We’ve reached the penultimate episode of Throwback Thirty so I’ve decided to watch one of my favourite Christmas films. Whilst it didn’t quite make it into my Top 11 Essential Christmas films, it is certainly something I enjoy watching this time of year. Really, I like films that play with Charles Dickens’ story in different ways. I understand the fact that, as a Victorian novel, it feels as though you should stay true to the time period. But there are only so many times you can see an angry old man in a nightgown following ghosts around until it gets boring, so changing it up a bit is always welcome. Whilst I will always see The Muppets Christmas Carol as the ultimate adaptation of the tale, Scrooged, at least, tries to bring it into the modern age. And, as it was released in 1988, it was made during Bill Murray’s glory days. And, let’s be honest, who better to play a mean, slightly unhinged, and haunted TV executive than the great Murray? Who better to star in the classic festive tale? When Bill’s around it’ll always be a Murrary Christmas.
You can see the appeal of casting Bill Murray as a man who encounters four ghosts in the span of one night. The last time he came face-to-face with a bunch of ghosts it helped to create a much-loved comedy film. This time, though, Murray isn’t busting anything and finds himself at the mercy of the spectres he meets. Scrooged is a play on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol that sets the story in the glamorous world of television. Murray plays the cynical and selfish executive Frank Cross who has let work take over his life. He is the kind of man who would fire an employee for disagreeing with him or sending the wrong gift to his brother. He’s an utter bastard and would step on anyone to make a bit of extra cash. He really needs taking down a peg or two and, luckily, that’s about to happen.
Frank is right in the middle of the Christmas schedule and preparing for a live adaptation of A Christmas Carol to go out on his channel. He is making his staff work extra hours over the holidays and is doing everything he can to make this a success. Or at least, everything he can force his workers to do for him. So, when he is visited by the ghost of his old mentor, Frank assumes he is stressed. However, he then finds himself visited by three more ghosts who show him the Christmases of his past, present, and future respectively. Will Frank realise that his life has taken him in a negative direction and can he save himself before it’s too late?
It’s not as if Scrooged is doing anything dramatically different with the story and the end result is the same as it’s always been. However, it does have a bit of fun with its modern setting. Changing the Scrooge character to a TV executive is a clever move that works really well and it gives Murray the chance to let loose in a way that only he can. The film really works when Murray is being a completely bastard. The moments when Frank is being an utter bastard are by far the funniest in the film and it’s a huge shame that we know a redemption is coming. An ending that, when it finally comes, is a bit too sentimental and hard to take. It’s all very Hollywood and schmaltzy which is a massive shame. The film loses its humour as soon a Frank starts to see the world differently and the change in tone is just too jarring.
The humour flies at the beginning as we are introduced to Frank’s network. The opening trailer for a bloody Christmas action film and random holiday specials is one of the standout sequences. It’s so weird but frighteningly realistic at the same time. Murray has a lot of fun spouting the most cutting lines possible and it’s clear he was just left to do as he pleased. It makes the film a better one. It’s the end of the film that really lets it down. The emotional message of A Christmas Carol, though well-meaning, is a lot less fun than just letting Scrooge be mean forever. It’s a real shame that we have to pedal goodness over vitriol. But, then again, I’ve always been something of a Scrooge myself so it’s no wonder I’m siding with the pre-haunting character. And, you get the feeling that Scrooged feels the same way. There is a lack of heart in the final message and it feels like something the characters just have to get through.
Despite its faults, I’ve always liked Scrooge. It has fun with a well-known story and Murray breathes new life into a potentially tired concept. It also stands the test of time. Yes, it’s obviously a bit worn these days but, as a fellow 30-year-old, I’m sympathetic to that. Scrooged still feels kind of fresh and modern despite being in its 3rd decade. It’s aged much better than I have. Part of me wishes it could be funnier in general as the supporting cast never live up to Murray’s heights. The ghost of Christmas present is nowhere near as funny as she thinks she is and feels even more desperate next to Murray’s effortless humour. It’s not Murray’s greatest role ever and it’s not the greatest Christmas film. It is a bit of fun though and, having just watched a lot of shitty Netflix films, it was nice to go back to an old favourite.