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

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack) [Blu-ray]

 

(Ron Howard, 2000)

 

 

 

 

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: Universal Pictures & Imagine Entertainment

Blu-ray: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

 

Disc:

Region: All

Runtime: 105 min

Chapters: 20

Size: 25 GB

Case: Standard Blu-ray Case

Release date: October 13, 2009

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Resolution: 1080p

Video codec: VC-1

 

Audio:

English DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1; Dub: Spanish & French DTS 5.1

 

Subtitles:

English SDH, Spanish & French

 

Extras:

• Audio Commentary with Director Ron Howard

• Spotlight on Location

• Deleted Scenes

• Outtakes

• Who School

• Makeup & Design

• Seussian Set Decoration

• Faith Hill Music Video:

• D-BOX Motion Enabled

• Disc 2: DVD of the feature film

• BD-Live 2.0

 

 

The Movie: 4
In 1957 Random House published "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" penned and illustrated by the beloved Theodore Seuss Geisel (aka: Dr. Seuss). In 1966 Geisel gave his blessing to Chuck Jones' 26-minute animated version of the story, which has since become a television Christmas classic. In 2000, the year before al Qaeda trumped the Grinch by actually stealing Christmas and a good deal besides, Ron Howard & Brian Grazer introduced what they hoped would become another instant classic: a feature length live-action version of Dr. Seuss' story of a heart found.

Their movie stars the multi-talented Jim Carrey in heavy prosthetic makeup as The Grinch. Carrey is perhaps today's most physically facile screen actor – to the point that even in greepy green Grinch makeup there is no doubt as to the identity of the man behind the mask. The identities of the other actors, such as Jeff Tambor, Christine Baranski and Molly Shannon, are more accessible behind their Who noses; while seven-year old Taylor Momsen, who plays Cindy Lou, the girl who challenges the Grinch to find his heart, still has a completely humanoid face, having not yet grown into her Who nose.

The story, with text expanded in faux-Seuss language by Jeffrey Price & Peter Seaman, is narrated by Anthony Hopkins. (Boris Karloff did the honors in 1966, and he had the advantage of working from a pure Seussian script.) The original tale is expanded to fill out the time to offer a backstory that explains how Grinch got that way (emotionally, if not physically) as a child taunted by his schoolmates. They also create a potential love interest for him in Martha May. She grows up to become Ms. Baranski – and a sexier Who there never was. The Mayor (Mr. Tambor) has his own designs on Martha May and fully expects that someday soon she shall be his.


In the Howard/Grazer/Price & Seaman version, Whoville is situated on a snowflake where, for reasons that, in my opinion, get their movie into serious trouble, the dominant color is not white, but red. Even the snow is pink. The color cast is so strong that it sucks all the snap out of the image. More problematic are the Who themselves. They have so commercialized Christmas that we tend to side with the Grinch to teach these Who a lesson (though it is revenge, and not instruction, that is his motive.) When the Who moan that the Grinch has made off with all their presents on Christmas eve, Cindy Lou – bless her – helps them see that Christmas rests in the spirit and not the material. But that too easily won lesson is up-ended when the Grinch returns their presents and everyone breathes a sigh of relief. Do we think for one Who moment that cash registers will not be ringing their joyful noise next Christmas!

Carey's shenanigans, physical and verbal, Miss Momsen's open-hearted expressions and the inventive set design (what we can see of it) should have warranted a higher score if it weren't for one brief moment that pretty much flushes the whole thing down the toilet. I speak of the scene where the Grinch commands his faithful dog, Max, to sit on the Mayor's face while he's asleep – dreaming, no doubt, of Martha May's bountiful charms. The Mayor's satisfied smile combined with Max's shameful exit is distasteful at so many levels, I still can't see how this got past the censors – or maybe that's why it's PG and not G.

 


 

Image: 4/7   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.

For a holiday movie, the color design gets it all wrong – on this Blu-ray, at any rate. The picture is so dreary it's like being in a blizzard without snow falling. Greens, purples and deep reds manage to survive, but every other Who hue is pulverized into various shades of red. White does manage to sneak in here on there on costumes and the like, but blacks are not in good standing. I rather had the impression that the black level was not judged at all, so instead we get smudge. The best that can be said is that the image is suggestive of a reflection in a Christmas tree ornament – Clever, if intended, but hard to take for an hour and three quarters. I doubt that offering the movie at a higher bit rate woud have done much for it. Universal must have known something was up when it assigned the film and its extras to a mere single layer.

To be honest, I was so busy trying to find my way in this color compressed world that I failed to notice any other infringements in the transfer. I regret I did not have previous video editions to compare to the Blu-ray, or even a memory of a theatrical presentation, so it is entirely possible that we see here is reflective of the filmmakers' intentions. If so, it seems to me a pretty dismal affair.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 6/7
My first impression on hearing the audio on this disc was that it made perfect sense for a made-for-TV children's movie from 15 or 20 years ago. But, of course, this movie is none of those. So it comes as some surprise that the mix is so decidedly front heavy - except for the music, which really opens up the soundstage – so much so it's to the detriment of the rest of the movie. At least everything is clear, if underwhelming.

 

Operations: 7
The menu is laid out like other Universal Blu-rays. Arrows tell you which way to direct your remote, and the bonus feature instructions are detailed and intuitive. No U-Control on this one.

 

 

 

Extras: 4
The extra features here are presented in standard definition, but some look better than the feature film in terms of brightness, color and contrast. Ron Howard didn't seem to have his heart in his audio commentary – he finds little to say regarding how he came to decide on the tone of the movie, so, what with all the silent gaps, there's little to commend it. I found two segments worth the effort: "Spotlight on Location," which not only looks pretty good, but features some brief interviews with cast & crew. The other is "Seussian Set Decoration" that, however briefly, shows us how Seuss' illustrations came to life in three dimensions. None of the extras are longer than 11 minutes.

 

Bottom line: 4
In writing a review, I often find more to like or respect than I thought or felt on watching it. Not so here. The more I consider the movie, the less I find worthy of our time. If only the picture quality knocked our socks off the fireplace – but not even that. Read the book or watch Chuck Jones' animated version.

Leonard Norwitz
October 8, 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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