A Christmas Carol
By our count this is the 20th film adaptation of Charles Dickens’ 1843 short novel A Christmas Carol. Throw on top of that endless stage and small screen versions and what you have is the realization that this story has saturated every inch of society. Even today, in a world that stands for everything the story stands against, famed Hollywood director Robert Zemeckis can fall back on it and produce a #1 hit without batting an eye.
Much of the stories endurance probably has to do with it’s main character, one Ebernezer Scrooge, a misanthropic Christmas hater who has become one of literatures most famous archetypes. He is somebody we love to hate and secretly, or not so secretly, sympathize with. Carolers and aggressive donation seekers are, you must concede, rather annoying. So into this huge role steps Jim Carrey, a man who is always up for a challenge, though here it is impossible to tell how he did because Zemeckis has buried him, and everything else, under his performance capturing technology that he previously used in The Polar Express and Beowulf.
Zemeckis surely is out to recapture some of that magic that he was able to bottle in the far superior Polar Express. And who can blame him for crawling back to Christmas, tail between his legs, after the embarrassing misfire that was Beowulf. A Christmas Carol falls comfortably in between those two and manages to win our recommendation, if only by the skin of its teeth. The story is so engrained in our minds that to repeat it would be utterly redundant, so instead we will simply point out that for the most part Zemeckis and crew remain faithful to the source. Using their animation technology they are able to turn out some of the most beautiful scenes of the entire year. Sadly, the clunky script, also by Zemeckis, prevents the film from soaring the way it should, and many lines of dialogue are inaudible thanks to some bad, unrecognizable accents.
The Ghost of Christmas Past segment is clearly the star of the show as Zemeckis tells it using a gorgeous unbroken twelve-minute shot (starting as they fly out the first window and concluding with the ghost’s departure). Even though this is an animated movie, and so it really isn’t all that impressive to go twelve minutes without a cut, it still felt more artistic and impressive than Joe Wright’s Oscar baiting one in Atonement. From there, predictably, we move to the Ghost of Christmas Present. The entire scene is bathed in an angelic amber light and features the ghost sitting atop a magnificent Christmas tree, to find a more stunning scene at any point in the near future will not be easy.
The ghost, like all the other ghosts save Marley, is also played by Carrey and here he has a giant red beard and speaks in a voice that sounds like John Wayne mixed with a Leprechaun. Once the film leaves the present it has nowhere to go but down, and down it goes indeed as Scrooge visits with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Here it resorts to cheap tricks (Honey, I shrunk the Scrooge) in an attempt to justify making this a 3D movie. Don’t buy it; the only thing the 3D provides is distraction and an excuse for Zemeckis to turn a hunk of his film into an ugly level of a video game.
All of that is in the service of moving the plot towards the foregone conclusion that Scrooge will be scared straight (by the grave) into no longer being the curmudgeon from Hell. It would be nice if the world worked that way, if a few ghosts could visit your bullying boss and then suddenly see the error of his ways. But, alas, it doesn’t. Considering how well we all know this story and how useless the dialogue is the movie probably would’ve worked best as a silent film. That would have allowed the viewers to fully bathe themselves in the awe-inspiring imagery that makes this film worth seeing. So don’t be a Scrooge this holiday season. Shell out the money and see this one on the big screen (2D please), have fun, be merry and do whatever it takes to go one more year without reading the actual book.
Starring: Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman, Cary Elwes, Bob Hoskins
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Runtime: 96 minutes
Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures