Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Review: 'A Christmas Carol' [B]

By Chase Kahn

It was to my delight, though not my aching eyes, to find that Robert Zemeckis' A Christmas Carol was, despite a few scenes of indulgence, a really enjoyable digitized retelling -- probably the best animated film I've seen this year. (How this gets ripped to shreds and Dreamworks' repugnant Monsters vs. Aliens gets a pass is beyond me.)

This version is accurately ghostly and dark, both visually and sensually, and is easily the best film Zemeckis has made using his much-adored performance capture technology. Instead of the animation becoming almost a hindrance in Beowulf, or incomplete as in The Polar Express, A Christmas Carol is the best example that the director can summon as to how it can enhance a viewing experience.

Charles Dickens' classical tale of retribution and forgiveness proves to be a perfect match for the technology, capturing the chill, the era, and the coldness -- both of Ebenezer Scrooge and the seemingly sub-zero temperatures. The flesh tones of the actors re-constructed faces are splotchy, they exude steam from their mouths, they make crunching sounds in the snow -- it was about 80 degrees in the theater I was in and about the same outside it, but I actually felt that inescapable chill and shudder before the warm relief of a wool blanket.

Jim Carrey's performance as Scrooge is top-notch. I think it's a shame that most people won't even know that Carrey is doing more than just lending his voice here (which is literally unrecognizable at times), he's physically performing the facial expressions and gestures of the infamously misanthropic curmudgeon -- the same expressions which are picked up by Zemeckis and his animation team with such astonishing detail as to put to shame all that came before it.

But besides the animation, I really am surprised to find that some (if not most) critics found the film emotionally cold and hindered by the digital sheen. Perhaps it's because I'm not too familiar with the other screen adaptations of this classic story (I need to see the Alastair Sim '51 version), but I thought that Scrooge's madness and his subsequent and predicatable life-affirming roundabout were handled delicately and well.

Now, yes, I do agree that Zemeckis indulges himself in one-too many "exciting fabrications" in an attempt to either justify the ludicrous budget or keep the fidgety ones half-awake, but they feel exactly that -- unnecessary. For the most part, this is a refreshingly morose, quiet and dimly-lit tale that when the gushy finale arrives, it feels completely earned. It's the first time I've watched one of the 57-year old director's performance capture animated films and marveled at the technique as it benefits the product. I'm like my own Ebenezer Scrooge in that regard -- seeing the world with a fresh perspective! Although I forgot, my eyes still hurt from the RealD 3D glasses.

1 comment:

  1. I havent' seen all of the adaptations of this, but I've seen quite a few and have always maintained the 1984 made for TV version starring George C. Scott is the best capturing of scrooge and the story I've seen. I probably won't watch this until DVD.