A Christmas Carol Blu-ray delivers great video and solid audio in this exceptional Blu-ray release
Ebenezer Scrooge (Alastair Sim) contentedly meanders through his life as a cruel miser until
one fateful Christmas Eve when he is visited by three ghosts. The spirits show him how his
behavior has degenerated over the years as his heart has become colder. Using events from
Scrooge's idealistic past, dreary present, and dismal future, the apparitions try their best to
melt his steely soul. Will Scrooge see the error of his ways and learn the true meaning of
Christmas? Check out this hailed classic and find out! Many critics widely consider this the
definitive film version of Charles Dickens' cherished novel.
For more about A Christmas Carol and the A Christmas Carol Blu-ray release, see A Christmas Carol Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on November 10, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Blu-ray may still be a relatively new phenomenon in the annals of home video entertainment, but we're far enough into
the high definition era now that we're fairly regularly being "treated" to re-releases and/or repackagings of previously
released titles. Sometimes studios and distributors simply gussy up their covers and hope for the best, but occasionally
at least they understand that consumers' patience with these kinds of marketing tactics is not going to last forever, and
they actually do the right thing, offering at least something new to ameliorate the pain of having to shell out
more bucks for a beloved title. Niche label VCI has had a somewhat bumpy road into the Blu-ray market, with a couple
of problematic early releases that either had authoring errors or didn't quite come up to the minimum standards home
theater aficionados demand of their products (especially with regard to lossless audio). But to give credit where credit
is due, VCI has really been improving all around since their early releases and as the label's catalog continues to
expand with such new product as several titles from the Rank Organisation, lovers of classic films can only hope that
future releases will have the same loving care that VCI's A Christmas Carol has received on this second Blu-ray
release by the company, this one subtitled a 60th anniversary "Diamond Edition." VCI's first Blu-ray A Christmas
Carol may have in fact been the label's first ever Blu-ray release, and I reviewed it for Blu-ray.com here. That release sported a
generally superior video transfer, albeit one with a few issues, but it had only lossy Dolby audio. VCI also decided not
port over all of the copious extras on its excellent 2 DVD release of a few years prior and really included next to no
other supplements on its first Blu-ray other than a great commentary track and a couple of trailers, as well as a bonus
DVD of the film repurposed to 1.78:1. The good news is this new release rectifies a number of these issues and should
delight fans of the film who want to get into the Christmas spirit with one of the most beloved, if not the most
beloved, versions of Dickens' venerable tale of the miser Ebenezer Scrooge and his redemptive visit by three spirits on
Since my first review of the initial VCI Blu-ray release of A Christmas Carol (linked above) attempted to give some
thoughts on the film itself, this review is going to concentrate mostly on the differences between the two releases and the
technical aspects of this new Blu-ray release. The bulk of the additional information will therefore be found in the sections
Wow! What a difference a few years makes. VCI's first Blu-ray release of A Christmas Carol was rendered via
even then relatively "ancient" MPEG-2 codec, but for the most part the film looked fantastic in high definition. This
new transfer is delivered via VC-1 in 1080p and 1.33:1 and the improvement is rather amazing. VCI's press releases
touting this latest Blu-ray state that
the transfer was sourced from "the 35mm negative and fine grain", by which I assume they may mean an interpositive
(which begs the question as to why both elements were needed, but perhaps the negative had damage). I no longer
press material on the first Blu-ray release, but I'm wondering if perhaps that was sourced from a 35mm print. Right off
the bat, there's
increased clarity, depth and especially contrast in the opening titles and that continues on into the opening scenes,
black levels are beyond gorgeous. The first transfer of A Christmas Carol most likely had some judicious DNR
applied (VCI's transfers still tend to overuse noise reduction), and this transfer probably did, too, but the fact that I state
"probably" is as good an indication as any that it's not egregious. The film
retains suitable but never overwhelming grain
structure and looks very cinematic throughout its presentation. Clarity, sharpness and fine detail are outstanding, and
contrast is markedly improved. There are still some niggling issues, including a few missing
frames (see the audio section below for a bit more information with regard to this), as well as softness and contrast
in the opticals, which are to be expected. But this is a major image quality upgrade from even the excellence of VCI's
release, and the label is to be soundly congratulated for having taken the time and trouble (not to mention the expense)
so thoroughly reinvigorate what may well be the crown jewel in their current catalog.
VCI still has some issues with audio, but thankfully this time they mostly have to do with labeling, something which has
plagued several previous VCI Blu-ray releases. Both the cover and the Main Menu advertise Dolby tracks, but what is
actually offered here are two uncompressed LPCM tracks, the original mono delivered via LPCM 2.0 and rather artful LPCM
5.1 repurposing. (In the unintentionally humorous department, the Main Menu hilariously transposes two letters,
advertising a Dobly track, perhaps an homage to June Chadwick's character of Jeanine in This is Spinal Tap,
the meddling girlfriend of
David St. Hubbins who can never quite pronounce the word correctly). While some of the damage that was more than
evident on VCI's first Blu-ray release of A Christmas Carol is still apparent, the new lossless audio offerings
considerably open up both the high end and low end of the film's soundtrack. That presents both good and bad results.
Hiss is more readily audible than it was before, and a couple of the film's flaws, notably some missing frames (something I
was hesitant to ascribe to that problem) now have audible skips in the soundtrack where before the lossy Dolby tracks
muffled those moments. While pops, cracks and the occasional flutter are still audible, overall this track is clearer and fuller
sounding, albeit still with the same prevalent "boxiness" that is no doubt endemic to the source elements (I doubt VCI had
access to whatever original stems might still be lurking in some archive and most likely sourced this from a 35mm print).
The 5.1 track isn't overly immersive, and indeed it's mostly the lovely Richard Addinsell score which populates the surrounds,
though there are a few moments of discrete sound effects placed appropriately around the soundfield. Generally what's
been done here is to simply reproduce sounds in more than one channel, which creates a slight phasing-like sound at
times, especially with regard to the closing narration, but overall this is a decent 5.1 repurposing that doesn't gimmick up
the original mono track to the point where it's unlistenable.
Introduction by Leonard Maltin (1080i; 5:06). Maltin talks about what an impression this film made on him as a kid, and also
gives some background on the film. The Introduction is not "skippable" (though you can chapter skip several times to get through it).
Dead to Begin With: The Darker Side of a Classic (HD; 26:31) is a really interesting piece featuring
commentary by Sir Christopher Frayling, British Film Culturalist (whatever that means), who puts the film into the context
of Britain and the British film industry in the hardscrabble post-World War II era.
Distributing A Christmas Carol (HD; 9:47) is a reminiscence by Richard Gordan, the distributor for
Renown Pictures' United States offerings.
Life and Films of Brian Desmond Hurst (HD; 41:14) is a great retrospective of one of the really
underappreciated talents of British film.
Scrooge (Silent) (HD; 10:17) is a Master Film production from 1922 with Henry Vernon Esmond as
Bleak House (Silent) (HD; 10:14) is another Master Film offering from 1922 with Sybil Thorndike as
Original British Theatrical Trailer (HD; 1:43)
Amerian Trailer (HD; 1:42)
Scrooge Revisited (HD; 2:29) is a tour of locations used for the film.
Commentary by Marcus Hearn and George Cole is ported over from the previous VCI release and is a great
listen, if occasionally a little slow.
Reproduction of the American Pressbook (Abridged, folded as the insert booklet).
The DVD offers a standard definition presentation of A Christmas Carol as well as:
Campbell Playhouse: A Christmas Carol (59:22) is an Orson Welles radio production with Lionel
Barrymore as Scrooge.
Bibliographic Essay by Fred Guida (15:08) gives a great generalist background into Dickens and the Sim
version of A Christmas Carol. Guida gives the viewer a number of published sources to do further research. The
video offers covers of these sources so that interested people can track them down.
My appreciation for this version of A Christmas Carol was perhaps heightened by this luminous new presentation.
putting aside reactions to this version (as I've stated, for personal reasons, my favorite will always be the Albert Finney
musical Scrooge), there's absolutely no question that this new VCI release represents a substantial upgrade from
their first Blu-ray release, and the label deserves major kudos for going back to the drawing board and giving this film the
loving care it so richly deserves. While some of the excellent extras from VCI's 2 DVD release are still missing in action, this
new Blu-ray offers some extremely appealing and well produced supplements spread over the BD and the DVD, and the
upgrade in video and audio quality is palpable. Highly recommended, even if you're double (or triple) dipping.