Light holiday fare that's amusing, if not flawless, "Elf" became an enormous hit during last year's holiday season. The result had Will Farrell's popularity rocketing up after his previous hit, "Old School". "Elf" often gets laughs, but director Jon Favreau and writer David Berenbaum sometimes get a little off-track or go a little too sentimental.
The story is pretty simple: Buddy the Elf (Will Farrell) snuck into Santa's bag as a child, getting a trip out of the orphanage. Raised by Papa Elf (Bob Newhart), Buddy grew up fast and became twice the size of the other elves. Eventually, Buddy's father reveals what really happened, leading him to visit New York City to seek out his real father (James Caan).
Obviously, Buddy has a lot to learn when it comes to interacting with humanity, given that his interactions have previously been limited to the other elves at the North Pole. Stumbling into a job working at a department store, Buddy manages to inject the Christmas spirit into the place, while catching the eye of a fellow worker (Zooey Deschanel).
Unfortunately, things with his father start off...well, frosty. Walter (Caan) is a publisher who skimps on costs for children's books. Obviously, he doesn't respond well to a large man in a green suit and yellow tights who claims to be his long-lost son. Buddy's been told the name of Walter's long-ago girlfriend (and his mother), though, and when he reveals it, a part of Walter begins to believe.
"Elf"'s core is Farrell's performance, which is generally very good. While the comic does seem noticably a bit restrained by the PG rating, there are a lot of little brilliant moments scattered throughout the film. Although I was never really much of a fan of the comic when he was on "Saturday Night Live", he's really honed his timing since then, and his delivery seems sharper. Passing by a restaurant that proclaims the "world's best cup of coffee", Buddy peeks his head in and offers his congratulations. When his department store boss points out the store's North Pole, it turns into a "No, it's not", "Yes, it is" issue. When running into a department store santa (Artie Lange), he whispers, "you sit on a throne of lies." The supporting performances are also fun, such as Deschanel as the somewhat cynical love interest, and Newhart's dryly funny Papa Elf.
"Elf" does get a little bogged down at points, such as with Walter's search for an idea to save his publishing job, but thankfully, there aren't too many stretches that get bogged down in sentimentality. The film isn't terribly original and it's rather predictable, but "Elf" is well-acted, often fun and Farrell really carries most of it well, pulling out some solid laughs.
VIDEO: "Elf" is presented in 1.85:1 (1080p/VC-1) on Blu-Ray by Warner Brothers. While the film's cute set design and NYC visuals are pleasant viewing, I suppose I still didn't expect the film to look as good as it does on Blu-Ray. Sharpness and detail are - with a couple of minor exceptions - pretty remarkable, as everything from Santa's beard to the texture of Buddy's outfit all appear quite crisp and clear. The picture also boasted a considerably more three-dimensional feel than the DVD offered.
While a light hint of grain was seen at times, the picture otherwise looked smooth and clear, with no edge enhancement, pixelation or noise. A few minor specks were seen on the print used, but the print used otherwise looked as fresh as the first snow. The film's festive color palette remained bright and vivid, with nice saturation and no smearing or other faults. Black level remained strong throughout the film, and flesh tones looked accurate. This was a clear improvement over the DVD.
SOUND: "Elf" is presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1. The film's audio has a couple of moments of surround use, such as a scene early on at the North Pole, but otherwise conforms to expectations for a dialogue-driven "comedy mix". The majority of the audio comes from the front speakers, but the sound is spread across the front soundstage nicely, with full-sounding music and clear dialogue/sound effects. The Dolby TrueHD presentation offers somewhat warmer-sounding music and a bit crisper, more natural-sounding dialogue.
EXTRAS: Two audio commentaries are offered: one with director Jon Favreau and the other with star Will Farrell. Some expectations come with a commentary from someone like Will Farrell, and the actor largely does a decent job with the track. Although he does tend to narrate the movie at times, he does offer a good deal of insights on playing the role and what attracted him to the project. He also offers some interesting tidbits about the production and how some scenes were achieved. However, I noted before that there's expectations for a Will Farrell commentary and I'm guessing many are expecting loads of laughs. Surprisingly, Farrell is pretty straightforward here, but he does have some good insights to offer.
Jon Favreau's track is similarly enjoyable and informative. The director discusses working with the actors (Deschanel's singing bits were added after the director found she was a singer), talking about coming up with some of the funny bits in the picture and some technical tidbits. Both of the commentaries are fine and worth a listen, but I think it would have been fun for both Favreau and Farrell to be paired together on a track and bounce ideas off each other instead of each having their own commentaries.
The deleted scenes section offers 8 deleted scenes, which mostly seem like extended bits that could be lost for improved pacing. There's a fairly amusing hockey sequence at the North Pole, though. The deleted scenes have optional director's commentary.
Following the deleted scenes is a "making of" documentary, which can be played as separate bits or a nearly hour-long whole. Although I was a little skeptical at the prospects of an hour-long look at something like "Elf", this turned out to be an amusing and enjoyable piece. The first part of the documentary is mainly focused on following around Farrell, who discusses his approach to trying to play the film's comedy, and takes us through some moments of his day on the set.
The main portion of the documentary focuses on life on the set. We visit with crew members like the make-up artist, the assistant directors, costume designer, the director, the cinematographer, the producer and others, who discuss their role on the film. Towards the end, we are also offered a lot of information about the post-production process (editing, visual effects and sound.) The documentary overall is a very nice mix of fly-on-the-wall on-set footage and informative interviews. I didn't expect much from this piece, but it's a really solid effort that doesn't "promote" and gives a great tour of the production.
Next are two features that viewers have the option to play along with the film. There is the focus points option, which allows viewers to jump to brief featurettes and other information about the scene, then be taken back to the film. There's also a subtitle fact track, as well as a series of featurettes geared more towards kids - "Kids on Christmas", "Deck the Halls", "Santa Mania", and "Christmas in Tinseltown" run a total of a bit over 30 minutes. Also included is "Elf Karaoke" for a few songs.
Final Thoughts: "Elf" is a tad predictable and occasionally a bit sappy, but Farrell offers a fine performance and the film does keep the laughs going at a good rate. The Blu-Ray carries over much of the bonus content from the prior DVD release and offers improved audio and video quality. Recommended.
The Film B