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A Christmas Carol (2009)

2 Ratings: 4.5
A movie directed by Robert Zemeckis

Fans of Robert Zemeckis's brilliant special effects, and of Jim Carrey's transformative acting abilities, will be swept away by their collaboration in the stunningA Christmas Carol. Perhaps more surprising is that Charles Dickens purists will also be … see full wiki

Tags: Movie
Director: Robert Zemeckis
1 review about A Christmas Carol (2009)

A New Look for a Classic Story

  • Nov 7, 2009
Rating:
+5
The story of "A Christmas Carol" and its themes haven't been fresh in people's minds for well over 100 years, which is why the new film adaptation by Robert Zemeckis is so surprising. This is, from my perspective, the definitive version - a sumptuous visual feast that in no way compromises the drama, excitement, and hope of the Charles Dickens classic. Its greatest achievement is not reducing itself to the level of jolly Christmas clichés. The streets and buildings of nineteenth-century London are brightly coated with snow, yet they betray the cold reality of poverty and despair. And Ebenezer Scrooge, having been played by many, many actors over the years, finally looks like the ancient, decrepit, bitter man I always imagined him to be; his face doesn't show the slightest trace of warmth, humor, or charm.

The film's success can be attributed to Zemeckis' love affair with special effects, which in this case involves the same motion capture technology he employed in "The Polar Express" and "Beowulf." This allows for the creation of characters caught in that delightful gray zone between real and unreal. Some are more exaggerated than others; Scrooge - a little too tall, a little too thin, a little too hunched over - is a menacing physical representation of his own anger and resentment. The Ghost of Christmas Past, an elfin wraith with a breathy voice and a head made of fire, is as slight, slender, and soft-spoken as a candle. The Ghost of Christmas Present is a loud and jovial Father Christmas figure, whose laugh is just as big as his body, perhaps bigger. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is a silent yet frightening skeletal phantom made out of shadows.

Scrooge and the Ghosts are all played by Jim Carrey, which hardly comes as a shock since he has an affinity for variety of character and over the top performances. Other actors include Gary Oldman as Bob Crachit, Tiny Tim, and Jacob Marley, whose postmortem appearance in Scrooge's bedchamber is intensely creepy, just as it should be. Robin Wright Penn plays both Scrooge's younger sister, Fen, and his neglected fiancée, Belle. Bob Hoskins plays old Fezziwig, a man so thoroughly in the Christmas spirit that he and his wife defy gravity as they dance. Colin Firth plays Scrooge's hopelessly optimistic nephew Fred, quite possibly the only person who thinks his uncle is worth addressing in a friendly manner.

As Scrooge is taken on his journey of redemption, both he and the audience are treated to fantastic aerial tours of London, with shots that swoop and soar over rooftops, through windows, and around street corners. 3-D technology, normally so unimpressive, is here perfectly utilized, allowing for one of the most immersive environments of any recent animated film. One of the most stunning sequences involves a spectral carriage chasing a shrunken Scrooge up and down dark, snowy cobblestone streets; it's not only an astounding visual achievement, it's also an exhilarating thrill ride. Harkening back to the roller coaster train sequences created for "The Polar Express," Zemeckis proves that you should stick with what works best.

There are also some equally effective quiet moments, such as the opening shot, which pays homage to classic Disney animated films with the opening of a book. Other moments are surprisingly powerful, as when a grieving Bob Cratchit, his eyes red with tears, seems to be staring directly at Scrooge even though he can't really see him (Cratchit, in that moment, is nothing more than a vision of the future). I also appreciated the shot of doomed ghosts floating just outside Scrooge's window; some of them act humorously, banging their heads against their chain boxes, and yet we can't help but feel sorry for them.

The entire film embodies a darker, shivery tone - not to the point of becoming a computer-animated horror film, but certainly beyond the colorful whimsy of the average Christmas special. This, I believe, truly captures the tone of Dickens' original story, which doesn't spare the reader the hardships of destitution, disease, and loss. Consider Bob Cratchit's family; they do make merry of themselves on Christmas Day, but they also live a meager existence, and there's always the sense that, should nothing about their situation change, they could end up with even less.

Robert Zemeckis created a perennial holiday classic with "The Polar Express," and I think he may have done it again with "A Christmas Carol." Yes, we have seen this movie before, and yes, its message is far from original. But there's no denying the fact that it's sending a good message, where love, compassion, and the possibility of hope reign supreme. There's also no denying that, with visuals this striking, it practically begs to be seen, especially in 3-D. This is one of the year's best looking animated films, so richly detailed, so sharply defined, so gloriously shot. It creates a mood, effectively evoking feelings of warmth and tenderness without becoming sappy or mindlessly cheerful. That above all made seeing this film an absolutely beautiful experience, one that I recommend to everybody.

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