REVIEW: A Christmas Carol

29 11 2009

Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” gets the title “timeless” bestowed on it because every year at Christmas, some new version of his story is spawned.  Robert Zemeckis is the latest filmmaker to take a stab at the tale.  Rather than revamp, retool, or recondition the story, he simply uses modern technology to retell it in a fun way that stays true to the source material and keeps the soul intact.  His “A Christmas Carol” bottles up the real spirit of the holiday season like no recent movie and spreads it through the audience.  It really is an empowering feeling to walk out of a movie inspired to put that twenty-dollar bill in the Salvation Army bin, not in the cash register at the mall.

The story of Ebenezer Scrooge is probably the second most well-known holiday yarn, weaved into the very fabric of the holiday season itself.  We all know it: the old miser with a heart colder than the snow packed on the London sidewalks gets a wake-up call that changes him.  Prior, Scrooge scoffed at Christmas with a “bah, humbug.”  He scorned those who wanted to care for him and refused to give care to the people that need it the most.  He treats his employee like dirt and gives him wages that amount to little more than that.  But Scrooge gets a visit from three ghosts – the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come – that change his perspective by reminding him of the joy that the season used to bring, the plight of those less fortunate, and the bleak future that awaits him if he doesn’t change his ways.  The result is a more tender-hearted man who appreciates Christmas and the giving spirit that accompanies it.

Through the miracle of motion capture, Jim Carrey is able to play not only Scrooge, but also all three ghosts.  Conceptually, it seems a little strange, but it isn’t bothersome at all in practice.  Carrey’s Scrooge may at first come off as some wacky voice from an “Ace Ventura” movie, but he uses his blessed gift of physicality and gives a very committed performance.  A lot of people will be surprised at how naturally he inhabits the decrepit old body.

The visuals of the movie are absolutely spectacular, and they are especially dazzling in 3-D.  I was particularly impressed by how Zemeckis and his team reconstructed 1840s London and gave the city a personality of its own.  The effects wizards create a spectacular universe, and Zemeckis honors their work by giving us plenty of sweeping shots of the city and some gratuitous visual stimulation.  There is nothing wrong with that; in fact, it adds to the experience for most of the movie.  Zemeckis’ vision is unlike any other adaptation of the story, and the technology really brings it to life.  I expected him to tone it down for the more somber and introspective section with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.  However, it was more gaudy than the previous sections and it really did distract from the message.

Hark!  Here is the purest Christmas movie of the decade!  Not only is it completely void of modern commercialism, but it focuses just on the holiday and not some other issue (relationships, broken families to name a few).  Zemeckis takes a classic, adapts it faithfully, and reminds us of the true meaning of the season.  No mixed message here: it’s all about giving.  And that’s all it should be.  B+ /


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2 responses

4 12 2009
Zach

The visuals in this film are amazing, and a joy to watch.

My favorite version of A Christmas Carol will always be the George C. Scott one, though.

I also still love the Muppet version of it.

4 12 2009
Marshall

I love anything with the Muppets. I’ll confess that I watched “The Muppets Take Manhattan” twice last weekend.

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