Christmas Story, Christmas Vacation, Elf & Polar Express 4K Review: It’s a Wonderful 4K Life

Warner Brothers’ four Christmas movies really take you through the years. You’ve got the beginning and end of the ‘80s (one being a period piece at that), the new millennium essentially still being modern day and a new technology that’s already been surpassed. Let’s go in chronological order.

A Christmas Story is 1983 doing the ‘40s and the film looks spectacular with a coat of snow over all the streets. Nighttime scenes with Christmas lights really show off high dynamic range from patches of darkness to bright and colored lights. The roadside “Oh fudge” scene makes the night pitch black

Interiors look Depression era brown and full of grain. The leg lamp glows against this setting. Higbee’s department store is a bright colorful scene and Christmas Day if full of multi-colored wrapping paper.

The flagpole looks extra nasty in 4K regardless of freezing your tongue to it. The fantasy sequences are softer than the main film, with a rounded off frame.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation opens with the animated titles that are as stunning as Disney movies. It’s Kroyer Films doing the animation. 

Most of the film takes place in the Griswold house but it’s sharply clear. The Christmas tree lights stand out with bright red and green. Even the exterior of the house, on the studio lot, captures the winter snow cold, even if it’s fake. At night, the excessive Griswold light display really shines. 

When they go into the city, Christmastime Chicago looks great. The opening road chase as they drive to get their Christmas tree stands out the most like a little Fast and the Furious opener. 

Elf opens in the North Pole fanstasy land. The forced perspective sets look real and still sell the illusion that elves are small and Will Ferrell is huge. The elf uniforms are actually rather muted, but still distinct  green, red, yellow and blue colors against the gray wood. 

Then he comes to 2003 era New York which essentially still looks like the modern day real world. And that’s the joke: This whimsical Will Ferrell character in the stark real world. The Santa (Ed Asner) finale flying through New York on a snowy night looks great in 4K though. 

I haven’t seen The Polar Express since it was in theaters. 4K does no favors for the primitivy, glassy, dead-eyed animation. 

But. like most animated movies, the detail and color crafted into the film is exponentially more vivid, warts and all. With CGI, lighting is the most impressive, so the headlight of train and the glow of the coal engine here. But PS5 games look more real now. 

The train scenes are cold and blue inside and out. But the North Pole explodes with color. This is the only film of the four to have major surround sound effects. Elf had a bit with the Santa finale.