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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

Child's Play [Blu-ray]

 

(Tom Holland, 1988)

 

 

 

 

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: United Artists / David Kirschner

Blu-ray: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

 

Disc:

Region: All

Runtime: 87 min.

Chapters: 36

Size: 50 GB

Case: Standard Blu-ray Case

Release date: September 15, 2009

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Resolution: 1080p

Video codec: AVC @ 36 Mbps

 

Audio:

English DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1 English Dolby Surround; Dub: Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, French Dolby Surround

 

Subtitles:

English & Spanish

 

Extras:

• The Birth of Chucky – in SD (7:20)

• Creating the Horror – in SD (12:10)

• Unleashed – in SD (5:20)

• Chucky: Building a Nightmare – in SD (10:05)

• A Monster Convention – in SD (5:26)

• Introducing Chucky: The Making of Child's Play Vintage Featurette – in SD (6:23)

• Original Theatrical Trailer

• Still Photo Gallery

• Disc 2 : Child's Play – Chucky's 20th Birthday Edition DVD

 

 

The Film:

The Movie: 5
So here we are, 21 years and 5 sequels later (and still counting), the original movie makes its bow on Blu-ray. We note, with some satisfaction that, at first there was no “Chucky” in the title or subtitle. All that changed with Child’s Play 2: Chucky’s Back the following year. It was clear who the star of this story was, and he would soon lay his claim in no uncertain terms. But let us return to more halcyon days when the filmmakers hadn’t yet realized what they had on their hands:

It all started with mass murderer and voodoo nut Charles Lee Ray (keeping to the tradition of notorious tri-named assassins) who is killed in a toy store over the opening credits by police detective Mike Norris (Chris Sarandon). With his dying breath, and not without accompanying fireworks, Ray (Brad Dourif) manages to instill his soul into a “Chucky” doll, who is later picked up by a vagrant, who in turn sells it to unsuspecting salesgirl Karen Barclay (Catherine Hicks) who needs the doll to satisfy the birthday present requirements of her six year old son, Andy (Alex Vincent). That very night, while Karen has to work a late shift, Chucky springs to life and murders Karen’s friend Maggie, who had been wearing a big “Kill Me” sign on her chest since she first opened her mouth.

Detective Norris is assigned to the case and, between him and Karen, they don’t seem to have a clue as to how Maggie could have fallen to her death through the kitchen window. (We don't generally see that sort of behavior in a baby sitter.) Andy figures it out and, in the familiar tradition where children should be seen and not heard – and better not seen either – Andy is sent to his room along with his input to keep Chucky company – and vice-versa. Later that night, when Karen comes into Andy’s room and demands, “Who are you talking to?” after she has just bought him the doll and he is found sitting on the floor right in front of Chucky and no one else will give him the time of day or a shoulder to cry on, we have to throw up our hands, crying “such people have no right to live” thus siding with Chucky in his rampage. Karen does make a feeble attempt at being understanding, but it takes Andy to bring to her attention that her scolding him might be related to her having just lost her friend.

The script has its moments, but too often it makes its characters stupider than they need to be – after all, this is not a movie that needs to be "dumbed down" for young children, because they aren't allowed in the theater to see it. Anyhow, don't you think “Good Guy” is just a little moronic for a doll series? Karen makes utterly stupid choices time after time, placing herself in harm's way with little if any back-up. Chucky isn’t particularly angry with her, nor is stupidity a justification for being a target – though it has become a cliché in this genre. He’s just infected with a killer spirit and she's in the way. What Charles Lee Ray would prefer is to get out of this doll’s body and into a human. And who best to serve his needs but Andy himself!

This story has lots of potential but it is squandered on mindless mayhem and torture – whose art direction, I have to admit, gets more tingly as the movie gets into its final reels. Yagher’s animatronic effects are surprisingly convincing, and director Holland made a smart move (following Spielberg’s lead from Jaws) of not showing us Chucky in full form until well into the movie. Child’s Play may not be as much fun as Bride of Chucky, which has the right combination of nasty gags and horror, but it’s a good popcorn show if you put your brain on hold for an hour and half.

 


 

Image: 6/7    NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were ripped directly from the Blu-ray disc.
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

Despite the generally cleaned up picture, the image quality alternates between acceptable in terms of contrast and sharpness – typically outdoors or at the police station - and soft and flat – mostly in Andy's apartment. If there are artifacts - and I was not aware of anything untoward, they are overshadowed by an overall somewhat dull and uninvolving, dull image - very likely not far off from the original presentation, I imagine. The bit rate is relatively high, in the mid-30s, blacks are strong, though there is a tendency to crush, and noise tends to invade the image in the shadows.

 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 6/6
The uncompressed DTS-HD mix tries its best to hit us with loud, thumping bass, crashing thunder and car wrecks, but the sound lacks textural subtlety. Not that the thunder and lightning isn't loud or the car crashes crashing, along with some engagement of the surrounds. But the timbres are simply not correct, though there are some very nicely expressed bass plunks at the close of the toy store explosion sequence as we transition into Act 1. Dialogue is clear, if not located with any precision. Music is nicely reproduced and usually opens up the soundstage some. The Audio grade is reflective of relative excellence, but Child's Play is not a high budget movie, and I imagine that the result on Blu-ray is representative of intentions.
 

Operations: 6
The Extra Features menu comes without clear instructions as to how to move from one to the next, making it all too easy to end up returning to Play Feature mode. Once you figure it out, it's not a problem.

 

Extras: 5
All of the Extra Features are presented in 480i/p widescreen and are of acceptable-to-good quality except The Making of Child's Play Vintage Featurette, which is 4:3 with a very weak image. The three Making-of featurettes included in "Evil Comes in Small Packages" can be watched separately: "The Birth of Chucky" (7:20) examines the original script ideas. "Creating the Horror" (12:10) introduces us to Chucky's animitronic wizard, Kevin Yagher, a segment that is extended in the ten minute piece "Chucky: Building a Nightmare." "The Monster Convention" is a short and skippable panel discussion from Monster Mania 2007 featuring Alex Vincent (Andy), Catherine Hicks (his mom), and Chris Sarandon (the cop). The image here is a little thin and dim.

 

 


There are three commentaries, one of which melds separately recorded recollections of Hicks and Vincent (now some 20 years older). The scene-specific Chucky commentaries are few and repetitive in tone and content. Chortlingly clever at first, but they soon wear thin.

 

Bottom line: 6
I realize I am a little hard on a movie that didn't intend greatness to start with (few slasher films do.) But I have little patience for unnecessarily stupid characters – i.e. characters who are written as stupid at the writer's convenience to place them under the knife. The Blu-ray image is not up to standards for movies of this age or genre, but may be about as good as we're going to get for this one. The audio fares better. Extra features are rudimentary.

Leonard Norwitz
October 6th, 2009

 

 

 

 


 


 

About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.


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