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A Christmas Story: 20th Anniversary Special Edition

It's a sad fact of modern filmmaking that, thanks to a combination of sugarplum-sweet sentiments and high-concept set ups, very few holiday-themed movies are worth watching more than once (and often, even that's generous). One of the rare exceptions is A Christmas Story (1983), an instant classic that only gets better every time you see little Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) jump through hoops in pursuit of his dream Christmas present — a genuine Red Ryder 200-shoot Carbine Action Air Rifle. Based on writer Jean Shepherd's stories about growing up in Depression-era Indiana, A Christmas Story successfully blends nostalgia, wry observational humor, and warm family affection to create the kind of childhood holiday we all wish we'd had. The film's vignettes are linked by Ralphie's quest for his Daisy Red Ryder — he may occasionally take a break to battle bully Scut Farkas (Zack Ward), listen to Little Orphan Annie on the radio, or learn swear words from his dad (Darren McGavin), but Ralphie never stops yearning for the gun. Despite the fact, of course, that his mother (Melinda Dillon) is sure he'll shoot his eye out if he gets it. One of the movie's strengths is how well it captures Ralphie's nine-year-old perspective on the world. Much of that can be attributed to Shepherd's writing, of course, but director Bob Clark deserves some credit, too. It's impossible to watch A Christmas Story and not remember what it felt like to be a kid during the holidays — pining for the perfect present, itching for Christmas vacation to start, experimenting with your tongue and a cold metal post…. Clark also earns kudos for choosing the perfect cast — the angelic-faced Billingsley is all wide-eyed innocence and fervent hopefulness as Ralphie, and the energetic, blustery McGavin practically steals the movie as his father. (Gavin's performance alone lifts A Christmas Story well above other Shepherd adaptations.) Add all that together, and it's no wonder the film continues to entertain; like It's a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street, this is one holiday movie that's going to stick around. Based on its two-disc 20th Anniversary Special Edition DVD, Warner seems to agree. The first disc features a lovely new digital transfer of the film in both full-screen and anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) versions, with English and French Dolby Digital mono audio tracks (English, Spanish, and French subtitles are also available). Disc One also offers the theatrical trailer and a friendly commentary with Billingsley and Clark. Pop in Disc Two for the rest of the special features: "Another Christmas Story," an 18-minute retrospective featurette that includes interviews with Clark, Billingsley, Ward, R.D. Robb (Schwartz), and Scott Schwartz (Flick); the "Triple Dog Dare" trivia game; the "Decoder" quote-match game; a Daisy Red Ryder featurette; a very tongue-in-cheek featurette about the infamous leg lamp; and two radio broadcasts of Shepherd reading his original stories. Dual-DVD digipak with paperboard slipcase.
—Betsy Bozdech

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