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The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017)

Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 3/6/2018

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 3/8/2018

Stephen King once talked about how he often got the question "Where do you get your ideas?" and how he couldn't really answer that query. For many writers, the story ideas and characters can appear in their brains as if by magic, with no real forethought or planning. True exploration may uncover the train of thought which lead to said ideas, but the whole creative process can often be intangible and confusing to onlookers. Still, the question of what inspires writers is still an intriguing one and it's interesting to see a movie like The Man Who Invented Christmas tackle the creation of one of the most well-known books ever written.

The year is 1843 and things are not going well for Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens). Oliver Twist had made him an international celebrity, but his subsequent novels had failed to find an audience, and Dickens now finds himself sinking into debt and suffering from writer's block. While dealing with his visiting parents (Jonathan Pryce and Ger Ryan) and his wife's (Morfydd Clark), Charles comes up with the idea of writing a book about Christmas, and despite the fact that it's already Fall, plans to have it in stores by late December. With the support of his friend, Edward Chapman (Ian McNeice), Charles puts together the necessary elements to have the book printed. Now, he just has to write the story and soon finds the characters, lead by Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer), inhabiting his study.

The Man Who Invented Christmas is one of those movies which is very tough to review. Dan Stevens, who, despite getting frequent work probably wishes that he'd never been written out of Downton Abbey, is good in the lead role. He does a fine job of handling Dickens' mix of arrogance and insecurity. Christopher Plummer definitely lends gravitas to the film as Dickens' vision of Scrooge, although others have played the role with a more sinister edge. The production design of Victorian London looks good. As noted above, the film takes a closer look at the creation of A Christmas Carol, and it's a creative look at that. Instead of simply showing Dickens attempting to write the book, Director Bharat Nalluri and Screenwriter Susan Coyne depict how the characters came to life in Dickens' mind and "talked" him through the writing of the classic story.

So, it's obvious that The Man Who Invented Christmas has a lot going for it. So, why is this such a mediocre movie? The entire time I was watching it, I kept thinking to myself, "I like this movie's ideas. Why am I not enjoying it?" My first theory was that this was one of those times where I was watching a movie based on a real-life story and I knew how the story ended. Knowing that Dickens' does finish A Christmas Carol and that the film becomes a beloved classic certainly takes some of the wind out of this film's sails. The movie describes Dickens' dire straits and tries to create suspense surrounding his ability to make the publication date, but there is little dramatic tension, as we know that it all works out. There's also an issue with Dickens' himself, as he's not a completely likable character. It's hard to feel sorry for him when he's gone into debt re-decorating a house which he can't afford, and his "tortured artist" moments show how he would shut out his family. The story also bites off more than it can chew in its efforts to depict everything which was happen to Dickens at the time (the work on the house, his parents' visit, his attempts to write a novel), while also showing flashbacks to Dickens' troubled past and his current visions of the novel's characters.

A Christmas Carol is one of my all-time favorite stories, and I've seen many adaptations of the book (I'm quite partial to Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol.), so I was interested to see what The Man Who Invented Christmas would unearth. I will admit that I knew very little about Dickens and next to nothing about the creation of the book, so I definitely learned a lot from the movie. But, I also found myself quite bored by the movie at times and I kept wishing that it would get on with it. While Dickens' visions was an interesting touch, it may have helped the pacing of the film if those had been cut. Also, Scrooge is supposed to go from truly bad to redeemable here, but that transformation never feels fully formed. I must commend The Man Who Invented Christmas for bringing many facts to light, but I can't recommend the movie for entertainment purposes.

The Man Who Invented Christmas also doesn't give us enough information on the book industry of the time on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 33 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no notable grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look good, although the movie features mostly muted tones, and the image is never overly dark or light. The level of detail works quite well, most notably in close-up shots, and the depth shines in the exterior shots. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.6 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The street scenes provide obvious stereo and surround sound effects, as they highlight the various noises and draw attention to things happening off-screen. The score, which provides some bass tones, sounds fine and never overpowers the actors.

The lone extra feature on The Man Who Invented Christmas Blu-ray Disc is "The Story Behind The Man Who Invented Christmas". This is simply a 3-minute EPK which plays like a trailer for the film with some comments from Stevens, the creative team, and Author Les Standiford peppered in.

Review Copyright 2018 by Mike Long