Blu-ray: Highly Recommended
4 Stars out of 5
Sale Price 43.25
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Release Date: November 1st, 2011
Movie Release Year: 1961
Release Country: United States
COLLAPSE INFO -

A Christmas Carol (1951): 60th Anniversary Diamond Edition

Review Date December 8th, 2011 by
Overview - 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.
OVERALL
Highly Recommended
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  • TECH SPECS & RELEASE DETAILS
    Technical Specs: Blu-ray/DVD
    50-GB Dual-Layer Disc
    Two-Disc Set
    Video Resolution/Codec: 1080p/VC-1
    Length:86
    Release Country:United States
    Aspect Ratio(s):1.37:1
    English Descriptive Audio: English LPCM 5.1 Surround
    English LPCM Mono
    Subtitles/Captions: English Subtitles
    Spanish Subtitles
    Special Features: Introduction by Leonard Maltin
    Featurettes
    Silent Dickens Adaptations
    1939 Radio Adaptation of 'A Christmas Carol'
    Bibliographic Essay
    Movie Studio: VCI
    Release Date: November 1st, 2011

Story Review Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take

4.5 Stars out of 5

Over the course of film history, few literary characters have been resurrected more often than Charles Dickens' legendary miser and Christmas killjoy, Ebenezer Scrooge. Several esteemed actors, from Reginald Owen and Albert Finney to George C. Scott and Michael Caine, have barked at Bob Cratchit, growled "humbug," and giddily danced a jig - all with a fair degree of relish. Yet one Scrooge consistently stands apart from the pack. Alastair Sim never achieved much renown in America, but in Britain he was a pretty big deal, a deft character actor with a basset hound face, a mellifluous voice, and a gallery of bemused expressions. Sim enlivened many a dreary feature, and if a vote were ever taken to crown the quintessential Scrooge, he would surely win. His take on the crusty curmudgeon who's transformed by three ghosts into a benevolent softie one cold Christmas Eve in Victorian London remains iconic, and the version of 'A Christmas Carol' in which he appears is required viewing for countless families each holiday season.

Americans revere Dickens' time-honored tale, but it's no surprise the most engaging adaptation of 'A Christmas Carol' comes from its native England. There's just something about this 1951 version that screams authenticity. Yes, liberties were taken with the original novel, but the mood, atmosphere, and characterizations remain a cut above other films. Noel Langley, one of the writers of 'The Wizard of Oz,' fashions a tight screenplay, and director Brian Desmond Hurst combines whimsy and melancholy with a hint of creepiness that honors the yarn's ghost story roots. The noirish black-and-white photography enhances the darker elements of the story, adding welcome tension, and the production design exudes a distinctly British look and feel that help immerse us in mid-19th century London.

A wealthy yet bitter man who would rather count his money than his blessings, Ebenezer Scrooge retires to his stark, run-down flat on Christmas Eve, seven years to the day after his unscrupulous business partner, Jacob Marley (Michael Hordern), passed away. A paranormal disturbance, however, in the form of Marley's chain-laden ghost, interrupts his tranquil evening. The celestial Marley warns Scrooge that unless he alters his selfish and greedy ways, he is doomed to endure a similar restless, tortured afterlife. The only way Scrooge can possibly prevent such a horrible fate is to meet with three spirits, who will try to humanize the irascible miser by revisiting his troubled past, looking at his unhappy present, and pondering his uncertain future.

All the English character actors who portray the supporting parts are perfectly cast, right down to arguably the least annoying and saccharine Tiny Tim (Glyn Dearman) in any version of 'A Christmas Carol.' Yet despite their excellent work, they can't compete with Sim. His Scrooge resonates so strongly because he's always disarmingly real. A palpable sadness and air of regret seem to swirl just beneath the surface of his scowls and sneers, so we sense his vulnerability and root for him much sooner, and his ultimate transformation seems more believable because, deep down, it seems to be something Scrooge sincerely craves.

Hurst's film employs some rudimentary special effects and adopts a darker tone than most, but relies on good old-fashioned storytelling and top-flight acting to put over this beloved yuletide tale. If you crave flash, music, Muppets, or 3D, there are plenty of other adaptations of 'A Christmas Carol' to tickle your fancy, but if you like your Dickens neat, with no frills or embellishments and lots of heart and substance, then this 1951 production is the one for you...and will be for many Christmases to come. God bless it, everyone!

The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats

The 60th Anniversary Diamond Edition of 'A Christmas Carol' arrives on Blu-ray wrapped in a standard Blu-ray case that houses both high-def and standard-def versions of the film on two discs. Tucked inside the front flap is an abridged fold-out version of the American pressbook (new to this edition), featuring promotional articles on Sim and screenwriter Langley, a cast and credit listing, a synopsis of the story, and plenty of poster and lobby art. Video codec is 1080p/VC-1 and audio is lossless LPCM 5.1, despite the fact that both the packaging and on-screen menu list the audio as Dolby Digital 5.1. When the disc is inserted, a rather lengthy promo for other VCI classics precedes the full-motion menu with music, and unfortunately, it can't be skipped.

  • TECH SPECS & RELEASE DETAILS
    Technical Specs:
    Blu-ray/DVD
    50-GB Dual-Layer Disc
    Two-Disc Set
    Video Resolution/Codec:
    1080p/VC-1
    Length:86
    Release Country:United States
    Aspect Ratio(s):
    1.37:1
    Audio Formats:
    English LPCM 5.1 Surround
    English LPCM Mono
    Subtitles/Captions:
    English Subtitles
    Spanish Subtitles
    Special Features:
    Introduction by Leonard Maltin
    Featurettes
    Silent Dickens Adaptations
    1939 Radio Adaptation of 'A Christmas Carol'
    Bibliographic Essay
    Movie Studio: VCI
    Release Date: November 1st, 2011

Video Review

3.5 Stars out of 5

At first glance, the 1080p/VC-1 transfer for this 60th Anniversary Diamond Edition of 'A Christmas Carol' doesn't look much different than the one on the 2009 Blu-ray, but upon closer inspection I'd have to say it makes a few subtle improvements. Clarity is ever-so-slightly enhanced and contrast appears a bit more pronounced, lending the image more vibrancy. Black levels are superb, with marvelous shadow delineation emphasizing the film noir feel of many scenes. The snowy whites also hold up well, maintaining their texture in varying degrees of light. Not surprisingly, grain is fairly pronounced, but seems similar to the previous version; some scenes exhibit more than others, but it never overwhelms the picture. Close-ups are quite nice, often highlighting Sim's large, expressive eyes, and background elements exude a fair degree of detail.

The source material looks exactly the same as what VCI used on the 2009 Blu-ray, and that's a minor disappointment. A few errant specks dot the print, but several scenes flaunt nagging imperfections that somewhat distract from the on-screen action. A white vertical line appears during the Marley ghost sequence, while black vertical lines mar the Marley death scene later in the film. Some clear vertical bands in the center of the screen also crop up randomly during the course of the movie. Budgetary constraints most likely prohibited a complete restoration of 'A Christmas Carol,' but hopefully this classic film will one day receive such royal treatment.

If you're thinking of upgrading your copy of 'A Christmas Carol' based solely on video quality, I'd say it isn't worth it. The enhancements aren't notable enough to merit the expense. But when coupled with the new audio and supplements (both described below), trading in your old copy for this new edition makes good sense.

Audio Review

3.5 Stars out of 5

VCI Entertainment puts out some great flicks on home video, but the company needs some better quality control when it comes to advertising the contents of its discs. Aside from the plethora of new supplements (described below), one of the main selling points of this anniversary edition is an uncompressed audio track, an upgrade from the lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that graces the previous Blu-ray release. Yet nowhere on the packaging, and even worse, nowhere on the disc setup menu is there any mention of the lossless LPCM 5.1 track. Instead, both areas list the audio as Dolby Digital 5.1 (or, in the case of the disc menu, Dobly [yes, Dobly!] Digital 5.1), which doesn't do this VCI product any favors. Rest assured, though, the lossless audio is indeed there, both in 5.1 and the original mono.

The uncompressed audio makes a big difference, providing brighter, more distinct, and more nuanced sound. Accents, such as horse hooves and doors slamming, enjoy marvelous presence, and both the cacophony of bells that precede Marley's appearance and his angry wail are quite striking in their intensity. Surround activity is, understandably, limited, and mostly involves the half-festive, half-forboding music score by Richard Addinsell. Bass frequencies possess a bit more weight than those on the lossy track, and high ends nicely resist distortion, even when pushed. Dialogue is always easy to understand, from Sim's deadpan put-downs early in the film to his giddy blabbering during the denouement.

A bit more clean-up, however, would have been appreciated. Quite a bit of pronounced hiss still remains, as well as a modicum of surface noise, including pops and crackles, all of which slightly detract from the movie's mood. Still, this audio bests the previous track by a solid margin, and fans of the film should notice an improvement.

Special Features

4 Stars out of 5

The previous Blu-ray edition of 'A Christmas Carol' contained only a handful of extras - an audio commentary, pop-up trivia track, and a couple of trailers. This edition piles on the supplements, porting over everything from the 2009 Blu-ray except the trivia track, and adding plenty of other goodies that will surely please fans of this holiday classic.

  • Introduction by Leonard Maltin (HD, 5 minutes) – The film historian provides some interesting facts and trivia about the film, cites the extensive cast, and salutes Sim's portrayal.
  • Audio Commentary - Without a doubt, the most disappointing aspect of this disc is the 2005 audio commentary by Marcus Hearn and George Cole, who plays the young Scrooge in the film. One would think Cole would have lots to impart about the film's production and its cast, but amazingly, only about a quarter of the discussion has anything at all to do with 'A Christmas Carol'; the rest focuses on Cole's career before and after the film, other British actors with whom he worked, random thoughts about Alastair Sim, and observations about making films in general. We do learn 'A Christmas Carol' was shot in the summer and many scenes were modeled after illustrations from the original book, and that the movie received mixed reviews upon its initial release. Cole talks about his close personal relationship with Sim, and how the actor mentored him, and calls director Brian Desmond Hurst "very flamboyant." More scene specific remarks would have been welcome, as well as biographical information about the cast, and facts about Dickens and the original novel. This very shoddy effort left me wondering... Why bother to have a commentary at all if the participants are going to largely ignore the film they've been enlisted to discuss? No one with any interest in 'A Christmas Carol' should waste their time listening to this rambling, unfocused mess.
  • Featurette: "Dead to Begin With: The Darker Side of a Classic" (HD, 26 minutes) – British Film Culturalist Sir Christopher Frayling offers an extensive examination of the film and how it ties into the turbulence afflicting post-war Britain at the time of its initial release. He talks about, among other things, the underrated work of director Hurst, the versatility of Sim, the importance of seasoned character actors to make Dickens' novels come alive, the ominous music score, and rudimentary special effects. Frayling believes this is a darker telling of the tale than most adaptations and also more adult and substantive. Clips from other film versions of 'A Christmas Carol' from the silent era onward enhance this absorbing and comprehensive piece that's well worth a look. In fact, this featurette is so good, it begs the question... Why wasn't Frayling asked to do the commentary instead? In 26 minutes, we learn far more about 'A Christmas Carol' than the commentary tells us in triple the amount of time!
  • Featurette: "Scrooge by Another Name: Distributing 'A Christmas Carol'" (HD, 10 minutes) – Film distributor Richard Gordon reminisces about financing and marketing 'A Christmas Carol,' and how producer George Minter set out to make the definitive version of Dickens' classic. Because the movie ended up darker and more serious than other adaptations, it was more difficult to distribute in the U.S., which sought more family-oriented fare during the holiday season.
  • Featurette: "The Human Blarney Stone: The Life and Films of Brian Desmond Hurst" (HD, 41 minutes) – Allan Esler Smith, the great-great nephew and biographer of Hurst, chronicles the life and career of the underrated and largely underappreciated director of 'A Christmas Carol' in this reverent documentary. More film clips illustrating Hurst's work would have been nice, along with more personal details, but the piece succeeds in shedding light on a figure who accomplished much more than directing a renowned holiday film.
  • Featurette: "Alastair Sim Version: Too Good to Be Shown Only at Christmastime" (HD, 32 minutes) – Fred Guida, author of 'A Christmas Carol and Its Adaptations,' provides an insightful and absorbing audio lecture accompanied by film clips and stills from a wealth of Dickens movies. Again, much more interesting and informative than the audio commentary, this piece covers the Dickens renaissance that began with David Lean's 'Great Expectations,' adaptations of 'A Christmas Carol' from other countries, the complex character of Scrooge and how this film meticulously reflects it, how the screenplay altered and embellished various scenes from the original novel, the contributions of the fine supporting cast, and quotes both positive and negative reviews of the picture. Fans of this version definitely don't want to miss this enlightening featurette.
  • Silent Version of 'Scrooge' (HD, 10 minutes) – This surprisingly entertaining - albeit very brief - silent version of 'A Christmas Carol' was produced in 1922, but not shown in the U.S. until 1929. Henry Vernon Esmond portrays Scrooge, and the lively film efficiently hits all of the story's high points. Video quality is pretty good for a 90-year-old antique.
  • Silent Version of 'Bleak House' (HD, 10 minutes) – Dame Sybil Thorndike stars as Lady Dedlock in this (very) truncated 1922 adaptation of Dickens' novel. The acting and filming styles recall the old melodramas of yore, but this is still a fun curio that's worth checking out.
  • Featurette: "Scrooge Revisited" (HD, 2 minutes) – This short piece looks at some of the actual London locations where 'A Christmas Carol' was shot, and shows how they look today.
  • Theatrical Trailers (HD, 4 minutes) – Both the original British and American previews are included. Each runs about 2 minutes, and it's interesting to note the differences between them, most notably that the American trailer continually emphasizes the film's festive and joyous aspects, while the British trailer provides a more balanced look at the movie.
  • Bibliographic Essay (HD, 15 minutes) - This feature appears on the accompanying DVD. The voice of Fred Guida returns to recommend a litany of books, websites, and videos that focus on Dickens' life and 'A Christmas Carol.' A number of biographies are listed, as well as special collectible editions of 'A Christmas Carol,' and critical analyses of the story and Dickens' other works. For any serious Dickens fan, this is an invaluable reference.
  • Vintage Radio Broadcast (59 minutes) - Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, one of America's fondest holiday traditions was the annual Christmas Eve radio broadcast of 'A Christmas Carol,' starring actor Lionel Barrymore as Ebenezer Scrooge. (Barrymore was scheduled to reprise his popular role in MGM's 1938 film version, but an injury forced him to bow out, paving the way for Reginald Owen to portray Scrooge.) Here we have the rare opportunity to enjoy one of Barrymore's signature broadcasts, with a young, pre-'Citizen Kane' Orson Welles as narrator. This very faithful adaptation originally aired on December 24, 1939, and is well-acted, atmospheric, and quite involving. Just listening to the distinctive voices of Barrymore and Welles is a treat!

Final Thoughts

Some double dips are rip-offs; some are legitimate upgrades. I admit to being a little skeptical (okay, Scrooge-like) when I first heard about the re-release of 'A Christmas Carol' a mere two years after its first Blu-ray go-around, but I'm pleased to report this 60th Anniversary Diamond Edition is a big step up from its 2009 counterpart. Improvements include slightly better video, a lossless audio track, and a cavalcade of well-produced, substantive extras, as well as an attractive reproduction of the film's American pressbook. The film itself, of course, remains a timeless classic - endearing, inspiring, festive, and just dark enough to add sufficient impact to its themes of redemption and renewal. There never was and never will be a better Scrooge than Alastair Sim and this excellent production showcases his iconic performance to perfection. So toss that old Blu-ray aside and pick up this much-improved anniversary edition that's a fitting tribute to one of the world's finest holiday movies. Highly recommended.

Sale Price 43.25
Buy Now
3rd Party 9.99
In Stock.
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  • TECH SPECS & RELEASE DETAILS
    Technical Specs:
    Blu-ray/DVD
    50-GB Dual-Layer Disc
    Two-Disc Set
    Video Resolution/Codec:
    1080p/VC-1
    Length:86
    Release Country:United States
    Aspect Ratio(s):
    1.37:1
    Audio Formats:
    English LPCM 5.1 Surround
    English LPCM Mono
    Subtitles/Captions:
    English Subtitles
    Spanish Subtitles
    Special Features:
    Introduction by Leonard Maltin
    Featurettes
    Silent Dickens Adaptations
    1939 Radio Adaptation of 'A Christmas Carol'
    Bibliographic Essay
    Movie Studio: VCI
    Release Date: November 1st, 2011