The Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol has been adapted and transformed, told and retold, in a variety of ways for decades. It’s been adapted for a Doctor Who story, one of the better Muppet adventures, and simply as a standard period piece. In 1988, director Richard Donner (The Goonies; Superman: The Movie) gifted audiences with a modern retelling that’s been considered a holiday staple for the last 35 years, certainly enough so that even this Jewish reviewer counts it among their favorites during the holidays. Now, to mark the occasion of its release, Paramount Pictures offers home-viewing audiences a brand-new 4K UHD edition of Donner’s Scrooged, with over 50 minutes of never-before-released special features that are undoubtedly going to delight longtime fans looking to expand on the cinematic adventure.
Head of Programming at broadcaster IBC, Frank Cross (Bill Murray) is headed into the holiday season, planning to bust records with a live broadcast of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Problem is that all Cross sees is ratings opportunities, not the people who make it happen, resulting in a great deal of stress on the IBC team. But all of this is set to return on Frank as he’s visited by the spirit of his old friend, mentor, and boss Lew Hayward (John Forsythe) who warns him that Frank is destined to a fate like his own unless he changes his ways. To give him that chance, he’ll be visited by three ghosts, each one with a specific purpose and opportunity. But will the humbug Frank take what’s offered or throw it away in search of greater glory?
As this is a first-time 4K UHD edition, let’s dig into what separates it from the prior editions and go from there.
First off, in comparison to the 2017 Blu-ray/DVD/digital combo edition that’s already in my home collection, there are no bonus features on either physical edition save for a theatrical trailer and there’s nothing available with the digital edition. So when the press release for the 4K UHD said “never-before-seen,” they may very well mean it as there’s nothing on the prior physical release. That’s going to be a major plus for physical media collectors and fans of the film specifically as bonus materials are a singular way to learn about the making of a film. This may seem odd in the age of information, but when so much is either hidden away or gatekept by distributors and license-holders, being able to access information on a specific film feels like a treasure to be discovered. Especially when one considers the age of this film, the reclusiveness of Murray, and that Donner passed July 2021, this may be the only way to get the stories of the film’s making out for the public. These featurettes cover everything from how the script came about, how the cast worked together, how they got the effects to look as they do on screen (ever wonder how they got Hayward’s mouth so dark?), how they adapted the Dickens characters to their iteration (like splitting Bob Cratchit into two characters), and much more.
Second, let’s be clear about the presentation. There doesn’t seem to be an audio remaster, just the same 5.1 DTS–HD Master audio track that was available previously on the Blu-ray. Instead, what’s going to pull people in to purchase this is the video remaster. There’re always going to be positives and negatives to taking a film from yesteryear and remastering it to now. Details that wouldn’t have been visible in the original run, due to the increased clarity, are very present now. The makeup, prosthetic, and costuming for Hayward remain unsettling and incredibly creative, with the craftsmanship largely holding up after 35 years. One downside to the greater detail is the mask work over Forsythe’s face is far more evident, reducing some of the unnaturalness of Hayward’s corpse. In the sequence with David Johansen’s Ghost of Christmas Past, the character is just as gnarly, especially in the maw, as one remembers; a characterization brought to life by a singular performance. However, the increased clarity in the cab portion makes it far more obvious where the make-up is drawn on his face. This reminded me of how, in the WB 4K release of Batman (1989), as great as the film as a whole looks, there’s a lot more definition of the facial applications that Jack Nicholson wore as Joker, which sometimes broke the illusion of the transformation versus the 1080p HD edition which never quite pointed that out. Though there are these moments where the age of the production is more obvious, there’s also some tightening of the auras around some characters, greater clarity of the total image in the frame, and removal of image noise and distortion. It’s the right kind of remaster where the differences are subtle enough so that one doesn’t feel separated from the film they think they know.
By the way, as there are some who care about the cover art and slipcover design, be advised that the slipcover is the traditional black background that features Bill Murray having a cigar lit by a boney hand holding a matchstick with the moon behind them and the city below them. The liner is the 2017 cover art with Murray holding a smoking cigar (same facial expression) and a boney hand holds mistletoe above him. I tend to prefer the classic look of the original cover, so there’s a reason to hold onto the slipcover, should you need it.
Revisiting Scrooged after so many years, one begins to realize that this PG-13 film contains a lot more grown-up material than memory maintains. I’m not talking about whether someone can see the nipples of the dancer (yup) or Frank’s salty language, but the entire approach/relationship of Carol Kane’s Ghost of Christmas Present, the death of Michael J. Pollard’s Herman, or the unsettling nature of character design for the Ghost of Christmas Future. One watches this film, something that they themselves saw on television as a child and go, “maybe I was too young for this.” Even still, the script from Michael O’Donoghue (Gilda Live) and Mitch Glazer (A Very Murray Christmas) still brilliantly modernizes the Carol story, weaving in the original narrative through the meta-broadcast approach, creating a version that feels as timely today with people’s relationships to television and consumption as it did upon release. Even if one doesn’t have enough interest in the 4K UHD aspect to snag this new edition, the film itself holds up so well in any format as to make the time spent with Frank always feel worth it.
So when it comes to the recommendation aspect, this one is a harder than most and really comes down to whether or not you want the bonus features. The picture is improved, but there’s no enhanced sound, making the technically aspects uneven, even as the sound is reproduced at home without complaint. The packaging is a reprint of prior versions, too. Therefore, the only reason to snag this edition is to have the ability to go behind the scenes on the production to learn about how Donner and company created Scrooged. If that sounds like something that interests you, you won’t be disappointed. But, if not, perhaps wait for a sale before adding this one.
Scrooged Special Features:
- Commentary by director Richard Donner (1:41:09)
- A Christmas to Remember (14:04)
- Updating Ebenezer (13:34)
- Bringing the Ghosts to Life (9:54)
- The Look of Scrooged (6:22)
- On the Set with Bill Murray
- The Making of a Scene – Brother’s Apartment (3:22)
- The Making of a Scene – Frisbee the Dog (3:41)
- ShoWest Clips with Bill Murray
- The Best Money Can Buy (1:15)
- Now Everybody Get Up! (0:59)
Available on 4K UHD Blu-ray and digital November 7th, 2023.
For more information, head to the official Paramount Pictures Scrooged webpage.