REVIEW: A Christmas Carol [2009]

“Know me better man”

What to say about a film based on a novel of great importance that doesn’t quite live up? You can’t go wrong with Charles Dickens’ essential A Christmas Carol, especially when it is done accurately. One thing that director Robert Zemeckis cannot be faulted for is his staying faithful to the tale and bringing it to a new generation of the masses. The Alastair Sim version from 1951 will always be, to me, the best adaptation, but the entries that spring boarded in their own directions from the source, like Scrooged, will remain the most memorable. So where does this new 3D version fall? Unfortunately, it’s in the realm of mediocrity. I think Zemeckis plays it too safe and too literal, but maybe that is what his goal was. If so, he accomplished it. To me, though, the umpteenth rendition of this classic holiday tale needed something to set it apart and make it relevant. The 3D gimmick had potential, but was under-utilized and Jim Carrey’s manic elasticity showed through at times, but his grouchiness overshadowed it all. Even at the end, when Scrooge awakens to the joy of yuletide, his antics are over-the-top and out of place.

It all started pretty impressively with the gorgeous rendering of an old, canvas-bound copy of the novel, a lit candle by its side. The cover opens to reveal an etched drawing of Marley, dead in his coffin, that soon morphs into the quasi-realistic animation that makes up the rest of the film. With a subtle, crisp three-dimensionality, I really found myself buying into it all, even with Scrooge pushing himself to the edge in order to tip the caretaker. His miser persona takes over before the young apprentice can put the coffin lid on, and in come the credits. The swooping camera takes us on a journey through the sleepy Victorian town as we travel around, floating between people, through wreaths, and around corners as the voice talent and crew’s names flash across the screen. It all makes the chore of wearing those god-awful glasses, (Can’t all 3D movies use that Disney mechanism so we can get comfy glasses with folding arms instead of these cheap, static yellow ones? This is even a Disney film!), acceptable, fully immersing us in this world. And then the wheels fall off as the plot takes over, slowing down the tempo and pushing the technology’s capabilities out of its wheelhouse.

My biggest knock on Zemeckis’s love for motion-capture animation is in the human forms. They should be perfect as they look the part, move like real actors, and have a decent texture too. Maybe it is that whole theory about the eyes having no life behind them that ruins the illusion, or maybe not. I will say that compared to The Polar Express and Beowulf, the characters work best here, so at least the technology is getting more advanced. The big question then is whether A Christmas Carol needed to be done in this medium. I guess it had been done with live actors so many times before that it was worth a try. Heck, if you can get Carrey to play three ghosts and Scrooge at every age, looking different each role, and even playing against himself, for the price of one actor, you’d be stupid not to. However, the result is like those Charles Schwab commercials that have been rotoscoped for no reason whatsoever. There is no fantastical imagery that needs animation, the ads just show a person talking, using the technique for flair alone, and hoping to grab the viewer’s attention while not using any of the medium’s true potential. Whereas Beowulf had mythological creatures to inhabit its world and Polar Express had elves and roller coaster-like sequences, this one rarely does anything to make the extra five-dollar ticket price worth it.

That’s not all though, the 3D still isn’t quite up to snuff either. I’m hoping that Avatar changes all that like it promises to, but I won’t hold my breath. The effect is pretty amazing, at least in the small quadrant your eyes can focus on at a time. I found that when I moved my head slightly, what was crisp and clean soon became doubled, while what was doubled became focused because my eyes now had it in their sights. Motion still blurs at too fast a speed for a brain to assimilate and, unfortunately, these problems do take you out of the story and acting. You find yourself adjusting to get as much of the screen in focus at one time, losing the nuances of the performances and the fantastic attention to detail. Truly, the snowflakes and the sparks or whatever small particles find their way between you and the characters are superb, bringing you into the film and the action. I loved the translucency of Marley’s ghost and the wrinkles of Scrooge along with the aging of the Ghost of Christmas Present. And the dark undertones were a welcome delight too, making the film a hard-PG that could scare the youngins’ just a bit.

As for the acting, one can’t complain too much. Gary Oldman is great as Bob Cratchit and Marley, visible ever so slightly, bringing a sense of reality to the otherwise plastic faces. Speaking of rubbery and fake, Bob Hoskins’ Mr. Fezziwig was the worst culprit of looking as far from human as possible, but luckily he is only onscreen for a brief time. Colin Firth may be the best in terms of the illusory effects of the animation, but the likeness is just too close and yet far off, making the face a tad strange. As for Carrey, well, this film is his vehicle for sure. The technique looks as though it was made especially for him and his chameleon-like mannerisms—always him but yet always a different body. He may over-play his hand at times, but when reined in, he also shines with enough nuance to carry the story and make his a worthy Scrooge in the lexicon of the role. It’s just a shame I can’t say the same about the film as a whole.

A Christmas Carol 6/10 | ★ ★ ½

[1] Ghost of Christmas Present and Ebenezer Scrooge (JIM CARREY) stars in ‘DISNEY’S A CHRISTMAS CAROL’. ©ImageMovers Digital LLC. All Rights Reserved.
[2] Belle (ROBIN WRIGHT PENN) and Ebenezer Scrooge (JIM CARREY) stars in ‘DISNEY’S A CHRISTMAS CAROL.’ ©ImageMovers Digital LLC. All Rights Reserved.”


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