Miracle on 34th Street (1947)(Fox Home Entertainment, 11.21.2006)
Miracle on 34th Street may be the definitive Christmas movie. While it lacks the dramatic punch of It's a Wonderful Life and the autobiographical specificity of A Christmas Story, this wildly original Christmas fairy tale simultaneously subverts and re-enforces every Christmas stereotype. Walking the delicate line between Christmas-as-religious-holiday and Christmas as an excuse to go shopping and celebrate the holiday's secular cast of characters, Miracle on 34th Street uses Santa as a metaphor for religion and belief-in-Santa as a metaphor for blind religious faith. Since the movie ultimately portrays those who doubt the existence of Santa Claus -- and, by extension, God -- as naive, it might seem that the film is making the same argument about atheists. Deliberately or not, the film actually winds up drawing a far more provocative and even somewhat moving conclusion.
The film's metaphorical chain ultimately suggests that belief-in-God is a symptom of childish fantasy and we should tolerate those who believe in this kind of bizarre, patently unreal invention because it allows them to transcend the mundanity of everyday life. This accepting, inclusive, and far-reaching message ultimately makes Christmas meaningful to everyone: Christians, atheists, Jews, Muslims, etc. Of course, it could also be argued that the film's metaphysical Santa trial is religious in nature -- like the trial in Inherit the Wind -- and designed to argue the existence of God. But would any real believer in God use Santa Claus, who's only slightly more realistic than the Tooth Fairy, to prove their point?
Chances are, if you're a real Miracle on 34th Street fan, you already picked-up the previous edition when it was released on DVD in 1999. 2006 has been a big year for Fox DVD upgrades -- Patton, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, 9 to 5, Romancing the Stone, and many others received new-and-improved DVD editions -- and they rarely disappoint. But could a movie from 1947 really feature enough new content to warrant the double dip? The answer: yes and no. On one hand, as the DVD cover suggests, this release is simply an excuse to cash-in on black-and-white phobia by making the notorious colorized version available on DVD. In other words, disc one makes a terrific mirror, coaster or Christmas ornament.
The real merit of this release is found on disc two, which includes the black-and-white version of the film -- the real film -- and several new features. Some of these are worthwhile and some are frivolous but, by any standard, Fox has done a good job assembling the available materials. Like many other Fox special editions, the highlight is an episode of AMC Backstory, which reveals the film's entire production history in an engaging twenty-two minutes (as usual). Less essential features include a Fox Movietone News clip, a featurette entitled "Macy's Thanksgiving Parade: Floating in History," a promotional short/trailer (which was on the old DVD), a poster gallery, and the complete TV re-make from 1955.
Most of the features make for entertaining holiday viewing, but the last feature, a commentary by co-star Maureen O'Hara, is a major disappointment for several reasons. This is the first commentary I've ever seen with a disclaimer about excessive dead air and at times I almost forgot that I was watching a commentary. In fact, this is really a series of interview excerpts, not a screen-specific commentary. It's not clear why Fox would include a gap-filled commentary, rather than a feature running the length of the actual interview content, but that's what we get.
Even worse, on the rare occasion that O'Hara speaks, she comes across as an endlessly self-promoting egomaniac (sample line: "and may I say in self praise that many of the movies I have made are in top positions in the world."). She constantly praises herself and occasionally even denigrates the work of others, which takes some of the fun out of the otherwise festive proceedings. Still, this is an enjoyable disc, celebrating a rare Christmas treat. -- Jonathan Doyle