Is there a Christmas story that has been adapted as many times as Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol"? I don't think so. This month's blog has had two versions of it featured already, and we're about to see a new one tonight...well not new, but more contemporary in release date and setting. 1988 brought us a lot of things...several horror sequels and original work to boot (it was almost as good a year as 1984) and by this point Bill Murray was box office gold. So when Paramount Pictures decided to produce a modernized version of Carol for the 80s, who better to cast as a Scrooge replacement than Murray, who had already proved that he was a great smarmy bastard in films...and he worked well with ghosts. Add in some wonderful supporting cast members and spot-on direction by Richard Donner and you get Scrooged, a Christmas Carol that not only reinvents the story to exist in modern day America but also self-reflexively acknowledges that Carol already exists in our collective consciousness.
It works so well, not only as an adaptation, but as its own story as well. All the main players are here, Murray as the Scrooge character, the four ghosts, Alfre Woodard as Murray's Cratchet-like assistant, and Murray's real life brother filling in the part of the Christmas loving relative. There are other additions, such as Murray's underlings at his job (he's now Frank Cross, a television executive) and the fleshing out of the old lover, who in this version is played by Karen Allen and reappears in Murray's life (unlike the original tale where Scrooge's love dissapears after the past segment is over). The comedy is great here too...its deliciously dark and full of witty one-liners and slapstick violence (the constant bludgeioning of the network censor is wonderful, as well as Carol Kane's psychotic fairy godmother version of The Ghost of Christmas Present...."The bitch hit me with a toaster...").
Some find the humor in this story much too broad, and the modernization of the story to be much too obvious, but I think it works great. I mean, we all know this story and this script makes no bones about it. That's why Murray is producing a TV version of Dickens' novel while all of this is going on. The script might even imply that everything that happens to Murray is a delusion brought on by stress and he simply places himself within the Scrooge template because he's so immersed in it due to the project. But of course, all of us who know and believe in the story know that what's happening to Murray is real. And if could happen to me or you as well, if we ever lose sight of the true meaning of Christmas...I promise that I'll never stop loving it. Afterall, I don't want Carol Kane to hit me with a toaster.