Friday, December 15, 2017

“Your Reclamation, Then” | Jim Carrey (2009)

Robert Zemeckis' Christmas Carol skips straight from Scrooge's hiding in bed after Marley's visit to one o'clock. Scrooge is awake and very frightened, but there's no telling if he got any sleep before that or has just been awake the whole time. If he's been awake though, I doubt he's been fretting over the passage of time. He is clearly super freaked out.

As soon as the local church bell chimes one, Scrooge's bed curtains are pulled aside by themselves and a strong, focused light (like a miniature spotlight) turns on. It's pointing straight up at first, but then moves around the room to shine briefly in Scrooge's face before becoming a vertical shaft of light again. The Spirit has been floating near the floor and out of Scrooge's line of sight from his place in the bed. As it raises up, the shaft of light becomes less intense and settles into the flickering flame that makes up the Spirit's head.

The Spirit carries the cap and holly branch (at first, anyway; it'll lose the holly branch pretty quick). And it's a small-sized ghost. It kind of does the old-young thing, but in a different way from Dickens. Instead of human features, it's simply a flame with a face. And its body even suggests a candlestick.

Zemeckis has Jim Carrey playing the Spirit, which isn't a choice I like, but I do see where they're going with it. If the Spirit is the ghost of Scrooge's Christmases Past, then why not make it look like Scrooge? The problem is that I keep imagining Jim Carrey against a green screen, bobbing and jerking his head around to resemble the flickering of a candle flame. And that yanks me right out of the story. I had the same reactions to seeing Colin Firth and Gary Oldman too accurately represented in their CG characters. Pretty much all my feelings about this version of the Spirit are like that. Every choice is intentional and the goal is always to represent Dickens, but the overall effect is creepy and off-putting (only not just in the intended way).

Because the Spirit is so bizarre, Scrooge continues to be frightened. He does ask the Spirit to put its cap on, but he asks very timidly. And the Spirit is so oppressively bright that I understand why Scrooge musters the courage to make his request. (As the Spirit answers him, I notice that it's got an Irish accent for some reason. That would make some sense if Scrooge was himself Irish, but I don't recall that being revealed as true anywhere else in this version. It's probably just Carrey adding one layer too many onto this performance.) Reprimanded by the Spirit for the question, Scrooge is immediately submissive and apologetic.

The Spirit just kind of hovers there, being weird, and Scrooge settles down a little, becoming less frightened and more interested in the apparition. "O Come, All Ye Faithful" plays sweetly in the soundtrack as the Spirit reveals what it is. "Rise," it says, "and walk with me." The line is straight out of Dickens, but something about the way that the Spirit grabs Scrooge's hand and gently pulls him out of bed reminds me of the stories where Jesus Christ offered disabled people the chance to "rise and walk." In other words, the Spirit is already a symbol of healing.

Sticking with the religious theme, the song swells and becomes "Ave Maria" as the Spirit pulls Scrooge towards the window. As they walk, the Spirit is able to change the direction of the flame on its head so that the spotlight points directly in front of him. So that's how it was shining in Scrooge's face earlier.

Scrooge's fear gets the better of him and he grabs his bed curtain to keep from being ushered outside. He explains that he's a mortal and liable to fall. The Spirit touches Scrooge on the heart (leaving its cap floating in midair to do it) and Scrooge looks rapturous as light enters his body and his feet leave the floor. But his ecstasy turns to nervousness when the Spirit shoots them through the room, out the window, and into snowy countryside.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

“Your Reclamation, Then” | Scrooge McDuck (1983)

In Mickey's Christmas Carol, Scrooge seemed like a believer when he was talking to Marley, but his tone quickly changes once Marley's gone. He searches his room, and finding nothing, he grumbles, "Spirits." That doesn't necessarily mean that he no longer believes in Marley's ghost, but maybe he thinks that Marley was wrong about the other visitors. At any rate, he goes to bed with a final, "Humbug!"

He does fall asleep and we get a nice POV shot of something bouncing into the room and landing on Scrooge's nightstand. It's Jiminy Cricket, who raps his umbrella on the bells of Scooge's clock. That's all the chiming we'll get, but this Marley never made any predictions about what time the spirits would show up. In fact, Scrooge's clock says that it's not quite ten minutes after midnight. So no waiting around 'til one this time.

Jiminy makes an okay Spirit of Christmas Past. He's tiny (something that Scrooge comments on), but his real advantage is his personality and the role he's known for in Pinocchio. It's in character for him to lecture about morality, which will be a major part of his job in the coming scenes as he points out the lessons that Scrooge should have learned in his past. Unlike some of the other characters in this adaptation, Jiminy's look isn't modified to represent Dickens' version. There's not so much as a holly branch. In fact, the only modification to Jiminy's traditional look is that his medal now says "Ghost of Christmas Past - Official" instead of "Official Conscience."

Scrooge and the Spirit's conversation is almost entirely changed from Dickens. They briefly debate the importance of kindness before Jiminy declares that Scrooge didn't always undervalue the trait. As Scrooge tries to ignore him and go back to sleep, the Spirit hops over to the window and opens it. The snowy breeze gets Scrooge out of bed as the Spirit announces that they're going to visit Scrooge's past. Scrooge worries that he'll fall, but the Spirit hops in his hand and tells him to "just hold on." Then he opens his umbrella and flies out the window, dragging Scrooge behind him like Mjolnir pulling Thor. Well, maybe not so gracefully as that.

There's no touching Scrooge's heart and all together it appears that Scrooge has backslid in this scene. He seemed willing to change with Marley, but he doesn't respect this little Spirit. He's going to need some more convincing.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

“Your Reclamation, Then” | Walter Matthau (1978)

Since Rankin-Bass' The Stingiest Man in Town spent so much time on Marley, it keeps this introductory scene incredibly short. We'll have to get to know the Spirit of Christmas Past as we go.

Scrooge doesn't even get a chance to go to sleep. He's still quivering in his bed when the Spirit draws back the curtain and introduces himself. And he's decidedly a man. And an old one.

If you're not going to go all out and do the young-old, genderless representation, I understand the impulse to make the ghost old. Scrooge himself is an old man and this spirit represents all of his previous Christmases, so it makes sense that it's as old as he is. Dickens' adding a youthful quality is just a metaphor for how fresh our memories are. We remember even childhood things as if they were "just yesterday." If you've got to pick either young or old though, I think old is the way to go.

Incidentally, it's just this year that I paid any attention to the Spirit's explanation (which does come up in this abbreviated version) that it specifically represents Scrooge's past and not all Christmases past in general. I used to think the Spirit must have been 1,980-something years old, but really it's only going to be in its 70s or however old Scrooge is.

What I don't accept as much is the decision to make the Spirit male. If you're not going to go genderless, then why not add a woman to the already very male-heavy cast of characters?

The Spirit is small like in Dickens, but not supernaturally so. He just looks like a very short person. And he does carry the holly and the cap and he has the bright light shining from his head. This Scrooge is still terrified, so he doesn't dare ask the Spirit to put the cap on. In fact, he doesn't talk to the Spirit at all except to ask if he represents "long past."

The Spirit doesn't touch Scrooge's heart either. He simply commands Scrooge to take the Spirit's hand and then flies them both out of the window. As we talked about last year with Scrooge's question about "how" to change, I think his heart has already been touched. He doesn't know what he needs to do, but the interest in changing is already there at this point.

As the window opens, Tom Bosley's Humbug character has the chance to come back in, since he was trapped outside during the Marley scene. He watches Scrooge and Spirit go, but stays behind. I don't remember if he witnesses the past with Scrooge, so maybe he catches up later.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

“Your Reclamation, Then” | Alastair Sim (1971)

Richard Williams' animated version had Scrooge hurry off to bed after his encounter with Marley and we find out in this scene that he did go to sleep. He's awakened by the chime of one though, so there's no sitting up and fretting for the last hour. I'm curious to see if any of the theatrical versions include that and how they might handle it, but I expect that most will just cut straight to the Spirit's showing up.

Michael Redgrave's narration comes back in rather unnecessarily, since he's just describing things we can see onscreen, like the room's filling with light or a ghostly hand drawing back Scrooge's bed curtain. Once Scrooge and the Spirit speak though, Redgrave backs off.

The Spirit itself is super accurate. It's got the long, white hair and the youngish, gender-neutral face. It carries the holly and the cap and there's a bright flame coming from its head. It even flickers in the way Dickens described, with extra limbs and even heads coming into and fading out of view. (One cool result of this is that the Spirit can hold onto its holly and cap, but still have hands to interact with Scrooge.)

Scrooge is very polite to it. He calls it "sir" (that could be his own bias talking as much as any real understanding of the ghost's gender) and he doesn't complain about the light or ask the Spirit to put on its cap. Scrooge is so polite that when the Spirit says that its there for Scrooge's welfare, there's not even a mention of unbroken rest. Scrooge doesn't even think it, as far as we know. If he does, the Spirit doesn't correct him, but I think that line was left out on purpose. Scrooge's attitude seems to be very complacent and it has been since the end of Marley's visit. It looks like Marley did the heavy lifting on this transformation. Scrooge already seems willing to learn.

That might also explain why this Spirit never has to touch Scrooge's heart. It simply says, "Rise, and walk with me," and then whisks Scrooge out of the window. Scrooge doesn't express fear of falling and doesn't appear to need any extra upholding by the Spirit.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Hellbent for Letterbox | Maverick (1994)

It's cold out there, but Pax and I stayed warm talking about one of our favorite Westerns, 1994's Maverick with Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, and James Garner. And in a special "Whatchoo Been Westernin'?" segment, we discussed some of the episodes of the Maverick TV show that we watched, too.

“Your Reclamation, Then” | Teen Titans #13 (1968)

The Teen Titans version of A Christmas Carol isn't an adaptation, but just an adventure inspired by Dickens' story. Once Robin noticed the similarities between Dickens' characters and the people involved with the Titans' current case, he had the idea of using Christmas Carol tactics to try to redeem Scrounge.

So late on Christmas Eve night, when Scrounge is finally alone in his junkyard, Kid Flash shows up and pretends to be the Ghost of Christmas Past. It's never spelled out in the story, but I assume that he's vibrating his molecules at super speed in order to pass through that wall.

Unfortunately, his costume is a rush job and looks more like the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Accurately representing the story isn't really the kids' point. They're just using its general approach.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

“Your Reclamation, Then” | Graphic Classics, Volume 19: Christmas Classics (2010)

Alex Burrows and Micah Farritor's severely abridged version of the story cuts this year's scene down to five panels. In the first, Scrooge is sleeping and a clock chimes one. In panel two, Scrooge wakes up. And in panel three, the Spirit appears and Scrooge asks who it is.

Panel four is the one above. The Spirit is relatively androgynous; perhaps leaning towards masculine. And it's neither young nor old, but middle-aged. I'm not crazy about that, but I do like the choice to give the Spirit flames for hair. That suggests the flickering nature of the ghost and also provides a source for the light emanating from its head. The holly branch is replaced by a garland that the Spirit wears as a necklace. The cap is there, but Scrooge calls no attention to it and it serves no purpose other than to be faithful to Dickens.

In the final panel, Scrooge asks the Spirit if it's the ghost of "long past." It says, "No, your past" and orders Scrooge to take its hand. Their hands touch in an inset panel and the following panel smash-cuts to the next scene, outdoors.

That means that the Spirit never touches Scrooge's heart, but I think Scrooge is going to be okay anyway. He doesn't have much to say, but his eyes are wide and submissive the whole time. He turned humble halfway through Marley's visit and still is. Earlier in the story, this Scrooge's defining characteristic seemed to be arrogance, but his confidence has been shaken by the ghosts and I'm betting he's going to be pretty easy to change. We'll see though.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

“Your Reclamation, Then” | Campfire’s A Christmas Carol (2010)

Scott McCullar and Naresh Kumar skip the build-up to the Spirit's appearance and just have Scrooge wake up at the stroke of one. Frankly, that's fine with me. I don't think that the weird passage of time adds to the story and I prefer versions where everything is happening in one night anyway.

Kumar draws the Spirit as feminine and vaguely young. Maybe in her twenties? She does carry holly and a cap, but they both appear and disappear from panel to panel. Maybe that's intentional in lieu of a flickering affect. I doubt it - Kumar's art is sloppy in general - but Mike Collins' version did the same thing so I'll cut Kumar some slack, too.

Scrooge's reaction to the Spirit is hard to get a handle on. Kumar has a tough time maintaining consistency in facial expressions (or even in just the way he draws eyes), which has created a malevolent, sociopathic version of Scrooge who may be hallucinating all of these ghosts. He's positively horrifying when he asks the Spirit to cover her light with her cap, but thoughtfully complacent when apologizing after she takes offense. He's so all over the place that - like in the Marley scene - the general impression is that he's struggling internally with how to deal with all this. There's no sense that he's actually interacting with real beings.

Which makes the Spirit's hand on Scrooge's heart all the more fascinating. This is my favorite depiction of that so far. Other versions have only implied or outright changed it, but Kumar has the Spirit's hand firmly on Scrooge's chest with bright light passing from her to him. If I haven't stated it outright yet, I will now that this is a big deal.

I believe that Dickens' intention is to show the power that memories have to shape our character. Specifically, that dwelling on positive memories (like of Christmas) can lift our spirits and make us better people. The Spirit's putting its hand on Scrooge's heart is a metaphor for that, but as a thing that literally happens in the story, it also means that Scrooge's transformation isn't entirely his own choice. There's a direct, supernatural influence over his heart that at the very least makes him more receptive to what the Spirit's about to show him.

Reading this version as all being in Scrooge's head gives him back the power to change. I still really like this as an alternative reading. The weakness with it though is that there's no obvious reason for Scrooge start struggling with this. I can imagine that it's just something that's been building for a while and is now bubbling over, but that's not satisfying. Maybe there is a supernatural force at work - and maybe it's even Marley's ghost - but it could be triggering this war in Scrooge's mind rather than literally visiting him.


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