For almost the entirety of this decade, Robert Zemeckis has been perfecting the techniques of performance capture and 3D filmmaking, creating truly immersive movies that, at their best, do feel like the future of cinema. As one much more into mythical adventures than Xmas flicks, I feel that “Beowulf” is by far Zemeckis’ greatest achievement in this performance capture/3D field, but like “The Polar Express”, this here new version of “A Christmas Carol” is still greatly enjoyable as an exquisitely crafted visual experience.
Adapted from the classic Charles Dickens book, “A Christmas Carol” is the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a rich yet penny-pinching old bastard who couldn’t care less about holiday cheer, family gatherings and the spirit of giving. One Christmas Eve, seven years to day after the death of his equally greedy and selfish partner Marley, the ghost of the latter appears to Scrooge and tells him that three other ghosts will visit him through the night: the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Will seeing how his heartlessness has caused him sorrow in the past, how it’s currently affecting people around him and how it will lead to him dying alone, uncared for and unmissed inspire Scrooge to change his ways?
Well, of course it will, I know it and you know it, as does anyone who’s either read the novel or seen some of the many previous adaptations. All the same, this Victorian morality tale never fails to be effective, and while not necessarily the definitive take on it, Zemeckis’ “A Christmas Carol” does it justice nicely. In particular, Jim Carrey and the animators who worked on his motion-captured performance do a great job of creating a thoroughly dry, gray and curmudgeonly Scrooge… yet one not entirely immune to emotional displays, as we’ll see when his unfeeling faÃ§ade is increasingly chipped away during the film.
The mid-19th century London backdrops are wonderfully conceived, and Zemeckis has a lot of fun doing these long shots in which the “camera” zips around, flying all the way up into the skies and at other times falling all the way down to the pavement and even underground… Clearly, live-action cinematography would have trouble keeping up!
And then there are the three ghosts, who are also portrayed by Carey: the candle-like, flame-headed Ghost of Christmas Past, the big, burly, bearded, ginger-haired and maniacally laughing Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, a shadowy, hooded, skeletal, silent figure… Each of which makes Scrooge travel through time and space, showing him sad, heartbreaking and sometimes downright horrifying visions.
Even though this is a Disney production, “A Christmas Carol” is hardly a cute little kiddy tale!