A CHRISTMAS STORY, 1983
Starring Peter Billingsley, Melinda Dillon, Darren McGavin and Zack Ward
This vignette-laden, nostalgic view of Christmastime in 1940s Indiana follows nine-year-old Ralphie, who desperately wants a Red Ryder BB Gun for Christmas--and is waging an all-out campaign to convince his reluctant parents that the toy will be safe in his hands. By turns warped and winsome, the comedy follows Ralphie as he prepares for the big day with his rather idiosyncratic family. Based on the novel by humorist Jean Shepherd, who also narrates the film.
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A Classic.Ē ďThe timeless story of ChristmasĒ ďChild hood FavoriteĒ Ö.but to this reviewer? A tad bit overrated. Yes, thatís right I said it. I watched this film on December 5th, not the all day Christmas Eve marathon like many of you. And maybe the farther away I get from the holiday the more unbias I am to the flaws of the movie. Maybe as I grow into an adult or become more experienced as a film maker I lose touch with being part of the audience. Or maybe Iíve just seen this movie one too many times. Either way Ė the film is far from being technically perfect.
The Story: A ďsingleĒ story from a collection of short stories that Jean Shepherd wrote for Ė get this; Playboy magazine. Who would have knew eh? Anyway, my problems from the structure come out of the fact that itís pretty scatter brained. Itís episodic and tangential 99% of the time. Which may make it a horrible film, but it makes for great TV viewing Ė act breaks that really donít matter and things happen that never really have anything to do with the overall story. Itís basically a short filmís plot littered with little ďslices of lifeĒ to fill the cracks. And yes, there are some interesting characters that really ride the waves and keep us watching. For me, itís really Ralphie and his father. Randy and the mother annoy the living Christmas out of me. All the other characters are pretty flat and one dimensioned. And the narrating is really the only thing pulling it all together.
Acting: You may not have noticed it, but I did. The narration not only holds the story together but it hides a lot of the bad acting as well. Whatever the actors canít get across themselves is covered in VO. Not exactly strong film making to me, but Iíll live with it. It adds only to the ďslice of lifeĒ of it all. Darren McGavin is the only actor to really fill his role in a way that I enjoy, and Zack Ward, aka Scott Farguson is the only actor to have moved on to a fulfilling career. Strange since he has the least amount of dialogue in the film.
Directing: Now, Bob Clark may have a story and some acting that I donít connect with. However, he did hit the nail on the head in terms of the production value. I also give him credit for going from a film like Porkyís to a film like this. While I have problems with it, the film does have a lot of heart to it and I think thatís what rings true to everyone when they watch it.
Cinematography: This is one of the elements that really nails itís column. The film was shot in the 80ís but set in the 40ís. It even has the grit and grain of the 40ís production value and look it all. This, combined with they 70ís overblown yellows adds a mood to the film that makes it instantly nostalgic. Even upon first viewing, youíre visually intrigued as to what your seeing.
Production Design: Same as above Ė this is another area that really draws you into the world. Christmas wasnít as high tech as it is today. It was the kind of presents you really could believe that Santa could make and deliver on. Now heíd need a degree from MIT. The ancestry of the production design is the salt and pepper of the main feast of the cinematography. It really is part of what makes the movie work. And not only is it perfect, but it also did more for the novelty lamp industry than any movie in history.
Editing: Hereís a place I take issue with. The editing is part of the reason that the film is scatterbrained and episodic. Yes, I understand it all comes from the story and then most of all itís about shooting for the edit in production, but something here is awry. Shots hold for entirely way to long and things happen in sequence that hold no connection to what we just saw a moment before. Every scene feels like a cut away that happens and ends up distracting us from the fact that most of the things we just saw remain unresolved. I guess itís gets away with it because we just let it go since they didnít mean much to us anyway.
Score: Thereís Christmas music and also pieces from productions of Hamlet. Iíd say thatís quite an ingenious combination myself. But the actual production of the Christmas music matches the time period of the film so once again, that nostalgia factor grabs at our heart strings.
Special Effects: Not applicable. At all. Unless sped up film counts. And if so, then itís cheap.
In closing: Thereís a reason most people watch this once a year on Christmas day. Itís because it pulls the nostalgia card a little too often and thatís the number one thing people are looking for on Christmas day. Mix in a bit of witty dialogue and one or two relatable characters in situations that have no plot meaning but are all too familiar and you have a classic. Iíll still watch the film on Christmas as Iím not special from that day and the love of this movie, but this isnít a movie I can watch the day after thanksgiving and get all Christmasy because of it. Iíll save that for a few other films that were better achieved.