Plot: What’s it about?
It’s amazing to me how one day a year can influence so much around the world. Granted this one day is Christmas and whatever your particular religion, it’s impossible to deny the influence of the 25th of December. Holiday movies have and will continue to be inspired by this day in early winter and one of the most timeless classics is “A Christmas Carol”; a novel by author Charles Dickens. In this novel we meet an elderly miser who has money, but not much more. He hates Christmas and furthermore can’t understand why other people like it. He’s visited by three ghosts: one of the past, one the present and the final of the three – the future. He sees the error of his ways via these ghosts, is reborn and lives happily ever after. This story has been told countless times, most recently in an animated version starring Jim Carrey as Scrooge, and will most likely be told countless times in the future. However one of the best adaptations of this classic was in 1988 when Richard Donner took a more modern take on the tale. The name of the movie? Scrooged, of course.
Bill Murray plays Frank Cross, President of a television network with plans to run a live special on Christmas night. Naturally for this to be live, all of the actors won’t be with their families. This matters not to Frank. Frank is visited by his old boss, Lew Hayward (John Forsythe), long dead and is warned that he’ll be visited by three ghosts later that night. Frank chalks it up to alcohol and continues along his way. No sooner does he put away another drink when the prophecy comes true. As Frank visits his past we get a glimpse into what made him into the man he is today. We see his parents, his brother and how he met his wife (Karen Allen). He then visits the present and sees the ailments of his secretary (Alfre Woodard) and her family as well as his brother. He then visits the future to see that he’s not in it. Adding all of this up, he decides it’s time for a change.
Yes, I gave away the plot in the first paragraph, but anyone who’s heard or read “A Christmas Carol” is familiar with the story and knows how it’ll turn out. I’ve long since loved Scrooged and remember seeing it in the theaters when it was first released. Bill Murray is never better and having been released in the late 80’s, Murray was in his heyday. The supporting cast does their fare share as well with Bobcat Goldthwait, Carol Kane, David Johansen and Wendy Malick giving some very memorable performances. If you’re looking for an avant garde Christmas movie then this might be your ticket, but if you’re forced to sit and watch “Miracle on 34th Street” or “White Christmas” just remember that you can still have the Christmas spirit and not be bored to tears.
Video: How does it look?
This is a movie I’ve seen on just about every format imaginable from VHS to LaserDisc to DVD to Blu-ray and now we’ve got a 4K version. There’s a very dark and corporate feel to the first act, but the thing that impressed me the most was the detail. It was very evident in some of the close-up shots like those of Murray and some of the background shots. The ghost of Christmas Present (Carol Kane) looked particularly amazing, glitter and all. Blacks are a bit on the iffy side, though it’s nothing to get worked up about. Contrast is also strong and consistent. I remember the previous Blu-ray looking good, but this 4K version sets a new standard.
Audio: How does it sound?
Not to be outdone, the DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack is also fairly impressive. Dialogue is sharp and well-focused and ambient surround effects come into play on more than one occasion. While the front stage shoulders most of the burden of the soundtrack, the LFE even come into play a few times. Bobcat Goldthwait’s character even fires off a few blasts from his shotgun that sound surprisingly robust. Again, this was a very nice surprise from a movie that I’d seen long before I judged it on audio and video quality.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Audio Commentary – Director Richard Donner is rather chatty in this commentary track. If you’ve watched all of the supplements, it’s essentially more of the same and, sadly, Donner left us in 2021. This track is a testament to one of his more popular films.
- A Christmas to Remember – This 15 minute featurette gives us all we need to know about the film. Director Richard Donner tells of the origins of the story, the writers, how Bill Murray came to be involved and everything in between. For a “retro” featurette, it’s surprisingly informative.
- Updating Ebenezer – Art Linson, the producer on the film, gives us the origins, his meetings with Jeffrey Katenberg and bringing on the writing team to update the Dickens classic for the big screen.
- Bringing the Ghosts to Life – Some of the more practical effects used in the film are discussed, from making the ghosts look a bit more “scary” to the litany of work done on John Forsythe’s character. In a pre-digital world, this is how it was done, folks.
- The Look of Scrooged – Some of the material is a bit redundant from the above features, but we ultimately get the money shot with “we essentially designed a movie about narcissistic, wealthy people.” And that’s what we got.
- On the Set with Bill Murray – This is divided into two segments: “Brother’s Apartment” and “Frisbee the Dog” in which gives us some behind the scenes footage from both segments. If you’ve ever wondered what magic made Bill Murray’s hair darker for the movie – your long wait is over.
- Showest Clips with Bill Murray – Again, divided into two sections: “The Best Money Can Buy” and “Now Everybody Get Up!” Murray does two improvisational “commercials” in which he makes fun of the budget of the film and the second in which he praises the work of the movie usher.
The Bottom Line
Everyone has their favorite holiday films and this is right up there on my list. It might actually be my favorite. Putting a modern spin on a “classic” tale is certainly nothing new and with Hollywood’s lazy approach, it’s more commonplace than it was in 1988. But, you know what, they did it right with this one. We get new extras a 4K version of the film that looks as good as it ever has. If you’re looking for the most definitive version of this movie, here it is.