Sunday, December 05, 1999

'Christmas Carol' mesmerizes viewers

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Are you ready to get Scrooged again? Sure you are. You always are. How else can I explain the continued popularity for remakes of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol?

        When people ask me if Patrick Stewart's new version of A Christmas Carol (premiering at 8 p.m. today) is any good, I tell them:

        Does it matter?

  • What: A Christmas Carol starring Patrick Stewart.

        • When: 8 p.m. today, TNT.

        • Repeats: 10 p.m. and midnight today; 10:30 p.m. Thursday; 8 p.m. Saturday; 9 p.m. Dec. 18; 4 p.m. Dec. 19; and 8 p.m. Christmas.

        Who cares what Old Fezziwig looks like? Does it matter that TNT's movie reminds you of Capt. Jean-Luc Picard making a Star Trek back to 1840s London?

        The truth is, anybody can give you the Dickens: Alastair Sim or Kermit the Frog, Bill Murray or Mr. Magoo, George C. Scott or Cicely Tyson, Mickey Mouse or Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny or Susan Lucci, Fred Flintstone or Reginald Owen.

        You don't care.

        You'll watch anyway.

        You'll be delighted to hear that producer Robert Halmi, the guy who had pirates attacking Noah's Ark in May, didn't take any outrageous liberties with the Dickens classic.

        Rest assured that Ebenezer Scrooge isn't haunted by the ghost of Bob Marley. Austin Powers doesn't play the Ghost of Christmas Past. (Yeah, Humbug, Baby!)

        The Ghost of Christmas Present isn't a Pokemon.

        I hate to give away an ending, but Tiny Tim doesn't die in this one either.

        In other words, Mr. Halmi's A Christmas Carol is the same old story. To be exact, 153 years old.

        For that reason, the whole production seems too familiar. You'll hear the same lines delivered every year by everyone from Alec Guinness to Whoopi Goldberg, from Goofy to Gonzo.

        On fast-forward, it sounds like this:

        “Merry Christmas? What right do you have to be merry? ... I suppose you must have the whole day off? ... You'll be haunted by three spirits ... One passion has engulfed you: Money ...

        “Show me no more, take me home! ... Unless the future changes, the child will die! ... Oh, no Spirit! I'm not the man I was! I will know Christmas in my heart, and keep it all years!

        “Oh, Magoo, you've done it again!” Just kidding.

WWF ghosts
        Curiously, the special effects aren't very special in this production by Mr. Halmi, who won multiple Emmys for his wizardry in Merlin and Gulliver's Travels.

        And the costumes for the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future look as if they were borrowed from the World Wrestling Federation.

        Show me no more, indeed.

        Mr. Stewart, who starred on Broadway in a one-man adaptation of A Christmas Carol, makes more than an adequate Scrooge. He spends most of the movie in a nightcap, so viewers aren't distracted by his bald dome.

        On the scale of Christmas Carols past, the 1999 version ranks somewhere in the middle.

        It doesn't top my favorites, the 1984 George C. Scott film (which repeats at 11:30 a.m. today on Channel 64) or Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol.

        But it's better than most recent remakes, especially Cicely Tyson's Ms. Scrooge (1997), Jack Palance's Ebenezer (1997); Susan Lucci's Ebbie (1995) and Tim Curry-Whoopi Goldberg animated version (1997) of A Christmas Carol.

Dozens of rip-offs
        When you think about it — or look at the Enquirer's holiday TV list — there have been a stunning number of Dickens' rip-offs. And they all repeat, year after year.

        The lack of creativity is appalling in Hollywood. At least you haven't been subjected to dozens of remakes of the Beverly Hillbillies, The Brady Bunch or The Mod Squad.

        And there's nothing like a bad Christmas Carol to make you cherish truly original Christmas shows — A Charlie Brown Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Santa Clause, The Gathering, Miracle on 34th Street, to name a few of my favorites.

        The bottom line is this: Some of you will absolutely love Mr. Stewart's new Scrooge. Some of you will prefer another ghosts of Christmas past: Alastair Sim, Reginald Owen, Albert Finney or George C. Scott.

        So go a Caroling this season however you choose. Catch a terrific production (again) at the Playhouse in the Park. Or sink into the sofa for another miserly evening with Mickey, Muppets, Murray or Magoo.

        Bless 'em all, each and every one.

        John Kiesewetter is Enquirer TV/radio critic. Write: 312 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202; fax: 768-8330.


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