When "Scrooged" came out theatrically in 1988, I looked forward to seeing it. Bill Murray in a satiric send-up of Charles Dickens's "A Christmas Carol" sounded too good to pass up. Then I read a review in my local newspaper that panned it, saying, as I recall, that it was too big and overblown. So I passed on the film, not seeing it until it finally showed up on television a few years later, where I thoroughly enjoyed it. The moral: Don't trust reviewers. Or at least find a reviewer you can trust.
Ebenezer Scrooge has always been a character that actors have had fun playing, and over the years some of the best actors in the world have essayed the role. Reginald Owen, John Carradine, Alastair Sim, Ralph Richardson, Basil Rathbone, Cyril Richard, Jim Backus, Albert Finney, Michael Hordern, Walter Matthau, Alan Young, George C. Scott, Jack Elam, James Earl Jones, Tim Curry, Simon Callow, Dean Jones, Tom Hanks, Kelsey Grammar, and Jim Carrey are just a few of over seventy-five different actors who have played or voiced Scrooge on screen. Not that Bill Murray actually plays Scrooge in "Scrooged," however. He plays a bad-tempered, Scrooge-like character who experiences the same Ghosts of Past, Present, and Future and the same eventual change of heart. Same thing.
Paramount lavished quite a lot of attention on the film, which may have lead my local reviewer to believe they overdid it. The studio hired a pair of "Saturday Night Live" writers, Mitch Glazer and Michael O'Donoghue, to do the screenplay, keeping it hip and up-to-date. Next, they hired a big-name director, Richard Donner ("The Omen," "Superman," "The Goonies," "Lethal Weapon") to helm the project. And after that they got every well-known actor they could find to appear it, either in the supporting cast or in cameo roles. OK, so maybe they did go a little overboard here. Still, it's Murray's movie through and through, and he keeps it afloat.
So, in this modernized take on the Dickens tale, Murray plays Frank Cross, "the youngest network president in the history of television." And he's the meanest network executive anyone's ever seen, too. How mean is Frank? He fires anyone who disagrees with him, timing the fired person's exit from the building. For instance, he fires the milquetoast Eliot Loudermilk (Bobcat Goldthwait), a Bob Cratchit-like character, the day before Christmas.
Frank's big undertaking at the moment is a live TV production of "A Christmas Carol," and to ensure its success he wants plenty of scantily clad dancing girls in it and as much violence as the censors will allow. In "A Christmas Carol"? Frank is delighted when an old lady watching a promo for the show dies of fright. He figures it means more publicity. Drugs, terrorism, freeway killers, that's what Frank wants in his programs. And he wants to staple antlers to a mouse. Yes, he's mean.
The movie is really quite clever in the way it updates the Scrooge story, using Frank's television production (in which Buddy Hackett, of all people, plays Scrooge) to mirror the events in Frank's own life. So, as expected, a series of ghosts visits Frank to persuade him what he's missing in life by being such an angry idiot.
Along the way, the film does get a little distracting with all its guest stars, though. Karen Allen plays Frank's old sweetheart, a fresh-faced young lady too good to be true, a social worker he hasn't seen in years. Alfre Woodard plays Frank's long-suffering secretary, whose little boy, a Tiny Tim type, hasn't spoken since his father died. John Glover plays a hotshot producer brought in to help Frank out, a guy Frank intensely mistrusts. And Robert Mitchum plays the nitwit owner of the network and Frank's only boss. Playing the ghosts are John Forsythe as a Jacob Marley-type former colleague; David Johansen as the Ghost of Christmas Past; and Carol Kane as the Ghost of Christmas Present. Kane, a total delight, practically steals the show from Murray, and it comes at a point when she's most needed. Then in brief appearances, we see Robert Goulet, John Houseman, Lee Majors, Mary Lou Retton, Jamie Farr, Pat McCormick, and others.
One major concern I've always had about the movie is that the filmmakers don't seem entirely sure if they want to make it a straight-out comedy or a semi-serious drama. The combination of humor and pathos sometimes creates moments of awkwardness. Fortunately, the movie never overstays its welcome, keeping its running time to a concise 100 minutes. So even if there are a few uncomfortable sections, like an overlong and over sentimental conclusion, they pass quickly.
While "Scrooged" may not be a genuine Christmas classic, at least not yet, it has the right ingredients for one, and its heart is in the right place.
Using an MPEG-4/AVC codec and a dual-layer BD50, the Paramount video engineers probably get everything out of the 1.85:1 ratio print they can. The screen looks free of age spots, lines, ticks, and flecks, with only the film's inherent grain a minor visible concern for some viewers, although not for me. I want to see the film the way it originally showed up in a theater, and this is no doubt pretty much how it looked. Colors are natural, flesh tones are realistic, and black levels are solid. Most important, definition is pretty good. I'm impressed.
Using lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio to reproduce the soundtrack is chiefly overkill (this isn't a boom-bang action movie, after all), but if you're going to do something, you might as well do it right. The sound is clear and well balanced, the surrounds enabled for environmental noises and ambient musical bloom. With its firm bass, reasonably strong dynamics, and wide front-channel stereo spread, the audio holds up its part of the bargain nicely.
There's not much here in the way of extras. The main things are a widescreen theatrical trailer and a cardboard slipcover with a 3-D image on front. Beyond that, we get twelve scene selections; bookmarks; English, French, and Spanish spoken languages; English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.
I hadn't seen "Scrooge" in a number of years and hadn't remembered how good it was, at least in parts. Sure, it's top-heavy with stars to the point they become a minor distraction, and, sure, the ending goes on too long and gets too sentimental. Still, there are enough laughs, smiles, and chuckles to make it all worthwhile. Besides, it's vintage Bill Murray, and that is never a bad thing.