A Christmas Carol
What It Is
The new, performance-captured Christmas Carol is two movies in one, one quite gloomy, the other theme-park-ridey hectic. Neither comes close to the holiday-cheery fare offered up by either the Muppets or Bill Murray.
The first introduces Ebenezer Scrooge (Jim Carrey) as he grumps and complains, abusing both his bighearted employee Bob Cratchit (Gary Oldman) and his emotionally tone-deaf nephew Fred (Colin Firth) to make clear that the old man lacks empathy, generosity, and really, any inclination toward even the simplest pleasures. Rather, he’s so obsessed with money that he can’t even pay for his long time business partner’s burial, going so far as to steal the coins off Marley’s eyelids, much to the distaste of the undertaker. When, seven years later, Marley’s ghost stops by Scrooge’s cavernous manse in order to warn him against such avarice, the encounter is suitably sinister, the spirit ghastly green and clanging chains, his jaw tied to his skull with an untidy handkerchief.
The second part of the movie begins when Marley departs and Scrooge meets the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet-to-Come. These visitations are increasingly dark, as Scrooge comes to see just how mean and disliked he is, as well as his adverse effects on Bob Cratchit and Fred’s families: impoverished or well-off, they resent the old man’s cruelties. But Scrooge can just observe these households from a respectful distance. No. Instead, he’s dragged through the skies, zapped over rooftops, and shot straight up into space, clutching his carrier and gasping for breath when the floor falls away beneath his feet. This nearly literal crash course ensures that Scrooge will learn his lesson. He needs to be nice—or else.
Why It’s Fun
The Real 3D technology is yet another step beyond older formats, and the first part of the film makes smart use of it, as Scrooge’s bony fingers and Marley’s translucent limbs seem to reach out from the screen. Once the action ramps up, however, that same 3D starts to look bland and repetitive, as Scrooge’s tours speed up and the world around him looks more and more like a flattened afterthought. The performance-capture animation, also advanced from the last times director Robert Zemeckis used it (The Polar Express in 2004 and Beowulf in 2007), is intermittently effective: Scrooge’s elastic face is detailed, but his former girlfriend’s (Robin Wright Penn) appears wan and plastic; Tiny Tim (Oldman again) is more like a prop than a character; and the poor carolers Scrooge berates resemble robots escaped from “It’s a Small World.”
Who’s Going To Love It
Families in search of Christmas cheer will find a mixed bag here, as the movie lurches from ghost story to wild ride to sudden happy ending (Scrooge’s transformation is foregone, but not exactly convincing here, as he begins dancing in his office and performing athletic stunts on the street that would be tough for a 19-year-old, let alone someone at his advanced age). During Scrooge’s trot down memory lane, Mr. Fezziwig (Bob Hoskins), his onetime mentor, provides a bit of celebratory lunacy, but his scene is sadly brief. If you like your Carrey layered on thick, this movie is made for you, as he voices all the ghosts who come to haunt Scrooge. There are moments, however, when this overload starts to seem like Eddie Murphy (over) doing the Klumps at dinner.
What To Be Aware Of
The movie’s inconsistency in speed and scary effects means that its target audience isn’t quite clear. Younger viewers may thrill to the swift zooming, but they might also be unnerved by the ghostly doorknocker that first scares Scrooge, ad the scenes showing his miserable childhood in an orphanage are grim indeed. Perhaps most startling for kids is the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, a huge shadowy specter that chases Scrooge for long minutes, through dark alleys on a wagon drawn by red-eyed black horses, then hauls him off to a cemetery and drops him into a deep grave. Scrooge also takes at least two very long falls that seem likely to break his body into bits; he screams and yells all the way down, and not in because he’s having fun. As well, the women throughout the film are treated as background for or extensions of the men. Bob’s wife and Scrooge’s fiancée, suffer through hard times, while Mrs. Fezziwig (Jacquie Barnbrook) is essentially an object to be tossed every which way during a holiday dance. This relegation of girls to the status of furniture is disappointing, to say the least.
5 out of 10
A Christmas Carol
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Cast: Jim Carrey, Cary Elwes, Bob Hoskins, Colin Firth, Gary Oldman, Robin Wright Penn
US Premiere: November 6, 2009
UK Premiere: November 6, 2009