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- Movie: A Christmas Carol
- Rating: PG
- Running Time: 1 hrs. 36 min.
- Starring: Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Robin Wright Penn, Cary Elwes, Bob Hoskins and Jacquie Barnbrook
- Written By: Robert Zemeckis
- Directed By: Robert Zemeckis
- Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures
A Christmas Carol Movie Review
Now In Humbug-O-Vision
By Rob Vaux
November 06, 2009
Review for Robert Zemeckis' 3D remake of A CHRISTMAS CAROL(2009).
© Walt Disney Pictures
Bags rarely come more mixed than the new version of A Christmas Carol. At times, it soars with the narrative possibilities of motion-capture technology… technology which just as often imprisons the film in empty-headed spectacle. This constitutes the third outing in the medium for director Robert Zemeckis, and he still can't resist showing off with swoops and pans and general "look how cool this is!" masturbation. Individual scenes are gaudier than a Mardi Gras float, feeling less like the Dickens classic and more like prep work for a Scrooge: The Ride attraction at Disneyland. Yet despite that, it holds the source material close to its heart and succeeds in delivering a respectful--if not always magical--interpretation of Dickens' famous tale.
That feat is tougher than it looks. So familiar are we with the story of Scrooge that many adaptations lose the essence in favor of the trappings… and considering the methods on display here, the trappings loom awfully large. The worst parts of A Christmas Carol utterly succumb to whiz-bang flashiness: the Ghost of Christmas Past (Jim Carrey) shooting Scrooge (also Carrey) across the skies of London, the Ghost of Christmas Present (also Carrey) lurching Scrooge's quarters from place to place, and various gratuitous tracking shots pulling us through Victorian England in all its holiday finery. They certainly look cool, but they clearly exist just so the director can indulge in his favorite toy--adding little to the story and detracting from its overall thrust.
Then there's the use of single actors for multiple roles, something the motion capture suits allow with minimal effort. At times it works very well (witness Carrey's turn as both Scrooge and the spirits who haunt him, suggesting that the Ghosts stem entirely from his psyche). In other cases, however, it to succumbs to excessive showiness, and in the worst cases--as with Gary Oldman's Tiny Tim--it's flat-out creepy.
With all those flaws, however (less from the medium itself than from the way Zemeckis chooses to use it) comes an equal number of strengths--a means to tell this story in ways we've never seen before. Zemeckis sticks very closely to Dickens' original, as the skinflint Scrooge makes everyone around him miserable until one Christmas night when a one-of-a-kind haunting forces him to see the error of his ways. The story hinges on our willingness to believe that Scrooge can change: that a good man lurks under all that heartlessness waiting to be reawakened. The wrong performer can ruin the equation, but while Carrey is a little broad at times, he understands the character's conundrum and commits to it without hesitation. Scrooge's rage holds its share of power, as does the joy and humility at his eventual redemption. Oldman does similarly well as Bob Cratchit, Scrooge's put-upon clerk (who requires pathos and hopefulness without descending into caricature), while Colin Firth's boisterous Fred spreads the right amount of joviality around.
With the three of them anchoring the human elements of the story, Zemeckis can explore new ways of revealing the remainder to us. And as often as he wallows in the blockbuster mentality on which he made his name, so too does he find transcendent ways to marry the medium to the text. Witness Christmas Future, rendered here as a literal shadow on the wall, or the sea of condemned spirits whom a horrified Scrooge witnesses from his window. They spring fully formed from Dickens's text, in a manner which no live action production can match.
Coupled with the close adherence to the story, it keeps A Christmas Carol largely above water. The story has endured for good reason--a well-crafted narrative which certifies its optimism with flashes of dread despair--and Zemeckis knows how far he can push it before losing sight of what it's all about. A few scenes come close, but the remainder allows us to forgive its not-insignificant shortcomings. It can't rank with the best adaptations of the story (the Alistair Sim version has been consecrated by time and George C. Scott sets a standard that's hard to beat), but its novel approach grants it an undeniable uniqueness. It need only "keep Christmas in its own way," to paraphrase its protagonist, and thankfully for us, it certainly knows how.