Thursday, November 19, 2009



Alastair Sim...Albert Finney...Marcel Marceau...George C Scott...Bill Murray...Michael Caine...James Earl Jones...Bill Murray...Patrick Stewart...Kelsey Grammer...and a fluffy animated duck. Many a gifted actor has played this particular part, and now it's Jim Carrey's turn.

If you don't know the plot of this movie, I can't help but feel sad for you and your sheltered upbringing. Long story short, London miser Ebenezer Scrooge (Jim Carrey) is visited one Christmas Eve by the ghost of his old business partner, Jacob Marley (Gary Oldman). Marley isn't enjoying the afterlife and wants Scrooge to repent before he faces a worse fate. To help him, that very Christmas Eve, Scrooge is visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet-to-Come.

If you really need more than that, tune in to channel twenty any Sunday night starting in two weeks. I'll wager you'll get some version of the story. Moving on...

I wouldn't suggest that director Robert Zemeckis has produced the definitive version of Charles Dickens' classic tale, that championship belt is still held by Brian Desmond Hurst and Alastair Sim. That said, I dare say that the 1951 version is the only adaptation better than this new version.

Where Zemeckis' version excels, is the way it brings out the darkness of the story. Over the years, the heartwarming moral of this tale has taken away from the fact that this is a ghost story. In scene after scene of this new version, we are led through dreary rooms, darkened streets, and a bitterly cold winter night. Wrapped in darkest shadows, Scrooge seems so rickety and frail, that he himself seems like a mere ghost of a man. It all comes together nicely to capture what a camera might not, and emphasize how dire Scrooge's situation has become.

Animated or not, Jim Carrey won't be causing any "Alastair who?" comments anytime soon. With that in mind, Carrey - and the animators who captured his every facial tick - deserves full credit for a rather understated performance as Scrooge. Over the years, Scrooge has become a bit of a entity relegated to television commercials. Carrey's performance reminds us of just how cold, uncaring, and misguided the character really is. This is quite commendable when one remembers how much of a ham Carrey can be.

I did have two small disappointments with the adaptation itself. One is that the filmmakers seemed so bent on a less-than-two-hour runtime, that they have left aside one or two of the scenes in the past that further establish how Scrooge fell off the path to righteousness...specifically, his dislike for his nephew Fred is only aluded to. The other hitch is when Scrooge is brought to his future. The scene turns into a strange action sequence which feels out of place for starters, and seriously out of place at this, the dreariest portion of the story. These two major missteps are unfortunate, since I believe they hold the film back from becoming a touchstone of animation.

This is the third film in a row where Robert Zemeckis has used motion capture animation, and while the technology seems to be getting better with every venture, it still isn't quite perfect. When the camera stands back a step or two, or the scene is one of high contrast, the results are phenomenal. However, when the animation features warm tones, and gets close to the faces of the younger characters, the features appear too glossy...too shrink-wrapped...too unnatural. The look is getting better all the time, but it still isn't there.

While the animation might seem wanting, the 3-d rendering is top notch. My biggest complaint about many of the recent 3-D films, is that they felt gimmicky. More often than not, the 3-D effect felt like an afterthought, and not a technique deliberately used to enhance the story. That is not the case when it comes to A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Every single shot has been mapped out with 3-d technology in mind, and rather than rely on cheap stunts, they use the technique to give the entire film a tremendous amount of depth. Indeed, for shot after shot, I didn't feel so much that I was looking at a screen, as much as I believed I was looking out a window.

It's hard to believe that it's been five years since director Robert Zemeckis first trotted out this style of animation with THE POLAR EXPRESS. Indeed, it has been half a decade, and in my opinion the years have been kind to that film. For some, this version of A CHRISTMAS CAROL might not feel like anything to get worked up about. However, some have said, that like THE POLAR EXPRESS before it, the years will be kind to A CHRISTMAS CAROL, and in due time we will hail it as one of the greats...and I for one agree.

-The Mad Hatter