Elf (2003)
New Line Home Entertainment
Cast: Will Ferrell, James Caan, Zooey Deschanel, Mary Steenburgen, Bob Newhart , Ed Asner
Extras: Infinifilm, Commentary Track, Deleted Scenes, Behind the Scenes, Games and More

There are three types of Elves. Those who make shoes, those who make cookies in a tree, and then there are the special elves who work all year round making toys for all the good girls and boys. But on one particular Christmas Eve while Santa (Ed Asner) was delivering presents to an orphanage, a small baby crawled into Santa’s bag of gifts and was taken to the North Pole. Surprised to see the baby, an elderly elf by the name of Papa Elf (Bob Newhart) accepts the responsibility of raising him as his own son. But as Buddy (Will Ferrell), the elf, began to get older he soon realized that he really didn’t fit in with the other elves.

Learning that Papa Elf wasn’t his biological father, Buddy journey’s to New York City to re-united with him. Unfortunately on his arrival to The Big Apple Buddy soon finds out why his father (James Caan) is on the Naughty List and that the world has lost most of its Christmas spirit.

With the help of a beautiful department store elf (Zooey Deschanel) Buddy is determined to bring the joy of Christmas and the belief of Santa Claus to his father, Friends, and the world.

"Elf" is a wonderfully hilarious warm-hearted Christmas story from popular director/actor Jon Favreau. Not only is this one of the best family films in years. But it is also refreshing to see something completely original outside of the typical Christmas tales we’re used to seeing year after year. Will Ferrell brings his incredible talent as one of today’s top comedic actors to the entire film. When Jon Favreau cast-called for this film, Will Ferrell must have immediately come to mind. I can’t think of any actor outside of Jim Carrey that could have brought this amount of childish, innocent humor to the screen. Not surprisingly, he did, and left not only myself, but most of the world with a joyful smile. It didn’t hurt that "Elf" also grossed a massive worldwide total of around $220 million. Considering the film cost $33 million to make with an additional $25 in marketing costs, I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone at New Line had a very merry Christmas last year. (Remember too that "The Return of the King" also opened just after that)

Now New Line Home Entertainment is releasing a DVD that will please everyone this holiday season. Not only is "Elf" presented in its <$PS,widescreen> theatrical aspect of 1.85:1 on disc 1 but for those poor souls who unfortunately still prefer a <$PS,fullframe> edition you’ll be happy to know that they placed it on disc 2.

"Elf" looks spectacular. New Line and LaserPacific Media have done a wonderful job. Being the case that this is a Christmas story, the entire film is filled with gorgeous colors that contrast with the white bleak surroundings of New York. The trademark green coat and yellow tights that Will Ferrell wears look great on screen. Not a single trace of bleed or de-saturation is present anywhere. And speaking of colors, flesh tones are perfect. Because this film is predominately shot in brightly lit environments, the lighting brings out all the natural tones in the actors faces. And as far a detail goes, edge enhancements are kept at bay helping maintain a true film-like appearance and helping bring out all the many details throughout the film without giving it a forced artificial look. Close up shots with Ed Asner, as Santa Clause, reveal all the details in his beard as well as the wrinkles in his face. By the way I should mention that Ed Asner was born to play Santa. And the climax of the film, which takes place in Central Park during the night, looks simply stunning. Black levels are crisp and solid. The vibrancy of colors between Santa’s red sleigh and Buddy’s green/yellow outfit are never lost during this portion of the film. By separating the two versions onto two separate discs, New Line did the right thing enabling more space on each disc for this kind of a transfer. Top notch once again.

The <$DD,Dolby Digital> <$5.1,5.1 mix> found on the release is equally good. It’s not dynamic like say, another large family film, Harry Potter, but it does what it needs to do correctly. Dialog is strong and always clear. Because there’s so much humorous dialog between many of the characters it’s important to make sure it comes off naturally and distinguishable. Two dialog scenes that had me laughing in stitches were a sequence involving Buddy and a store manager of a big New York department store. The "No it’s not! Yes it is" rant between both actors is simply hilarious. The other involves Buddy discovering that the hired department store Santa isn’t the real Santa. Just try to listen to the clarity I describe. It’s difficult in all the right ways. The musical score is wonderful and fits into the context of the film. But in the end most of the sound is kept in the front portion of the soundstage. Rarely do the surrounds get use and forget your sub. Besides an action sequence near the end, these are two areas in the mix that are lacking but it doesn’t take away from enjoying the film.

"Elf" has been released under New Line’s Infinifilm label. So expect all the informative pieces of information and video clips that are associated with the Infinifilm features. And for those who’ve never taken advantage of an Infinifilm feature, just turn on the feature in the menu and while you’re watching the film really cool sections of information will appear throughout the film pertaining to that scene. It’s like "Pop-Up Video" but more informative. A must watch for fans. And also make note that an added feature called "Fact Track" is also available which is a subtitle track that plays along with the Infinifilm feature – sadly for some reason it seems to have replaced "real" subtitles, which are sorely missing form this release.

Next up is an <$commentary,commentary track> with Director Jon Favreau. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to listen to it quite yet so I have no comment. Jon Favreau is an interesting guy so I’m sure he has some great things to say about the film. And for those that don’t know who Jon Favreau is, he was on "Friends." He’s the guy who played a millionaire, software company owner and dated Monica. You don’t watch "Friends" you say? Shame on you! J

And what a disappointment "Elf" would be without a <$commentary,commentary track> by the man himself, Will Ferrell. Again I haven’t had the chance to listen to it but it has to be hilarious. It is most definitely a priority on my list of things to do this week.

Eight Deleted/Extended Scenes are available with optional commentary from Favreau. The first scene is an extension of Buddy’s life at the North Pole and it’s very funny. It was cut only because of the film’s length and a little bit of playful violence with the other elves but it’s still very funny. There is one technical scene involving a conversation with Bob Newhart and Will and I’m amazed by how they pulled it off. Most of the other scenes are longer cuts of scenes that were shortened for the film. Again all of these scenes are worth watching and the commentary is great.

"Tag Along with Will Ferrell" is the first of 5 featurettes featured on this disc. Will takes us through the various routines he does throughout the making of the film. Ranging from his hair and makeup in the morning, to setting up a scene, it’s a great behind the scenes perspective from Will. "Film School for Kids" is a 20 minute behind-the-scenes documentary about the making of the film. Jon Favreau, writer David Berenbaum and a host of other crew give their thoughts about the film. Again I like the fact that Favreau and everyone else go into quite a bit of detail describing the filming process of making "Elf".

"How They Made the North Pole" is another feature that takes you through the process of creating The North Pole. Production designer Rusty Smith talks about his involvement in creating the most unique set piece of the film. Other members of the art department and construction team are interview as well. "Lights, Camera, Puffin!" is a short feature talking about the stop motion animation that is used earlier in the film. You can’t have the North Pole without some stop motion animated characters like Frosty the Snowman and other whimsical animals.

"That’s a Wrap…" is the post-production phase of the film, which took about 9 months to complete. This involves editing, composing the music and all the numerous other bits that are involved in finishing the film. Just like every other feature this is great. Some of the trick editing techniques are shown and really bring you further into the film. A fascinating feature found on the release is called a "Film Dictionary." It’s not a feature but an 11-page text section of the disc that explains a lot of the terms used in the film industry. It’s quite fascinating if you have a love for movie making.

"Beyond The Movie" is a section on the second disc featuring the last 4 features. Most of these are filler and didn’t need to be on the release, which is probably why they have been relegated to the <$PS,fullframe> disc, which many viewers will never even want to touch.

"Kids on Christmas" is a collection of answers from various children about questions like "Who is Santa?" "Where Does Santa Live?" and so on. It’s not very interesting in my opinion, but your mileage may vary. "Deck the Halls" is another small feature again with interviews from random folks throughout the U.S and the elaborate Christmas decorations they decorate their homes with. Again the features on disc one are really where the meat and potatoes are. "Santa Mania" is another short feature that focuses are various people who play Santa in reality. I didn’t know there was a Surfing Santa and after finding out I didn’t care. "Christmas in Tinseltown" thankfully is the last feature on this disc and it’s basically self-explanatory. Hollywood and Christmas. That pretty much sums it up.

The All Access Pass section feature the Theatrical Trailer and a Music from Elf spot.

And last but not least are the widely advertised Games that are on disc two. Sorry, but they stink. I have yet to find a game on a DVD that’s actually entertaining. What we have to choose from are basically Elf Karaoke, Read Along & Buddy’s Adventures. All great for kids but the novelty of them wear off almost immediately and adults won’t find anything interesting at all to participate in. Basically if you want all the good features, stick with disc one and don’t even bother throwing in disc two unless you want to watch the trailer.

All in all "Elf" is a must own film. It’s great fun for all ages and for fans that love to dig into the making of a film, New Line has done their homework with "Elf". The use of their Infinifilm feature would have been plenty, but the fact that they give a list of great extra features on disc one makes it that much better.

"Hey little buddy. Where’d you come from? Ahhhh!! I only wanted to give you a hug!"