What I’m Watching: Christmas and A Christmas Carol

Being, as you may have heard, a fan of Christmas, I’m always interested in any project that digs into the history behind my favorite holiday. When I heard about this documentary, Christmas and A Christmas Carol, it sounded right up my alley. The DVD was billed as telling “the story of Christmas and of the story that recreated Christmas.”

Well, I love Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol as much as I love the holiday itself, so that’s a two-fer. I had to pick this up, watch it, see what it had to say.

As it turns out, not much.

Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by seeing some wonderfully entertaining and well-made documentaries lately. But movies like Still Screaming (a documentary about the Scream films) and Never Sleep Again (an exhaustively detailed movie about the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise), not to mention most of the films made by the History Channel, have proven to me that something can be full of information and fun to watch. Strictly speaking, Christmas and A Christmas Carol lives up to its billing — it gives you history of both the holiday and the book itself. The trouble is that it’s presented in the least imaginative way possible: a narrator tells you the history over still images and old film clips. No interviews, no debates, not even a talking head. This is basically a slideshow presentation with voiceover narration.

Even this may be easier to take, except I didn’t feel like the movie gives us any new insight. Everything in here is information I’ve already seen in dozens of other sources — which I suppose is fair enough, you can’t expect the filmmakers to create something from whole cloth in a film like this. At the same time, though, if you don’t have a new angle, a new take, a new statement to make on information that’s a couple of hundred years old, then why bother to say it at all?

And the narrator, frankly, is dull. He’s got a nice enough voice, but he frequently dips in tone making you reach for the remote to turn up the volume, and he doesn’t really bring any energy to the film, making the 78-minute running time feel more like 178 minutes. He even occasionally finds a way to sound condescending towards American Christmas customs (the film appears to be of British origin).

The only thing of real note to this disc actually comes in the extras — the disc includes the Orson Welles radio production of A Christmas Carol starring Lionel Barrymore as Scrooge. This is a cool little bonus if you love the different productions of the story, as I do. But the documentary itself doesn’t get my recommendation.

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December 2011

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