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Tag: Christmas

Editorials

Who Did It Better? Miracle on 34th Street

December 24, 2020
Miracle on 34th Street 3 films [Source Pintrest, Iconic Greats and IMDb]

The Miracle on 34th Street films are the perfect antidote to Christmas cynicism. They are about an old man who thinks he’s Santa Claus and how his selflessness conflicts with the modern world. It shows that sometimes we need to believe in the impossible to better ourselves and the world around us. But which version did it better?

Today we’re comparing the 1947 classic, the 1994 remake, and the 1973 TV movie of Miracle on 34th Street. We will analyse the films in several categories to determine which movies performed certain things better. And at the end, we will tally up the score to see which Miracle is the best. Let’s begin.

Who is the best Kris Kringle?

First let’s explore the story’s central character, Kris Kringle. The old man who believes he’s Santa Claus. Over the years this role has been played by Edmund Gwenn, Sebastian Cabot, and Richard Attenborough. But who is the best St. Nick?

From the outset, Sebastian Cabot’s Kris Kringle is far too mean and bitter to be considered a good Santa. Even if the filmmakers were trying to make Santa more mean it doesn’t fit the film’s otherwise light tone. Either way, Cabot’s Santa cannot beat his competitors.

Conversely, Edmund Gwenn feels like the real Santa. Despite his stern streak, which comes out when people abuse his friends or don’t take the responsibility of Christmas seriously, he also emits an aura of pure warmth and joy. The happiness on his face when he makes children smile and the jolly nature he has towards life is infectious. He deserves the name, Kris Kringle.

Richard Attenborough’s performance chooses a very different angle. Throughout the film, he subtly hints, through doubtful looks in his eyes, that he doesn’t believe he is the real Father Christmas. But his all-around loveable nature gives the impression of a regular man trying to show it is possible to live your life with the spirit of Christmas. He also lacks Gwenn’s harder edge. Making him closer to the modern image of Santa.

Ultimately Gwenn and Attenborough are too good to choose between. Gwenn feels like Father Christmas translated into the real world. Attenborough feels like an ordinary man trying to accomplish the impossible task of being Father Christmas. Both portrayals offer something intriguing and both actors do fantastic work. Therefore, they have both earned the title of Kris Kringle.

Winner: Tie – Miracle on 34th Street 1947 and 1994

Miracle on 34th Street 2 films [Source Pintrest and Iconic Greats]
Gwenn and Attenborough are the best Santa’s [Source: Pintrest and Iconic Greats]

Who is the best Susan?

Next, we must consider the story’s other central pillar. The young disbelieving girl who Kris tries to turn into a believer by granting her wish for a house and also a family.

Again the 1973 Susan comes nowhere near the other versions’ quality. Suzanne Davidson does fine with the material. Unfortunately, this script makes Susan feel like a brat who deserves nothing for Christmas.

However, as with Kris Kringle, the 1947 and 1994 Susan’s are characterised differently but are equally interesting. Natalie Wood (1947) and Mara Wilson (1994) feel like real children rather than actors. An incredible example of their abilities as child performers.

Natalie Wood’s Susan is a precocious young person whose knowledge has gone to her head. But this characterisation makes it very satisfying when Kris begins convincing her that sometimes it’s better to have a child’s faith. Rather than being wholly realistic. It’s a testament to the writing and Wood’s performance that Susan never becomes unlikable. She just feels like a child realising that everything isn’t solely black and white.

Comparatively, Mara Wilson’s Susan feels more tragic. She isn’t happy knowing what she knows. She looks robbed of the opportunity to be a child. Which is a great consequence of the plot thread about her mother’s divorce. You feel that Wilson’s Susan wants to believe but doesn’t want to be hurt again. Which makes her character journey quite emotionally resonant.

Yet again it’s impossible to pick between the 1947 and 1994 versions. Wood is a likeable presence despite her stuck-up nature and her arc is more dramatically satisfying. Meanwhile, Wilson gives a layered, sympathetic performance that has you feeling more for her Susan. Thus both deserve to win the round. 

Winner: Tie – Miracle on 34th Street 1947 and 1994

miracle-on-34th-street_[Source TELUS_Neighbourhood and whats-on-netflix]]
Wood and Wilson are great as Susan [Source: TELUS Neighbourhood and whats-on-netflix]

Who has the best Supporting Cast?

Now we must review the Miracle on 34th Street films other players. And how well they perform their roles.

Miracle 1973s only notable supporting characters are Bill Schaffner (David Hartman), who is alternately charming and creepy because of how he acts around Susan’s mother. And Dr. Sawyer (Roddy McDowall), who is more sympathetic yet more over-the-top than his 1947 counterpart. Everyone else is entirely forgettable.

1994s Miracle fairs better. Elizabeth Perkins gives a great emotionally vulnerable performance as Dorey Walker. The humorously evil corporate underlings Jack Duff (James Remar) and Alberta Leonard (Jane Leeves) are fun to watch. And Robert Prosky’s Judge Harper elicits great sympathy with little screen time. The problem with the 1994 movie is that while people like Perkins and Prosky are good, other performers like Dylan McDermott as Bryan Bedford are very wooden. And characters such as the rival Santa (Jack McGee) border self-parody with their over-the-top actions. Resulting in the good elements feeling hampered.

The 1947 supporting cast is the best. Every character has motivation, feels different, and every actor perfectly fits their role. Maureen O’Hara’s Doris Walker is immaculate. An overly realistic working mother with a genuinely good moral compass. John Payne’s Fred Gailey is incredibly charming. Never wavering in his affection for the Walker’s and Kris despite the challenges he faces. Gene Lockhart’s Judge Harper is very funny. But his obsession with re-election also makes him feel like a real judge. And other players are very memorable. Like worrying store clerk Mr. Shellhammer (Philip Tonge). Dr. Sawyer (Porter Hall) the grouchy psychiatrist with marriage problems. And lovably naive Alfred (Alvin Greenman).

Through its mix of all-around great performances and writing, the original Miracle has the best supporting cast.

Winner: Miracle on 34th Street 1947

Miracle-on-34th-St-supporting cast [Source IMDb]
Doris Walker and Fred Gailey [Source: IMDb]

Which version tells the story best?

Finally, we look at each film’s story and ask which film tells the narrative in the best way?

All three movies have essentially the same story though with some differences. A man called Kris Kringle becomes the head Santa at a huge store after performing well during a thanksgiving parade. The woman who hired him is a single mother, raising her daughter, Susan, to be a realist. But Kris says that he is the real Santa. Susan wants Kris to prove this by getting her a house (and potentially a family). Which Kris accepts. Many people believe Kris is insane. When pushed too far he strikes out and is arrested and committed. To clear Kris’s name the mother’s love interest agrees to be his lawyer and prove Kris is the real Santa Claus.

The 1994 version’s plot differs the most. Focusing much more on corporate sabotage. With Kris’ disgrace used more as a corporate smear rather than because he is perceived as dangerous. The courtroom procedures are presented more realistically than other versions. And Susan’s wish is changed to something more conventionally unobtainable. That being a house, a dad, and a baby brother. Some of these differences are appreciated. E.g. treating the court scenes more realistically makes the pay off more satisfying. However, the contrast of these realistic elements alongside outlandish plot points such as Kris getting Susan’s mother married and the over-the-top depiction of corporate bosses makes the film feel tonally disparate. And can sometimes feel like the film focuses more on plot action than characters.

The only difference the 1973 film’s plot has from the original is the elaboration of Kris’ friendship with Alfred (Barry Greenberg). Unfortunately this film doesn’t give certain elements enough time to breathe. For example, the scene where Kris tells shoppers to buy gifts at other stores comes and goes rather quickly. Without really impacting the rest of the film. Because of this rushed pace, the story is hard to invest in and the emotional moments feel unearned.

Meanwhile, despite the 1947 film’s plot conveniences e.g. the mail solution coming into the story by chance, the plot flows quite naturally. Largely because the story feels dictated by the characters. With everyone’s motivation and personality informing their actions rather than the characters being forced along by the plot. The pacing is perfect. Each plot point has enough time to sit with the audience before it’s developed. And it weaves a sense of whimsy throughout while also not overdoing it. With the prime example being how Susan gets her wish through a mixture of playful leading from Kris, and Doris and Fred deciding to buy the house to start a new life. Making this version feel simultaneously grounded and magical.

The 1947 Miracle on 34th Street tells its story in a way that feels natural. While also being charmingly whimsical and grounded thanks to its character work and subtly effective writing.

Winner: Miracle on 34th Street 1947

picture-miracle34thstreet-kringle [Source thingsthatmadeanimpression - WordPress.com]
Miracle on 34th Street (1947) trial [Source: thingsthatmadeanimpression – WordPress.com]

Overall Winner: Miracle on 34th Street 1947

Poster [Source lajajakids]
Miracle on 34th Street (1947) poster [Source: lajajakids]

Final Thoughts

Ignore the 1973 film at all costs. Apart from that, the 1947 and 1994 Miracle on 34th Street’s are good-natured defences of imagination and a push back against holiday pessimism. Both versions have iconic lead performances from Edmund Gwenn and Richard Attenborough. Furthermore, both have great child performances from Natalie Wood and Mara Wilson.

The 1994 version is also very entertaining. Updating the concept of defending Santa Claus to fit a modern audience. But with a well-rounded, memorable supporting cast, and a story that balances the fantastical with the mundane as well as being dramatically engaging, natural, and satisfying, the original 1947 Miracle on 34th Street deserves the title of the best version of the story. It’s a Christmas classic for a reason.

Also Read: Who Did It Better?: How The Grinch Stole Christmas

Read More: Who Did Better?: A Christmas Carol

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Editorials

Best Christmas Movies of the Past Decade

December 21, 2020
Christmas Films Collage

It’s Christmas time again. Time to watch some Christmas movies. But while classics, like It’s a Wonderful Life, are great; watching the same films constantly can get boring.

So today we’re giving you some new holiday films to watch by recommending the best Christmas movies from the past decade. To ensure a wide variety of selections the films will be recommended by genre.

Best New Christmas Animation: Arthur Christmas

On Christmas Eve a child’s present gets misplaced. But Santa (Jim Broadbent) and his cold, technical son Steve (Hugh Laurie) aren’t interested in its delivery. So, Santa’s clumsy other son Arthur (James McAvoy), Grandsanta (Bill Nighy), and elf Bryony (Ashley Jensen) decide to do something.

Arthur Christmas is charming. Updating the Santa story for modern audiences with Aardman’s trademark whimsicalness. The voice work is stellar. Bill Nighy’s and Jim Broadbent’s older Santa’s are particularly great, and James McAvoy’s Arthur is infectiously endearing. The modern and traditional Christmas designs blend wonderfully. And its message of unity taking Christmas into the future is incredibly meaningful. Arthur Christmas will put a smile on everyone’s face.

James McAvoy as the endearing Arthur Christmas
James McAvoy as the endearing Arthur Christmas [Credit: Columbia Pictures]

Best New Christmas Drama: The Hunt (2012)

In this Danish drama, teacher Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) is falsely accused by his student Klara (Annika Wedderkopp) of doing something heinous. As a result, his friends, colleagues, and neighbours turn on him and his family. 

The Hunt is much darker than your average Christmas film, but the holiday setting adds a poignant edge as people begin casting stones at Lucas. The writing is hard-hitting while also making everyone recognisably human in their actions. And Mads Mikkelsen gives one of his best performances. The Hunt shows that innocent people are capable of doing cruel things to each other. But that we are also capable of something more.

Mads Mikkelsen in The Hunt
Mads Mikkelsen in The Hunt [Credit: Danmarks Radio]

Best New Christmas Romance: Carol

Carol is about shy wannabe photographer Therese (Rooney Mara) and Carol (Cate Blanchett), who is fighting a custody battle. When they meet in the store where Therese works, there is instant electricity between them. Which over the course of the holiday becomes a relationship. But can their love survive the time they live in?

Carol is a beautiful movie to watch around the holidays. The cold snowy backdrop beautifully contrasts the warm central relationship (Blanchett and Mara are fantastic), the festive red and green hues in the production design, and the themes of love and togetherness perfectly fit the holiday setting. So, if you want to get lovey-dovey this year, snuggle up and watch Carol.

The decades best holiday romance, Carol
The decades best holiday romance, Carol [Credit: The Weinstein Company]

Best New Christmas Comedy: Tangerine

Tangerine follows transgender sex workers Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor) on Christmas Eve as they scour Los Angeles for the pimp who broke Sin-Dee’s heart.

Tangerine is a foul-mouthed inversion of traditional Christmas films. There’s no snow, Santa, and little jollity. The characters spend their time mostly hurling abuse at each other. But because of that Tangerine feels refreshing. It shows us the lives of groups seldom represented in popular culture, in a very real way (Tangerine was filmed on an iPhone making it look more grounded). But it’s also scathingly funny and heartbreakingly moving thanks to a great script and the very talented unknown leads. Which is worth celebrating.

Christmas Eve in Tangerine [Credit: Duplass Brothers Productions]
Christmas Eve in Tangerine [Credit: Duplass Brothers Productions]

Best New Christmas Horror: Better Watch Out (2016)

This holiday horror focuses on Ashley (Olivia DeJonge) who is babysitting Luke (Levi Miller) while his parents are out. But things take a turn after it becomes clear that someone wants to get in the house. For what reason? You will never suspect. 

Despite the generic setup and some cringy moments, Better Watch Out is a treat to watch unfold, as its standard narrative soon gives way to something more engaging. The beautiful festive design (full of fairy lights and popping bright colours) and fun performances, especially that of Levi Miller, are also more than enough to keep you invested. By the end, you will be satisfied with this winter wonderland whirlwind.

Festive frights in Better Watch Out
Festive frights in Better Watch Out [Credit: Storm Vision Entertainment]

Best New Christmas Musical: Anna and the Apocalypse  

It’s almost the Christmas holidays and Anna (Ella Hunt) has decided to go travelling when she leaves school, against her father’s (Mark Benton) wishes. But when zombies invade her hometown, she must work with her friends to save their loved ones.

Anna and the Apocalypse is a musical, horror, comedy, high school drama that works surprisingly well. The small-town comedy and zombie horror fit together perfectly. The drama feels earned thanks to the great writing and well-done performances. The music is a great extension of the character’s personalities. And the Christmas setting makes for some lovely set design, gags, and Christmas inflected musical numbers. A real treat for music lovers.

Christmas gets gory in Anna and the Apocalypse [Credit: Blaze Griffin]
The holidays get gory in Anna and the Apocalypse [Credit: Blaze Griffin]

So ends our list of some of the best Christmas movies of the past decade. Please tell us your favourite festive movies from the last 10 years in the comments.

Also Read: Who Did It Better?: The Grinch

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Editorials

Alternative Christmas Movies

December 19, 2019
Alternative Christmas Movies

It’s that time of the year again! Christmas is the time where we gather round and watch a festive film with our loved ones. Sometimes they may not even be particularly good films. Often they are films you’ve seen dozens of times, they’re classics for a reason. But if you’re growing tired of quoting “Home Alone” or “Elf” this year, or just need something a little different, then consider these alternative Christmas films…

Lethal Weapon

Nothing says Christmas like getting to know your new work friend (Warner Brothers, 1987)

While every year the debate goes on about whether Die Hard is a Christmas film (it is), the original Lethal Weapon is conspicuously absent. Aside from being set at Christmas time, it’s about family. Riggs is in a dark place having lost his, but slowly comes to accept Murtagh as his new family. The film ends with him being invited in for Christmas dinner. Can’t get much more Christmassy than that.

Lethal Weapon is available to buy/rent on Amazon Prime, Google Play and YouTube, as well as physical media.

Batman Returns

You likely won’t get a fully functioning Batmobile for Christmas, but you can watch Batman do it (Warner Brothers, 1992)

If you like your Christmas films a little more creepy, then a tale about a bat, a cat and a penguin is a good choice. While often overlooked or underrated, this stylish and unique is an excellent alternative to Burton’s classic The Nightmare Before Christmas. Gotham city is covered in snow at Christmas time, and the bat-signal shines in the sky like a star and a kiss under misletoe. It doesn’t quite have the themes of family or coming together for the season, but this is a list of alternative films after all.

Batman Returns is available on DC Universe as well as buy/rent on Amazon Prime, Google Play and YouTube, as well as physical media.

Iron Man 3

Be honest, if you got an Iron Man suit for Christmas, you’d sit in it all day too (Disney/Marvel 2013)

Marvel fans also have some festive superhero action to celebrate with. Tony Stark’s battle with PTSD and the Mandarin takes place over Christmas (like most of Shane Black’s films). Despite the heroics, the film does emphasise that the holiday is a time to spend with loved ones. It also works as a version of the Dicken’s classic “A Christmas Carol”, with Stark as Scrooge and facing ghosts from his past, in order to save his present and future. It’s even listed as a Christmas film on Disney +.

Iron Man 3 is available on Disney+, as well as able to buy/rent on Amazon, Google Play, YouTube, as well as physical media.

Brazil

Just because you live in a dystopian future, doesn’t mean Santa won’t bring gifts (20th Century Fox/ Universal Pictures 1985)

It’s actually easy to forget that this Orwellian Sci-Fi is set around Christmas time. It’s drab grey corridors and cramped buildings don’t exactly promote Christmas cheer. But that’s what makes the few glimpses of Christmas we do get that much more impactful. Brazil is an excellent Christmas film, as Sam dreams of a better life and escaping his mundane one, and the holiday is a good representation of that.

Brazil is available on Amazon Prime, as well as physical media.

In Bruges

Monopoly with the family gets quite intense (Focus Features, 2008)

Like Brazil, it’s easy to forget this one is set at Christmas, as the characters make very little mention of it. Aside from a few scattered decorations, the opening takes place in a church and the film features a lot of reflection and looking to the future, things usually associated with New Year but also at Christmas. Ray, Ken and Harry make a very dysfunctional family, and naturally fight over Christmas, although hopefully, the average family Christmas squabble involves fewer bullets.

In Bruges, is available to watch on Netflix, as well as buy/ rent on Google Play and physical media.

Also Read: The Grinch: Who Did It Better?

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Editorials

Who Did It Better?: A Christmas Carol

December 7, 2019
Ebenezer Scrooge from A Christmas Carolv(Source: Disney Wiki)

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is the modern Christmas story. The tale of the old miser, Ebenezer Scrooge who is visited by the ghost of his dead partner and the embodiment of Christmases Past, Present, and Future, to learn the value of kindness to his fellow-men is iconic. The story has had many adaptations over the years. For stage, radio, television (a new version comes this year courtesy of Steven Knight) and, of course, film. So, today we’re going to see which Christmas Carol film adaptation is the best.

With films of Carol dating back to 1901, I’ll only be looking at five of the most well-known theatrically released movies; comparing them to see which ones did certain things better. Those movies being Scrooge (1951), Scrooge (1970), Scrooged, Muppets Christmas Carol and A Christmas Carol (2009).

For this comparison I have chosen to look at, the portrayals of Scrooge, the portrayals of the ghosts, the supporting cast members, and how much they bring to their films, the production value of each film and which film best told the story overall. So, after all that set up let’s begin.

Who’s The Best Scrooge?

Ebeneezer Scrooge is one of fiction’s most iconic characters. His name has even become a part of the English language. With such a reputation you need equally brilliant performances to bring him to life. But who is the best, Alastair Sim, Albert Finney, Bill Murray, Michael Caine or Jim Carrey? For my money, Alastair Sim’s iconic turn from Scrooge (1951) is the best.

Unfortunately, while Finney and Carrey are clearly trying their best, their vocal affectations make it hard to take them seriously. Also despite loving Caine’s Scrooge and Murray’s modern interpretation, Frank Cross, Caine’s cold-heartedness does thaw a little too quickly for his change of heart to carry a large amount of weight. And Murray fits the bitter sardonic side of Scrooge better than the renewed Christmas lover.

Sim, however, embodies every aspect of Scrooge perfectly. His miserable nature is believable and never feels over the top. But when he changes his ways it feels like a perfectly played evolution of the character. And Sim communicates the character in every aspect of his performance. From his tone of voice to his body language and the words he uses. For my half a crown he’s the best Scrooge out there.

Winner: Scrooge (1951)

Alastair Sim in Scrooge (1951) (Source: IMDb)
Alastair Sim in Scrooge (1951) (Source: IMDb)

Who Are The Best Ghosts?

Scrooge may be the narrative focus, but it’s the visiting spirits that ultimately change him. So, which ghosts gave us the best hauntings over the years?

Firstly, we must consider Jacob Marley’s ghost. Often shown as a sickly figure dragging a long chain behind him, he’s been portrayed by many fantastic actors. Including Michael Hordern, Alec Guinness, and Gary Oldman. Some of the more creative interpretations include Muppets Christmas Carol, who have critics Statler and Waldorf playing Jacob and Robert Marley. Who come to criticize Scrooge and provide advice for his improvement. While Scrooged presents Marley, as an old retired boss who, humorously, resembles a zombie more than a ghost.

Christmas Past varies the most in appearance between adaptations. Scrooge (1951) and A Christmas Carol (2009)’s ghosts resemble the description in Dicken’s original story. However, both are still different. Scrooge (1951) has an angelic, androgynous figure, while A Christmas Carol has a floating candle carrying a cap. Both functions well as translations of the text but don’t show too much imagination. Scrooge (1970’s) Christmas Past is a middle-aged woman who feels like a mother figure to Scrooge. Going over his past mistakes like a mum bringing out the family photo album for guests. Scrooged’s Christmas Past is a loudmouth Taxi driver who ferry’s Frank around the past. While the Muppet version gives Christmas Past the visage of a child. Whose innocent appearance makes the overall message more poignant.

Of all the ghosts of Christmas Present, the Muppets and Scrooged are the most interesting. The Muppets’ Present, like Scrooge (1970), is more humorous in nature. Very much someone who lives for the moment. Though Muppets’ Present has more depth, as his initially lively nature contrasts greatly with his melancholy later as he begins to waste away. And Scrooged’s Christmas Present is the most original. A cute fairy that slaps people to get them to pay attention to the world around them. A nice change from the usual bearded, robed giant.

Christmas Future is the most consistent in appearance. Every version portrays Future as a hooded figure wearing a dark robe that never speaks. But, of all the adaptations the Muppet version is by far the most unsettling. Nothing about it looks human. It towers over the rest of the cast, with long arms and seemingly no face inside its hood. Making it equal parts fascinating and terrifying.

So, which film has the best ghosts? It has to be a tie between Scrooged and Muppets Christmas Carol. As both display a great amount of imagination in realizing Dicken’s old ideas. Without sacrificing what made them great.

Winner: Muppets Christmas Carol & Scrooged

The Ghosts of Christmas Present (Scrooged left, Muppets Christmas Carol right) (Source: The Viewers Commentary)
The Ghosts of Christmas Present (Scrooged left, Muppets Christmas Carol right) (Source: The Viewers Commentary)

Who Has The Best Supporting Cast?

Of course, Carol’s supporting cast is also important. The Cratchit Family, Scrooge’s nephew and every other character that populate Scrooge’s life add a little extra to the story. All these adaptations have incredible actors in the supporting cast. But Scrooge (1951) and Muppets Christmas Carol use their supporting actors best.

Not that there aren’t incredible actors in the other versions, but unfortunately Scrooge (1970)’s cast never really does much to elevate themselves, remaining functional but largely forgettable. A Christmas Carol (2009)’s motion capture continually distracts from the performances in favour of showing what was possible with motion capture. And many of Scrooged’s prominent supporting players aren’t given enough time to make an impact.

But, Scrooge (1951) and Muppets Christmas Carol’s supporting cast are incredibly memorable. Scrooge’s supporting cast includes greats like Mervyn Johns as Bob Cratchit (the best version in my opinion). Brian Worth as Fred and Carol Marsh as Fan are great. And memorable faces are dotted throughout like Jack Warner, Ernest Thesiger, and Hattie Jacques. Each character has a memorable moment and every actor gives an incredible performance that will leave the viewer riveted. And Muppets Christmas Carol has great fun filling out the supporting cast with regular Muppet characters. Such as having Kermit the frog and Miss Piggy as Bob and Emily Cratchit and Gonzo as Charles Dickens. Which adds a great amount of humour to the proceedings. And makes all the characters memorable because of the names behind them.

Meaning this segment again ends with a tie. One film showcases the power of incredible performances and great writing. The other demonstrates that sometimes all you need is the right name to make something memorable.

Winner: Scrooge (1951) & Muppets Christmas Carol

The supporting casts of Muppets Christmas Carol & Scrooge (1951) (Sources: Flickr & GQ)

Which Version Has The Best Production?

It’s been interesting to see how each Carol adaptation reflects different attitudes to cinematic production. Scrooge (1951) focuses more on creating an authentic-looking Victorian world for the characters to inhabit. While the blocking and camerawork make for a very classical production. Scrooge (1970) aims for spectacle with varied settings, beautifully muted colours and having the cinematography play a more active role. Using long takes and camera movement to accentuate key moments. Scrooged places emphasis on practical effects and capturing modern metropolitan life. The Muppets use their titular characters to help tell the story, while also incorporating musical numbers. And A Christmas Carol (2009) aims to showcase the capabilities of motion capture and create a thrilling blockbuster. For me, Muppets Christmas Carol is the best of them all.

Everything about the Muppets Christmas Carol is a joy to watch from a visual standpoint. The puppetry is amazing. Within minutes you forget that you’re watching puppets and become completely absorbed into the experience. The special effects also hold up better than many other versions of the story. And is further complemented by the beautiful set design and well-done cinematography. Which comes alive during the musical segments.

Winner: Muppets Christmas Carol

Gonzo and Rizzo in Muppets Christmas Carol (Source: Muppet Wiki)
Gonzo and Rizzo in Muppets Christmas Carol (Source: Muppet Wiki)

Which version tells the story best?

This segment is hard to judge objectively as each interpretation attempts to do something different with the text. But how well does each adaptation achieves its goals?

While A Christmas Carol (2009)’s goal to be entirely faithful to the source material is admirable its attempts to show off the capabilities of motion capture and including over the top action sequences ultimately cheapens the overall experience. Scrooge (1970) also stumbles as it doesn’t have the pomp and energy needed to make a musical work. And the inclusion of these elements doesn’t add anything to the story other than compounding what we already know. Lastly, while Scrooged is a smart modern update of the story, with a great sense of pitch-black humour, unfortunately, it runs out of steam towards the end. Falling back into what we all expect from A Christmas Carol.

Meanwhile, The Muppets is a marvel of juggling tones. It’s consistently funny thanks to the absurd humour found in placing these weird creatures against the human actors who play their roles 100% seriously. But it also knows how to effectively pull on the heartstrings when needed. The inclusion of musical numbers also works better than Scrooge (1970). Because of the effective editing and how the songs tell us more about the characters and the story. The one disadvantage is that the film is overstuffed with ideas. And it does make a few missteps along the way regarding pacing.

And Scrooge (1951) tells the best straightforward version of the story it can. Focusing on the actor’s performances, the writing and the realization of Dickens’ world. While also expanding on certain aspects of the story. Sections that are glossed over in other adaptations are given real depth and weight here. For example, we get to follow Scrooge’s evolution into a miser in great detail. Which gives us great insight into his character. And we finally get a reason for why Scrooge resents his nephew so much. Which adds a tragic layer to both characters.   

Ultimately, despite some lacklustre special effects and minor grievances, I cannot deny that Scrooge (1951) tells its story the best. By being to the point and focusing on/expanding what worked in the source material rather than delivering overblown spectacle.

Winner: Scrooge (1951)

Scrooge & Tiny Tim from Scrooge (1951) (Source: Histomil)
Scrooge & Tiny Tim from Scrooge (1951) (Source: Histomil)

Overall Winners: Scrooge (1951) & Muppets Christmas Carol

Scrooge (1951) & Muppets Christmas Carol Posters (Source: IMDb)

Final Thoughts

The story of A Christmas Carol has truly given us many quality adaptations over the years. There’s something interesting about the fact that the closest adaptation of the book (A Christmas Carol (2009)) is the least interesting. Each of the other adaptations brought something new to the table.

If you want a generally entertaining and good-looking version of the story then Scrooge (1970) is for you. For an effective modern update to the old story, then go with Scrooged. If you want the definitive version that has incredible performances, fantastic design and expands on the source material in a way that feels natural and, in many ways, improves the story then watch Scrooge (1951). And if you want the best modern adaptation, packed full of imagination, memorable characters and perfectly blends humour, music, and drama then check out Muppets Christmas Carol.

Also Read: Who Did It Better?: How The Grinch Stole Christmas

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Reviews

Retro Review: It’s a Wonderful Life

December 24, 2018

With the big day fast approaching its time to review another one of my all-time favorite Christmas movies. But this is not just any Christmas movie. This is arguably not only the greatest Christmas movie ever, but one of the greatest movies of all time, period. So, join me as we look back at Frank Capra’s seminal classic, It’s a wonderful life.

The Story

Clarence, an angel hoping to get his wings, is tasked with saving George Bailey (James Stewart) from committing suicide on Christmas Eve. To figure out how to help him, Clarence looks back over George’s life. He finds that George has always put others before himself. From saving his brother from drowning when he was a child to taking over the family business when is father died. Thus, saving the town from being monopolized by the cruel Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore). But because of this he always missed out on personal opportunities. When the threat of bankruptcy emerges, George snaps. Abandoning his wife Mary (Donna Reed) and children, George slowly begins wondering if the world would have been better without him. So Clarence decides to grant George’s wish. Can Clarence save someone who has seemingly given up?

What did I like?

It’s hard to condense all the positive aspects of It’s a wonderful life into a review that doesn’t run on for over 2000 words. But I will try my best.

Firstly, the film has connected with so many people over the years because everyone can relate to the story. Everyone at some point has doubted their place in the world or had to forgo their dreams because life just gets in the way. It’s a story that really grounds the film and helps us easily relate to the situation and the characters. It is not always an easy film to watch, especially when George’s depressed attitude comes to the forefront. Which may hit some viewers a little close to home. But it’s message that no matter how small you think you are, everyone matters to someone, is something everyone wants and deserves to hear, especially at Christmas time.

With it’s grounded story, you would think the supernatural aspect would feel jarring. But it never does. Because It’s a wonderful life both smartly sets up the supernatural presence early on, effectively informing the audience about what is coming and keeps the mystical happenings low-key. The world is re-arranged without George off-screen and the biggest power Clarence exhibits is the ability to teleport by asking his boss for help. Thus, the film can be both mystical and realistic without either seeming to betray the other.

And the story is helped along by well-written characters inhabited by great performances from every member of the cast. No one puts a foot wrong. James Stewart’s George and Donna Reed’s Mary are fantastic leads because they feel like normal people. Everything about them, from their dialogue and the way it’s spoken, to how the actors look at each other and the way they imbue great personality into the smallest gestures, makes them feel like normal people you could see walking down the street. And they wring every ounce of emotion out of all their scenes.

The supporting players are also great. Making the film feel like part of a real community, rather than actors simply playing roles. Special praise goes to Ward Bond and Frank Faylen who provide great comedic relief as loveable cop Bert and taxi driver Ernie. Lionel Barrymore also exudes sliminess as Mr. Potter. Who easily makes you hate every minute he’s on screen. But, aside from when he “acquires” George’s money, he never comes across as cartoonishly evil. He just feels like a man doing all he can to stay in power. And Henry Travers’ Clarence has a sense of childlike hopefulness and absentmindedness. Which combine wonderfully to easily make him cinemas most lovable angel. Even Gloria Grahame’s Violet, who doesn’t contribute anything major to the plot, feels like she belongs in this story. And her playful flirting feels charming, especially at a time where unmarried women were often demonized.

Surrounding a fantastic, relatable story, wonderful characters and amazing performances there is some gorgeous production design. The town of Bedford Falls looks accurate to the times and feels very much like a lived-in world. But also manages to feel timeless because of the lack of technology on display to date the film and the picturesque way it captures the idea of small-town America. And Dimitri Tiomkin’s beautiful musical score perfectly compliments and heightens every scene. With joyful and haunting strings and festive sleigh bells that really give a sense of the characters pain, triumphs and festive mood.

Honestly, I’ve barely begun to scratch the surface of everything that makes this movie great. But I have to move on. Or else my editor will hate me for making his job even harder at Christmas.

What I do not like?

How do you find fault with one of the most highly regarded movies of all time? Well it isn’t easy, and it makes me feel awful, but there are still minor issues that may bother some people.

One problem is that the films pacing feels slightly uneven towards the end. Because all the action revolving around Clarence and George’s journey to affirmation only comes into play in the third act, the build-up to the climax feels a little rushed. The emotional payoff is still great and the third act is the most memorable part of the film. But the final portion could have used a bit more room to breathe.

Also, some points make the film feel slightly dated. The revelation of what happens to Mary if George was never born is a good example of this. In this darkest possible timeline, where gentle Bert and Ernie are cynical and hostile; playful people like Violet are abused and shoved around, the idea that the worst thing that could happen to Mary is that she is not married and works at the library, feels a little too old-fashioned. And you can look at the Bailey’s family housekeeper and see examples of racial stereotyping.

Finally, the use of banking and building and loans as a central plot thrust may leave some people perplexed at times. Sometimes the minutia of the profession does feel a little inaccessible. However, these scenes never go on too long and you are still able to follow the story. It just might mean you momentarily zone out when talk shifts to banking matters.

Verdict

Despite slight blemishes brought on by age, a finale that may have benefitted from a bit more time and the sometimes impenetrable banking subject matter, It’s a wonderful life is a film that deserves to be watched every festive season. It’s grounded story with a wonderful festive message, loveable characters, flawless acting, production design and emotional score make it a true masterpiece. And it deserves its reputation as the best Christmas movie ever made.

Verdict: 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

But…it is still not my favourite Christmas movie. What is? You will have to wait for my next review to find out.   

Editorials

Top 5 Un-Christmassy Christmas Films

December 20, 2018
Brazil (1985)

Debates are currently raging across social media and news outlets regarding a certain movie and it’s status as a Christmas movie. So when would be a better time to run down a list of the 5 most debatable Christmas movies ever?

For the purposes of this list, a Christmas movie is a movie that pays particular attention to the holiday season. And also focuses on delivering the festive message of goodwill. As such, movies on this list don’t pay close attention to the holiday or deliver messages of despair and misery. What a fun way to counteract all the forced gaiety of Christmas time. So for those of you looking to watch something different this year, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s begin.

Black Christmas (1974)

Many un-Christmassy Christmas movies like to use Christmas as an ironic or dark setting. To exemplify their stories horrific or absurd nature. One of the earliest films to do this was the original Black Christmas. Bob Clark’sseasonal chiller tells a familiar story. A group of sorority girls are killed off one-by-one by someone hiding in the attic. But it sets itself apart in a myriad of ways. Not least by how it uses Christmas as its backdrop. When juxtaposed against the snow, lights and carolers, the films violence and adult content becomes extra effective. And the perversion of Christmas iconography like birth, family and having the killer breaking into the house like Santa Claus, transforms the film into both a well-told deconstruction of Christmas mythology and the best Christmas horror film ever. But when watching it, goodwill will be the furthest thing from your mind.   

Gift wrapping gone wrong in Black Christmas (1974)

Brazil (1985)

Terry Gilliam’s masterpiece is a sci-fi reimagining of George Orwell’s 1984, except more concerned with corporate bureaucracy, the power that corporations hold over us and how fantasy is a far more attractive prospect than reality. And it is set at Christmas…I wonder why? Like Black Christmas, Brazil uses the bright trappings of Christmas to accentuate the darkness of its world. But this time with a more darkly satirical edge. Like many of Gilliam’s films, it finds absurd humour in combining jolly childish fantasy with bleak adult reality and both of those things very much fit the Christmas motif. Making for an experience that captures not so much the fantasy of Christmas, but perfectly captures the pain of growing out of Christmas.

Santa visits the condemned in jail. Brazil (1985)

The Hunt (2012)

And continuing from Brazil’s use of grim adult reality to offset childhood innocence, comes the ultimate example of how assumed childhood innocence can have grim repercussions on adult life. The Hunt is a Danish film from director Thomas Vinterberg and stars Mads Mikkelsen. The story focuses on Lucas, a schoolteacher accused of something during the holidays. He then spends the season attempting to clear his name. While also trying to save his relationship with his son and surviving persecution from his neighbours. This truly is one of the most challenging films set at the most wonderful time of the year. Watching a man being driven to near-suicide, for something he didn’t do, by “civilized” people is as far removed from Christmassy as you can get. But the message of forgiveness and the dangers of pre-judgment is one that everyone should hear, especially at this time of year.

The happiest midnight mass ever in The Hunt (2012)

Die Hard (1988)

The movie everyone is currently discussing for its holiday relation. The classic action movie concerns New York cop, John McClane (Bruce Willis). Who attends his wife’s Christmas party which is later hijacked by “terrorist” Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman). The story then becomes pure white-knuckle action as John tries saving the day, while desperately trying to avoid being killed. It is so easy to get absorbed in the action, brilliant acting and dialogue, that Die Hard’s Christmas setting seems incidental. But again the festive trimmings lend extra catharsis to the blood spurts. And the themes of greed and honesty that permeate the film still shows a clear affinity for the holiday. So we may have Bruce Willis instead of Santa. Delivering death instead of presents. But Die Hard deserves to be seen as a Christmas movie. Let it Snow’s presence on the soundtrack also helps.

See a Santa hat. Die Hard (1988) is a Christmas movie

Filth (2013)

Finally, for our list of seasonal antithetical movies, we have the filthiest holiday movie of the century so far. Filth stars James McAvoy as Bruce Robertson. A cop with dreams of promotion, investigating the murder of a foreign exchange student. But he has some serious demons to deal with. Including drug addiction, a disparaging voice in his head (Jim Broadbent) and being separated from his wife and child. Consequently, he spends the Christmas season making life miserable for himself and his colleagues. Pitch black in every sense, Filth is only recommendable to those with strong constitutions. Even seasonal goodwill may not get you through it. This is a film intent on showcasing humanities selfish and destructive side. But McAvoy’s brilliant performance makes it hard to turn away from. If nothing else, this film shows, however bad you think your office Christmas parties are, they could be much worse.

One hell of a Christmas party in Filth (2013)

So, I hope this list has given all of you some new festive treats to check out. To help provide a different perspective on this wonderful time. It may not always be holly and jolly, but all are a great cure for a silent night at home. Happy watching.

Reviews

Retro Review: The Muppets Christmas Carol

December 13, 2018

With the Christmas countdown officially underway, this is the time of year when old favorite holiday movies are wheeled out to get everyone in the festive spirit. For me, there are three movies that I always watch during the most wonderful time of year, and over the next few weeks, I will be reviewing them for you. The first of which is my families Christmas eve tradition, The Muppets Christmas Carol.

The Story

On Christmas Eve, Charles Dickens (The Great Gonzo) and his partner Rizzo the Rat, regale us with the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge (Michael Caine). Scrooge is an old skinflint who makes life miserable for his employee Bob Cratchit (Kermit the frog). He shuns friendship and family and, detests Christmas, preferring to be alone with his misery. But this night the ghosts of his old partners Jacob and Robert Marley (Statler and Waldorf) visit him. They tell him that if he doesn’t change his ways, eternal suffering awaits him in the afterlife. From there he is visited by three spirits, the Ghost of Christmas Past, who makes him confront the root of his Christmas hatred. The Ghost of Christmas Present, who shows him what Christmas means to everyone else. And finally, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, who shows him what Christmas will be like if he does not change.

What did I like?

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is one of the most adapted stories of all time. The tale has been adapted countless times in many mediums and there is a new adaptation at least once every few years. So it becomes hard to stand out. But Muppets Christmas Carol defeats this problem. Not only by remaining mostly faithful to the original text, even cribbing prose from the actual story but also investing the story with both the Muppets trademark sense of humor and a real sense of pathos.

The story is delivered with gusto. All the muppets suit the roles assigned to them. This allows for hilarious sight gags upon seeing how characters from A Christmas Carol were changed to fit the muppets. But it also allows this version to have a broad family appeal. The kids can enjoy seeing the muppets and the parents get to laugh at seeing the muppets in a serious literary tale. Anyone can enjoy it. The voice actors all do great work, imbuing life and fun personalities to their puppets. And the human actors are delightful to watch. Michael Caine is clearly having a blast playing the old miser. Adding great relish to his hateful lines. But what makes it better is that the human roles are played entirely straight. There’s no self-awareness, the human actors play against the muppets with 100% seriousness and that makes it all the funnier.

But remarkably, the cast and crew also know when to tone the humor down. The sequences that need to be scary or emotionally impactful always hit their marks because they are played with 100% sincerity.   

And while the film would deserve praise simply for making a muppet movie both gut-bustingly funny and tear-jerking at the same time, the film also does a lot of other things to ensure that it deserves its place as one of the best Christmas Carol adaptations. The inclusion of catchy musical numbers adds an extra layer of charm to the proceedings. Allowing exposition to be delivered creatively and keeping the films pacing up. The puppeteering is also very impressive and still holds up today. The puppets have many little facial ticks and movements that make them feel like real creatures rather than props. The set design is also spectacular. Recreating the novels Victorian setting very well. And taking influence from German expressionist horror films, which help the place feel oppressive. And finally, the inclusion of Gonzo as the narrator.

While only a small addition, the inclusion of a narrator adds to the nostalgic feeling I mentioned in my overview of the Grinch. It makes the story feel like it’s being imparted by an older friend. Thus making it more personal to us, the audience. The inclusion of Rizzo as an audience POVcharacter furthers this as he, like us, is cynical, constantly trying to disprove Charles and making snide comments. This makes it easy to get invested and gives us a personal sense of attachment to the story. Making it all the easier to return to this version again, and again and again.

What I do not like?

It breaks my heart to find faults in all the movies I will be reviewing this season. But they are never the less there and it doesn’t make melove these films any less.

Firstly, the story is heavily synopsized. While this improves some aspects of the story, which in other versions can be a bit plodding, the flashback to Scrooge’s relationship with his fiancé Belle suffers for it. Because we only have a short time to get to know Belle, we don’t feel as invested in her relationship with Scrooge. As such the reveal that this is the major reason why Scrooge is a loner doesn’t carry as much weight. The actors, however, do a fine job of selling the scene, which does manage to salvage it.

Another problem is the fact that Scrooges change of heart comes a little too soon. In many other adaptations, Scrooge changes gradually, only really cracking when he sees the effect his actions have on Bob Cratchit and his family. But here he seems to be a happier person by the time he meets the Ghost of Christmas Present. Which could lessen the impact of the Tiny Tim scene.

Finally, towards the end of the film, the musical numbers stop, and the film just focuses on the action. Which, while appropriate, gives the impression that the musical numbers are a crutch to hold up the first part of the film.

Verdict

Despite its flaws, The Muppets Christmas Carol is, for my money, the best adaptation of Charles Dickens classic tale. The acting is so much fun. It delivers the story in a way that is accessible to everyone. It has charm to spare, with its musical numbers, the nostalgic and relatable use of narration to tell the story and the insertion of the muppet’s giant personalities into the proceedings. But it’s also not afraid to let things breathe and get serious when it needs to. If you only see one version of A Christmas Carol this year, make sure it’s this one.

Verdict: 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Editorials

A Christmas Buyer’s Guide for Film Lovers

December 2, 2018

At the time of writing, Christmas is just over three weeks away. The streets are strewn with lights, classic Christmas songs are on the radio and everyone is struggling to find a gift for their loved ones. But fear not. If you are buying for a film lover, Big Picture Film Club has your back.

Today we are going to give five categorical recommendations of gifts that will please any film fan. Hopefully, this will give some of you an idea about what to get. So, let’s begin.

Collector’s edition DVD’S/Blu-rays

Nothing makes a film fan happier than owning the best editions of their favourite films. Regular DVD’s/Blu-rays are nice but there is a certain pleasure in unwrapping a collector’s edition with filmmaker commentary, documentaries, interviews, analyses, and a gorgeous transfer. Although collector editions are available from various sources, in the UK if you want the best, you can go to one of five companies:

  • Arrow Video – Specialises in cult releases (see also, Arrow Academy which specializes in critically acclaimed work and Arrow Films, which focuses on new releases)
  • The Criterion Collection – Specialises in releasing important films from world history
  • Eureka’s Masters of Cinema and Eureka Classics label – a UK counterpart to Criterion which puts out works of cultural importance and well-regarded niche films. If criterion doesn’t have your film, Eureka probably will.
  • BFI – They provide gorgeous transfers of historically significant work from Britain and around the world
  • Curzon Artificial Eye – Provides extra ladened releases of world cinema titles, new and old.

If your friend loves a film released by one of these companies, you owe it to them to get it. They are a little more expensive than other DVD/Blu-ray releases but for the quality of the content, it’s worth it.

(Also recommended 88 films, 101 films, Powerhouse Films, and Second Sight Entertainment)

Film Merchandise

This category really has the power to surprise and delight. Film fans adore minutia to brighten up their homes and there are so many options for what to buy.

You could get them a classic poster of their favourite film to give them something gorgeous to hang on their wall. You could buy them a Funko Pop of their favourite film characters to liven up their work desk. Or, why not buy them replicas of famous movie props. To allow the recipient to live out the fantasy of being a part of their favourite films.

Freddy Krueger replica glove (Amazon.co.uk)

These items vary drastically in price but no matter what you pick, your film loving friend will have a big grin on their face.

Subscription Viewing

There really is nothing better to get your friend to ensure that their movie viewing needs are cared for all year. But, what service should you get them? Well, what do they like?

  • Netflix – For a range of well-known classics, critically acclaimed modern and original films (£5.99-£9.99 monthly)
  • Amazon Prime – Provides modern favourites and many obscure older titles. Also includes prime next day delivery for those who frequently use Amazon (£79 a year or £7.99 monthly)
  • Shudder – A streaming service for horror fans. Stocked with well-known and obscure horror titles from around the world (£47.98 a year or £4.99 monthly).
  • Now TV with Sky Cinema subscription – Provides a range of classic and little-known Hollywood favourites (£55 a year)
  • Mubi and Mubi Go – For those with a taste for auteurs, independent and foreign language films. And Mubi Go allows the owner to attend one specially selected film screening a week at selected cinemas (£59.88 a year)

Or perhaps if your friend likes visiting the cinema, you could get them a subscription card for their favourite cinema chain. Cineworld has unlimited, Odeon has limitless and many cinemas have their own loyalty program. So, if your loved one likes visiting the cinema, this could help them keep up to date with new releases.

You won’t see your friend for a few weeks after they get their gift, but be assured, they are appreciative.

Home Cinema Equipment

What’s better than getting a good quality Blu-ray or DVD of your favourite film? Watching it on good home media equipment. Whether it be the latest 4K television that allows you to see a higher quality image or a home surround sound system to provide a more immersive sonic experience, it makes a nice little addition to any film watchers home.

Home Theatre System (Family Living Today)

Filming Equipment

Finally, every film fan likes watching films, but do they also want to make their own films? Well, this year why not give them a helping hand.

Firstly, find out what the person you are buying for is interested in. Do they make films solo or are they interested in one particular area of filmmaking? Once that question’s been answered, we can proceed.

If they want to make films themselves and you have a bit of extra cash, then you could buy them a nice DSLR camera. Which allows them to shoot their own stuff on the go and have a great input into how the image will look. If you don’t have enough cash for that, why not try a nice phone gimbal? To allow them to use their phones in a more cinematic way.

Do they want to be an editor? Why not buy them some editing software like Final Cut X or Premiere Pro? Hopeful directors can always use a viewfinder. For those interested in sound maybe a new microphone may be in order. And there is a myriad of other equipment available online to help start your friends on their journey towards becoming the next Spielberg. So, I encourage you to look around.

Conclusion

So, there are just a few suggestions of what to get your cinephile for Christmas. I hope this has at least given you some idea about what is available out there and wish you all the best of luck with your Christmas shopping. If you have any further ideas of what to buy, then please let us know in the comments and stay tuned for more festive articles coming soon.