National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (2006 - Warner - PG - 108 Minutes)****
Director: Jeremiah Chechik
Starring: Chevy Chase, Beverly D'Angelo, Juliette Lewis, Johnny Galecki, John Randolph, Diane Ladd, E.G. Marshall, Doris Roberts, Randy Quaid, Miriam Flynn, Cody Burger, Ellen Hamilton Latzen, William Hickey, Mae Questel, Sam McMurray, Nicholas Guest, Julia Louis-Dreyfus
|Aspect Ratio: 16:9|
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Pro-Logic: English
Original DVD Release: October 7th, 2003. Also released as part of an Ultimate Collector's Edition concurrent with this box set collection on November 3, 2009
Fred Claus(2007 - Warner - PG - 116 Minutes) **½
Director: 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
|Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1/4:3|
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1: English, French, Spanish
Original DVD Release: November 25th, 2008
ExtrasElf features the following extras:
- Audio commentary from Director Jon Favreau
- Audio commentary from star Will Ferrell
- Fact track with a subtitle stream of screen specific Elf trivia
- A collection of eight deleted and alternate scenes viewable with or without director commentary
- A collection of six "Behind the Scenes" featurettes that run just under an hour if "Play All" is chosen
- Tag Along with Will Ferrell
- Film School for Kids
- How they Made the North pole
- Lights, Camera. Puffin
- That's a Wrap
- "Infinifilm" prompted branching feature that allows access to behind the scenes featurettes at certain points while the film is playing
- A Film Dictionary consisting of several pages of film lingo terms along with the layman's definitions for what they mean.
- Feature Length Audio Commentary with Randy Quaid, Beverly D'Angelo, Johnny Galecki, Miriam Flynn, Director Jeremiah Chechik, and Producer Matty Simmons
- Original Theatrical Trailer
- Commentary by Director David Dobkin
- A collection of thirteen deleted scenes running about 26 and a half minutes if "play all" is selected
Detailed AssessmentsStrangely enough, while official forum reviews of the Blu-Ray and (I kid you not!) UMD releases of Elf have been posted, there is no official forum review of the DVD release in the software archives. As such, I will offer up a brief assessment here. Elf tells the story of Buddy (Ferrell), a human who was raised by elves since infancy after climbing into Santa Claus' (Asner) toy bag when he visited an orphanage. As an adult more than twice as tall as his peers, Buddy eventually catches on that he is different, and when he learns the truth from Papa Elf (Newhart), he sets out to reunite with his biological father, Walter (Caan), in Manhattan. Buddy's elf-like ways make him a fish out of water in the big city. With the help of a friendly department store worker, Jovie (Deschanel), and Walter's family including wife Emily (Steenburgen) and son Michael (Tay), he tries to adjust while also imparting some Christmas spirit to the cynical suspicious workaholic Walter.
Thanks to a carefully modulated performance by Will Ferrell under the direction of Jon Favreau, Elf manages to achieve a rare balance between charming and funny that gives it a better than average chance of becoming a holiday perennial. This DVD presentation of the film originally appeared as the first disc in a two-disc "Infinifilm" release from New Line in late 2004. It features the widescreen presentation of the film and all of the best behind the scenes extras. The video presentation has a generally strong color palette, but wavers frustratingly between deeply saturated and diffuse, sometimes on a shot by shot basis. Detail also seems to vary widely from shot to shot. The English Dolby Digital 5.1 audio presentation is quite good with the sound field focused in the front hemisphere for most of the film's running time. During select set-pieces, the surround channels and LFE are used aggressively for effect. In either situation, fidelity is strong. The extras, including two commentaries, a collection of deleted scenes, and approximately an hour of behind the scenes featurettes, are excellent. Favreau gives the more informative of the two commentaries. Ferrell's track is not as funny as one might think given his reputation as an improvisational comic, but he offers inetresting information about the film's production and has a few comic asides. My favorite is, when talking about all of the forced perspective shots used to create the illusion of humans and elves on screen together, he mentions how he almost never looked at Bob Newhart when performing with him. He then deadpans that it was due to hatred rather than production necessity. The featurettes are kid friendly, which is not uncommon for a family-oriented release, but they are also non-condescending and very informative, which is all too rare.
For a detailed assessment of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, Herb Kane's forum review can be found at this link.
My forum review of Fred Claus can be found at this link.
PackagingElf and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation are each presented on their own dual-layered DVD-9s. Fred Claus is presented on a double-sided/single-layered DVD-10 "flipper" with 16:9 enhanced widescreen and 4:3 fullframe presentations on opposite sides of the disc. All three discs are enclosed in "slimcases" with similar cover art to the earlier standalone releases. The three slimcases are enclosed in a thin carboard box with the art representing the films set against holiday themed graphics.
Summary ****If by some chance you missed these three Christmas-themed comedy titles during their previous DVD releases and are not interested in the second disc extras on the Elf Infinifilm edition, this three-pack offers an excellent value proposition. Then again, you may be better off seeing if you can track down the "Christmas Comedy Collection" from 2007 since it includes the two best films from this collection as well as A Christmas Story, which is a much better film than Fred Claus. If you already own the latest standalone releases of these three films on DVD, rest assured that you are not missing out on anything other than new packaging.