Monday, December 21, 2015

Scrooged (1988) Review:

For a person like Richard Donner, it would seem difficult to make a film that rides close to the middle of being just okay. Considering he's only directed a handful of films of which many of them gained lots of praise or went on to be cult films, it's surprising when moments like these happen. Richard Donner headed Superman (1978), The Goonies (1985) and Lethal Weapon (1987). So for this, it's even more confusing when a well-respected director is paired up with decent writers and a cast of good actors. For comedy legend like Bill Murray, being in popular movies like Caddyshack (1980), Stripes (1981) and of course Ghost Busters (1984), how can a pairing create an output so okay-ish feeling? It may be hard to believe but it is in fact a film that's better than average but only marginally. Apparently it was reported that Bill Murray and Richard Donner did not get along during production either so this could be why. Things could have always been worse though I guess.

"Say cheeeez"
The film screenplay is another alteration of the classic Charles Dickens story of the Christmas Carol. Here Murray plays Frank Cross, the head chair of a major TV studio that loves finding and attracting any viewer they can find. Until on the night of Christmas Eve, Cross will be given a chance to redeem himself as a better person. Written by Michael O'Donoghue (an SNL writer) and Mitch Glazer (probably his best known writing credit), the script to this holiday comedy can be hit and miss. For example, the studio will do anything it can to make sure its the hottest thing being watched, whether its making parody films of classic Christmas tales, straight out desecrating them or even making channel programs that appeal to cat and dog viewers. It's a bit of stretch there, especially the last one. A lot of these incidents feel over exaggerated and feels forced on the audience like they're supposed to believe that people would accept such things and find it believable.

What is a nice change of pace is Richard Donner's directing skills. The story execution is fairly predictable but there are some various changes to the script that make it feel like effort was put in to make sure it doesn't feel like an exact copy. Much of this is due to the supporting cast being so helpful in their comedic timing and how they knock up Murray's character. John Forsythe as Cross' dead business partner has possibly the best introduction than any other ghost who visits him. David Johansen as the taxi driving ghost of Christmas past is the second best character with his no-cares given attitude. Perhaps the ghost who gets the cutest and most violent personality is Carol Kane as the ghost of Christmas present. There's also characters played by Karen Allen (Cross' ex), Bobcat Goldthwait (the voice of XL from Buzz Lightyear of Star Command (2000)), Robert Mitchum, Michael J. Pollard and Alfre Woodard playing a Bob Cratchet-like role. Then there's Bill Murray who is surprisingly the exact opposite.

It's not that he is unfunny because there are occasional scenes that do produce a laugh, but the problem is he produces the least amount. Yes, Cross is supposed to be unfeeling but even unfeeling characters can have some kind of charm; but Murray doesn't pull it off. It's more obnoxious than charming. Another problem in the script is sometimes the story will spin off the main focus from Cross' development as a character and just wonder back into his reality to do whatever. It's distracting. Back to positives though, a visual element that works in this films favor are the special / practical effects. The special makeup effects creator / designers behind those scenes were Thomas R. Burman and Bari Dreiband-Burman (The Goonies (1985)& Die Hard 2 (1990)). There's also special effects supervisor Eric Brevig (Total Recall (1990), Hook (1991) and Men in Black (1997)) who shows that even before big Hollywood blockbusters he still had the talent needed to make things look good.

Karen Allen ^_^
Thankfully another visual treat is Michael Chapman's cinematography. Chapman is also the cameraman for Taxi Driver (1976), Ghost Busters II (1989), Space Jam (1996) and Six Days, Seven Nights (1998) all of which had decent lighting and steady movement. Also Chapman's work mixes evenly with whatever special or practical effects were put to screen. Lastly is Danny Elfman's score to the film that oddly enough sounds like a precursor to his future score for The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993). Sadly though, his score here feels underdeveloped. It is clear that its Elfman's signature theme with chanting choirs in a minor key, but after the title card appears it disappears for quite a long time. Then out of nowhere it rears its head and then abruptly vanishes again. Viewing Lala Land records website, it seems like there was a lot of material that wasn't used. It's also a shame when not even the original composition is that prevalent in the final product. What gives post production? Either way, when heard it is enjoyable.

This holiday comedy does have some unique mutations with its direction in the script, but it also suffers from its main lead (Bill Murray) not being that funny and the main story sometimes jumping around. Thankfully the camerawork is able, the creature effects are well crafted, the music (although not abundant) is appropriate and the supporting cast adding to the laughs.

Points Earned --> 6:10

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