Monday, December 24, 2012

Year One. Day Twenty-Four: "A Christmas Carol" (1951)

Day Twenty-Four of my Advent Christmas Carol Challenge:

"A Christmas Carol" (1951)

It's Christmas Eve and the final day of my challenge, which means it's time for the daddy of them all. The Alastair Sim version of the novella, which is regarded by pretty much everybody as the greatest adaptation of them all.

With good reason too. Alastair Sim IS Ebenezer Scrooge here. His portrayal of the old miser is a complex one, at first hideous and proudly arrogant, then slowly growing shameful of his ways and surprised to discover that he still has a heart.

The supporting cast of character actors are uniformly excellent, and even though some of them are a little hammy (Jacob Marley...) this only adds to charm of this very traditional, theatrical adaptation.

The film is extremely faithful to the book, but more importantly, it is made with such a great affection for it that is missing from so many of the half-arsed versions that have come after it.

Talking of later productions, it is interesting to see just how influential this version became. So much of the imagery of the tale, from Scrooge's counting house, to his bedroom, to the reformed miser throwing open the window of his house, look the way they do because this film depicted them so.

Of course, Scrooge's redemption is the highlight of the film. Sim plays it with such abandon, it is inconceivable that this is the same man who we began this story with.

The finest production of what is easily the greatest story ever written.

As festive as Christmas Day itself.

"A Christmas Carol" (1951) 5/5


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Year One. Day Twenty-Three: "A Christmas Carol" (1910)

Day Twenty-Three of my Advent Christmas Carol Challenge:

"A Christmas Carol" (1910)

This silent film adaptation of the novella is believed to be the earliest surviving film version ever made, (although two were made before, both are thought to have been lost.)

It is an interesting prospect to watch a silent version of the story. So much of the spirit of the adaptations I have seen so far depend upon the unforgettable dialogue to capture the spirit of Dickens' work.

Marc McDermott plays Scrooge - a once staggeringly prolific Australian actor who would go on to feature in over 180 films. It's hard and perhaps unfair to judge his performance, as silent film acting is so different to acting nowadays. However, he was very popular during his career so presumably he was doing something right.

The film utilises some very early special effects for the ghosts, which was surprising and very welcome to see, and the version I watched had some enjoyably jaunty music to accompany it.

The film runs at a breakneck 10 minutes, meaning that there's no chance for any real depth to the tale. However, it is clear that this adaptation was not really meant to tell the story, as it is far too brief to properly explain it; it is more a way of filming the novella for those who already knew it (who, much like today, would have been most people.)

While it has nothing to offer that other versions did not do better, it is still an irresistible viewing experience to see a film that is over a hundred years old, and for that reason it is more of a historical curio than a classic version of the story.
As quiet as a Silent Night.
"A Christmas Carol" (1910) 3/5

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Year One. Day Twenty-Two: "Mickey's Christmas Carol" (1983)

Day Twenty-Two of my Advent Christmas Carol Challenge:

"Mickey's Christmas Carol" (1983)

This made for video version of the classic tale is something of an ensemble piece. While Scrooge McDuck (who else) is our Ebenezer, he is joined by virtually every Disney character you could imagine (circa 1983)

I've never had much time for Mickey Mouse, finding him a tiresome character with no personality, so I was rather pleased to find out that despite the title, he plays only a secondary role in this story, as Bob Cratchit. With Pluto, Jimminy Cricket and others being given more screen time.

As with everything that comes from Disney, there is a certain slickness of production which was missing from all other animated versions I have seen so far, (except perhaps the 2009 version, which was so slick as to be inhuman) and the animation is charming and detailed.

However, at a miniscule 21 minutes, it has to race through the story at such a speed that it never has time to pause for breath. It does not help either that almost half of the running time is taken up by the time before the first ghost appears.

This version has none of the broad appeal of the House of Mouse's finest works and ultimately feels only worth recommending to Disney completists.

As brief as a jig at the Fezziwig's Christmas party.

"Mickey's Christmas Carol" (1983) 2/5

Friday, December 21, 2012

Year One. Day Twenty-One: "Scrooge" (1935)

Day Twenty-One of my Advent Christmas Carol Challenge:

"Scrooge" (1935)

After adaptations featuring the Smurfs, the Muppets and the Flintstones over the previous few days, it was quite an enjoyable change to return to another traditional version of the tale.

This 1935 British version is the earliest film of the story made with sound. It stars Seymour Hicks in the lead role - an actor who has now become almost forgotten, but was once one of the most famous actors in the country.

Decent prints of this movie seem to have been lost to time, but the grainy, saturated image in the version I found seemed to work somewhat in its favour. The streets of London have never looked more miserable or quite so bleak, and at times, the figures shuffling about the place looked like little more than shadows. How much of this was artistic intention rather than a product of a diminished print is anyone's guess, but I rather appreciated it.

Hicks is a rather peculiar Scrooge. Perhaps it is thanks to later versions of the film that we now have such a firm grasp upon how Scrooge must look and act, because in this version he is almost a vagabond. Scruffy of hair, dishevelled of clothes whilst shuffling around the streets looking like Lon Chaney's Phantom of the Opera.

If this film is remembered at all, it is often only thanks to the very unusual decision to not show us many of the ghosts. Marley is invisible, the Ghost of Christmas past is always off screen and Christmas Yet to Come is only the shadow of a finger. Only Christmas Present is seen in full (though not for long.)

The absence of these ghosts is greatly missed, as is the huge swathes of the story this version omits, including the entirety of Scrooge's childhood (and a great deal of his present.)

There is a sense of melancholy to the film that sets it apart from the others and the score and visuals help set the mood. But a lacklustre central performance and too many liberties taken with the source material mean that there is very little here worth recommending.

As bleak as a midwinter when frosty winds made moan.

"Scrooge" (1935) 2/5

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Year One. Day Twenty: "The Smurfs Christmas Carol" (2011)

Day Twenty of my Advent Christmas Carol Challenge:

"The Smurfs Christmas Carol" (2011)

Further proof, if it were even needed that "A Christmas Carol" is the worlds most elastic story - in that it can be stretched into any form conceivable, comes in the form of this direct-to-DVD Christmas special.

I was never much of a fan of the Smurfs. There was nothing about them I ever found particularly loathsome, they simply never captivated me as a child. However, I was somewhat intrigued to see how this version would play out nonetheless, as at only 22 minutes, it is the shortest adaptation I have seen so far.

Grouchy Smurf is the only Smurf in town who refuses to make merry on Christmas Eve, much to the ire of the rest of the Smurfs.

With the help of some ghost-poisoned tea (yes, that is correct) Grouchy is spirited away from his computer generated 3D home, to a traditional 2D cell animation version.

From then on it's business as usual, with three ghosts showing him the error of his ways, with a few digressions, including a lot of nonsense involving hats and ending with the total destruction of the Smurf Village.

The problem with adaptations of this story that are set within the continuity of a running series, is that characters are never really allowed to change too much, therefore their redemption can't be too grand and their miserly ways can't be too awful. This is precisely the case here.

Grouchy Smurf is mildly reformed by the end of the story, but not so much that the next time we see him, he will be in any way changed.

The animation, especially the cell animation, is charming and the voice acting is fine, but it's impossible to get too excited about a version such as this, in which every effort seems to have been made to ensure that it never becomes anything greater than mediocre.

As uneventful and forgettable as Christmas day with Jacob Marley.

"The Smurfs Christmas Carol" (2011) 2/5

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Year One. Day Nineteen: "A Flintstones Christmas Carol" (1994)

Day Nineteen of my Advent Christmas Carol Challenge:

"A Flintstones Christmas Carol" (1994)

My first thought upon hearing about this adaptation of the story was, why are The Flintstones staging an adaptation of a book written in the 19th century? Of course, I was then struck with the question of why the modern stone age family were celebrating Christmas at all...

Anachronisms aside (and seriously, the Flintstones features dinosaurs, so I wasn't expecting rigorous prehistoric accuracy,) this version takes the "play-within-a-play" format, that has been borrowed/stolen from Mr. Magoo. However, it works quite nicely in its own right.

The story follows the fortunes of Fred Flintstone, who has been cast in the role of Scrooge for Bedrock's annual Christmas play.

So obsessed is he with perfecting his role, he grows selfish and arrogant. Throughout the course of the play, Fred learns the true meaning of the story and how he should stop being so mean.

The cartoon is light and cute. The animation itself is Hannah-Barbera, so there's obviously a certain lifelessness to it all, but yet again, I found myself taken aback by the faithfulness it demonstrated towards its source material.

Aside from using most of the dialogue, the costumes appear to be based upon the original illustrations. It's always nice to notice these details, as it suggests that this was a version made with deep affection for the original story.

On top of that, we have concepts that very few child-orientated animations would deal with today, including death and poverty, which are played exactly as Dickens intended - utterly seriously. Most surprisingly of all comes a subplot featuring allegations of infidelity, which helped remind me just why The Flintstones was noted for having such wide appeal to the whole family.

As merry making as Bob Cratchit's Christmas day.

"A Flintstones Christmas Carol" (1994) 3/5

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Year One. Day Eighteen: "The Muppet Christmas Carol" (1992)

Day Eighteen of my Advent Christmas Carol Challenge:

"The Muppet Christmas Carol" (1992)

In the interests of full disclosure, I must confess that this is the only version of the story I have seen before - however, that was many years ago and my memory of it was in need of a refresher.

For many, this adaptation of "A Christmas Carol" is regarded not just as one of the greatest Muppet movies, but one of the finest versions of the story ever made.

Michael Caine is on Scrooge duties for this film, and while he's an actor I have never been especially fond, his understated performance in the role is one of the many highlights of the film.

A handful of other humans litter the charmingly made Victorian London streets, but this film rightly knows that it's the Muppets we are here to see, with all the favourites playing the classic roles, Kermit as Bob Cratchit, Miss. Piggy as his wife and Fozzie as Mr. Fozziwig (!) among others.

There are a few songs scattered around the place, most of which are very nice, if a little forgettable and none come close to the almost operatic excesses of the near perfect "The Great Muppet Caper"

A welcome addition to the story is Gonzo playing the role of Dickens himself, which works as a means to have the great man narrating his own tale, while having to scale walls, slide down chimneys and fly over the rooftops of London in order to keep up with the action of the story.

This means that the script remains incredibly faithful to the original version, including oft forgotten details such as The Ghost of Christmas Present aging (and eventually dying) throughout the course of the evening.

It also allows for some lovely dedications to Dickens himself, my favourite being him sitting on a shelf beside the busts of the greatest authors in the history of the world.

As lovingly crafted as a Christmas dinner with all the trimmings.

"The Muppet Christmas Carol" (1992) 4/5

Monday, December 17, 2012

Year One. Day Seventeen: "Miracle at Christmas: Ebbie's Story" (1995)

Day Seventeen of my Advent Christmas Carol Challenge:

"Miracle at Christmas: Ebbie's Story." (1995)

Just two days after reviewing a modern day retelling of the "Christmas Carol" story, with a woman in the lead role and produced by Hallmark, comes another.

The big difference this time around, is that this version is absolutely wonderful.

Scrooge, now somewhat unimaginatively renamed "Elizabeth 'Ebbie' Scrooge" is portrayed by Susan Lucci - a woman best known to Americans as the leading lady of daytime TV, thanks to her role in the soap opera, "All My Children."

Quite simply, she is marvelous. Her understanding of the character is utterly in the spirit of Dickens' creation.

She is miserly and unkind, she is selfish and greedy; but most importantly, unlike the other three productions I have seen where a woman takes the lead role, her greatest failing isn't just that she's a bitch (at least two of these productions have subtly seemed to hint that women in business will ultimately turn into shrews, and really should have just married that man they fell in love with years ago instead.)

The script too, is quite masterful. In a way it is almost a word for word rewriting of Dickens' lines, with contemporary references in place of Victorian ones, meaning that the story is actually one of the most faithful I have seen so far.

Lucci's performance as Scrooge is incredible. Initially it seemed that she was playing the character as too cruel, to the extent that it would be hard to find sympathy for her. However, very subtly, her characterisation changes, until the end where I was literally weeping for her.

Yes, there are moments of saccharine emotion as you would expect from the Hallmark channel, but even these seemed to fit in perfectly - after all, it was Dickens himself who first had Tiny Tim singing a carol at the Christmas table, not this movie!

This version of the story took me completely by surprise and by the end I was utterly bowled over by it. I expected this movie to be yet another mediocre, made-for-TV production and instead, was left wondering if this was possibly the greatest adaptation I had seen so far.

As joyous as running through the snowy streets of London in your nightgown.

"Miracle at Christmas: Ebbie's Story" (1995) 5/5

Year One. Day Sixteen: "Scrooged" (1988)

Day Sixteen of my Advent Christmas Carol Challenge:

"Scrooged" (1988)

Bill Murray is in charge for this inexplicably popular modern retelling of Dickens' Tale.

I've never understood the appeal of Bill Murray, and this movie is certainly no means to help explain it. As always, Murray's performance is either completely flat, or forced hysteria, with nothing but glimpses of awkward embarrassment when he tries for anything in between.

He is joined by a bunch of particularly obnoxious ghosts in his quest for redemption, along with a handful of very forgettable characters that are given nothing to do but roll their eyes as they take abuse.

The plot is easily the most messy and confused I have seen so far. The story is no longer about Scrooge's rehabilitation, but a series of unfunny, noisy and empty skits, interrupted by shrill and underwritten time travelling ghosts.

Worst of all, Murray's final redemption does not turn him into a better man, or even a more interesting character, he instead becomes a lunatic, having a public breakdown on live TV and then not doing anything to properly rectify his past misdeeds.

Considering I had heard such great things about this film, from people whose opinions I trust, I was severely disappointed.

As hilarious as dead Tiny Tim's chair and crutch beside the fireplace.

"Scrooged" (1988) 1/5

Year One. Day Fifteen: "A Carol Christmas" (2003)

Day Fifteen of My Advent Christmas Carol Challenge:

"A Carol Christmas" (2003)

Direct from Hallmark TV comes this Tori Spelling vehicle. While the terms "Hallmark" and "Tori Spelling" may not promise much, this adaptation surprised me by being... not terrible.

Despite what people may say, Tori Spelling is actually a great actress when she's doing this lightweight, throwaway fluff.

She plays the "Carol" of the confusing title; a hard nosed talk show presenter, who bullies and mistreats her production crew, until one afternoon (yes, afternoon - this version is inexplicably set entirely during the day) she takes a nap and is visited by the ghost of her deceased aunt Marla.

There's fun to be had with the celebrity ghosts, (Gary Coleman, William Shatner) and the whole thing is well meaning enough.

Unfortunately, it seems to have been filmed entirely in a single corridor and a dressing room, which gives the whole production a very cheap, very rushed feel.

As snappy and forgettable as a Christmas cracker.

"A Carol Christmas" (2003) 2/5

Year One. Day Fourteen: "A Christmas Carol" (1984)

Day Fourteen of my Advent Christmas Carol Challenge:

"A Christmas Carol" (1984)

I came to this version with a lot of questions that needed to be answered. According to Wikipedia, this adaptation of "A Christmas Carol" is regarded by many as the greatest version ever made.

Could it really be that good?

Could a film that has written new scenes for the story work?

Could one of the greatest ever characters of British literature REALLY be played by an American?

The answer is yes, yes and very definitely YES! In fact, I would go so far as saying that this is the greatest adaptation of the novella, and the greatest central performance I have seen so far.

George C. Scott was an actor I was unfamiliar with, (an oversight I shall remedy forthwith,) but his characterisation of the famous miser absolutely knocked my socks off.

His Scrooge is a complex being. Sometimes comically villainous, sometimes socially awkward and uncomfortable in his own skin, but above all else, he is an ultimately tragic figure. He is a man who is all alone in the world, and in a way, he is the greatest victim of his own selfishness - as even the destitute and the stricken at least have somebody to love them.

Using classic "show, don't tell" techniques of storytelling, this adaptation includes a handful of moments that were not used in the original story.

Rather than clomp over the memory of a much loved book, these scenes are actually expansions of small asides and narrative digressions that have been fleshed out into full scenes and manage to work remarkably well.

The sets, the costumes and the cast are all uniformly excellent and the final scenes of Scrooge's epiphany are so beautiful as to be almost unbearable to watch. More than any other Scrooge performance I have seen to date, we CARE about this miserable, selfish man, and we want to see him become a better person.

As Dickensian as a snowy Christmas in London.

"A Christmas Carol" (1984) 5/5

Year One. Day Thirteen: "Bewitched: Humbug Not to be Spoken Here" (1967)

Day Thirteen of my Advent Christmas Carol Challenge:

"Bewitched: Humbug Not to be Spoken Here." (1967)

This Christmas episode of "Bewitched" is the first I have ever seen. Thankfully, I had an American on hand to give me an adequate commentary.

 This is a very, very loose retelling of the tale, but the heart of the story remains intact. This time around, the good witch Samantha plays the role of "Ghost of Christmas" and takes it upon herself to redeem a belligerent miser on Christmas Eve.

Despite veering wildly from the text (and sometimes, playfully riffing on it,) the story follows the spirit of the tale and remains testament to the excellence of Dickens' book that it can be so freely adapted, and still shine through as identifiably his story.

The characters were cute and well played, and the whole thing has that gorgeous sense of '60's innocence that American TV used to do so well.

As spicy and as cosy as a glass of mulled wine by an open fire.

"Bewitched: Humbug Not to be Spoken Here." 3/5

Year One. Day Twelve: "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol" (1962)

Day Twelve of my Advent Christmas Carol Challenge:

"Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol." (1962)

A fair few of my British friends are likely to be just like me as far as Mr. Magoo is concerned - in that, we have no idea who or what he is.

For those out of the know, Mr. Magoo is a human cartoon character with poor eyesight and this 1962 Christmas special has become something of a tradition for many American families.

The tale itself is surprisingly faithful to the original text, despite switching the order of the ghosts around. This time, it takes a play-within-a-play format, bookended by Magoo arriving for his latest sell out performance on Broadway, where he plays the role of Ebenezer Scrooge himself.

From then on, it's an all singing, all dancing spectacle of charming animation and superior voice work.

The Cratchit's Christmas lunch stood out for me as one of the best versions I have ever seen of it, and was accompanied by such a sweet song that I found myself welling with tears.

While some of the jokes may have been lost to a newbie such as myself, this version is easily the greatest animated adaptation of the story I have seen so far.

Here's that gorgeous song about having a Christmas without stuff, but having so much more instead:

As unexpected and delicious as a turkey as big as me.

"Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol" (1962) 4/5

Year One. Day Eleven: "A Christmas Carol" (1971)

Day Eleven of my Advent Christmas Carol Challenge:

"A Christmas Carol" (1971)

This animated version of the classic tale is best known for starring Alastair Sim, who many people regard as the greatest Scrooge ever in his 1951 live action version.

This cartoon comes from the days where people were pushing the limits of imagination in traditional animation, and as such, it's quite the most gorgeous animated film I can remember seeing. Not only is Victorian London captured in all its wintry beauty, but the descent of Scrooge is vividly realised.

There is a reason why this version has become so popular with festive stoners, as the imagery on screen is so wildly abstract that at times it seems to have come from the mind of a deranged animator.

To everyone's surprise, this made for TV version was given a brief cinema release in the US and subsequently went on to win an Oscar.

While the visuals are strong, the story is brief (only 25 minutes,) and as such has to rush through the action at such a breakneck speed, it never has time to properly sink in.

Alastair Sim is brilliant, of course. Which makes viewing his seminal version all the more exciting (Christmas Eve awaits for that one!)

As short and as depressing as the ghosts of Ignorance and Want.

"A Christmas Carol" (1971) 3/5

Year One. Day Ten: "A Christmas Carol" (2000)

Day Ten of my Advent Christmas Carol Challenge:

"A Christmas Carol" (2000)

Patrick Stewart takes the reigns in this adaptation, and his performance is both brilliant and everything that is wrong with this made-for-TV production.

Stewart is a GREAT actor and he has become famous for his one-man performances of "A Christmas Carol" - and it really shows, as his version of Scrooge is so theatrical it doesn't really fit on the screen.

Scrooge is portrayed as an almost Shakespearean character here and played without laughs or satire, which in a way, completely misses the point of him. He is supposed to be almost comically villainous and as soon as he is played straight, his character becomes very hard to believe.

However, there are some very nice touches in this adaptation. During the Christmas Present sequence, we are shown a montage of struggling people breaking out into Christmas carols; from inmates of a debtors prison; to sailors on a stormy sea; to miners marching in line as they venture underground. It's a truly moving scene of Christmas giving hope through hardships and one which is rarely adapted from the source material.

Sadly, Scrooge's redemption moment is completely botched. The scene of him realising that he is alive and awoken from his sleep, is one of the most bizarre, hammy and embarrassing pieces of acting I have ever seen. Is he having a stroke? Is he having a heart attack? Is he having an orgasm?

You can check out Stewart putting the ham in humbug here:

As much of a missed opportunity as dear, poor Belle.

"A Christmas Carol" (2000) 3/5

Year One. Day Nine: "Ba, Humduck! A Looney Tunes Christmas" (2006)

Day Nine of my Advent Christmas Carol Challenge:

"Ba, Humduck! A Looney Tunes Christmas." (2006)

Seeing as I was mid flight on the way to Florida (and on very little sleep,) I allowed myself to enjoy a version of the story that would ask very little of me. It did the job wonderfully.

As with all the Looney Tunes cartoons, the animation is sharp and impressive but the script it where it really shines - witty, full of puns and always enjoyably mean spirited.

Daffy Duck is our Scrooge for this tale, while the rest of the regulars play the supporting roles as employees in Daffy's supermarket.

While it varies greatly from the original text, the same old elements are all in place (greed-ghosts-generosity,) and I was surprised that they actually presented the ghosts in the way they were depicted in the original book.

As fruity and as naughty as Mrs. Fezziwig's Christmas pudding.

"Ba, Humduck! A Looney Tunes Christmas." (2006) 3/5

Year One. Day Eight: "An American Christmas Carol" (1979)

Day Eight of my Advent Christmas Carol Challenge:

"An American Christmas Carol" (1979)

As the title would suggest, this time around Dickens' story has skipped across the Atlantic and is now set during that time of cruel economic inequality, the Great Depression.

Perhaps taking the term "depression" a little too far, this version of the tale is quite easily the bleakest, greyest and drabbest I have yet seen. It is also, by some margin, the angriest version so far.

Henry Winkler is playing Scrooge, (renamed Slade this time around), and he handles the role quite brilliantly - even if his layers of prosthetic makeup give him the appearance of a wax figure of The Fonze that got damaged in a fire.

All the hallmarks you would expect of the traditional tale are here, but each is given a uniquely American spin, so much so that the story fits beautifully with the time and location.

What sets it apart is that this version is told with none of the humour of previous adaptations, and asks us to be genuinely appalled, not just by Slade and his miserly ways, but of Henry Hoover, capitalism itself and that very specific brand of selfishness that still permeates a great deal of American politics today.

Another unique aspect is the ending of this film. There is never truly a sense of euphoria about Slade's redemption, in fact, because he himself may be selfish, but is at the same time not tremendously wealthy, he can only do so much with his money.

It's an interesting twist, and one which means that there are no quick fix solutions for any of the characters. Slade can try his best, but there is never any guarantee of a better future. Moreover, while he struggles to do the right thing with his wealth, it is his new sense of compassion that is likely to go much further.

As bleak and haunting as a night with The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

"An American Christmas Carol" 4/5

Year One. Day Seven: "Blackadder's Christmas Carol" (1988)

Day Seven of my Advent Christmas Carol Challenge:

"Blackadder's Christmas Carol" (1988)

It goes without saying that this version of Dickens' tale is not one to slavishly labour over the original's plot.

This time around, everyone's favourite historical miser is played by Rowan Atkinson as "Ebenezer Blackadder," who is in festive spirits for the season. In fact, it is claimed that Blackadder is the kindest man in all of England; so kind that Tiny Tom has grown obese from all of the food he is constantly receiving as charity.

Of course, this being a Christmas special of the superb British sitcom, a retelling of the story was never going to be straightforward, in fact, it's a complete inversion of it.

On the night of Christmas Eve, Blackadder is visited by the Ghost of Christmas, and through visions of his past, present and future, he comes to learn that he wasted his life on being good, and has received nothing in return, so instead opts to be evil and reap the benefits.

Classic British telly doesn't come much better than this, so much so that you'll yearn for the days when Christmas TV was able to assemble a cast of actors as well known and talented as we find here.

As nasty and as dark as Scrooge's counting house.

"Blackadder's Christmas Carol" (1988) 4/5

Year One. Day Six: "A Christmas Carol: The Musical" (2004)

Day Six of my Advent Christmas Carol Challenge:

"A Christmas Carol: The Musical" (2004)

For some, now seemingly unfathomable reason, I had high hopes for this production, (or should I say Great Expectations? Ho hum!) but I was proved very wrong indeed.

Kelsey Grammer is doing Ebenezer this time around and his performance is nothing short of atrocious. For some reason, I had assumed he would be able to handle the accent, yet it is all over the place, wandering all across the nation and occasionally skipping all the way over to Australia.

He is completely one note throughout the course of this story. We never feel any sympathy for him and even his redemption is blackened by a streak of miserableness in his performance.

The songs, which seem to go on forever are, with only one exception, completely forgettable and utterly useless. Rather than further the plot, it is as if all storytelling stops for five minutes while everyone sings something that is only tangentially related to what is happening, before resuming the story as if nothing occurred.

The other curious thing is how un-dickensian it all looks. Every room is huge and vibrantly lit in pastel shades. Even the Cratchits appear to be living in a mansion.

It had never occurred to me before just how much narrow streets, cramped offices and gloomy bedrooms had become so much part of the Dickens aesthetic, that it is jarring to be without them.

This is the only version of the story I have seen (so far) where I was actually rooting for Scrooge not to be saved, but to die along with Tiny Tim. It is that bad. So bad in fact, I have had to allow myself to go one lower with my scoring, to best express my revulsion.

It would almost be acceptable to enjoy this production as a "so-bad-it's-good" experience. However, life is short, and there are too many great adaptations of this story to enjoy before you waste your time with this one.

As fetid as the bloated corpse of Ebenezer Scrooge.

"A Christmas Carol: The Musical" (2004) 0/5

Year One. Day Five: "Christmas Carol - The Movie" (2001)

Day Five of my Advent Christmas Carol Challenge:

"Christmas Carol - The Movie" (2001)

In every way, this low budget, British animated version of the story, is every bit as dreadful as the motion-capture monstrosity I suffered through a couple of days ago. The difference is that it is terrible in a completely different way, and considering the talent involved, hugely more disappointing.

Simon Callow is on Scrooge duties this time around, with Kate Winslet playing the role of Belle (and to accommodate her, the part has been massively expanded.)

What is so odd about this version is that Simon Callow is actually in it. He has become famous across the world for his Dickens readings and portrayals of him on film and TV; yet, rather than use him to create a truly great, traditional, animated version of the story, he has to do his best with a weird, rewritten and completely flat script that for the first ten minutes, I thought I was actually playing the wrong movie, as it had so little do with the novella.

The writers of the film have decided to do away with 90% or more of the original dialogue and for some reason thought that they could do a better job at writing the story. This can't have been due to considerations for modern audiences understanding it, as it's still written in a faux Dickensian style.)

The great cast most likely believed they were signing on for an authentically Dickens adaptation, as I cannot imagine how else you would convince Michael Gambon, Jane Horrocks and well... Nicholas Cage to otherwise do it, (perhaps less so, Cage...)

The British can do traditional animation, but when it works best, it is when it makes use of its limited budget ("Watership Down", "The Plague Dogs") to create atmosphere. Instead, the barely moving characters in this version look poorly drawn, ugly and completely lifeless.

As a side note, this version was responsible for the utterly charming song "What If" by Kate Winslet. If this movie is remembered at all, it should be remembered for that beguiling tune:

As grotesque and as miserable as the ghost of Jacob Marley.

"Christmas Carol - The Movie" (2001) 1/5

Year One. Day Four: "A Diva's Christmas Carol" (2000)

Day Four of my Advent Christmas Carol Challenge:

"A Diva's Christmas Carol" (2000)

For today's movie, the role of Scrooge is played by Vanessa Williams, (who has been fabulously renamed "Ebony Scrooge.")

Scrooge is now a Diana Ross-esque diva who forces her beleaguered stage crew to work on Christmas day, and help her promote her new album.

While staying at a hotel in New York, she is visited by Marli, her former band mate who died several Christmas Eves previously.

That Kathy Griffin plays the Ghost of Christmas past, should give some indication of just how camp this production is, and while it never takes itself seriously at all, it pulls off a pretty satisfying ending.

This has been the first all out comedy version of the story I have seen so far, and I was surprised how well it worked

Vanessa Williams is a terrific mixture of self-pity and all out bitchiness, right up until the end, and the film manages to be both incredibly imaginative with the source material and also very faithful to it.

As fun and fabulous as a party with the Fezziwigs.

"A Diva's Christmas Carol" (2000) 3/5

Year One. Day Three: "A Christmas Carol" (2009)

Day Three of my Advent Christmas Carol Challenge:

"A Christmas Carol" (2009)

Straight from the uncanny valley comes this utterly repellent version of the story.

Using motion capture animation, Jim Carrey portrays Scrooge and several other characters, and does so in a way that is so somehow both hammy and half-arsed.

The animation technique means that everyone looks extremely sinister at all times, with dead eyes lolling about in their heads as they try to emote.

It is impossible to root for any of these creatures as we cannot connect with them as humans. They are simply too odious to look upon with any sympathy - it is like watching a live action version of the film in which all the actors are wearing rubber masks of themselves.

For a movie that is supposed to be a story of a man finding his soul, it is a disaster if all of the characters look so completely soulless.

The ending is a total cop-out too. Rather than enjoying the redemption of Scrooge, the film tries to avoid all of the excessive sentimentality of the book by going for a slight finale. I'm sorry, but if you don't want to be sentimental, you really shouldn't be directing an adaptation of "A Christmas Carol"

As expensive and depressing as Tiny Tim's medical bills.

"A Christmas Carol" (2009) 1/5

Year One. Day Two: "Scrooge" (1970)

Day Two of my Advent Christmas Carol Challenge:

Today it was time for "Scrooge" from 1970 and starring Albert Finney.

Somehow I had managed to get through my life without ever seeing this movie, but had heard only good things about it. It turns out that everybody was completely right!

Albert Finney is extraordinary! It is near impossible to imagine that it is the same man playing the young and old Scrooge (or that the old Scrooge is played by a 36 year old!)

The songs are terrific, the performances are universally brilliant and the sets look as if they were drawn by George Cruikshank himself.

By the time the big finale comes round (and this time the finale is HUGE) I had more than a little tear in my eye and immediately wanted to find a bunch of snow and just dance around in it, (dressed as Father Christmas, of course.)

As warm hearted and loving as a kiss from Belle.

"Scrooge' (1970): 5/5

Year One. Day One: "Barbie's Christmas Carol" (2008)

Day One of my Advent Christmas Carol Challenge:

Today I watched "Barbie in A Christmas Carol."

I had very low expectations of this one, to say the least. The animation was serviceable, as was the voice cast, but the movie had to jump through so many hoops to ensure that "Mattel Product Barbie", as Scrooge wasn't a total bitch, (instead, Barbie plays the role of Eden Starling/Ebenezer Scrooge, rather than IS him.)

However, the story is not badly told and young girls will probably enjoy it, depending on their tolerance for Barbie and huge quantities of pink on screen at all time. There are also some fun references to other Dickens books, which I appreciated.

I was surprised to find myself a little touched by the ending - but that is certainly because "A Christmas Carol" is one of those unsinkable stories that is almost impossible to get wrong!
As Gentle as being tucked into bed by Mrs. Cratchit. 

Barbie in a Christmas Carol: 2/5