one of the holiday standards used on the soundtrack is Meredith Willson’s “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” which the composer himself used in his own Broadway version of Miracle on 34th Street entitled Here’s Love.) Elsewhere, however, there are next to no ambient sounds filling the surrounds, not even during the opening parade sequence which should have afforded some prime opportunities for an enriched sound experience.
There are no bonus features, not even trailers from either the 1947 or 1994 versions of the story.
2.5/5 (not an average)
The 1994 remake of Miracle on 34th Street (the third actual movie remake of the original film after two previous TV versions) is a passable adaptation of the original Oscar-winning hit. The Blu-ray offers better than average picture and sound but no bonus features at all to tempt one into buying. If one has an aversion to black and white, this film offers a reasonably viable color alternative. Otherwise, I’d stick with the original which is also available on both Blu-ray and DVD and is an altogether more magical version of the wonderful story.