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Paramount Studios presents
A Diva's Christmas Carol (2000)

"Christmas is a marketing machine we cannot ignore."
- Ebony Scrooge (Vanessa Williams)

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: November 26, 2002

Stars: Vanessa Williams
Other Stars: Chili, John Taylor, Brian McNamara, Richard Jutras, Stephanie Biddle, Kathy Griffin
Director: Richard Schenkman

MPAA Rating: PG for language and mild thematic elements
Run Time: 01h:28m:35s
Release Date: November 19, 2002
UPC: 097368353749
Genre: musical

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C+ B-B+C+ D-

DVD Review

Just what we needed, the billionth "clever" remake of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Except this one is, at times, actually rather clever. The script takes the familiar "three ghosts" formula and re-imagines Ebenezer as self-absorbed pop star and diva extraordinaire Ebony Scrooge (Vanessa Williams), a cold-hearted performer who views Christmas as nothing more than an opportunity to market her latest CD and who refuses to let her backup singers stay in nice hotels.

There are few surprises in the made-for-VH1 production, aping as it does not only the original novel, but the countless filmed versions that have set the story in a non-Dickensian world. The tone is actually very similar to Bill Murray's Scrooged, though A Diva's Christmas Carol never reaches the comic intensity of that rather shrill seasonal favorite. The pace is more laid back, with the opening and closing quarter hours (before the ghosts come and after they've gone) feeling especially drawn out.

At least the ghost encounters are somewhat fresh and entertaining. Ebony is first visited by her former band mate, killed in a drunk driving accident years before. Marli Jacob (Chilli from TLC), appearing in the kinky S&M version of Marley's chains, warns her that she will wind up in a very bad place if she doesn't change her Mariah Carey ways. Soon, the spirits show up. The Ghost of Christmas Past is a restrained but still acerbic and witty Kathy Griffin (clad in a Prada bodysuit, she takes Ebony back to her unhappy, abused childhood, and later, her big-hair '80s days). The Ghost of Christmas Present, John Taylor of Duran Duran, pops by to show her what's going on in the lives of her employees, including beleaguered manager Bob Cratchett (Brian McNamara), whose son Tim is dying of an undiagnosed blood disease, and a former group member who has hit the bottle hard. The Ghost of Christmas Future takes an unexpected but entirely logical form, as Ebony is forced to watch her very own posthumous episode of Behind the Music.

Production values are fairly good throughout, though the sets do have the look of a TV production. Writer Richard Schenkman's occasionally biting screenplay (I love the bit during the future segment in which the record company exec points out that he's sorry Ebony is dead, but that her tribute album is flying off the shelves) is somewhat betrayed by his workmanlike direction. Obviously intended to play with commercial interruptions (the act break blackouts remain intact), scenes tend to drag on and on, particularly towards the end of the film, as Ebony's entire life of misdeeds must be fixed up within 20 minutes. But Vanessa Williams charms her way through her role and keeps things somewhat interesting—she does a good job playing witchy, and handles the abrupt, expected character turnaround ably as well. Supporting players do little to distinguish themselves, but watch for a brief cameo from Bryan McKnight.

If you're jonsing for some holiday cheer but can't stomach another George C. Scott Christmas, why not settle for this glitzy adaptation? The themes are universal, and Scrooge is way easier on the eyes.

Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: This transfer, presented in the original 1.33:1 ratio, looks mighty fine on DVD. Colors are nice are solid, black level is decent, and aliasing only shows up in a few shots. Artifacting isn't a problem, and print condition looks quite good. My only complaint is to the overall softness of the image.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 track included here is even more limited than most television mixes. Everything is confined to the front soundstage, with the surrounds mute throughout. Dialogue is well reproduced and always clear, and the songs sound fine, but there are no directional effects and no attempts have been made to liven up the audio. For all intents are purposes, this is a nice mono track mixed out to the left and right mains.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: All you get by way of extras are 12 chapter stops. Sorry, no English subtitles have been included. And yes, Paramount is charging $30 for this disc. Why do you ask?

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

I'd gladly recommend A Diva's Christmas Carol as a pleasant seasonal diversion were it not for Paramount's downright scroogey attitude towards the DVD release. It's the season of giving, why not add some supplements to the disc (or better yet, lower the price?). As is, I'd say try a rental or catch it on VH1 in re-runs.


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