Saturday, November 7, 2009

A Christmas Carol

Running Time: Just over an hour and a half

MPAA Rating: PG

Everybody knows the story of “A Christmas Carol”, or at least they think they do. A wealthy old miser named “Scrooge” is tormented by three Christmas spirits and a deceased associate in order to change his outlook on life for the better. The plot of Dickens’s classic novel has become iconic to today’s audience through years of other franchises adapting their characters into the plot. The quality of these retellings has had a fantastic range; from staying fairly true to the original (such as “Scrooge” in 1951 and the Oscar-winning animated version in 1971), to making silly updates (“The Muppet Christmas Carol” and “Mickey’s Christmas Carol”, both of which were also made by Disney), to complete bastardizations (“An American Carol”, “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past”, and countless more). To say the least, the very point of the book has been lost over the years, and nobody in recent decades has thought to simply stay true to the original material until now.

The film keeps its source’s dialogue resolutely intact. While this may please literature aficionados, it will bore the life out of the children to whom the movie was marketed. The indecision about which it was made for is blaringly apparent among moments of cartoonish giddiness, disturbing scenes of rotted corpses, and cheap “jump” scares all interspersed with the original Victorian language. In fact, the only entertainment that the average child would get during the entire show comes from added sight gags or characters that give lines in exaggeratedly silly voices, gimmicks that will alienate anybody looking to enjoy the classic story.

The out of place children’s comedy shtick isn’t the only thing working against “A Christmas Carol”, however. Many problems arise from director Robert Zemeckis’s signature performance capture animation technique (a style that he used on “The Polar Express”, “Beowulf”, and the upcoming remake of “Yellow Submarine”). There is a phenomenon that affects this type of film known as “uncanny valley”, which happens when people recognize nonhuman beings (such as robots and CGI animations) that pretend to be human and, as a result, are repulsed. The characters in the movie are unable to produce any believable emotion which causes a complete disconnect with the audience and leaves the actors only their voices to convincingly portray their characters.

Much like the “Harry Potter” movies, an all-star cast is used to cover even minor roles. Of course, many of the stars in this film have at least two or three characters to their name, Jim Carrey topping the bill by playing all three ghosts as well as Ebenezer Scrooge. While this may seem to be a cool idea in theory, it is absolutely pointless and only deepens the problems that are already present. It must have been difficult enough for the actors to respond to lines that have been given days or weeks ago (the scattered voice acting shows with a fervor), but dialogue between them and themselves in another personality is extremely difficult and is not done very naturally or believably at all in this case.

“A Christmas Carol” was a very influential book in its time. It helped to solidify Dickens’s legacy and even had a remarkable impact on the modern concepts of charity and redemption at Christmastime. This movie, unfortunately, carries none of that weight and instead serves as an over-stylized attempt to cash in on the season. The dialogue is simply an afterthought that is used to make way for more visual gimmicks and 3D spectacles. The performance capture animation should have been done away with in favor of live-action, as the technology has shown no significant improvement from its previous uses. In the end, if you’d like to know the timeless story then pass on this film and hear the classic literature call “know me better, man!”

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