Director: Robert Zemeckis
Writer: Robert Zemeckis; based off A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Cinematographer: Robert Presley
Producer: Steve Starkey, Robert Zemeckis, and Jack Rapke
by Jon Cvack
I’ve been my way through the various Christmas Carol adaptations. As of this writing, I have Patrick Stewart’s 1999 television version left and sure enough FX released a new adaptation just last week. It’s my very favorite repeated adaptation - up there with the ancient classics, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, and others; an incredibly rare achievement in creating a story that stands the test of time; people drawn back time and again, always finding a fresh connection to the material and demonstrating how timeless art can become.
A good Scrooge fits any age, a person who can just as easily play a charmer as well as an asshole. Ideally, we see tiny slivers of a good person between the bad. It’s why Reginald Owen from the 1932 version, Alastair Sim from 1951, and Bill Murray from Scrooged (1988) are all so good. And it’s why George C. Scott in 1984’s version fails to work, let alone when Scott breaks into song and dance; he’s just too intense and serious a person.
This marks the beginning of Robert Zemeckis’ peculiar shift away from an absolutely dominating reign in cinema in which he created classic after classic film. The split year of 2000 marks an immediate wedge between his two ears - Cast Away (2000) earned another position in our popular cinema pantheon and What Lies Beneath (2000) marks a failure to reimagine Hitchcock. He wouldn’t make another movie until 2004 with another classic The Polar Express. From there on out he spent the next half decade making only animated films, culminating in A Christmas Carol.
As mentioned in other thoughts, the 2000s is becoming an endearing turning point in spectacle cinema. Just as the 50s sci-fi introduced cheesy monsters, aliens, and other creatures and the 80s would master them, the 2000s is when tentpole films leaned into underdeveloped special effects; most of which are aging horribly. See my thoughts on Lord of the Rings (2001) where while most of the film still works, there are a few special effects which are shockingly awful. Filmmakers should remaster these films, not just release higher definition copies.
Sometime in the last few years, as I played a few video games here and there, I realized that we are not - yet - in danger of CGI characters taking over in narrative films, but that video games and CGI narrative have so successfully merged that it demands filmmakers use style to differentiate themselves. It’s why Pixar is successful and Paddington (2014) works. But I’m left wondering if it could ever allow for what Ghost in the Shell or Akira accomplished; allowing actual people to exist within an animated world.
A Christmas Carol doesn’t feel like a movie so much as watching the B-Roll of a video game. At points, it even feels as though it’s setting you up to play a game. It follows the traditional story in the classical era with Ebenezer Scrooge played by Jim Carrey (along with performing the three ghosts of past, present, and future). Ebenezer is designed as a frightening and intimidating man; tall and hovering over people, failing to have even an ounce of kindness anywhere in his body. Although played by Carrey, the filmmakers opted to remove all humor. Perhaps at the time, when Carrey was at the top of comedy, there’d be an irony in how serious the performance came across, but I was left wondering how much better it could have been if Scrooge made subtle jokes and remarks under his breath that at least provided him a sense of wit. Instead, it was dry and cold.
The story follows the normal trajectory. We meet Bob Cratchit (Gary Oldman, who also plays Scrooge’s old partner Jacob Marley), Scrooge’s nephew (Colin Firth), and his former fiancee Belle (Robin Wright Penn; who also strangely plays Scrooge’s younger sister as well). Each scene is absolutely beautiful and stunning with some interesting visual effects to mix things up, but for the most part, the whole time I was wondering why this wasn’t live action. Before the future segment arrives, most of the scenes involve normal looking people in normal locations. I was left imagining Jim Carrey’s makeup and the kinds of visual and practical effects that Zemeckis has perfectly blended in the past. So many frames were gorgeous, but fell far short of what an actual set with real people could have provided. It’s the type of film you wish would get remade Psycho-style in order to prove that CGI isn’t meant to recreate life but the imagination (wild visual effects aside).
BELOW: I'd love someone to explain to me why going through all this was somehow a better idea than live action
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