“God Bless Us, Every One”: The Power of A Christmas Carol (and the 7 Geekiest Versions)

Like J, I am a Christmas geek. It’s not so much that I have a geek-themed Christmas – apart from a few Firefly ornaments on the tree and a lot of video games underneath – but  that I fling myself into the sparkly, wrapping-paper covered trappings with the same enthusiasm as I fling myself into Lord of the Rings marathons. We all have our special Christmas rituals – the gingerbread, the lighting of the tree, the fifteen rounds of the 12 Days of Christmas – but mine is a bit odd; for me, my Christmas is not truly complete until I have sat with a cup of hot chocolate and watched the Alastair Sim version of A Christmas Carol.

What is it about A Christmas Carol that still resonates so strongly with us? Is it the unrelenting positivity of the season, the unfeigned good cheer of Cratchit, the nephew,  and eventually Scrooge itself? Is it the compelling nature of the ghosts, the strange but memorable aesthetics? Is it just that it reminds us that fate is changeable and that it’s never too late to make a difference?

It’s all this, and one thing more, a story theme that, in our various geeky media of choice, often gets forgotten: the theme of redemption, not of a heroic character or even an anti-hero, but of an out and out villain of long standing. Ebenezer Scrooge begins the tale as a horrible, greedy, miserly man, with not the slightest hint of redeeming qualities; moreover, he’s aged and set in his ways enough that he seems completely past the point of no return. If we met this man in real life, we’d assume he was an irredeemable @$$hole who was not about to change this late in the game.

And yet, that’s exactly what he does. By the end of the story, he is as good a human being as any other, and he has at the very least begun his work to atone for his previous misdeeds. Another thing to keep in mind is that, in a way, his old partner, Jacob Marley, goes through a similar transformation (albeit aided by death), going from a selfish, aloof jerk to someone genuinely pained by the suffering in the world and eager to help his old friend Scrooge. That’s what is so beautiful about the story; villainy is not by any means a permanent state of being, a big twirly mustache to be stuck on the face forever, but something that can and is transcended and rejected, leaving behind a good human being.

What do you mean, we don’t shoot him?

In a way, this runs counter to a lot of the geeky media we consume, as it makes things a bit less, well, fun. There’s something nice and simple about having an enemy who is just THE ENEMY and villainous to the core, totally irredeemable and not worth the effort. No one wants to pause before the final boss in a video game only to have a deep and meaningful conversation with them about their life choices and how, if they change now, they can be a hero too (exception:  Bioware). The Uruk-hai are approaching Helm’s Deep because they’re eeeeevil and the only way to deal with them is a kick-ass action sequence where they all get stabbinated by handsome elves and rangers, WOO HOO. No one wants to see Khan and Kirk bury the hatchet and for Khan to work through his issues, deal with his anger, and find peace, do they?

Do they?

But sometimes, as simple and fun as the mustache twirling villain is, there’s something more powerful to be said about forgiveness and the power to change. It’s something a little indie filmmaker called Lucas decided to work into a little tiny movie trilogy he was making about a bunch of dudes called the Jedi, and the Sith, and the Empire. Yes, you have the Emperor twirling his mustache so fast he could achieve lift-off, and yes, it’s really satisfying when he (spoiler) falls down the hole… but would it be nearly as satisfying if it wasn’t thanks to Darth Vader, or if Darth Vader had simply remained a purely evil bad guy who died in a last dastardly attempt to win the day?

With all the heartache and troubles in the world, particularly those of recent days, it can be very tempting – not to mention reassuring, in a way – to fall back on our favorite movies, games and stories and the clear “good guy defeats bad guys” narrative they present. But that just makes A Christmas Carol – and movies like Star Wars and Wreck it Ralph – even more important, a hopeful message of forgiveness and redemption where good does not defeat evil but instead redeems it, a reminder that the “bad guys” can be good with a little help… even if that help happens to be a bit “spirit”-ual in nature.

/end serious business

 

More Gravy than Grave

So, A Christmas Carol… great, story of redemption, blah blah blah, but which is the geekiest adaptation? We all have our favorite versions, of course. Some of them are childhood favorites, some of them feature favorite characters, and some just manage to scratch that itch we get around this time of year. So whether you are a Christmas geek, literature geek, film geek or just all-around geek, here are the 7 geekiest versions of A Christmas Carol to enjoy this holiday season.

 

Honorable Mention – Star Trek: The Next Generation, “Devil’s Due”

Not a full version of A Christmas Carol, but great fun to watch Data perform as Scrooge!

 

 

7. Blackadder’s Christmas Carol

Thanks to its pool of talented actors and its constant mingling with British sci-fi like Doctor Who and Red Dwarf, British comedy has become sort of a “geek” thing in its own right, and Blackadder is some of the best. This version of A Christmas Carol is actually a bit of a subversion, at least on the surface – a kind, generous Ebenezer Blackadder begins to realize his life would be much nicer if he was nasty and selfish – but it does so in a hilarious way, and the ending suggests that the original, happier message is not that far off the mark. It has brilliant British snark and a very funny alternate future if you like a bit of sci fi with your historical comedy. If you love Blackadder already, you probably know and love this Christmas special, but if you’re not familiar with Blackadder, definitely check it out (along with the rest of the series).

 

6. A Christmas Carol (1999 Made for TV movie)

Well, this all seems in order. Don’t see what’s so special abou- WAIT IS THAT PATRICK STEWART?

Yes, I admit, I put this in solely because Patrick Stewart is awesome and ST:TNG fans would probably get a grand kick out of seeing him play the anti-Picard, depicting Scrooge as a cold and ruthless businessman who pretty much goes to pieces at the end. The production is quite a bit darker than most, so it may not be quite the same dose of cheer as the others, but PATRICK STEWART.

 

5. Disney’s A Christmas Carol (2009)

Literature geeks and CGI geeks will find quite a lot to like in the Jim Carrey/Robert Zemeckis  version. The former will find the script adheres surprisingly faithfully to the original Dickens novella, including parts that are usually skipped over in movies, such as the argument about religious dogma vs. religious charity, or the way the Ghost of Christmas Present ages, or the strange appearance of the Ghost of Christmas Past. The latter will, of course, find a lot of high-quality CG courtesy of Zemeckis’ usual motion-capture/animation; the more cynical will also find it amusing and interesting to observe how it dips in and out of the Uncanny Valley.

 

4. Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983)

An animated short released along with The Rescuers, this manages to pack in 60 years of Disney fanservice into 26 minutes. Not only do you have your mainstays like Mickey, Donald and Goofy, but you have rarer characters like Willie the Giant (from Mickey and the Beanstalk) as the Ghost of Christmas Past, or characters like Otto and Lady Kluck (from Robin Hood) as background extras. It’s Disney geekery at its finest.

3. Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol (2010)

More “inspired by” the Dickens classic than an outright adaptation, this still earns third place by virtue of its geek pedigree. In an attempt to avert a disaster and save Amy and Rory’s life, the Doctor must convince an old, cratchety and heartless man to save a ship from crashing. How does he do this? Why, by taking a leaf from A Christmas Carol and becoming the Ghost of Christmas Past… and Present… and Future! With the help of the TARDIS, the spirit visitations become an exercise in mind-bending time travel, young versions meeting old versions, and all manner of shenanigans.

2. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

I have been told by friends and fellow geeks that I will not be allowed to live unless I put this on the list at number one… and while you will notice it is not number one (I like to live dangerously!) I would never dream of not having it on the list. If Mickey’s Christmas Carol is a festival of Disney fanservice, then The Muppet Christmas Carol is a nigh-orgy of Muppet fanservice. From the inspired choice of having Gonzo and Rizzo narrate to the perfect casting of Statler and Waldorf as the Marley character(s), the story feels made for the Muppets. If this version of A Christmas Carol doesn’t make you smile, you may be dead inside. Also, MICHAEL CAINE.

1. Scrooge / A Christmas Carol (1951)

Okay, okay, I cheated… the Alastair Sim version isn’t really a geeky version in the traditional sense of the term. It’s not like there are any famous actors from other franchises or any amazing technical feats. If this has a geeky connection, it’s that it’s for people who are geeks about… A Christmas Carol! So much of what we now take for granted about the story – the death of Scrooge’s sister in childbirth, the nature of his relationship with Fezziwig, the order in which the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come reveals his fate, even the character of the washerwoman – comes from this version. And when it comes down to it, this is THE version to which all other Christmas Carols are compared to, and with good reason; it is absolutely amazing. This isn’t like watching “Stewart playing Scrooge” or “Caine playing Scrooge”; Sim doesn’t “play” Scrooge, he IS Scrooge.  His shift from horrible miser to loving, kind man comes on so naturally and gradually that you can’t pick the one moment of epiphany; instead, it is a natural evolution of his character. So even if it’s not particularly geeky… if you only get to see one Christmas Carol this year,  make this the one.

 

What’s your favorite version of A Christmas Carol? What are some other favorite geeky – or non-geeky – Christmas movies?

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