Disney’s A Christmas Carol appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. While often stellar, the transfer came with some concerns that made it less than amazing on a total basis.
My sole complaints related to black levels and shadows, as both lacked consistency. At times, blacks looked deep and tight, and low-light shots could be smooth and clear. However, more than a few exceptions occurred. In many scenes, I noticed somewhat inky blacks and moderately impenetrable shadows. Shots with real contrast – such as interiors with light from windows – looked fine, but pure nighttime bits looked murkier. Since the movie came with quite a few of these, the image was often less clear than I’d expect.
Everything else about the transfer excelled. Sharpness was stellar, as the movie always displayed excellent clarity and accuracy; this was a tight, precise presentation with detail that often looked stunning. No jaggies or shimmering appeared, and edge haloes failed to intrude.
Source flaws also were absent, and colors looked nice. Given the darkness in which so much of the action occurred, we didn’t get a ton of bright hues, but the film consistently exhibited them in a pleasing manner, and when more vivid tones emerged – such as during the Ghost of Christmas Present part – they looked dynamic and vibrant. Without the concerns related to blacks and shadows, this would be an “A+” transfer; as it stood, I thought it merited a “B+”.
I felt the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Carol earned an identical grade. Though it was more consistent, it lacked the same peaks. Still, it offered a pretty involving soundscape, especially during the ghost-related scenes. Those used the spectrum in an active manner that managed to place us within the action. Music showed solid stereo presence, and some decent localized speech also came along for the ride. While I’d be hard-pressed to cite any particularly killer sequences, the whole package managed to keep us immersed.
At all times, audio quality satisfied. Speech was natural and concise, without edginess or other concerns. Music appeared lively and full, while effects seemed accurate and dynamic. Again, the track lacked the consistent “wow” factor to enter “A” territory, but it was more than good enough for a “B+”.
Among the set’s extras, the big attraction comes from a picture-in-picture mode called Behind the Carol. This consists of two components. First, we see the non-animated motion capture footage of the actors. The material appears in the lower right corner of the screen, and it lets us view the performers in their original state. I don’t know if I really want to view 90+ minutes of this, but it’s interesting to check out the actors at work.
In addition, “Behind the Carol” includes a commentary from writer/director Robert Zemeckis. He mostly concentrates on subjects connected to performances and animation, but he also discusses music, character design, lighting, shooting in 3D, adaptation notes, editing and camerawork, and some other production areas.
Though a bit dry at times due to the emphasis on technical elements, Zemeckis offers a generally interesting discussion. I’d like to hear more about the why of the project - ie, why make the 993rd version of Carol? – but at least Zemeckis digs into the “how” side of things well. He covers the various topics in a satisfying way that makes this a worthwhile commentary.
Two featurettes ensue. Capturing Dickens: A Novel Retelling goes for 14 minutes, 43 seconds and includes notes from Zemeckis, UC-Riverside Associate Professor English Literatur Susan Zieger, producers Jack Rapke and Steve Starkey, motion capture supervisor Gary Roberts, stunt coordinator Garrett Warren, director of photography Robert Presley, and actors Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman, Cary Elwes, Sammi Hanratty, Bob Hoskins, Colin Firth, and Jacquie Barnbrook, who also hosts. The show looks at the decision to make another version of Carol and adapting the original, motion capture techniques and performances, animation, and general thoughts. “Retelling” takes a decidedly fluffy tone, but it still manages to produce some good information. It’s especially nice to hear from the actors as they discuss what it’s like to shoot mo-cap.
On Set with Sammi runs a mere one minute, 52 seconds. It shows young actor Hanratty as she goes through her time on the set. Nothing of great substance emerges here, but we see some decent behind the scenes bits.
Six Deleted Scenes last a total of eight minutes, 39 seconds. These include “Tattered Caroler” (0:52), “Stew and Swine” (1:51), “Hearse” (1:21), “Small Matter” (1:40), “Belle’s Family” (1:49) and “Clothesline” (1:06). Most offer minor bits of filler, but I like “Family”, as it expands nephew Fred’s character a bit.
Exclusive to Blu-ray, a “Countdown to Christmas” Interactive Calendar offers kids a way to get excited for the holiday. They’re supposed to come onto the Blu-ray everyday from December 1 through 25, click on the appropriate date, and experience a little treat.
A very little treat. For the effort, all we get are short CG shots of toys and other gewgaws. I suspect kids might enjoy the first couple of days but then they’ll tire of this nonsense.
A few ads open the disc. We get clips for Bambi, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Tron Legacy. These also appear under Sneak Peeks along with promos for ABC Family’s “25 Days of Christmas”, The Search for Santa Paws, DisneyNature Oceans, Fantasia/Fantasia 2000, The Incredibles and Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2. No trailer for Carol shows up here.
Finally, a second platter provides a DVD Copy of Carol. If you want to own Carol but aren’t yet Blu-ray capable – or if you just want one to tote in the car - it’s a good bonus. Note that this is the standard DVD you’d buy on the shelves, not some emasculated barebones one; it includes a good selection of extras.
Disney’s A Christmas Carol provides a flawed version of the story. Robert Zemeckis adapts the tale well, gives it a satisfying dark side and moves it along well with his direction, but his decision to use ugly motion capture animation robs it of some impact; the visuals simply remain too ugly and unnatural to allow the viewer to really dig into it. The Blu-ray comes with good picture and audio as well as a fairly positive collection of supplements. If the motion capture animation doesn’t bother you, this is a solid purchase; others should probably rent before they take the plunge.