A brief history: in 1966, the president of New York’s WPIX (Channel 11) decided to give his viewers a Christmas “gift”: a film of a log burning in a fireplace, accompanied by holiday music, for the many Manhattan residents who lived in apartments and didn’t have fireplaces of their own. The program ran every year, sometimes on Christmas Eve, sometimes on Christmas Day (and sometimes both), from 1966 to 1989, then again from 2001 up to the present day. Growing up, I loved turning on the TV either that night or the next morning and seeing the log burning; it brought some odd sense of comfort to me, with its old-time traditional feel. I’m ridiculous enough that I actually keep all four hours on my TiVo throughout the year (mostly just to drive my wife nuts in July), but believe it or not, there are huge fans of the program faithfully watching this same six-minute loop along with me every year.
So when Screen Dreams Publishing (which unfortunately kind of sounds like a porn company) pitched their latest disc to Popdose — Living Fireplace Volume 2, filmed in glorious high-def and released on both DVD and Blu-ray — I knew I had to have it. Could it possibly replace the original Yule Log, thus freeing up four hours (and 7.5 GB) on my TiVo? (Don’t you dare judge me.) The answer is…no. But for all normal people out there — those who don’t have four hours and 7.5 GB of Yule Log on their TiVo — this disc is a nice background addition to your holiday party.
Living Fireplace Volume 2 features 21 different “scenescapes” — different fireplaces — for viewing. There’s four scenescapes in the “Holiday” section, five in “Traditional,” six in “Modern” and four “Close-Up” fireplaces. I imagine most people who buy this disc will want to use the “Holiday” option, so let’s talk about that one first. The holiday option offers fireplaces with various accoutrements surrounding it — you can have a Christmas tree, some candles, some nutcracker soldiers — but the video quality in this section is a mixed bag. A couple of the fires appear to have been shot on video rather than film, giving an unprofessional, “hyperreal” quality that doesn’t exactly feel natural — or at least doesn’t fit with what we’re used to seeing with most traditional professional shows and movies. The third option, featuring the fire, candles and nutcrackers all in one shot, is the best one — though I prefer just a fire without the “trimmings,” this picture has some depth to it thanks to the added items.
Still with me?
The “Traditional” setting features different types of fireplaces, so you’ve got your brick fireplace, your stone fireplacem a fireplace surrounded by a black grate, and my favorite — a fireplaces surrounded by small shiny tiles. Yes, if you desire A Very Yuppie Christmas for 2009, this is the one for you.
The “Modern” setting has more scenescapes than any other setting, but for my money, you can skip over all of these. There’s an option to watch stones on a gas fire instead of wood, and I can’t figure out why that’d be appealing to anybody whatsoever. Furthermore, at least three are surrounded in computer-generated “frames.”
Finally we come to the “Close-Up” portion of the disc, and these four scenescapes are the best of the bunch. Only one of them suffers from the hyperreal quality discussed earlier — the rest are nice close-ups and are really what you’re looking for in a virtual fireplace. (Hang on a second, I need to verify that I actually wrote that last sentence. Yup, I did.)
In addition to the video, Living Fireplace Volume 2 (which, by the way, leads me to wonder what I’d find lacking in Volume 1) provides eight different musical selections to play in the background, in addition to sounds of a crackling fire. The audio, across the board, is actually fantastic: there are three Christmas options (classical, a little more contemporary, and jazz) and general background music options, such as classical guitar (yay!), smooth jazz (boo!) and piano, to name a few. The sound on the Blu-ray disc is rich, crisp, and pleasant.
There’s an “Extras” portion of this disc, which really just features some credits and advertisements for other DVDs. This bummed me out. I was hoping for outtakes. You know, a house catching on fire, some naked guy wandering into frame to stoke the fire, Director’s Commentary…but sadly, no. I did, however, find out that the fires were filmed in southern New Jersey. Not sure what to do with that information. (Field trip?)
So what can I tell you? If you’re the kind of person that likes scenery on your television, Living Fireplace Volume 2 is going to work just fine for you, as might their many other disc options (Living Butterflies?). The moments where the loops reset themselves are a little sloppy and it’s obvious some of the logs are fake, but the music is enjoyable and most of the images are nice to look at. However, if you have access on Christmas morning to the original Yule Log, that should be your first stop. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a fire and some Percy Faith waiting for me on my TiVo.Special thanks to Bill Hall, who I coerced into critiquing this disc with me.