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DreamWorks presents
Surviving Christmas (2004)

"Folks, my firm's done a tremendous amount of market research and we've discovered two critical things. One, most Americans feel that Christmas is a time for family. Two, most Americans feel that in order to stand being around their family, for even one or two days, they need to swill as much alcohol as humanly possible."
- Drew Latham (Ben Affleck)

Review By: Nate Meyers   
Published: January 17, 2005

Stars: Ben Affleck, James Gandolfini, Christina Applegate, Catherine O'Hara, Josh Zuckerman
Other Stars: Bill Macy, Jennifer Morrison, David Selby, Stephanie Faracy, Sy Richardson, Stephen Root
Director: Mike Mitchell

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content, language, a brief drug reference
Run Time: 01h:30m:34s
Release Date: December 21, 2004
UPC: 678149195224
Genre: comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C- D+C-C C-

DVD Review

While watching Surviving Christmas, it occurred to me that we've come a long way since George Bailey discovered life is worth living and little Natalie Wood learned to believe in Santa Claus. The problem is, we've moved in the wrong direction. Not that long ago, perhaps even just ten years, Christmas movies were always nice, heartwarming tales with a good message for the whole family. Now, in the age of Bad Santa, they are becoming nihilistic, crass, and unrewarding.

The tone of Surviving Christmas is set during the opening credits, which features a variety of horrific depictions (such as a grandma committing suicide). The story centers on Drew Latham (Ben Affleck), an eccentric millionaire who has just broken up with his girlfriend (Jennifer Morrison). Now he must face Christmas alone, but is terrified to do so and returns to the house he grew up in. Once there, however, he meets the Valco family. Initially the father, Tom (James Gandolfini), is violently opposed to Drew's existence; but after Drew offers him $250,000 in exchange for allowing him to become their adopted son during the Christmas week, the Valcos take him in. This is not a good time for the Valcos, however, since Tom and his wife, Christine (Catherine O'Hara), are in the midst of separating and their son, Brian (Josh Zuckerman), spends his whole day looking at porn on the internet. Things get even more complicated when Alicia (Christina Applegate), the Valcos' daughter, arrives and Drew's heart begins to throb.

What I have just described above is the basic outline to one of the most predictable and uninteresting movies of last year. Despite being an annoying, imposing jerk, Drew will come to teach the Valcos just as much about family as they will him. Wow, I didn't see that one coming. There are a few laughs towards the beginning, such as when Tom vents his anger at Drew in a snowball fight by throwing iceballs (something us northern Midwesterners know all too much about). However, any bit of comedy is offset by the constant referencing to masturbation and pornography. Have we as a society become so vulgar that we can't simply put such things off to the side for a Holiday movie? Probably, but what is even worse is that Surviving Christmas is not funny. The direction, by Mike Mitchell, and the screenplay are flat and uninspired.

Even more uninspired are the performances. Ben Affleck is in a major slump right now, but until now I had placed all the blame on Jennifer Lopez. After seeing his work here, however, it's safe to say he just isn't doing a good job acting. He's over-the-top and nearly mindless at times while delivering lines (especially during the initial encounter with the family). What is even sadder is how a major talent like Catherine O'Hara gets stuck in a movie like this. All of her abilities are wasted on dreadful dialogue and a character that is barely distinguishable from the sweaters she wears. Not even Christina Applegate, of whom I am a fan, makes a good impression. Only James Gandolfini comes off well, but it's to no avail.

Maybe I'm just spending too much time focusing on the negatives, but it's hard not to when watching something like Surviving Christmas. There are other good Christmas movies out there, such as The Polar Express, but it seems things are moving more towards this new kind of "holiday cheer" than that of old. To this I say, "Bah, humbug!"

Rating for Style: C-
Rating for Substance: D+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - P&S
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: On a regular TV the anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer looks fine, but on a HD 16:9 screen it looks weak. The resolution is low and the opening scenes have a very washed-out image. If this washed out look was consistent with the rest of the movie I would conclude that it is due to the source material, but things get remarkably crisper in the later scenes. Contrast is just average, with blacks being somewhat noisy. Skintones are accurate, though, and colors come through fine. Still, a disappointing transfer. There also is a 1.33:1 pan-and-scan transfer of the movie.

Image Transfer Grade: C-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
English, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is also lackluster. The surrounds get a brief workout every once and a while from the music, but otherwise they are silent. Thus, the front heavy sound mix is spread across the front sound stage without a lot of separation. Dialogue is always clear, but it isn't a very engaging mix. There is also a French Dolby Digital 5.1 mix.

Audio Transfer Grade: C


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Terminal Video and DVD, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy Video and DVD
1 Deleted Scenes
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: Prior to the menu playing, the video and DVD trailers for The Terminal and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy play in nonanamorphic widescreen.

Actual extras pertaining to Surviving Christmas begin with the HBO First Look featurette on the movie (11m:32s). It's what you would probably expect from these things, with interviews of the cast and director talking about how much fun they had making it and how much of a joy those around them were. There isn't much here that is revealing about the production, so it amounts to just being a promotional piece. Following that is an alternate opening sequence for the main titles. It is actually fairly similar to the one already on the movie, but has a few more suicide bits in it. Oh joy! Finally, there is a storyboard gallery of select scenes from the movie, such as the skiing scene and opening credits. It's a fairly uninspired set of extras.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

Surviving Christmas is a dreadful comedy any way you slice it. The image transfer on this DVD is surprisingly weak and the sound mix is also substantially less than exceptional. The extras are pretty modest, making this a definite skip in my book.


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