A Christmas Carol
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Starring Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman
Release date: November 6, 2009
It happens every year, almost without fail. Christmas day comes around and as I am tearing through my presents there is always that one gift. You know the one where the person giving it to you is so excited they hold it back so you have to open it last so they can make a big spectacle of it. Usually the bigger deal they make, the more I dread it. Not because I am ungrateful, but my appreciation hardly ever matches their excitement. Then there’s that whole awkward exchange where they think you don’t like it and you tell them you do but they don’t buy it because they were super excited but you weren’t as excited and”¦ ugh. Robert Zemeckis‘ adaptation of the Charles Dickens story, A Christmas Carol is that present. So impatient is he to show off his gift to us that he’s overlooked the fact that it’s little more than a big turd in fancy wrapping.
The story is the same as it’s been for the past 165 years. On Christmas Eve night, Ebenezer Scrooge (Jim Carrey) is visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future during which time he experiences a moment of clarity and eventual redemption. As a story Zemeckis plays it by the book (literally), but as a movie, this thing is all over the place.
I can say one thing: Zemeckis’ motion-capture filmmaking has come a long way since The Polar Express. The characters feel more realistic and the dead-eye syndrome isn’t as much of a distraction as it used to be but it’s still far from perfect. Visually, the movie looks pretty incredible at first. I thought so. Everyone in the theatre I was in thought so. And just in case any of us missed it, we got to see Zemeckis’ home run shot (someone or something flying through the air, quickly) over and over and over. And over. It looked awesome during the opening credits. The second time was still pretty cool. By the time we saw Scrooge flying through the air for the umpteenth time, I didn’t care.
3D aside, something else in the story got lost in translation. Maybe it’s just me but any movie about Christmas should, at some point, generate some of the warmth associated with the holiday. This felt more like I was on my way home for Christmas but I missed my connecting flight, popped a bunch of pills and just sat being dazzled into a coma by the combination of colors and depressing images. I suppose at its core Charles Dickens version has a tinge of doom and gloom, but there was something very joyless and creepy about this version. So much meticulosity went in to how the movie looked that it overshadowed an otherwise charming story of redemption. I wouldn’t have minded seeing Jim Carrey as a live action Scrooge and I want to see Gary Oldman act in almost anything. If your goal is photorealism, why not just go the other way and give us good old fashion realism and let the actors nuances come through in their performances?
Zemeckis has made some great movies in the past but has spent the better part of the last decade tinkering with this technology that has become a pet project of his. What’s worse is that he is so blindly obsessed with this form of filmmaking that he has completely gone away from what made him successful. Whether or not his little Frankenstein will eventually destroy his career remains to be seen but he has enough upcoming mo-cap projects that we will probably find out.
Let’s face it; Christmas movies are hard enough to sell to the general public without giving them another reason to turn their back on you. People are set in their ways. They have their rotation of classics and are pretty much content with what is already out there. The last thing people want is another hair brained retread of a movie they have already seen, especially one that is going to scare their kids shitless.
And there’s the rub.