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Christmas Carol, A (2009)
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Christmas With The Krank"
1 stars

“A Christmas Carol” is a film about a man who has deliberately cast away all vestiges of his humanity in his never-ending pursuit of wealth until he is shown the error of his ways via a trio of spirits representing his past, present and future. Unfortunately, it is a film that has been made by a man who has deliberately cast away all vestiges of his humanity in his never-ending pursuit of wealth but who apparently has not yet had his encounters from his supernatural visitors. That man is Robert Zemeckis, the once-interesting director of such brash and brilliantly subversive works as “Used Cars” and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” whose recent films have shown him to be more interested in the technological challenges that he has set for himself than in their stories or characters. With the exception of “Beowulf,” I haven’t been a fan of his recent work--I still find it mind-boggling that the man who made something as gloriously cynical as “Used Cars” could have made the empty-headed treacle of “The Polar Express”--but for the most part, I could at least understand what he was trying to accomplish for the most part. “A Christmas Carol,” on the other hand, is such a pointless and soulless endeavor in every possible aspect that I emerged more baffled than anything else that he could take one of the most foolproof stories of all time and turn it into a leaden and ugly mess that offers all the emotional and dramatic heft of an exceptionally garish Christmas window display.

The film is, of course, based on the terrifying Charles Dickens story about a reclusive businessman whose antithetical attitude towards the holiday season so offends those around him that he is relentlessly attacked one Christmas Eve by a group of ghosts that mercilessly browbeat and torture him with hellish visions of his past, present and future until he finally agrees to go with the flow and make merry just like everyone else. This time around, Jim Carrey plays the role of Ebeneezer Scrooge, the misunderstood tycoon whose stringent business practices are widely mistaken for miserliness. One Christmas Eve, after rejecting his nephew’s (Colin Firth) rather snotty and self-righteous invitation for Christmas dinner, refusing to kowtow to the pressure to donate to a local charity without even being properly asked and grumbling about having to pay his sole employee, Bob Cratchit (Gary Oldman), for not working on Christmas Day, he returns home and is visited by the spirit of his late business partner, Jacob Marley (Oldman), who informs that he will be visited by three spirits (all played by Carrey) that will take him on a guided tour of his past, present and future in the hopes that it will show Scrooge the error of his ways before it is too late. The spirits arrive like clockwork and Scrooge hurtles through time so that he can bear witness to his lonely upbringing, an ill-fated romance with the beautiful Belle (Robin Wright Penn) that ends when she becomes upset about his workaholic nature and a Christmas celebration with the Cratchits that allow him to bear witness to sickly young Tiny Tim (Oldman), whose physical miseries are apparently all Scrooge’s fault as well. After enduring visions of Tim’s demise as well as his own passing (which apparently occurred minutes before his time), Scrooge wakes up on Christmas morning a changed man and begins to spread good cheer around in a desperate effort to get the spirits off his back once and for all.

The trouble with this version of this particular version of the holiday warhorse is not the story itself--a blend of sentimentality and emotional sadism that is so canny that most people hardly realize just how manipulative it really is at heart--but the approach that Zemeckis has utilized in order to tell it. As with his last two films, “The Polar Express” and “Beowulf,” he employs both elaborate CGI techniques that capture the movements of his actors and replicate them in animated form and the magic of 3-D to fully immerse viewers into the world of the story. When he used these technological advances in those previous films, they sort of made sense because the stories they told were so elaborate and fantastical that it would have been impossible to do them in live-action without costing prohibitive amounts of money to produce. In the case of “A Christmas Carol,” however, that is obviously not the case--I will let someone else go to IMDB and look up how many variations of the story have been filmed over the years--but Zemeckis never gives us a compelling reason as to why he felt that it needed to be told in this way. The chief problem is that while most people tend to focus on the ghosts when they think about the story, it is the human characters who are front and center most of the time and, as becomes painfully obvious right from the start, the technology to create a completely convincing photorealistic human being still doesn’t exist, we are forced to watch endless scenes of imperfectly rendered characters who look so creepy and odd that they completely take us out of the story. (Bob Cratchit, for example, looks like the offspring of Alfred E. Neumann and the lawn gnome from “Amelie.”) If Zemeckis had just done the ghosts using this approach and left the other characters to be presented as flesh-and-blood people, the whole thing might have worked but by doing it all this way, it creates such an aesthetic distance between the material and the audience that the two never come close to connecting. To aggravate matters even further, and perhaps to justify the CGI approach to his financiers, Zemeckis devotes much of the last third of the film to an unending special-effects orgy with Scrooge being chased through the streets of London by a haunted carriage, shrinking to the size of a mouse and hurtling willy-nilly through the air that do nothing but pad out the running time by shamelessly condescending to action junkies whose couldn’t possibly handle a story of self-redemption that didn’t also involve a lot of stuff getting smashed along the way. As for the 3-D element, I will only note that since the process inevitably reduces the brightness of the visuals by a significant percentage, utilizing it in the service of a story that takes place mostly at night in dimly-lit surroundings may not have been the most brilliant idea on the part of Zemeckis.

As for the notion of employing Jim Carrey to play Scrooge as well as all of the various spirits, it is yet another idea that does not pay off at all in the end. After all, what is the point of hiring an actor who is both a skilled dramatic actor and perhaps the closest thing that Hollywood has to being a genuine live-action cartoon and stranding him in a project that seems to have been designed to mute those very qualities? If the film had been made under normal circumstances with the actual Carrey front and center under varying layers of makeup, I can see how he might have brought some life to the proceedings but his talents are buried under so much needless technology that he barely registers as a presence despite being on screen in virtually every scene. The same goes for all the other actors that Zemeckis somehow managed to lure into his web of techno-twaddle--not one of them is able to break through in order to give the proceedings any zest or lift and some, like Colin Firth and Robin Wright Penn, are given such small and superfluous parts that you wonder why they even bothered to sign on. Quite frankly, the only performance that inspires any interest is Gary Oldman’s take on Tiny Tim and that is only because I was hoping that he would do the character’s most famous line in the voice of his crazed cop character from “Leon” and avow “God bless us all, EVERYONE!” (Sadly, it doesn’t happen here but there are already several videos on YouTube at the moment that more or less recreate that concept for you--not only are they infinitely more entertaining than this film, they are also significantly shorter as well.)

Look, I will admit that I am not exactly the greatest fan of Christmas-themed films and if I were given the chance to go through the rest of my life without seeing another permutation of “A Christmas Carol,” I would take it without hesitation. However, I am not completely blind to its charms and there have been variations of the story over the years that I have enjoyed a great deal--my favorites include the adaptations featuring Mr. Magoo and the Muppets and the Bill Murray update “Scrooged” (save for the last ten minutes or so). In each of those versions, the filmmakers brought something new to the table while still remaining true to the core of Dickens’ original story in ways that this one never comes close to approaching--for all the millions of dollars and man-hours spent here, the end result isn’t able to match the emotional impact reached by a few pieces of felt. In the end, “A Christmas Carol” isn’t so much an instant holiday classic to be treasure for years and years to come as it is the cinematic equivalent of the ugliest, gaudiest and most uncomfortable Christmas sweater ever gifted--the difference, of course, is that while the sweater will only make one’s skin itch for as long as it is kept on, this film will make one’s skin crawl long after it has ended.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=18533&reviewer=389
originally posted: 11/05/09 10:06:14
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User Comments

4/28/12 Carol Miles PIXAR, DREAMWORKS yes...Zemeckis NO. 3 stars
3/05/11 Wo Men Love Jeff Hey Robert Zemeckis, leave animation to PIXAR. 2 stars
11/16/10 Joe Brizzi I love this Dickens classic and thought this to be an excellent version of the story. 4 stars
9/22/10 Lisa Brady Hey Mr. Darcy is Scrooge's nephew. Unbelieveable! 3 stars
8/27/10 emily sand even as a cartoon, Colin Firth can only do Mr. Darcy. 3 stars
11/09/09 Jeff Love Wo Men i love that film with that man 3 stars
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  06-Nov-2009 (PG)
  DVD: 16-Nov-2010


  DVD: 16-Nov-2010

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