Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Review: A Christmas Carol

Property The Daily Gamecock

Disney has filmed Charles Dickens’ classic novella “A Christmas Carol” three times — once as a Mickey Mouse vehicle, again with the Muppets, and now in 3-D motion capture animation.

Director of “Forrest Gump”, Robert Zemeckis is one of the few directors trying to make a legitimate plea for both motion capture animation and new 3-D technologies, even if his case rests on the visually stunning, yet absolutely hollow films “The Polar Express” and “Beowulf.”

His adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” is so straightforward and obvious that its small 96-minute runtime feels boring and over done. Taking such a familiar and traditional story seems to make Zemeckis feel like he can completely disregard the need to fill his version with any emotion and spontaneity. The result is visually breathtaking and artificially interesting, but lacks the joy of the most routine rendition of “Jingle Bells.”

Jim Carrey steps into the role of London grinch Ebenezer Scrooge, also lending his voice to the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come. His performances run the gamut of variety and creativity as Carrey tries to twist and exaggerate his voice.
As much oddball eccentricity as he tries to interject into the film, Carrey fails to accent Scrooge’s dramatic emotional arc. Though the motion capture does a suitable job of mimicking his manical facial expressions, the animation prevents Carrey from fully engaging with Scrooge’s spiritual crisis.

At any given moment, it always feels like Carrey is trying to “play” old. Perhaps the totality of the animation process prevents him from doing more than throwing on accents and playing with voices.

The motion capture animation, especially when combined with the 3-D technology, gives director Zemeckis seemingly unprecedented control over the frame. Cinematographer Robert Presley finds ways to swerve and dash around London buildings, twist around pedestrians, and push the foreground to the extreme.

Intricate detail is placed on crafting these environments, especially the more fantastic journeys the Spirits of Christmas take Scrooge on. To the film’s extreme detriment, there is an overwhelming burden placed on adventure and spectacle.

Zemeckis seems too often bound up in trying to present the full possibilities of his technology. He’s in love with creating both photorealistic and highly stylized images, but this fascination seems to displace the interior struggle for redemption so crucial to Dickens’ fable.

Alan Silvestri’s score intersperses bars of traditional joyous Christmas songs throughout the film, but this version thankfully highlights the darker implications of Dickens’ story by emphasizing creepy ghosts and dread. Yet, there is also a hollowness to this film that relies so heavily on its technology. Its themes and emotions are as dead as the skin tone and eyes of the background characters.

For every moment of staggering animation, there is another that more closely resembles a run-of-the-mill video game. This version of “A Christmas Carol” leaves no lasting impression and acts as a serviceable but completely unmemorable adaptation. It feels less like it’s trying to honor its source material than it feels like a filmmaker clamoring for an excuse to further his technology, aimlessly jumping from plot point to plot point and trying to win admiration while forgetting to win affection.

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