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The Twelve Days of Bits-Mas!
Blu-ray Disc review by Barrie Maxwell of The Digital Bits

Fred Claus (Blu-ray Disc)

Fred Claus
2007 (2008) - Warner Bros.
Released on DVD and Blu-ray on November 25th, 2008.

Film Rating: C
Video (1-20): 18.5
Audio (1-20): 9
Extras: B

Dolby Digital

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Ho... Ho-ho. Thus does the baby Santa Claus utter his first words, and in a fairy-tale background with his beaming mother (Kathy Bates), father, and older brother Fred looking on, it's a truly amusing moment. Unfortunately, it's the high point of Fred Claus - a Christmas film starring Vince Vaughn and Paul Giamatti that first appeared theatrically in time for last Christmas, and has now made its way to Blu-ray from Warner Bros. in time for this one.

The film relates the tale of Santa's lesser-known brother Fred (Vaughn), a repo man who struggles to make a living and looks for the big score by starting up a gambling establishment. The only problem? He needs $50K to get the property he needs and decides to hit up his brother Santa (Giamatti) for the necessary. For once in his life, however, Santa tries a little tough love and only agrees to help out if Fred will come to the North Pole and assist the elves with the pre-Christmas rush. Once there, Fred is like a bull in a china shop, inadvertently sabotaging the smooth-running routine, and thus playing into the hands of an efficiency expert (Kevin Spacey) who has also come to Santa's workshop with the intent of shutting Santa's operation down if it isn't up to snuff.

The film's basic premise is a promising one and much of the film's mechanics are well executed by director David Dobkin, particularly in the evocation of the North Pole and the toy-making assembly line with its myriad elves. The images are richly satisfying in terms of their colourful design and in their overall wish fulfillment. The film also relies on a significant special effects component, the best example of which is the marriage of actor John Michael Higgins' face and the digital body of a little-person sized elf. It helps too that Higgins really nails his portrayal of the chief elf, providing both a humanity to his character as well as a genuinely amusing personage.

Where the film fails is in its lead roles. Vince Vaughn (who with Fred Claus and now this year's Four Christmases seems to think he's become the go-to Christmas guy for the 21st century) applies his fast-talking Wedding Crashers-type schtick to his Fred Claus role and gives us a hyperactive and generally non-sympathetic Fred. On the other side, Paul Giamatti's Santa is similarly non-sympathetic but also just sort of dumb. Little in evidence is the sort of humanity that at least Santa if not his brother too should radiate. When the two of them resort to a silly snowball fight at one point, the film reaches its lowest ebb and you just feel that neither deserves to survive the obstacles in their paths.

The Blu-ray Disc 2.4:1 image at least looks very impressive. It's very clean and offers a level of detail that is eye-popping at times. The colour is accurate and richly saturated. Less satisfying is Warners' decision to offer only a Dolby 5.1 track rather than adhering to a policy of lossless tracks on its hi-def releases. Mind you, the film's mainly dialogue-driven audio and its modest use of the surrounds probably aren't greatly compromised by that decision.

The disc's supplements are highlighted by an entertaining and informative audio commentary by the director and about 25 minutes of deleted scenes. Three mediocre featurettes (although presented in high definition) totaling about 30 minutes provides some EPK-like coverage of the film's production. Other additions of note are two separate discs - one a digital copy of the film and the other a DVD game touted as a Blu-ray exclusive.

The bottom line - not the "holiday classic" touted by some, and at most worth a rental for the Christmas season.

Barrie Maxwell
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