Thursday, December 29, 2022

Modernizing Scrooge

Many of Shakespeare's plays have been transmuted into modern settings, such as WEST SIDE STORY (from ROMEO AND JULIET), SHE'S THE MAN (from TWELFTH NIGHT), and 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU (from THE TAMING OF THE SHREW), not to mention at least one animated animal drama, Disney's THE LION KING (from HAMLET). Jane Austen's novels have become a source for modern romantic movies, e.g. BRIDGET JONES'S DIARY (from PRIDE AND PREJUDICE) and CLUELESS (from EMMA). The classic film of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS was updated to the time when it was made (1950s) rather than its original 1890s setting.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL, of course, boasts a huge number of film adaptations, some of which have contemporary settings. Three movies illustrate different ways of approaching such a project: A DIVA'S CHRISTMAS CAROL obviously takes place in an alternate universe where Charles Dickens's novel was never published. Nobody in the cast seems to find anything odd about a Black superstar singer named Ebony Scrooge with a dead partner named Marley (one member of the female trio Ebony belonged to at the beginning of her career) and a manager named Bob Cratchit who has a sick child called Tim. Ebony has a niece, rather than a nephew, with whom she reconciles at the end. This retelling is fun and, in my opinion, surprisingly good. The characters in the comedy-drama SCROOGED, on the other hand, are thoroughly genre-savvy, being involved in a production of A CHRISTMAS CAROL themselves. Its star's happy ending has one feature most adapatations don't; he wins back his former lover, the movie's Belle substitute. AN AMERICAN CHRISTMAS CAROL, whose Christmas Present action occurs during the Depression, completely revamps the story with new names and backstories for the characters within the familiar basic plotline. Although the Scrooge figure, Ben Slade, is aware of the book, he hasn't read it. It's clear he's not much of a reader, especially given his decision to destroy the repossessed contents of a bookstore for the books' paper and leather components. When he glances through the novel, he pronounces it "claptrap" and is even more resistant to belief in spirits than old Ebenezer.

Of the three, I like the last one best. The Depression-era setting resonates with the wealth-and-poverty dichotomy of the original story's Victorian background. Ben Slade (played by Henry Winkler -- very effectively, too) has similar financial power over the less fortunate characters as Scrooge in Dickens's book. In fact, Ben has more power, since the action takes place in a small New England town, where he's virtually the only rich, influential person. The wintry landscape visually enhances the story, too.

Like many classics, A CHRISTMAS CAROL can be reimagined to a considerable extent while still keeping the fundamental plot and characters recognizable (Mr. Magoo? Mickey Mouse's Uncle Scrooge?), even if a modern milieu is chosen and requires omitting the "Bah, humbug!"

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

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