3D Movie Reviews
By Matthew DeKinder
Wednesday, November 11, 2009 3:12 AM CST
I’ve always had a soft spot for Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” a story so simple it has been given a yuletide treatment by everyone from the Muppets to Mr. Magoo. Of course, this level of familiarity has worked to dull the impact of the story.
It almost doesn’t matter how wretched Scrooge is at the begging of the story because we know he ends up so cheery and cuddly in the end. No lesson to be learned here, move along.
That’s why it is admirable that Robert Zemeckis has brought some oomph back to this classic tale by mixing a faithful adaptation of Dickens’ original text with the technological wizardry of computer animation.
What is perplexing though, is that these very elements that elevate this version of “A Christmas Carol” also serve to undermine the film at several turns.
Zemeckis uses the motion-capture technique he made famous in “The Polar Express” in which actors go through the motions of a performance and then their actions are translated to their digital characters.
While this allowed for many spectacular flourishes thanks to computerized magic, the animation left the characters with a certain dead-eyed look that was distracting and creepy, like a glimpsed movement in a room full of antique dolls.
This distraction has only been moderately improved upon depending on the character. Scrooge’s nephew Fred (voiced by Colin Firth) and Bob Cratchet (voiced by Gary Oldman) bear a resemblance to their human counterparts, but often look blanker than figures in a wax museum. Fortunately, Scrooge himself along with the various Christmas ghosts (all voiced and resembling the already animated Jim Carrey) are compelling and lifelike enough to allow for enough suspension of disbelief to enjoy the ride.
The film is presented in 3D and is quite spectacular when zooming around the rooftops and street corners of 19th century London. It is in these moments that this version of “A Christmas Carol” truly distinguishes itself as something special.
Another quibble does arrive, however, when the film moves indoors because Zemeckis made the interesting choice to dimly light the interiors. The film buff in me suspects he did this to give an accurate feel for what rooms lit only by candle in a pre-electricity world would look like. The cynic in me suspects he did it to cover up the expressionless animation of the characters.
Either way, much of the film is murky and dark to the point that I wished I could have traded my 3D glasses for a pair of night-vision goggles. In addition to being dark from a lighting standpoint, it’s pretty darn dark thematically as well, to the point that I have no problem dubbing this the scariest and most intense adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” to date.
This was a creative choice that I actually kind of dug as it is much closer to the sinister tone of Dickens’ original story and may help pierce the comfy fog that has come to surround the tale to rattle the consciences of some modern-day Scrooges. That is if they’re not too busy counting their million-dollar bonuses.
What I do have a problem with is how the movie is being marketed by slapping the Disney brand on it and presenting it as ooey-gooey family-friendly.
There is a point in “The Muppet Christmas Carol” where Rizzo the Rat turns to Gonzo and says “This is scary stuff! Shouldn’t we be worried about the kids in the audience?” To which Gonzo, the narrator, says “Oh, no, this is culture!”
Zemeckis must have shared this sentiment because this movie will scare the bejesus out of young kids.
I would be reluctant to take any child under 10 to see this movie because it is much more likely to fill them with nightmares as opposed to the Christmas spirit.
I feel comfortable dubbing “A Christmas Carol” a qualified success, and one that certainly benefits from being seen in the 3D format. However its shortcomings are deserving of at least one solid “Bah, humbug!”
“A Christmas Carol” is rated PG for scary sequences and images.