A Christmas Carol

Carrey on Scrooge

         
 

06 November 2009| No Comments     by Sean Chavel

 

Strictly a Christmastime movie but a good one. Long in existence, A Christmas Carol has been played out in a number of varying budget film productions but thanks to Robert Zemeckis this is probably the most expensive, and thus, it is visually spectacular. Even if you are not an expert on Charles Dickens’ 1843 tale, you can clearly estimate which parts have been updated and freshened for a new generation, and for the most part, Zemeckis’ instincts are right on. Yet is it sacrilegious to say that some of the elements, old and new, are a tad repetitive? Regardless, the dazzling sights and sounds are aplenty, and the opening title sequence where the camera flies over the architecture of London, is exhilarating to the point that it gets you peppy for the holidays. Good cheer.

Of course, the fantastic whizzing camera with this much speed and dexterity is only possible because the movie is a factory blend of live action and animation. This is Zemeckis’ third attempt with this device of “performance capture” where actors’ body movements are transformed and interspersed into an animated world. “A Christmas Carol” is the most successful of Zemeckis’ animated attempts, not because he has perfected his technique greater than before but because the story is inherently better than the ones for “The Polar Express” and “Beowulf.” Zemeckis has always been an indisputable technical genius even back when he was in “live action.” But let us not forget that while “Forrest Gump” was a technical triumph it was a much better movie than “Death Becomes Her” which ran previous to his multiple Oscar winner, which was a technical triumph but a bummer of a story.

Ebenezer Scrooge is the ultimate bummer of a protagonist, the kind of man who gives no hours off for his employees for good behavior nor does he spend money on his office heating system (how much could coal really cost?). The inflection and affections of Jim Carrey’s voice as Scrooge is startlingly effective, either it’s a great Carrey performance or a great sound editing job, or perhaps, a little bit of both. But how about that animation again? Those deep wrinkles in Scrooge’s face are so authentic looking in their acute crevasses. Okay, maybe it is true in Zemeckis’ latest that the human faces are more real and less rubbery this time. Yet let’s forget the technical work. The reason we care anyway is in hope that Scrooge elongates that facial tension enough to smile again, smile wide and rejoice in Christmas spirit, and drop that humbug business. It is an ideal story that begins as a bummer but reaches for rebirth for Scrooge, and audience uplift.

Supernatural forces haunt Scrooge on Christmas Eve as the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Christmas Yet to Come arrive in order to show him the meaning of Christmas, alas, the meaning of life. The Ghost of Past is the most essential of the plot stages as Scrooge gets another look at the happiness of his youth before he gave it up for sake of propriety. The rest of the movie is just as familiar if repetitive (briefly a drag), and it’s not hard to guess that Scrooge can redeem his own soul by saving another life. Life-affirming message aside, it is really about the whooshing visual dynamics that Zemeckis brings to this oft-told tale (the excess carriage crashes are a bit much), and in spite of that, the cycles of Scrooge’s journeys gets a little long.

 Zemeckis has gotten lost in too much spectacle before, but this time he gets things balanced in digestible moderation.  Just when you thought you have been over-wowed, i.e., overfed with enough f/x, you get Carrey putting on the grouch-charm that he’s so good at doing and you feel love for Carrey as a performer. There are clever turns by Colin Firth and Gary Oldman. As implied, the special effects are occasionally too battering, Zemeckis is a wizard who never seems to believe he should put down his magic wand. But to a contrasting degree, Zemeckis channels his special effects also to an endearing effect when story permits. Too much explanation on the endearing effects would be spoiling, if not untranslatable anyway to the written word.

Would Dickens ever guessed that in future generations his work would get a rollercoaster for an adaptation? Would he have marveled at the special effects? Let’s hope so, because they are really good and you would think Dickens was a man of humor, mirth and gratitude. Would Dickens be pleased that the spirit of his work is intact? Legend has it he hastily wrote this holiday classic simply as a means to pay the bills. But yep, the ending is heart-thumping in all the right ways. Here’s another question: Will Robert Zemeckis, with his larger than life storytelling abilities, be as famous as Charles Dickens one hundred years from now? Likely he will as long as there are still Netflix users in existence.

96 Minutes. Rated PG.

FAMILY FILM / ANIMATION / MONTH OF DECEMBER MOVIE

Film Cousins: “A Christmas Carol” (1938); “A Christmas Carol” (1984); “Scrooged” (1988); “The Muppet Christmas Carol” (1992).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of flickminute.com, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.

 

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