A modest success upon its theatrical release in 1983, A Christmas Story has since become a holiday classic. Based on the memoirs of Jean Shepard, specifically his 1966 novel In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash. As the narrator, Shepard describes growing up in 1940’s Indiana. As a fan of 1988 sitcom The Wonder Years, it seems likely that the creators were inspired by Shepard’s story and narration style.

The film focuses on bespectacled nine-year-old Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley) and his family. Told as a series of small snippets in his life during the weeks leading up to Christmas. Ralphie wants only one thing for the big day, a Red Ryder 200-shot range model air rifle. Despite constant warnings of “You’ll shoot your eye out,” he’s determined to acquire his dream Christmas present. Amid this, Ralphie’s friend Flick (Scott Schwartz) gets his tongue stuck to a frozen flagpole, a “major award” won by his “Old Man” (Darren McGavin) arrives, Ralphie and his buddy deal with the constant bullying of Scut Farkus (Zach Ward), visiting Santa  and more.

The plot is simple but it’s undeniably charming. There’s a sense of reality in everything that happens. Everyone who celebrates Christmas can remember wanting that one gift. The ups and downs of the holiday season can be exhausting for a kid, just waiting for Christmas day. Wisely, the story never drowns itself in the syrupy cuteness that pervades so many Christmas movies made today. Despite the obvious cynicism, a natural warmth comes through. For instance, while “Old Man” occasionally displays thinly layered disdain for his family, its obvious he cares for them deeply.

Darren McGavin is a standout as “Old Man.” Never sliding into parody, he puts all his energy into his characters worldview. The result is a crusty but likable guy. A middle-class businessman, he’s also a bit of a Mr. Fixit, whose skills are questionable. Nonetheless, flat tires and never-ending furnace issues give him ample occasions to show his prowess.

Peter Billingsley is perfectly cast as Ralphie. Hyperactive yet lovable, he completely believes he can outsmart adults (Don’t most kids believe that?). His wide-eyed expression is unforgettable. Years later, Billingsley’s acting resume is spotty, but he seems happy to be known as Ralphie (As of this writing, Peter Billingsley has returned as Ralphie in the recently released A Christmas Story Christmas.) It’s impossible to imagine any other child in the role.

Directed by Bob Clark, best known for horror films like Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things, Black Christmas and teen gross-out comedy Porky’s, A Christmas Story is a bit of a surprise. Nonetheless, Clark manages to shoot the film, so it looks and feels like the 1940’s. His attention to detail is appreciated, as is the warm and slightly fuzzy cinematography.

When Christmas does arrive, it’s a rush of nostalgia. The controlled chaos that happens—wallpaper flying as packages are ripped open is completely relatable. So, too—at least for some of us—are the ugly pajamas. A Christmas Story is timeless fun for the entire family. It encompasses everything that makes Christmas memorable for a child.

A Christmas Story has a hazy quality to it that occasionally makes it look a bit soft in 4K. Shot in the early 1980’s, its safe to assume the filmmakers never considered its high def appearance. Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the image is largely satisfying, despite instances of softness. Colors are decidedly low key but seem appropriate and natural. Occasional instances of brighter hues are pleasing. Blacks seem inky and full. Shadows are clean and clear. Assisted by HDR, contrast extra oomph. The print is clean. This 4K transfer is an obvious upgrade from the Blu-ray.

The DTS-HD MA monaural soundtrack is fine but doesn’t match the successes of the video. Considering the films 1940’s setting, dialogue is clean and concise. The limited effects in this character driven piece are fine. Fine describes this entire track. The score comes through nicely, but nothing about it is particularly notable. However, this track shows more range than is heard on the previous Blu-ray release.

English SDH, French, Spanish and Dutch subtitles are available.

Along with a Digital HD copy, the following special features have been ported over from previous releases:

4K UHD Disc: (Film and Special Features)

  • Audio Commentary: Featuring director Bob Clark and actor Peter Billingsley.

Blu-ray Disc: (Film and Special Features)

  • Audio Commentary: Same as above.
  • Christmas in Ohio: A Christmas Story House (HD, 21:15)
  • Another Christmas Story (HD, 18:18)
  • Daisy Red Ryder: A History (HD, 5:18)
  • Get a Leg Up (HD, 4:35)
  • “Flash Gordon” Deleted Script Pages (HD, 3:11)
  • The Leg Lamp Spot (HD, 0:49)
  • Jean Shepherd Original Radio Reading (2 clips, 68:57 total)
  • Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2:10)
4K UHD Review: A Christmas Story

Movie title: A Christmas Story (1983)

Director(s): Bob Clark

Actor(s): Melinda Dillon, Darren McGavin, Peter Billingsley, Ian Petrella, Scott Schwartz, R.D. Robb

Genre: Family, Comedy, Holiday, Period

  • Movie
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras