Thursday, November 3, 2011

"A Christmas Carol" Film Reviews Updated - Here's a Guide to Help You Choose


Hopefully in this posting you can find which Christmas Carol is the most accurate to Charles Dickens original vision so you can have plenty of time to get your favorite version of this wonderful movie.
The links provided for each movie are for the DVD or Blu-Ray.
And, just so you are aware I have recently located two silent versions of which I plan to purchase. When I do I will add my review to this post.
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'A Christmas Carol.' Is there any other story that epitomizes what the modern day Christmas celebration is all about? And who would have thought this very English fable written over 150 years ago would be every bit as alive today here in the 21st century United States as it was in 1843 England when first published? Gerald Charles Dickens, great great grandson of THE Charles Dickens, was quoted as saying,  
"The 'Carol' is 10 times more popular in America than it is in England. In England, the 'Carol' is just a story. In America the 'Carol' IS Christmas."
Because many of my friends know I am such a fan of this wonderful Christmas tale, every year I receive numerous inquiries asking about my favorite filmed version. So a few years ago I posted here on 'Passion for the Past' my reviews that I had originally written on Amazon.com - I put them altogether in one posting. Well, I'm repeating the post again this year, only with the addition of the latest filmed version of the story and some changes in my other reviews. Not that my opinion means squat - it's just my opinion. But, I do hope that it helps you decide which version you may want to watch this year - hopefully, you'll get a chance to see at least one of 'em (besides the Muppet version, which too many feel is the only one they need to see).
Or better yet, read the original book!
Are you ready then? Here we go - - - - - ............

The one with Seymour Hicks as Scrooge - 1935:
This is better than one might think for 1935.
However, I feel that they could have come up with better spirits than a light, a shadow, and a voice. I also feel that Scrooge's reformation comes on a bit too fast. He was clearly already a changed man before the Ghost of Christmas Past was finished with its job. And, I have to say that Scrooge's former love, Belle, seemed to be quite the motherly type - we counted at least 14 children from her post-Scrooge marriage!
Now for the pluses: the sets were terrific! Very authentic - I wonder if they were actually filmed in original period structures? The Cratchit's home is perfect for their status, as was the home of nephew Fred. And the showing of Tiny Tim's body lying in state in the Cratchit home gives realism that a few of the other more popular filmed versions haven't touched. Also, seeing Mrs. Cratchit pull out the pudding from the laundry tub gave this that extra bit of authenticity rarely seen anywhere else.
The addition of Queen Victoria celebrating Christmas was unique.
Unfortunately, the quality of the print is not as good as it should be. It's not horrid but not what one is used to from a remastered disc. I am guessing that the original print is long gone. But, it's much much better than the VHS version.
All in all, not bad for its age. Mr. Hicks gives a fine rendition of Ebenezer Scrooge that is nearly as good as the others.
A worthy DVD, especially if you are a collector.

The one with Reginald Owen as Scrooge - 1938:
A nice, short, light-hearted family version of the Dickens classic. Good for the kiddies to introduce them to this great story. But for the purist, it has its shortcomings. First of all, it deviates frequently from Dickens original story - right from the opening scene in fact. And there is little "spirit" here. For instance, Marley just speaks his part instead of wailing it as one would think a tortured specter would. Bob Cratchit is a bit too portly to be believably poor in my opinion. And, I'm sorry to say, Kathleen Lockhart over-acts. Watch her as she sets the pudding down on the table. Also, Reginald Owen becomes converted just too darn quick to believe that he is supposed to be this mean, crusty old sinner as he's supposed to have been. He's been reformed before the second spirit completes his task.
Another complaint is there is more telling of the story here than actually portrayed. Sort of like a Reader's Digest condensed version. Too bad the script writers wrote so many of their own scenes and changed Dickens' own 'staves,' too (this does happen to an extent through virtually all of the filmed versions, unfortunately, but none as much as this).
I will say this, though, until the one made by Disney in 2009, this was the only version I had seen that explains about the Cratchit's goose being cooked at the bakery, to be picked up at an appointed time on Christmas Day. Many poor people in Victorian England did just that since their homes had too small of an oven or no ovens at all.
All in all, this is probably my least favorite. For the purest, this is not a God awful version. Rather, it's a mediocre one that has its moments.
By the way, Scrooge's sister's name was FAN not Fran.

The one with Alastair Sim as Scrooge - 1951:
This is the one that many consider to be the definitive Christmas Carol. It really is an excellent version. Alastair Sim plays Ebenezer Scrooge like no one else can. The believability factor here for both, the 'old mean Scrooge' and the 'newly transformed Scrooge' is very high, with the transformation itself coming about slowly. And that's what I like about this one. Scrooge doesn't suddenly become happy and giddy from the first of the three spirits, as in the Seymour Hicks and Reginald Owen versions. It takes Sim's old Ebenezer fully until the last spirit to convince him that he truly was a "squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner!"
Victorian London is well represented here, its sinister darkness, dreariness, and hopelessness surrounding the viewer in glorious black and white to further the mood of the dirty old town.
Jacob Marley is excellent here (listen to the way he mourns and moans. Sends chills!). And Mrs. Dilber is hilarious when she meets up with Scrooge on Christmas morning. All three of the Christmas Eve ghosts are as Mr. Dickens described. Considering how little movie magic was used, that's no small feat! But, most important, Scrooge is well played here by Sim and his portrayal is a fine one indeed.
Yes, this is definitely an annual watch for us - my wife's most favorite depiction.

The one with George C. Scott as Scrooge - 1984:
This version is, to me, probably the best of 'em all.
Yes, it's that good.
The opening scene literally grabs you and pulls you into the gray, wintry Dickens London on Christmas Eve day 1843. The viewer will feel as if they were walking down the cobblestone streets of Merry Olde England, passing the street vendors hawking their wares, and hearing the carolers and street musicians singing and playing that wonderful Victorian Holiday music. Top hats and bonnets abound as the crowd of people - rich and poor alike - rush to celebrate this most Holy of Christian nights. That is, all but one. And the first image of old Ebenezer Scrooge, played here to perfection by the late great George C. Scott, will send chills down the back of even the most ardent skeptic.
Just think...if the opening scene is this good, you can just imagine how great the rest of this movie is! Of all the different "Carols" that have been filmed, this is one of the best and most realistic I have yet to witness.
Now what puts this version of Charles Dickens' classic tale above the one with Alistair Sim? First and foremost is the feel. There is a certain ambiance here - a sort of realism - that is not present in the others. As stated previously, you, as the viewer, are drawn into the movie as a willing participant to the events happening about you. Given that this movie was filmed not on a stage set in Hollywood, but in and around actual buildings that were standing during the period in which this story takes place alone gives this version an edge the others can't touch. And the authentic costumes are as accurate as I have seen.
Another major plus here is that Dickens' original story is followed very close; it makes me wonder why they hired script writers, for most of the lines were lifted right from the book! And the casting was pert near perfect as well. In fact, the only character I felt that could have been better - ever-so-slightly - was the actor (who's name escapes me) that played the role of Scrooge's nephew, Fred. Not toward the beginning of the film when he's inviting his uncle to dine with him, but toward the end when Uncle Ebenezer is dining with him on Christmas Day itself. He just kind of rubs me the wrong way here. A small opinionated blip ever so minor that, because of just how wonderful the rest of the movie is, one would hardly notice. Not enough to lower any part of the score!
Jacob Marley is one scary dude in the George C. Scott version - as he should be!

The Ghost of Jacob Marley tears at your heart, for the believability factor here is high that this specter is truly in tortuous pain and sorrow for his life's (mis)deeds. Watch as he says ""It is required of every man that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellowmen, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death.  It is doomed to wander through the world -- oh, woe is me! -- and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!" My gosh! Your heart just wrenches for this poor lost soul.
The heartiness of the Ghost of Christmas Present, with his sarcastic wit, easily puts Scrooge in his place simply by using Scrooge's own lack of common sense and lack of courtesy against him.
The Cratchit family is also top notch (I must say, my favorite Cratchit's are in the 1999 version) and believably poor. And just look at poor Tiny Tim! Wow - excellent!
The poor homeless are represented well, and not as an afterthought but as real people.
I could go on and on about how great this one is, but instead I'll just say in my opinion, virtually everything about this version of 'A Christmas Carol' surpasses its predecessors. All the 'Carols,' before this have been average to very good. But it's this one with George C. Scott that ranks above them all.

The one with Patrick Stewart as Scrooge - 1999:
This Patrick Stewart version of 'A Christmas Carol' is one that, judging by others reviews, you'll either love or hate. I believe, however, in a middle ground (or upper middle ground in this case). What makes this one so unique is that it actually shows many scenes that were in the original book but never put on the various filmed versions available for viewing. A few examples: the Ghost of Christmas Present showing Scrooge the many different types of people in greater detail than in the others - miners, lighthouse keepers, sailors out at sea - all celebrating this special day; the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come showing the lifeless body of Tiny Tim laid out in the Cratchit home (the Jim Carrey version is the only other one I have seen do this); the lower jaw of the ghost of Jacob Marley dropping "down upon its breast" when the bandage around his head was removed. Even the items that once belonged to Scrooge being sold at "Old Joe's" pawn shop, such as the sugar tongs, were listed in the original book.
This one also has the best Cratchit family put to film. Their physical appearance (even their teeth), their manner of speech, their clothing, all were as you would expect a poor 19th century London family to look, sound, and be like.

The best Cratchit family put to film yet comes from the Patrick Stewart version

The costuming and the acting are very well done, but the sets leave a bit to be desired for, at times, one can tell it was filmed on a stage rather than in period buildings. For what I just wrote, I would put this particular version slightly above average - maybe a B on a grading scale.
However, it does have its minuses that brings it down a couple of notches. First and foremost is Patrick Stewart. He actually does a fair job in his role as Ebenezer Scrooge. But I truly do have a problem with the 'look' of this particular Scrooge. Instead of a mean appearance, Stewart is almost sinister...murderous...like he could snap at any moment. Also, Mr. Stewart's choking out a laugh toward the end of the film is obviously (too obviously) forced.
Other small but noticeable errors: (1) Mrs. Fezziwig telling her husband that she is on a diet, and, (2) toward the end of the story, when Scrooge is asking the young lad to go and get the poulterer, the young boy answers with "you're joshing." I'm fairly certain that 'joshing' and being on a diet were not terms yet used in 1843. One must wonder why they put in such contemporary slang terminology.
One must also wonder why they call Scrooge's sister Fran instead of what she was called in the book - Fan. The 1938 version with Reginald Owen also makes this same mistake. Fan/Fanny was a popular name in the Victorian era.
And, yes, I must agree with many other reviews I have read that they could have done a better job on the phantom. Again, with all of the computer tricks available, why go with a battery operated child-type toy figure?
It also leaves one with an empty feeling, for it truly doesn't capture the essence of Dickens' novel. Not much spirit here.
All in all, even with the inaccuracies and lack of passion, it is worth adding to your collection. It is a fair version  - above Reginald Owen's, that's for sure - that, because of pluses it has included in contrast to its deficiencies, will, I believe, stand the test of time.

The one with Jim Carrey as Scrooge - 2009:
This is the adaption which is right up there in my top three. Now, being a traditionalist, this may come as a surprise to you, considering the computerized / live-action approach Disney has taken with it. But, right up to the third of the three spirits it is extremely close to Dickens' original story; like the George C. Scott version, most of the dialogue comes straight from the author's own words, and the depiction of old London is simply outstanding! Now, don't let yourself be fooled...just because it is somewhat animated doesn't mean a fig.
 The details of old London are shown as realistic as if one were there - details from the past that would be much too costly to have been built on a set. There are plenty of poor street urchins - I believe more than any other version of this film - which gives it that extra flavor missing in many others. They actually look poor rather than just neighborhood kids.  And, except for George C. Scott's version, the homes are as authentic as I have seen yet - the viewer is pulled right into the scene.
No easy task!
This is a downright very dark and very scary 'reading', just as Dickens originally wrote. The characters seemingly jump off the screen right into your room - no, I'm not even speaking of the 3-D version here, by the way - Old Marley's ghost is as real a depiction of an apparition as anything I have yet to see. Just watch his eyes...very eerie.

And Mr. Carrey as Scrooge is as good as any out there!
Whether you like Jim Carrey as an actor or not shouldn't make a difference here, for one cannot even tell it's him! In fact, Carrey also plays the role of Ghost of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet-To-Come, as well as Scrooge in the various stages of his life, and he excels as each. The general feel is what I suspect one would imagine while reading the book, and there have been very few movies that have ever done that for me.
Now, as wonderful a depiction of this tale this one is, there are a few complaints I do have (possible spoiler alert):
1) Ghost of Christmas Past - I don't mind too much that a candle flame head represents the ghost...it adds just a bit of unique flavor without taking away from the story. But, what I didn't care for was when Scrooge snuffed out the candle with its hat, he is suddenly shot miles into the air, gliding in front of the moon along the lines of E.T., then falls back to earth, landing on his bedroom floor. I believe they only wanted to show the magic of 3-D here. It doesn't take away from the story, but it doesn't add anything either There were outtakes that should have been included instead of this wasted minute or two..
2) I don't particularly care for Scrooge witnessing the action of the 'present time' through a hole in the floor, though the scenes themselves are done very well.
3) Ghost of Christmas Yet-To-Come - There is a scene where Scrooge is being chased by a phantom horse and hearse during this portion of the movie that I feel takes away from what this chapter was originally supposed to mean. Then, to further take 'artistic license' (if you want to call it that), Scrooge suddenly shrinks to the size of a rat while being chased, and slides through gutters, etc., while trying to get away.
(Maybe, in this way, they can promote this bit as 'for the children.')
4) There is too much "thrills and chills" in that they're trying to show off the technology of 3-D. As I said, there are outtakes that should have been left in rather than all of the chase and flying scenes that occur.
Aside from the above diversions (and just a couple others that matter little, really), the rest is done very well and easily overtakes the blips.
I would love to see a "director's cut" to show more of what was in the original book, such as seeing Belle's family, Jacob Marley while he was alive as Scrooge's partner, and more of Scrooge's future. In fact, on the DVD there are deleted scenes, and one in particular shows the horse-drawn hearse being driven up the stairs inside of Scrooge's house, just like in the original novel:
"You may talk vaguely about driving a coach-and-six up a good old flight of stairs, or through a bad young Act of Parliament; but I mean to say you might have got a hearse up that staircase, and taken it broadwise, with the splinter-bar towards the wall and the door towards the balustrades: and done it easy. There was plenty of width for that, and room to spare; which is perhaps the reason why Scrooge thought he saw a locomotive hearse going on before him in the gloom. Half a dozen gas-lamps out of the street wouldn't have lighted the entry too well, so you may suppose that it was pretty dark with Scrooge's dip".
It would be great if they completed this scene and inserted it into the Jim Carry version, for, as you just read, this is how Dickens originally wrote seeing the hearse - actually going up the stairs in his house. It would be a first!
I wish they would complete and include that scene in a future release!
Now, as I stated earlier, this is quite the scary version and may not be suitable for the younger set. Heck! Even a couple of older folks had to close their eyes upon a recent showing during a Christmas Carol party I had!

Aside from the blips taken to show off the modern 3-D magic in movie making and the chase and the overdone flying scenes, this one is great fun to watch with the actual scenes following the book closely.
Coming from me, that's saying a lot!


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Now, I know there are a few I missed (Muppet version, the various hand-drawn cartoon versions, the musical version, the silent versions). I just wanted to cover the major film adaptions (and I haven't seen the silent ones yet).
I must say, however, that I really enjoy the Muppet version, although I don't take it too seriously. Unfortunately, there are too many who only watch this depiction. They are really missing out.
Now, to answer the question I get most asked this time of year, my favorite version - the one that I feel Charles Dickens himself would think was closest to his own words (though all have their own take to an extent) - is The 1984 George C. Scott version!
So...which is your favorite?
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This is how Charles Dickens looked at the time of his writing "A Christmas Carol" in 1843
By the way, at the beginning of this post I commented about reading the original Dickens novel of "A Christmas Carol." It always amazes me how many people have actually never read this story the way Mr. Dickens wrote it in 1843. My wife did for the first time in February of '11 and thoroughly enjoyed it. She got so much more out of it than the filmed adaptions, which is usually the case for books turned into films, isn't it? I read it every year, beginning right around the 1st of November, and my favorite is the "Annotated Christmas Carol: A Christmas Carol in Prose"  with Michael Patrick Hearn adding annotations to Dickens' original. I wrote a review of this book on Amazon (with slight updated modification):
'Simply amazing! That is the best description I can give of this version of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol."
How many times have you ever read this wonderful novel, but overlooked many parts because it may have seemed long-winded, or maybe you just didn't quite understand the Victorian language that Dickens used (and why wouldn't he?)? Being a student of Dickensian England, editor Mr. Michael Patrick Hearn, in this book, thoroughly explains every minute detail of the time period in which this story takes place (1843) through the story itself. So much so that after completing this encyclopedia (for it truly is an encyclopedia), I felt as if I understood completely what the readers of the time of Dickens must have felt after reading the first edition nearly 170 years ago. Words, sentences, phrases - all explained descriptively so as one now knows what Dickens actually meant when writing them. It opened my eyes much wider to the WHOLE story, not just the fluff we've all come to know. And you get the complete original novel as well as the 'reading to the public' version that Dickens used while he toured, along with a very informative introduction.
Dickens "A Christmas Carol" is "A Christmas Carol" no matter which book version you read. But this particular one, however simply put, takes the cake!'


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I hope you enjoyed my little take on what is perhaps my favorite story and, in nearly all the differing adaptions, my favorite movie of all time. I realize it's still early November as I write this but this may help you to decide which one is best for you. Or, you may be a nut case like me and get them all - - !
Whichever route you take you can not go wrong with this Christmas story.

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"Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.
He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!"


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7 comments:

Betsy said...

I'll have to check out the Jim Carrey version, after his Grinch and other Dr. Seuss movies I was turned off anything cartoonish done by him, but sounds like this would be an exception!

Historical Ken said...

I actually liked him in the Grinch...
Hopefully you'll like him as Scrooge.

Celestial Elf said...

Thought you might like my new machinima version of A Christmas Carol
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S9SBebs3A5I

Lee Nilsson said...

Scrooged is my favorite. Surreal and nuts + Bill Murry.

cmadler said...

+1 on Scrooged. That's an outstanding adaptation. Of the versions that retain the settings of the book, Patrick Stewart's was my favorite...until I saw the Jim Carrey version. There is an element of horror in the book, a sense of the macabre, which I think Scrooged and the Jim Carrey version captured best.

Wendi said...

Alasdair Sim is my favorite "old" version. I like George C. Scott's version. The Henry Winkler one was awful. Although it's campy, I like "Scrooged" - particularly the depiction of Marley, rotting flesh and all. I liked "Scrooge" with Albert Finney. I saw it in the theater when it first came out. BTW, the hearse on the stairs in this one was right out of the book - that and the door knocker. I had nightmares from both scenes. And sorry, Ken, but for all-around fun, I like the Muppet version best. I know, I speak heresy. My all-time favorite version (drum roll, please) is the book. Reading it now, for the umpteenth time. My mind can choreograph the perfect images, characters, and voices. I always imagine books much better than the movie people.

Historical Ken said...

Wendi -
Never a need to apologize. It's all opinion anyhow, right?
I enjoy every version you mentioned (including the one with Henry Winkler!).
And, yes, I even like the Muppets. My problem with the Muppet Carol is that it seems to be the only one so many people will watch, and they really do lose feel of the story by not watching any of the others as well.
By the way, I am in full agreement with you about the book. I read it every year and it truly is an amazing piece.
I appreciate the comments!
Merry Christmas.