Saturday, December 23, 2023

A Christmas Carol (2009)

Christmas is Monday. B/CL is closed on theaters and like I won't be posting then. Besides, it's Christmas, Scrooge!  So, here's what I would've posted on Monday were I posting.

Written at the time of this version's release (Oh, don't worry! I'm sure another version is coming out shortly).

"God Bless Us, Every Mega-Pixel"
Everyone has a favorite "Christmas Carol" (or I should say, "version" of "A Christmas Carol").* A novella, it is the perfect length for adaptation to movie (with some padding) or television special (with some commercials). And being as it's in the Public Domain, anybody can adapt it without paying any money to Mr. Dickens (who probably haunts the producers, every one!). Hence the title: Disney's 'A Christmas Carol.'tm **
Disney may own it, but it's Robert Zemeckis and Jim Carrey's "A Christmas Carol," and it stands up against even beloved ghosts of "Christmas Carols" past. Face it. There are so many, that presentation becomes the main criterion to base a judgement, like "Hamlet." And format has a lot to do with what drives Zemeckis' version. Skip the 3-D aspect for a moment. This motion capture-CG "take" does some very interesting things with the story (adapted within a farthing of Dickens' original by Zemeckis himself) that are only possible with animation—the ghosts being integral to the story.
"A Christmas Carol" is a ghost story. The ghosts and their tours of Scrooge's life past, present and future must be enough to slap Scrooge giddy, make him "scared straight," turn his perspective from "profit" to "a common good." 
In other words, it must turn him from a "cool, conservative man" to a "bleeding heart liberal."*** You have to have really scary ghosts to do that. Really scary ghosts. Any half-steps and Scrooge would be a "champagne liberal," and what good are they?
In this version,
Carrey not only plays "Scrooge" (through Zemeckis' ever-improving "motion-capture" technique) but also the three Ghosts: a cooing Irish flame for the past, a roaring Scottish present, and a funereally silent Future. Each has their own presentation of their visions, Past whisking Scrooge to his old haunts, Present turning Scrooge's sitting room into a camera obscura to spy the current Christmas, flinging Scrooge to a stage street to present Want and Ignorance, two feral spirits—the one growing up violent behind prison bars, the other morphing into a hooker and into a straight-jacketed mad-woman. And Future, in a neat touch, forms itself from Scrooge's own shadow. 
There emerges during the sequence a chase as Scrooge is pursued by his own nightmarish funeral cortege pulled by two red-eyed horses, a bit that old Walt would have been proud of. It soon deteriorates into a demonstration of 3-D (which Zemeckis and Pixar are already masters of—the previews of
James Cameron's Avatar shows a few problems) as bedlam as a mouse-sized Scrooge must scramble through the sewers to escape a terrible fate. One could live without it, as well as the "snuffing" episode of Christmas Past were the sequence not a vivid demonstration of just how well Zemeckis uses the technology to bring a life-like edge to the movie. And that's where this "Christmas Carol" truly makes its mark. 
Where this version of "A Christmas Carol" is unique is that this marks the occasion when "motion capture" CG "got the faces right." Zemeckis' previous experiment in this realm,
Beowulf, had an odd, plasticene feel to it, mouths didn't crinkle correctly in speech, faces wobbled in perspective. Not here. Carrey is a broad actor, to be sure. But he's also an actor of simultaneous quicksilver subtleties, and this film captures it all. It's one thing to flit the camera perspective through snow-storms and sail through the chains of a scale, falling chestnuts, and the "eye" of a wreath (all done in the film's credits), but it's quite another artistic thing to capture the look of pleased instant love
on young Ebeneezer's face when he first meets his beloved Belle (Robin Wright Penn), or to show the pleading terror and remorse when a ghostly Scrooge comes "face-to-face" with a mourning Bob Cratchit (a perfect Gary Oldman). Keep your dizzying flights of fancy 3-D. It's in those moments of intricate expression when "Disney's 'A Christmas Carol'" truly soars.

* Well, since you asked, I have my own favorites—usually the ones that are a bit scarier in their psychic psychological warfare on Scrooge. I like the "Alastair Sim" version often sighted as a favorite, and love the "George C. Scott" version for television from 1984 (he's scarier at the end than at the beginning!), but my favorite—and this is probably a case of "Mom's Apple Pie Syndrome"—is "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol," which, even though it is a musical, even though it is a cartoon and even though Scrooge is Jim Backus, still manages to pack an emotional wallop, more than any "live" version I've seen, including this version.  

** They've already done a version with Mickey Mouse: "Mickey's Christmas Carol" (1983). Scrooge McDuck played Scrooge. Natch.  

*** I have to bring this up: a couple years ago one of the Zucker bros. directed a conservative version of "A Christmas Carol," but it took the Christmas out of it—I guess it's "An X-mas Carol," then, about your "Wars on the Holidays"(sic)—called "An American Carol" in which a Michael Moore type (played by Chris Farley's brother—more popularly known as "Chris Farley's brother") is shown the Ghosts of America Past, Present, and Future in order to "scare" him into being more conservative—frankly the Bush II Administration had the opposite effect on me. Not to paint with too large a brush, but conservative political humor tends to be so ham-fisted and structurally unsound that it can't even see its own hypocritical ironies.

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