The summer sun is mercilessly seeping through the office window now, leaving me no choice but to close the curtains. I grew up in North America and will never, never get used to December heat. Today, as I write about my favorite holiday story: Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol", a chilling, frosty and wintery tale if there ever was one, I write in a bata, sweating. . . Go figure.
For those of you who have never read the story or seen one of the many adaptations, let me give you a synopsized version. The story is one of Ebenezer Scrooge - a stern and uncomfortable miser bent on making everyone's lives miserable. He does this everyday, but the day we meet him is Christmas Eve. Instead of being warmed by the holiday, we see a dramatic hatred for it, and "all those who keep it". For those close to him, mainly his nephew, Fred, and his clerk, Bob Cratchit, Scrooge's hostility is so normal that they barely flinch at his behavior. It is easy to tell that the two of them are as kind and warm and Scrooge is apathetic and cold. It is this night that Scrooge meets up with his old (equally miserly) ex-partner, Jacob Marley. There is only one catch:
Marley was dead.
I love that line. It's the first line of the book, and usually it is the first line of the movies that adapt it, since there is no improving that chilling introduction. The story evolves with an eerie reality: Scrooge must repent, or he will walk (as Marley has walked since death) in chains and horror and decay...no hell he has ever dreamed of will be as bad as the one in store for him. To give the precursor for repentance Marley has ordered "Three Spirits" - all of which will visit him within three days. (THAT'S right...if you know the story, Marley tells Scrooge he will see one Spirit each night!!) Instead, in one night, all the ghosts come- all looking different and all having one purpose- to show him Christmas.
The night of Christmas Eve, Scrooge takes a journey of discovery through memories, emotions, other peoples' opinions of him, and finally arrives at a perfect and unexpected repentance: fear, trembling and redemption. Perfect story.
So when I reached for my copy of Scrooge, my favorite movie adaptation of the book, I couldn't find it. I called friends to see if they had borrowed it. It was nowhere to be found. I went to the closest warehouse of DVDs and found nothing, nothing except a new (to me) animated feature with Jim Carrey (who has personally butchered much of my favorite Seuss characters) and I wasn't too happy. Still, it was the only one I could find and I bought it.
Last night, curling up with a few jellies and a good glass of red wine, I loaded the DVD, expecting mediocrity, or perhaps an over-the-top portrayal of Scrooge. Instead, I was welcomed by an incredible beginning: "Marley was dead..."
From that point on, it was an incredible delight to see the story unfold nearly word for word Dickens.
Robert Zemeckis (most known for his breakout "Back to the Future" series) directed and co-produced the "live animation" that is the film's deepest and brightest achievement. Set in Victorian London, animation holds a favor that live action can never have: perfect backdrops, with Victorian structures; perfect skies discolored by coal; perfect carriages pulled by sickly horses, etc.
The characters are a mixture of live action and animation - with Scrooge being portrayed by a rubber-faced Jim Carrey, not resembling him in the slightest. The others are a different story. Scrooge's nephew, Fred, is a dead ringer for Colin Firth and Robin Wright Penn's face and voice are the "Buttercup" of Belle.
Still, I have one thing against this adaptation: it drops key lines that are meant to include the salvation message (and a salvation conclusion) that is key to purists looking for this in the story. It's like doing Hamlet without the famous soliloquy. The ghost of Christmas present is perfect, but the ghost's visit with Scrooge is noticeably "forgetting" to visit the homeless shelters that serve food and preach the Gospel. His famous declaration that resounds Christ's birth must be celebrated "all 365 days of the year".
Without an outward declaration of Christ, the film is less than perfect, but (I almost regret to say) not to be missed. I enjoyed it deeply -- would have enjoyed it a scoche more if my Savior was better preached, as Dickens did shamelessly.
Even so, this Sunday night Portia and the boys are coming over and we're showing it on the big screen...where I hope the kids will have the "Dickens" scared out of them (it is rather graphic) -- and see the beautiful conclusion to a perfect story.
Especially looking forward to it is Ebenezer Mabhena, Portia's youngest. He can't wait to see his namesake's redemption!
If you're curious, check out the original "Scrooge" with Alistair Sim and Jack Warner, also available through Amazon.