A Christmas Carol, like so many other black and white early DVD releases, suffered from limp blacks but these releases were usually found acceptable because of the age of the film. The ball park has changed though and now we're seeing incredible 1080p transfers of films from most eras. This new MPEG-2/1080p release is no different. Coming to us at its original theatrical ratio of 1.33:1 A Christmas Carol has never looked so good; that's not to say though that it's the best turkey in the butcher's shop window.
Blacks and contrast have increased dramatically and because of that there's more depth in the frame, the opening scene with Scrooge leaving the exchange offers up some wonderful shadow detail and inky blacks in the cloaks, trousers and top hats the financiers wear. Equally on returning to his dingy business premises there's excellent fine detail in this back room office, on his desk and the cracked walls behind. This detail is more than apparent in the Cratchit abode and the living room of Scrooge's nephew towards the end of the film. Whites are now pristine and there's no creep or bloom on show. The resulting greyscale range is more than adequate for a feature from this period.
The encoding is first class with no anomalies that I could spot, however the source does leave something to be desired. There are constant fluctuations in brightness and contrast and at times a 'veil' of sorts does descend upon the frame and at times it does become a little intrusive. There's dirt and speckles to be found although in the main they are kept in check. Grain is visible and welcomed as such as it doesn't hinder your viewing pleasure. If the source print had been cleaned up a little more then this would have been a sterling release; as it is there's still some way to go before I could say I have a definitive version for my viewing pleasure.
There are two Dolby Digital English tracks to tempt your fancy here, an original mono and a supposedly revamped 5.1 version. Why they bothered with the latter I really do not know, there's nothing in there at all to tempt the most discerning of viewer to switch this on. The 'modern' 5.1 mix really is quite atrocious, weak and directionless with a haunting echo which doesn't suit the film or your viewing pleasure at all. This was quickly replaced by the original mono track but even then there's a lot left to be desired.
This mono variant still has some of the echo and dialogue can be strained a little at times so you might need to crank the volume a touch to get the best from it. That increase in volume though will simply amplify the hiss and occasional crackle which is more than apparent throughout the feature. Unlike film grain, I do find that audio defects (and of course grain is not a defect at all) do intrude on the viewing experience. Like too loud a projector it gets in the way when subtle dialogue is needing listened to.
Although the score has some wonderful orchestration that too suffers here. The lower tones are not realised at all and the high one seem a little clipped, the mid tones fare well enough but the whole dynamic range seems a little too crushed for my liking. Like the video before I do feel there is some way to go before I can say I have a version of A Christmas Carol that I look forward to listening to.
There is a commentary with film historian Marcus Hearn and young Scrooge, George Cole. It's an interesting enough track with Hearn providing all of the steerage whilst prompting Cole to jump in whenever needed. Discussions range from the studio where the work was completed, the other actors in the film and Cole's own experiences on the set. On top of this there is a pretty standard pop-up trivia track giving similar details.
On disc 2, a region free DVD, we have a collection of text based biographies for the main players and two different versions of the film, one in the original 1.33:1 ratio, the other in 1.78:1. Avoid the 1.78:1 at all costs, not only does it cut visuals from the frame but it looks terrible and is certainly a different encode to the 1.33:1 version. Whites, especially, are never pristine and bloom almost constantly.
Earlier releases of this movie have included additional features which are not included on this release. There's a colourised version out there, and whilst I for one never really entertain these, it could be argued that this should have been included for those people who enjoy seeing these classics in watercolour. Blu-ray allows the space so why not use it!
I have enjoyed most versions of Dickens' heart warming tale and out of them all I still return to this one time and time again. I enjoy Sim's performance as the tight fisted, black hearted Scrooge whose redemption is all the more enjoyable because of his portrayal earlier in the movie.
I still don't think I've seen the last version on disc though. Even though the video is a step up, and worth buying for that alone, this region free Blu-ray disc still has some way to go before I can rest easy and say I have a version I never wish to replace. The video still needs some work, the audio should concentrate on the mono only and get that sounding as best as possible and the extras need far more meat on their skeletal bones.
I do think it's worthy of an upgrade but I see double dipping creeping in yet again if the studio ever decide to return and address these flaws. For such an old movie though, and admittedly with a somewhat limited appeal, I don't foresee that happening anytime soon. I guess I'll just have to wait a little longer, humbug!
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