tek's rating: ½

A Christmas Carol, on TNT
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Caution: spoilers.

This aired in 1999, but I'm pretty sure I never saw it until I watched it on DVD in 2017. It stars Patrick Stewart as Ebenezer Scrooge, so of course I've been wanting to see it ever since it first aired. I must say, when I watched a trailer for it as a bonus feature on the DVD, before watching the movie itself, I couldn't help but be a bit concerned, because he just seemed so Picard. But luckily, from the very start of the movie, I (mostly) forgot about Picard, and believed he was Scrooge.

Unlike most versions of the story, this one begins with Jacob Marley's funeral. We quickly get a sense of what kind of man Scrooge is... which is to say, a misanthrope. And from what he says, it's apparent that his late business partner, Marley, was the same. The movie then flashes forward seven years, and we continue getting to see just how miserly Scrooge is, and how much he dislikes everyone, including his clerk, Bob Cratchit, and his nephew, Fred, and... apparently pretty much all of humanity. (Most of all he seems to hate "idle" people. And he seems to believe that if anyone doesn't have enough money to live on, it can only be because they are idle. No other possible explanation. In this sense, he put me perfectly in mind of present-day American conservatives.) Anyway, Fred stops by his office to invite Uncle Scrooge to Christmas dinner, which Scrooge declines. Partly because of the whole misanthrope thing, but in particular because he can't stand Christmas.

Soon after that, Scrooge goes home, and is visited by the ghost of Jacob Marley, who frightens him, and tells him how he suffers in the afterlife because of how he lived his life, and how Scrooge will suffer the same fate (or worse), unless he changes his ways. To that end, Scrooge will be visited by three ghosts. (As in the original story, Marley says the ghosts will appear to him on three consecutive nights, a fact which has never made sense to me and never seems to actually play out that way.) First, the Ghost of Christmas Past (Joel Grey) takes Scrooge to see his childhood, including his beloved sister (who is called Fran in this version, though in the original story and I would think in most adaptations is named Fan). Anyway, Fran would later be Fred's mother, before dying fairly young, which Scrooge discusses with the ghost. They also go to see Scrooge as a young man, apprenticed to someone named Fezziwig, who clearly loved Christmas and treated his employees very well. (Which seems to make Scrooge think, for a moment, about how poorly he treats his own employee in the present, though he doesn't actually say that's what he's thinking.) We also see that as a young man, Scrooge was friendly rather than misanthropic. And he was in love with a woman named Belle. But the ghost takes him forward to another Christmas, when Belle breaks up with him, because he's become too concerned with money, and she believes that if they met now, he wouldn't be interested in her. I got the impression she was hoping he'd make an effort to return to the kind of man he used to be, but... he didn't. (Present day Scrooge also wished his younger self would have gone after her, but... you can't change history.)

Scrooge is then visited by the Ghost of Christmas Present, who shows him what the present Christmas is like for various people, including Bob Cratchit and his family. Bob certainly has a lot of mouths to feed, including a young boy named Tim, who walks with a crutch. Scrooge had no idea Bob had a crippled son, and he seems more concerned about this than I would have expected him to be. He also wonders if Tim will live or die, a question that I don't recall whether I've ever given much thought to when watching other adaptations or reading the original story (but I may have). This time it did seem odd to me, because I don't think of needing a crutch as a sign that someone's life is in danger. But maybe it was, back then. Anyway, I think Bob and the ever-optimistic Tim are the only two members of the Cratchit family who don't despise Scrooge. Later, the ghost takes him to see Fred having Christmas dinner with his family and friends. And as is usually the case in any adaptation of the story, he definitely seems financially comfortable, which is odd, because in the earlier scene, his uncle said he was poor. Well, maybe he is, by Scrooge's standards (even though Scrooge's standards of wealth apply only to the having of money, not to spending it on anything beyond the bare minimum necessary to survive). Still, I imagine that after seeing how the Cratchits live, Scrooge would come to have a better idea of what "poor" actually means. Fred definitely seems middle class, to me. Not even lower-middle class; at least middle-middle class, I'd say. In any event, he believes his uncle's antisocial tendencies only harm Scrooge himself, not anyone else. (I could go onto a tangent of "if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem," but I won't.) Scrooge clearly enjoys watching Fred and the others enjoying their little Christmas party, and regrets not accepting the invitation. (This may well be enhanced by having just recently seen his younger self having fun at Fezziwig's Christmas party.) Then, as happens in the original story but rarely in movie adaptations, the ghost takes Scrooge to see some random people enjoying Christmas, mainly by singing the same carol Tim was singing. (This year, incidentally, a movie called "The Man Who Invented Christmas" came out which I haven't seen yet, about Dickens writing "A Christmas Carol," but just being aware of that movie reminded me that before that story, Christmas was on the verge of dying off. Which makes it seem a bit weird to me, seeing how popular the holiday appeared to be, to everyone except Scrooge.)

Next, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows up. (As usual, it looks way spooky... but I also must say its appearance was probably the poorest visual effect in the movie. It would be a cool Halloween costume you might get at Spencer Gifts or maybe Spirit Halloween, but not something I could really take too seriously as a real ghost.) As usual, this ghost never speaks, but it takes Scrooge to the future to see some things that help cement the lessons he'd already learned from the first two ghosts. And of course, Scrooge decides to change his ways. (And at this point, I was thinking about how this sort of time travel is a surprisingly sci-fi concept, for the Victorian era, and the idea of someone changing his actions in the present to alter the future is also a sci-fi concept... so it really was kind of neat to have Patrick Stewart in this role. And it kind of reminded me of the finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation.)

Well, then he returns to the present, on Christmas Day, and he certainly does change his ways. I must say, probably the best thing about this adaptation of the story is seeing how good Stewart is at being a believably horrible human being and then how good he is at being a believably good person. And he's probably better than most Scrooges at making that transition itself believable. And... I guess that's all I have to say.


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