I only discovered this movie about four years ago but have watched it every Christmas since. To me it's the best version of the Christmas Carol ever made, and now it gets the best treatment you could have ever hoped for. This two disc collector's edition contains two different versions of this movie. First is the colorized version, but then the second is the real treat. They went back to the original prints of this and worked from there. After carefully removing the skips, scratches, and jerky frames, they digitally restored the movie to a version that looks as if it were made yesterday! The sound has been changed to 5.1 digital surround, and there's even a widescreen version for 16:9 televisions.
The special features include an earlier version of Christmas Carol (not as good as this one), as well as several featurettes on the movie, interviews with the stars, a feature on Alistair Sim, and others.
You can tell the distributor put a lot of effort into this restoration and it shows. I wish they'd do the same for other great films like "It's a Wonderful Life" and "The Bishop's Wife".
Highly recommended as the best version of this classic you'll find anywhere.
Somehow, across the years, the story of Ebenezer Scrooge and his three ghosts has been transformed from it's spooky roots to light-hearted family fare. Scrooge is not so much evil, as grumpy. The ghost's tend to amuse rather than frighten.
This black-and-white version of "A Christmas Carol" maintains the horror roots of the story. Jacob Marley is one of the most frightening ghosts to haunt the silver screen. He grows intolerant of the idea that Scrooge is not frightened, and howls his rage and frustration. The Ghost of Christmas Past is an impersonal specter, cold and distant. Present is jolly and yet quick to anger. Future is the grim shade that he is supposed to be.
The back story of Scrooge is told in greater detail here than in any other version. He resents Fred, not because of his Christmas cheer but because his birth caused the death of Scrooge's beloved sister. He not only remembers the good times at Fezzywig's, he remembers putting Fezzywig out of business later in life. Alastair Sim brings this character to fullness more than any other actor. The Christmas morning scene is a delight, and worth the wait.
As a bonus, the Fleischer "Rudolph the Rednose Reindeer" is included on this disk. This is clearly Santa Claus by the people who gave us the first animated Superman. The animation is fluid and dynamic. One of the best extras on any DVD.
There are two superb film adaptations of this Dickens classic; this one and the 1984 TV film starring George C. Scott. Both do justice to the original novella far beyond any other dramatizations. However, it is this 1951 British version that got there first and no doubt inspired the 1984 remake. Both Alastair Sim and Scott breath life into the character of Scrooge and make him a three-dimensional personality whose life and fate take on far greater meaning than they do in the hands of other actors who have taken on this role. Sim, of course, became the definitive Scrooge by first taking the character seriously and by portraying Scrooge as more than a simplistic cardboard cutout. For those of us who were raised on this version of the film, Sim will always "be" Scrooge. That does not detract from Scott's performance at all and he was quoted as saying he knew from the start that he could never hope to match Sim's effort. Nonetheless, he succeeded in carving out his own highly credible, compelling portrait of Scrooge which stands beside that of Sim's, like two magnificent paintings sharing the same wall. Both films should be enjoyed and appreciated as the fine, individual achievements that they are and both will stand as "definitive" for a very, very long time. We are the richer for having such a marvelous choice.
on October 7, 2007
Although this 1951 classic film takes some liberties with the Dicken's novel, it remains the film most faithful to the original story. Some of the sets and costumes were directly inspired by the memorable illustrations in the first edition of the book. Alastair Sim is very convincing as the miserly Scrooge who, after a terrifying night of ghostly visits, is transformed into a man who knows how to keep Christmas in his heart.
There have been many DVD editions of this holiday favorite in recent years, several of them from VCI Entertainment. In this package, VCI has included some things featured on previous releases (commentary, Dickens biography, etc.), but the real star of this set is the beautifully restored version of the black and white film. According to a short feature on the restoration of the film, VCI has finally been able to obtain film elements from the original master. Apparently they didn't have access to a complete master, so they used several of the best prints they could gather and digitally read them to determine which frames were the best available. The rest was cleaned up by hand. It sounds like a labor of love, and the result is visible on the screen. The restored print is available in 4x3 and 16x9 in 1:37:1 format. (According to the Amazon product description page, the aspect ratio is given as 1:87 and elsewhere as 1:33, the DVD box says 1:37.) There are a few seconds of less than pristine audio, but overall this is a gorgeous effort.
A nice touch I've never seen on a DVD before is an optional audio track for the blind, in which a narrator describes the action on the screen pausing for dialog from the actors. A wandering commentary track with Marcus Heard and George Cole (young Scrooge) is included. Much of the commentary is reprised in a feature interview by Heard in which Cole reminisces about Alastair Sim, "Spirit of Christmas Past." The audio is in English only. Subtitles are in English or Spanish.
The second disc offers the original 1935 Seymour Hicks' film version of the story. A colorized version of the 1951 film is also included on Disc 2; the brief introduction by Patrick McNee (young Marley) has been seen before on previous releases of the colorized version. There are also theatrical trailers from the UK release ("Scrooge") and the US release ("A Christmas Carol").
VCI has given us a beautiful package here. They've done a great job with the restoration of a film treasure. Many viewers will never have seen such a good print of this holiday favorite before. The bonus features are a nice inclusion, but the restoration is the real reason to get this edition. Highly recommended!
on November 11, 2007
There are numerous issues and re-issues of the 1951 version of "A Christmas Carol" so why purchase this 2007 VCI release? To say that this film version of Dickens' story is a classic would be an understatement. Hailed by most critics as the best of all the versions made over the past 70-odd years, this review need not dwell on whether or not this is a movie worthy of watching; many other reviewers here have said as much. What has typically not been done in reviews posted here is to give potential purchasers an in-depth analysis of what makes this release a most have (or not) for first time watchers, someone looking for a great Christmas gift, or simply a fan who wants "The Ultimate Collector's Edition (as this release is advertised). This review will attempt to cover, not the film itself in much detail - although some aspects will be discussed. Instead it will focus mainly on the extras and production value present on this release compared to other releases. Importantly this review WILL NOT simply provide a litany list of 'extras' present on the discs (you can get that at IMDB), but rather will review the content of the extras. So read on and decide for yourself whether VCI's "Ultimate Collector's Edition" is all it's advertised!
In a comparative sense it is probably most critical to compare this 2007 (two-disc) VCI release of "A Christmas Carol" to VCI's 2004 (one-disc) release of the same movie. Let's start with a list of features/extras on the 2004 release:
- Remastered original B/W version of the 1951 film
- Extras: colorized version of the 1951 film
- Max Fliesher's Technicolor cartoon Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer (1948, 8 min) [good quality]
- Selectable subtitles/narration (English, Spainish, narrative for the blind in English) - Introduction to both B/W and color versions (same intro, narrated by Patrick MacNee, in both cases); Cast & Production Notes (really just cast bios)
- Comes with a nice interactive menu
- Nice if simple clamshell packaging with 'movie board' insert.
Here's what you get with the 2-disc 2007 VCI "Ultimate Collector's Edition" with commentary on the 'value' of the features/extras:
Disc 1 contains
- 4x3 and 16x9 [enhanced for widescreen TVs] B/W (original) version of 1951 film with selectable subtitles (English, Spainish) - buyers should be aware that original release was full screen thus 16x9 version is cropped on top and bottom to make widescreen (essentially vertical version of Pan-Scan to convert WS to FS); The picture quality of the remastered version is splendid. Improved over 2004 version. Very few flaws still visible. Tones are crisp and contrast great.
- Audio options (2 channel, 5.1 channel Surround, narration for blind in English - same narration as on 2004 VCI version) - Surround sound - very nice for most part, although tends to 'amplify' noise - audio apparently harder to clean up than the picture. Yet did nice job enhancing certain parts, e.g., when Scrooge gets to his front door (when he sees the first ghost of Marley) we here the wind blow from front left (channel) to rear right; when Scrooge is shown his tombstone by ghost of Christmas future, the music is nice in surround, Scrooge's voice only comes through center front channel - very well done.
- Cast bios - much expanded over 2004 version
- Audio Commentary by Marcus Hearne (British film/music documentarian) and George Cole (played young Ebenezer Scrooge in the 1951 version) - some interesting insights are provided by Cole about the actors and making of the movie. Hearnes' historical knowledge also provides interesting material and context for Cole's personal recollections
Disc 2 contains
- "Scrooge" 1935 version (directed by Henry Edwards, starring Sir Seymour Hicks as Scrooge) - picture is very dark and grainy; this is true of both outside and inside shots. Nice extra to have but quality not very good.
- Colorized version of 1951 movie (same as on 2004 VCI release) with selectable subtitles/narrative (English, Spainish, narrative for blind in English)
- Two trailers, one titled "Scrooge" and one titled "A Christmas Carol" - "Scrooge" is very dark in theme and picture tones, music is "Scrooge theme" from 1951 movie, whereas "A Christmas Carol" is happier and lighter in both theme and picture tone, upbeat Christmas music accompanies
- "The Spirit of Christmas Past" - Marcus Hearne interviews George Cole about Alastair Sim. Interview done against blackscreen such resulting in sharp visual contrasts (when Hearne is seen asking questions, he too in against blackscreen), with pictures and clips of Sim interwoven into the interview dialog. Much of interview not directly about Sim, but rather (appropriately) also about Cole's career (especially when co-staring with Sim in other projects). Fairly dry interviewer and interviewee, but informative. [total run time just less than 15 min]
- "Richard Gordon Remembers George Minter & Renown Pictures" - Gordon helped raise money for making "A Christmas Carol" and distributed it in US. This feature is done entirely as an audio interview of Gordon by Tom Weaver (author and film historian], laid over still photos and film clips of elements being discussed in interview. Much of the interview is centered on story of how Gordon and Minter formed working relationship (via Renown Pictures). Gordon tells several stories: Minter's rise as producer/presenter of films; how "Scrooge" as made in UK was re-titled "A Christmas Carol" for release in US; how picture released in US was not initially hailed, was actually not seen as 'family' movie but more equated to 'horror' movie; how when "A Christmas Carol" hit US TV it became a cult hit, but in UK was hit from initial release (Sim was very popular actor in UK at time); tells of other films in which Minter collaborated before and after "Scrooge" with considerable discussion of other Minter films (e.g., "Svengali" and work with "Old Mother Riley" films that were popular in UK). [total run time ~20 min]
- "Charles Dickens, His Life and Times" - Audio biography accompanied by illustrations and photos. Discusses Dickens' unpbringing, early relationships, early struggles and later prolific writing career (critically acclaimed), his marriage (to Catherine Hogarth) and affair with Ellen Ternan, and his poor health later in life.
- "Before and After Restoration" - Not really a 'before and after' comparision as advertised on the clamshell. Rather a few scenes are shown in split screen comparison but most thus is a discussion of the technical aspects of the restoration process. Like to be of most interest to those with technical savvy [~ 2 min in length]. If the viewer wants a fair comparison of the picture restoration of this 2007 version watch it in comparison to VCI's 2004 release (or previous prior releases).
- Photo gallery - stills from the movie, as well as production stills and actor/actress publicity shots. All images shown in "Ken Burns effect" (moving and zooming). Edge of screen is surrounded by a 'snowy' matte. No audio tracks accompany this extra.
All in all this is an excellent 2-disc set sure to be a hit with all fans of the movie. If you're new to the film version of Dickens' classic pick up THIS release, it's worth the $. 5 solid stars (for movie and extras).
on November 5, 2011
I received my copy of the 60th Anniversary set today via Amazon (and kudos to Amazon, which refunded me a total of $7 from the pre-order price I had paid back on Oct 2, charging me a mere $10.99 for this 2-disc set, ie: at their Nov 2 price).
I haven't watched the entire movie, but spot checks of the film on the BluRay disc reveal the best-ever VCI transfer. It's even better than the BluRay version that was released in 2009. Also, it seems to me like the picture contains more along the edges than it has before. I'm wondering if VCI has been clipping the left & right sides of the film image all these years due to deterioration, but were somehow able to restore those edges with the new computer software they said they used on the film this time around. I did notice that a restoration credit is given to a firm called "Blair & Associates" that isn't VCI, with a copyright date of 2011. Perhaps they finally decided to send the thing out of house and get it done right.
I can't imagine why VCI isn't hawking this version more aggressively, because it does seem to fulfill - finally - the promises VCI has made over the years about just how painstaking their restoration efforts have been. Those promises have always led to a bit of disappointment in the past. Not this time.
Also, the soundtrack is absolutely quiet, at least when played in the original mono. I haven't tried the 5.1 surround sound yet, and I don't know that I will. I'm something of a purist in this matter.
I watched the Leonard Maltin intro, and it was very good and professional, supplying info I didn't know (such as the fact that Glynis Johns is the daughter of Mervyn Johns, who plays Bob Cratchet).
I have only ONE very small complaint, and it seems almost ridiculous to point out, but the subtitles come up a second or so before the lines are actually delivered on the screen. They're not synced precisely to the beginning of each new phrase in the dialogue. That's really not a problem as I never watch the entire film with subtitles. At least these subtitles are in white, rather than the hard-to-read red of the Ultimate DVD Edition. And, the point size of the subtitles is a bit smaller than it was on the 2009 BluRay version.
The set also includes a hardcopy "Abridged American Pressbook" that I assume represents what was sent out to American film houses when the film was released in 1951. It's a very nice touch, and something that I haven't seen in earlier releases. The little booklet is a 3-page gate fold that unfolds into a two-sided promo kit that pictures the posters and lobby posters that were available to promote the film. I especially love the tie-in promotion to the Classics Illustrated "Volume 53," "A Christmas Carol." Fascinating stuff!
I did not know that the film was retitled from "Scrooge" to "A Christmas Carol" for its initial US release. Hey, I'm learning all the time!
I watched a couple of the bonus features on Saturday, and they are well done and supply interesting information.
Edited 12/7/11: I watched this BD in its entirety last night, and it is just amazing how clean and, well, wonderful it all is. The picture is rock steady, except when there are fades moving from one scene to another, ie: movement that appeared from Day One on this film and was usual for films made in this period. What you won't see is the picture nervously moving off its axis. It is as solid as if it were done digitally. The detail and depth to the picture is the best I have ever seen on this film. And, yes, that reaction shot from Fred's wife that was missing from the UCE has been restored. Less than a second and a half of film, but oh so meaningful.
The sound is also remarkable. What's nice is that almost all of the old-movie static has been effectively removed, so the voices and the film score register beautifully. I first watched with the original mono track playing, and it is very fulsome and vivid. I later went back and watched the entire movie in surround sound. Funny, but the surround process seems to be less-clean than the mono track! The movie sounds its age more in surround than in mono. That said, the orchestral score registers more effectively in surround, and that's important, as the musical score for this film is one of its glories. And, yes, I noticed that total sound drop out in the scene where Scrooge visits Fred for Xmas dinner in the surround track. The drop out lasts about 4 seconds. Very unfortunate.
Still, definitely worth getting.
on November 4, 2009
I just got my copy today, and put it in after watching the Blu Ray of Forrest Gump. Trust me. You've never seen A Christmas Carol until you see this new Blu Ray. I was shocked and beside myself at how well this new restoration turned out. The detail is unreal, especially for a film that has always looked so bad. It's not flawless mind you, with the ocassional nick and scratch, but overall this is a beautiful transfer and worth every penny for an upgrade. The sound is quite nice as well. I prefer the original mono to the 5.1 track. Very clear and hiss free.
on March 22, 2006
My wife and I believe that "A Christmas Carol" is one of the most important stories every written, not only for the holiday season but for all times during the year. We recently watched all nine versions we have accumulated through the past 20+ years. These include the ones with Seymour Hicks in 1935, to Patrick Stewart in 1999. This 1951 production, starring Alistair Sim, is the best. What we like about it most is how Scrooge is depicted after he's visited by the three Christmas spirits. He is totally transformed. He shows unbridled joy in being released from bondage to greed and contempt for his fellow man. This depiction is unmatched by the other versions. The colorized form of the movie is outstanding and adds a good bit to the story-telling. If anyone wants this Dickens classic in its finest incarnation, this is the DVD to get.
on October 31, 2003
I consider myself a student of "A Christmas Carol" of sorts, having sought down and seen or heard every version I know of. This tale is the most retold, in part or in whole, of any piece of literature outside of the Bible and Shakespeare. It has appeared in at least 25 film/animated versions, has been adapted to countless TV shows, and has been referenced even more than that.
Alastair Sim's Scrooge is among the very best portrayals, and the film on the whole is the best film version I've seen. I am reviewing the other versions individually, so I won't rehash them here, but this one is the best and my favorite film version.
Give me this one along with Patrick Stewart's solo performance and I'd be a very happy camper.
I've even grown fond of the errors in the film, like the stage hand that appears in the mirror reflection on Christmas morning.
A tremendous cast and a wonderful atmospheric quality make this film so memorable and re-watchable.
on October 22, 2011
I read a review in which the reviewer talked about it being in B&W versus color, and how kids don't like B&W, etc. How sad! I am very glad I am old enough to not expect every movie to be in color. To me, besides the wonderful acting and, of course, the timeless story, the black and whiteness actually adds to the picture, to the dreariness of Scrooge's life before that fateful night. The merry parts, yet, are no less merry for it being in B&W.
No, I have not seen every single version of "Christmas Carol," nor have I wanted to. This version is the one, to me. The only thing better is reading the book itself.