Like my previous Christmas movie review, (Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale), Scrooged is hella dark. Weirdly obscure for a number of years despite its ready availability on home video and DVD, Richard Donner’s (Lethal Weapon) merging of A Christmas Carol and Tales from the Crypt has personally tugged on my heartstrings since I was a kid. I think I’ve seen it most every Christmas season I can remember.
Bill Murray plays Frank Cross, the youngest executive in the history of television – for a reason. When we meet him, he seems almost irredeemably jaded – he doesn’t trust people, and he only trusts himself to make the most profit-wise executive decisions. When he first hears that his horrific grindhouse-style TV spot for the network’s live Christmas Eve performance of Scrooge has scared an 80-year-old woman to death, he celebrates, and orders a super-intense warning screen be added to the front of it. He’s a bit of anti-hero.
Around him, an ensemble cast like very few ever assembled tries their best to cheer the movie’s audience up, like Karen Allen (Raiders of the Lost Ark), Robert Mitchum (The Night of the Hunter), and Bobcat Goldthwait (Police Academy 2, 3, 4). A ton of celebrity cameos pop up here and there, too, but they’re far too classic to let slip. All three of Murray’s real-life brothers play supporting roles, too, but suffice it to say, Frank’s rarely all that happy for all that long, no matter who he’s talking to.
So why do we care? Well, despite the film’s cynical perspective, it’s clearly a Christmas movie, so we know there’ll be enrichment and forgiveness and singing and dancing and all that jazz. But while all that’s in the running, we’ve got a really funny modernization of Charles Dickens’ original tale. While the Scrooge show is being set up at Frank’s station, he’s being taken on the whole “Three ghosts,” voyage of self-discovery in his own way. Frank’s ghosts are just a touch more grotesque than Ebenezer’s, though.
Frank’s romantic history is surveyed too, of course. Karen Allen is mesmerizingly beautiful as lost-love Claire. As entrancing to a viewing audience as she is to Frank, we fall so desperately in love with her whenever she appears, feeling decades of memories every time. Donner’s eye for heartfelt romance is every bit as accomplished here as his eye for action and horror, and to his immense credit, he never loses touch of the characters at the heart of his story, even when Frank’s nearly freezing to death in a sewer drain, or staring his truly ghastly Ghost of Christmas Future square in the face.
Scrooged holds up remarkably well, even amidst countless Christmas Carol adaptations in the two decades since its release, because it’s got a great script, and a loveable cast. Though it’s been criticized in the past for being too dark, there’s not much to argue with in the film, in terms of what it’s commenting on. It starts with a scarily relevant action movie parody, and gets genuine tears from first-time viewers before it’s through even today. Never straying too far from the line between sadness and black comedy, Scrooged really is the movie I think it was intended to be. It’s a bit of a love-it or hate-it flick, but I, for one, love it. I can hardly recommend a more treasured Christmas flick.
DVD Bonus Features
Paramount’s new DVD comes in shiny and colorful new Christmas packaging, but the disc itself is the same muddy release from 1999. Presented in anamorphic widescreen, the transfer isn’t horrible by first-generation DVD standards, but Scrooged could certainly stand for some more fine detail. Skin tones are perfectly reasonable. For audio, there’s a standard 5.1 track and a stereo mix. Extras stop at the trailer.
For a budget re-release, Scrooged gets a pass on the strength of the film itself. It’s a great movie, with a small but devoted fanbase, and one that’s fit for a resurgence. The DVD is more than worth the ten bucks by my watch.
"Scrooged" is on sale December 14, 2010 and is rated PG13. Comedy, Drama. Directed by Richard Donner. Written by Mitch Glazer, Michael O'Donoghue. Starring Bill Murray, Bobcat Goldthwait, Karen Allen, Robert Mitchum.