A Chradvent Carolendar #18: A Christmas Carol (1999)

I need one day away from this and I think I’ll be fine. I’ve had to turn down work to do this, you know. 

Today we’ve got another fucking American television movie. Feels like every few years the Hallmark channel said “we haven’t ground A Christmas Carol into the dirt for a while, who’ve we got on the books?”. In this particular effort to piss away $2 million on costume rental, Patrick Stewart stars as Ebenezer Scrooge and Richard E. Grant as Bob Cratchit. Cool.

We start with a funeral procession. Marley’s. This Ebenezer Scrooge has the tallest and most powerful top hat yet.

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I like the funeral. No need for a narrator to repeatedly insist that Marley is dead like we’re all idiots. Someone at the funeral takes issue with the phrase “dead as a door nail” and instead suggests “dead as a door knocker”. OOoooOOOooooOOo.

Scrooge promises Marley that the firm they built together will prosper. Aha! Here’s a new angle. Could it be that his heterosexual comradeship with Jacob Marley that spurs his retreat into work and miserdom?

Spoilers: No. 

Fred and the chuggers help us get a sense of SirPatStew’s Scrooge; he is a stern, angry, bitter man who does not tolerate fools gladly. The wiki states that this film took a lot of inspiration from the 1951 version. I refuse to criticise Patrick Stewart’s acting but I will say that Sim managed to make Scrooge both intimidating and pathetic and you just don’t get the same depth here. It isn’t helped by boring cinematography and a lacklustre cast. If it weren’t for Richard E. Grant, whom I love, and Patrick Stewart, whom I love, this would be an insanely mediocre film.

Scrooge threatens to murder some innocent carol singers with a blunt steel instrument.

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This was such an iconic moment that it made it onto the box art:

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You can even see the poor little carol singer on the left awaiting an imminent brutalisation.

First Marley knocker that is both a morph AND a superposition. Aha! It’s the late 90s now, The Phantom Menace is out and CGI now no longer looks fucking unwatchable

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Look at how bloody cute Sir Patrick looks in his pyjamas.

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Marley is the first really convincing ghost I’ve seen yet.

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I like that he’s both translucent AND has a shadow. He unhinges his jaw and Scrooge kindly helps him with it.

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That was nice of him.

The rest of the Marley scene plays out as it usually does, with the rare addition of the wandering spirits outside the window.

The Ghost of Christmas Past looks like an 18th century Belgian metrosexual.

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Scrooge’s sister has been renamed Fran because we’re in the 90s now and can’t call someone Fanny and in the same line use the words “maternal death”.

Belle breaks up with Scrooge because he slowly turned into a neoliberal cowboy.

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Scrooge snuffs out Past as he does in the book. I guess this hadn’t really been attempted properly before but this is the late 90s now, baby. Quantum Leap exists. 

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The Ghost of Christmas Present is a bored homeless man.

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He’s played by an actor called Desmond Barrit, notable for playing the Wizard in Wicked on Broadway. The actor who played the Ghost of Past is Joel Grey…. notable for… playing the Wizard in Wicked on Broadway. Huh. Also Nigel Planer did it. If you had asked me where their talents overlapped I would NOT have said that.

What am I doing, thinking about a film that isn’t A Christmas Carol? Sorry.

The Ghost of Christmas Present looks bored, tired and old. He delivers all his lines like he’s just about to die and because they wanted to make him look taller than he was he’s awkwardly bluescreened in (this wasn’t a problem for Edward Woodward). He also takes us around the country in a bad CGI tornado.

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When he’s even more old and ready to die, the Ghost of Present temporarily transforms into Geoffrey Rush.

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We get ignorance & want here but it sucks. Now it’s time for the future ghost: 

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You might think this looks cool or you might think this looks like a Jawa from Star Wars Episode IV but either way it loses all impact when shown in an ordinary setting, as it is immediately. 

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Looks like the top half of a pram’s been stapled to a duvet cover. They should also definitely not have given it human hands. Props to this film for delivering one of the most awkward transitions of Chradvent.

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Reminds me of the time Homer made Flanders a dating video.

Old Joe is not only a Vicar of Dibley reunion, but the second time Liz Smith has been in Chradvent.

yada yada Gravestone yada Tiny Tim yada yada.

Scrooge wakes up in the morning, does this:

Then anonymously buys the turkey for Bob, goes to Fred’s house yada yada raises Bob’s salary yada yada yada.

The film ends on some narration, which is a shame because it so cleverly sidestepped the need for any at the start with the funeral scene.

Bit of a disappointment, this film. Started so promisingly with an interesting twist on the original but again made way for another straightforward, bland adaptation of a story which has been done so much better before. PatStew and REGrant are very good and they elevate it just a bit above mediocrity.

6 cold dead eyes of a dying Ghost of Christmas Present out of 10


Attempting to replicate what someone else did before is dooming yourself to failure. You’re missing out on the spirit of originality that made the first so successful. You can’t, at this point in the late 90s, simply do what Alastair Sim did. So aware are we of previous adaptations that they will always exist for comparison in the mind of the viewer. Why not mix it up a little?

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