Charles Dickens
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Charles Dickens: Unique adaptations

Charles Dickens
February 7, 2012, marks the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens, the Victorian age novelist whose immense popularity in his lifetime has not diminished in the two centuries since his birth. Over the years, some of his novels have proven to be more popular to Hollywood producers than others -- for every 10 adaptations of “A Christmas Carol” there’s one “Little Dorrit.” But Dickens’ penchant for twisty plots and memorable characters has made his work irresistible for adapters. That doesn’t necessarily mean that every adaptation has been a letter-perfect re-creation for “Masterpiece Theatre.” With Dickens’ work in the public domain, there’s been lots of leeway for creative interpretation.

What follows are some of the more unique takes on the world of Charles Dickens. (Gale Research Co.)
‘Scrooged’ (1988)
This modern-day retelling of “A Christmas Carol” took a very postmodern twist by having the story of a Scrooge-like TV executive (Bill Murray, right, with David Johansen) play out at the same time a live Christmas Eve telecast of “A Christmas Carol” was performed as a film within the film (though only bits and pieces of the telecast are seen in the movie). The film received mixed reviews and was a modest success at the box office.  (Paramount Pictures)
‘Great Expectations’ (1998)
Gwyneth Paltrow and Ethan Hawke play the young lovers in the film, which took Dickens’ story from early 19th century London and set it in late 20th century New York City. In keeping with the update, the film changed several of the main characters’ names (Pip became Finn, Magwitch the criminal became Arthur Lustig, and Miss Havisham became Ms. Dinsmoor). Despite the name changes, the story was unmistakably Dickens’. (Phillip Caruso / 20th Century Fox)
‘Walker, Texas Ranger’ (1996)
Chuck Norris didn’t spend every episode of this long-running CBS series kicking bad guys. Sometimes he sat down to tell tales, such as the 1996 Christmas episode “A Ranger’s Christmas,” in which Norris recounts his own version of “A Christmas Carol” featuring an Old West bounty hunter named Hayes Cooper -- a Scrooge-like Ranger who learned about the true spirit of Christmas. (Ben Weaver / CBS)
‘Mickey’s Christmas Carol’ (1983)
The first theatrical Mickey Mouse short in 30 years played Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” straight, for the most part. But for longtime Disney fans, the film provided a chance to spot many favorite characters in minor roles. Not only did Scrooge McDuck and Jiminy Cricket appear, but Mr. Toad (from “Wind in the Willows”), Horace Horsecollar, the Three Little Pigs, Gus Goose and more popped up.  (Walt Disney Co.)
‘A Christmas Carol’ (2009)
Director Robert Zemeckis brought his whiz-bang performance-capture technology to bear on Dickens’ most-adapted tale, “A Christmas Carol,” and recruited Jim Carrey to star as Ebenezer Scrooge. But with the wonders of the technology, Carrey was also able to perform several other characters, including all three spirits of Christmases past, present and future.  (ImageMovers/ Disney)
‘Bonanza’ (1963)
Jonathan Harris (better known as the nutty Dr. Smith on “Lost in Space”) visited the Ponderosa as Charles Dickens himself in this 1963 episode of the long-running western series. In “A Passion for Justice,” Dickens arrives in Virginia City for a reading of “Oliver Twist” and becomes outraged when he discovers the townspeople are printing their own copies of his books, regardless of copyright laws.  (NBC)
‘South Park’ (2000)
For reasons clear only to them, “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone chose to devote an entire episode to a retelling of Dickens’ “Great Expectations” starring supporting character Pip. (That’s a supporting character on “South Park,” with Pip being the star of “Great Expectations.”) The episode was unique in that it featured a live-action introduction with actor Malcolm McDowell and didn’t have any of the regular “South Park” characters. While Parker and Stone love the episode, it’s proven to be one of the series’ least popular episodes. (Comedy Central)
‘Escape of the Artful Dodger’ (2001)
Jack Dawkins, the colorful scamp known as the Artful Dodger from “Oliver Twist,” got his own series in this Australian children’s series. Rather than keep Dawkins in dreary old Victorian London, this series took him to sunny Australia and allowed him to escape his life of crime and become a hero. Of course, Oliver Twist and old Fagin also made appearances as well. The series lasted just 13 episodes. (Grundy Television Australia)
‘Twist’ (2003)
“Oliver Twist” gets retold from the point of view of the Artful Dodger (renamed Dodge) in this modern-day tale set in the world of male prostitutes in Toronto. Young Oliver’s innocence dissolves amid a backdrop ofdrug abuse, proving that Dickens’ stories are infinitely malleable. Nick Stahl, left, plays Dodge, and Joshua Close plays Oliver. (Strand Releasing)
‘The Muppet Christmas Carol’ (1992)
The first Muppet movie produced after the death of creator Jim Henson, this adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” was also the first Muppet film to revolve around a human star (Michael Caine as Scrooge), with the Muppets filling out the supporting roles. While whole chunks of dialogue and narration were lifted straight from Dickens’ original book (unique for a children’s adaptation of the story), the film also allowed for musical numbers and few distinctly Muppet-y touches (instead of Fezziwig, we get Fozziwig).  (Jim Henson Productions)
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