Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Movie Review: A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol ** ½
Directed By:
Robert Zemeckis.
Written By: Robert Zemeckis based on the story by Charles Dickens.
Starring: Jim Carrey (Scrooge/Ghost of Christmas Past/Ghost of Christmas Present/Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come), Gary Oldman (Bob Cratchit/Marley/Tiny Tim), Colin Firth (Fred), Robin Wright Penn (Fan/Belle), Bob Hoskins (Mr. Fezziwig/Old Joe), Jacquie Barnbrook (Mrs. Fezziwig/Fred’s Sister-in-Law/Well-Dressed Caroler), Lesley Manville (Mrs. Cratchit), Cary Elwes (Portly Gentleman #1/Dick Wilkins/Mad Fiddler/Guest #2/Business Man #1).

Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol has been turned into a movie so many times that it is almost pointless to try and do it all again. According to Wikipedia, this is the 21st film version of the story. It has inspired many different retellings and reinterpretations. In the past year for example we had two horrendous versions - An American Carol, a right wing screed about the dawning realization of a liberal filmmaker that he is an idiot, and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, a terrible romantic comedy about a playboy played by Matthew McConaghey, realizing he has lost his way. The best version is probably the 1951 version with Alastair Sim as Scrooge, but the version I have watched the most is undoubtedly A Muppet Christmas Carol with Michael Caine. So any version of the story that is going to come out has to do something at least a little bit different.

Robert Zemeckis’ version continues the same style he used to make The Polar Express and Beowulf. He essentially animated over top of real actors performing their roles. It is a mixture of live action and animation, and yields a film that is visually masterful. I have often found that the new trend of 3-D is simply a gimmick to get more money out of people, but when Zemeckis does it, the 3-D simply adds to the texture of the film itself. It makes it even more involving. A Christmas Carol is no exception. You cannot fault the movie for taking liberties with the original text. This is perhaps the most faithful adaptation yet of the story. The film even uses much of the same dialogue just as Dickens wrote it.

Jim Carrey takes on numerous roles in the film. He plays Ebenezer Scrooge himself, along with the three ghosts who come to visit him. He makes each character unique. His Scrooge is a crotchety old man, and is thankfully free from too much of Carrey’s characteristic overacting. He plays the role straight, and does a fine job. The Ghost of Christmas Past is the most visually interesting of the three ghosts - basically just a floating head and light, but Carrey perhaps plays the role too quietly, too subtly. Each line reading seems to be extended beyond the amount of time it should take. His Ghost of Christmas Present is a huge, jolly man with a love of life that is contagious. And the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is truly frightening. I know some kids at the screening I went to were scared of the ghost so be warned. Gary Oldman is the other major actor in the movie, playing Bob Crachit, Jacob Marley and Tiny Tim himself. Again, he plays all three roles straight, not going over the top at all. In fact, he is kind of lifeless in all three roles.

And therein lies the problem with the movie as a whole. No matter how visually interesting the film is, and no matter how faithful a rendition of the classic tale this is, the movie itself is pretty dull. I have seen this story so many times, and yet every time I pop either the 1951 version or A Muppet Christmas Carol into the DVD player, I never fail to get swept up into the story, the performances, the music and everything else about the film. With this version, there just isn’t much there to sink your teeth into. I am glad I saw the film in a theater, where the 3-D effects makes the movies amazing visuals pop, but this time the story just seemed to sit there on screen.

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