Saturday, November 7, 2009

Movie Review: A Christmas Carol

Let's get something straight right off the bat: Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol is a ghost story. Everyone over the age of four should know the basic story of how meaney Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by four ghosts to help him find his humanity again.

This version is done by Robert Zemeckis of Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Back to The Future fame. He used the Motion Capture (MoCap) method like he used in Polar Express, another Christmas story and Beowulf. For those of you who don't know, the actors wear a special suit with all sorts of sensing devices that are picked up by cameras set around the stage. The computer catches the location of the sensors and thereby captures the actor's movements. This allows the director to place the actors actions in a virtual world to be mimicked on a virtual actor. We'll talk a bit later about how this MoCap affects performance.

The movie was released in regular, 3D and IMAX 3D formats. In my area, the IMAX costs $15.00 per show and has no matinee prices. The 3D version has a $3.50 upcharge on either matinee or full price. I really don't find that the 3D adds a whole lot so I chose the regular format.

The movie started off like some of the old Disney classics. They zoom into a book which opens and the story is told. After that, they started in a place that I had not seen before done in a movie. Granted, I haven't seen all versions, but I've seen many of them. My favorite is the 1970 musical version entitled Scrooge with Albert Finney and Alec Guinness. Zemeckis' starts with Marley's death and then jumps to the point where most people are familiar with the story.

Jim Carrey provides the performance for Scrooge and Gary Oldman handles the role of Bob Cratchit who we now get to see in the office of Scrooge and Marley. From here, it was obvious what Zemeckis wanted to do with the 3D. The soaring over old London bringing you through the streets, showing people in their everyday affairs and just how mean Scrooge is.

Scrooge goes home and runs into the ghost of Jacob Marley, also done by Oldman, who in an attempt to save Scrooge from his fate tells him about vists from three other ghosts, which were all done by Carrey. For the first encounter with Marley, you get an idea of why the movie has a PG rating. After Marley leaves and Scrooge views some of the specters roaming the earth, you fully understand that the PG rating was justified. There were several gasps from the audience during Marley's visit.

The ghost of Christmas Past is symbolized by a floating flame. This was an interesting interpretation. What I didn't like was the ticks that were added by Carrey to the character. They seemed out of place.

The Ghost of Christmas Present was represented as most productions have shown him as a large jovial man with a hearty laugh. What impressed me about this sequence is that instead of Scrooge and the Ghost flying to the different scenes by themselves, the Ghost turns Scrooges building into a space ship of sorts and transforms the floor into a transparent portal from which they can observe the action. Scrooge doesn't leave his living room.

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come was also represented well. Many shots of this Ghost weren't a solid figure, but of a shadowy malevolent presence. It was very effective. This part also had the one item that I didn't like and that was a funeral carriage and black horses with red eyes driven by the Ghost chasing Scrooge through the streets of London all while Scrooge is shrinking in size until he's the size of the rat.

Finally we end up back in Scrooge's abode with him being exuberant that he's alive feeling "as light a feather" as he determines to make up for all that he's lost. As the movie ends he heads over to his nephew Fred's (Colin Firth) to reconnect with the only family he has.

While the story is not new, Zemeckis decided to play straighter to the original text. Usually the part of Ignorance and Want are ignored as well as showing just they kind of person Bob Cratchit is as he attempts to slide on an icy street.

The looks of London and settings are wonderfully set with the cobble stone streets, the lights of the buildings, the smoke eminating from chimneys and the opulence of some and the needs of others are established early. It adds to the beauty and expressiveness of the film.

What was disconcerting at time was the MoCap and some of Carrey's actions. When Scrooge discovers that he's still alive, some of the actions that Carrey performed for the character is something that I don't think they would preform during the time frame. At other times there were actions and vocals that just didn't match. We catch little things like the slight movement of a mouth while laughing. The computer didn't catch them and the post production didn't added in those subtle movements. The eyes for this production were better than some of the other MoCap movies already done, but not quite right. Lastly were some of the skins. Scrooge himself looked great. Several of the other characters looked like they were plastic with colors painted on. They really didn't look textured. For the couple of characters with flawless beautiful skin, they looked too shiny like they were porcelain, not a flesh.

Was the movie worth the price? I say yes, despite some of the looks of the characters and their actions, the overall story told and the settings were engaging enough to overcome those flawed items. Reminder it is a ghost story with a PG rating for this 96 minute film.