I sat down to Disney's new big-budget adaptation of A Christmas Carol not knowing what to expect. I have read the original Dickens story but never seen any other adaptations that I can think of, other than Muppet Christmas Carol and an episode of "The Real Ghostbusters". I also enjoyed Robert Zemeckis' adaptation of The Polar Express, one of his previous films to use the high-tech motion-capture technology he's so enamored with, but I skipped Beowulf, his follow-up effort. The trailer for A Christmas Carol didn't give me much faith, but I popped on my 3D glasses and prepared myself to be dazzled. What I got was a baffling experience.
I have seen many movies, but I can't remember any that were quite like A Christmas Carol, which, sadly, is not an endorsement. It's the strangest sensation: Zemeckis' version of the story has almost no forward momentum. Obviously, the plot of A Christmas Carol is famous, and the story progresses the same way it always has, but something about the motion capture process robs the characters of motivation. Scrooge may revisit his past and learn to be a better person, but I never understood why on a scene-to-scene basis; the unspoken decision-making reflex everyone in the world has when presented with a scenario that requires action just feels noticeably absent.
Zemeckis has decided to augment this by leaving many scenes completely scoreless. I perked up when I saw Alan Silvestri's name in the credits, since I have fond memories of owning the Back to the Future and Back to the Future Part II scores on cassette tape. Unfortunately, Silvestri's work is often minimal or non-existent; maybe there was a problem with the sound in my theater that I'm unaware of, but one of the opening scenes, for instance, when a character played by Cary Elwes comes asking for a donation, the weirdly drawn-out scene of Scrooge refusing is played in almost deafening silence.
And then there's Carrey's performance. That trailer I mentioned contains numerous instances of the comedian's trademark rubber-face routine, but the movie itself reveals that Disney advertising gurus scraped the bottom of the barrel to unearth two minutes of goofy moments. Carrey plays the role almost entirely straight, which I suppose is probably a good thing, but it begs the question: why cast Jim at all? Scrooge is neither a Carrey-like goofball nor the kind of soft-spoken dramatic role he's also been good in, just a miserly old man that he doesn't seem right for. The voice becomes an issue too. In Horton Hears a Who! I felt like Carrey's mannerisms combined with animation was too much of the same thing, but in A Christmas Carol, since the model for Scrooge resembles the actor (and just because the guy's a recognizable star), it's hard not to see Carrey in the mind's eye, contorting his face to alter his voice. With this lingering in the back of the mind, what should be a vocal performance is instantly reduced to the image of Carrey "doing a voice", robbing the character of authenticity.
Beyond Scrooge, Carrey also plays the three ghosts. The Ghost of Christmas Present plays the best, falling firmly into Carrey's range, and The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is a silent spectre, so anything he does in that role is completely invisible. The Ghost of Christmas Past, on the other hand, is bafflingly weird. Carrey puts on a whispery, child-like voice that strongly borders on creepy; I'd give him plenty of credit for innovation, but I can't imagine why nobody told him to stop. The fact that the flame-wisp creation has a recognizable CG version of the actor's face just makes it even weirder. Honestly, I'm kind of torn. Zemeckis' Christmas Carol is fairly dark (although as always I think parents worried that family movies are "too scary" for children are overreacting, and I always thought the Dickens story was dark itself), but The Ghost of Christmas Past may be the most insane thing I've seen all year. It's also so nuts, it might the best thing in the whole movie, because I've never seen anything quite like it.
I've heard lots of people saying otherwise, so maybe I'm just missing some detail, some loose element that will bring it all together, but all in all, A Christmas Carol struck me as strangely inert. I saw the film in Disney Digital 3D and didn't feel it made much of a difference; it's interesting, but reflecting on the film, my visual memory of it isn't in 3D, so whatever it added clearly didn't grab me. I imagine some people will enjoy it. I didn't like it, but I didn't hate it either; it was just weird.
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