Saturday, December 27, 2014

"Scrooged" (1988)

I have long heard how amazing the Christmas Carol adaptation staring Bill Murray is. So I was quite excited to finally see “Scrooged” this year. Now, it does rank somewhere around the ten-spot on my all-time best Christmas Film List, but one has to consider the caveats. First, I have only ever seen around 20-25 films that are squarely in the “Christmas Film” category. Second, easily half of those would be considered terrible.

“Scrooged” is far from terrible. We are, after all, working with a truly transcendent source story. However, there are several things that could count against “Scrooged” in my opinion.

1. The production values and overall “feel” are not what I expect from a Donner film. It feels thrown together. It feels like a TV production. (Perhaps because it is all about TV production?)

2. It waters down the message of Dickens’ story. Murray is a young man, and his transformation is not bitter sweet as Scrooge’s. Also, the great sin here is not selfishness or a lack of humanity, but crass commercialism. It has a narrower criticism. And, when we get to the big lesson at the climax, most of the power is removed from the story. In Dickens’ story, we see Scrooge change, set things right, and, hear how things get better. Here, we just have a (bit of a bumbling) speech.

3. The comedy style of “Scrooge” is out of step with the story they are trying to tell. Not that comedy wouldn’t work in “A Christmas Carol.” Here, the problem is the nature of the comedy. Murray was at the height of his cynical, sarcastic wit. The problem is that the message of this story is earnest, and the sophomoric atmosphere here belittles that message.

All of that said, “Scrooged” does stick to the basics of its material. And it does so in an interesting way. In doing so, however, it opened my eyes to a reality I had not fully realized. At its heart, “A Christmas Carol” (and most other Christmas films for that matter) is not a Christian story. Oh, it is a moral tale, but not a story directly addressing or influenced by the Gospel. It could just as easily be an argument to be a better person coming from a humanist perspective. At most it can be considered Christian in an allegorical sense. (And, since no films telling the nativity story are amongst my favorite Christmas films, or even amongst the Christmas films I have seen, that same sad truth applies to all of my theatrical length holiday film viewing.)

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