Short Version: There are already so many great adaptions of the classic Dickens story – this one adds nothing but CGI and gimmicky 3D effects.

Screen Rant reviews A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol is one of my all time favorite Christmas stories. Maybe because most of the year I feel like a somewhat cranky Ebenezer Scrooge but once Thanksgiving is over my mood lightens over the spirit of the upcoming holiday. It seems that every few years someone feels the need to do an update on the classic tale, and sometimes it works. Heck there have certainly been a lot of versions over the years (over two dozen on TV and in movies according to IMDB), and I’ve enjoyed many of those myself.

This time director Robert Zemeckis (who seems intent upon never making another live action film as long as he lives) brings us another 3D, IMAX, CGI motion-capture extravaganza. If the number of buzzwords there don’t tell you what this film is really about, then I can’t help you.

The movie stars Jim Carrey in a variety of roles, most notably old Scrooge himself. The Scrooge character, with it’s caricature-like features is actually the most effective one in the film (thankfully, since he’s the lead). Carrey also plays the three ghosts that come to haunt Ebenezer as well as Scrooge at younger ages. We also have Gary Oldman playing primarily Bob Cratchit and Bob Hoskins (briefly) playing Scrooge’s old boss Mr. Fezziwig. I mention these two in particular because someone made the decision to make the characters look very similar to the actors portraying them. I don’t know what effect they were going for, but I can tell you what the result was: Creepy.

It was just bizarre watching a CGI character that looked so much like Oldman, but not – with the only semi-human animatronic look that defines the “uncanny valley” (the very subtle things that aren’t right in attempted photo-real computer animated portrayal of humans). Most of the characters suffered from the same thing – it was like watching an animatronic display at Disneyland.

On the other hand there were glimpses of amazingly realistic people in the film – but these were always at a distance. There was one scene where I wanted to believe that they inserted a live actress into the film just as an “Easter Egg.” I respect Zemeckis for what he’s doing, I really do – he’s trying to push the frontier when it comes to people rendered as CGI. Problem is you have to get it PERFECT, otherwise your brain just kind of short-circuits looking at this “almost-real” person on the screen. This is why most CGI animated films use caricatures of humans – it’s easier for the mind to accept. By making blue-skinned, overly tall aliens with odd facial features I think James Cameron will get around this in Avatar.

And speaking of the upcoming 3D Cameron-helmed extravaganza, A Christmas Carol is in 3D. I’ve said many times before that I’m a fan of of 3D cinema, but not when it’s used as a gimmick. Overall I really enjoyed the 3D look of the film but there was one sequence that was stuck into the film that just didn’t belong and was there only for the sake of showing off the roller coaster effects and exaggerated 3D in the film. It was at least a five minute sequence and I was mentally tapping my fingers waiting for it to be over so we could get back to the story. Side note: There seemed to be a little tribute to the “tiny Ash” scene from Army of Darkness. :)

So what did I like? The story, of course, but they don’t get credit for that. I did enjoy the opening scene, which was very effective in showing just HOW miserly and feared Scrooge was. On the flip side, I also really enjoyed the “post-mean” ending of the film – it really gave us more time with the repentant Ebenezer than I’ve seen in any version to date.

Besides what I’ve mentioned, what I didn’t like was that the film was all over the spectrum in terms of tone – sometimes it was goofy-funny, and at other times had scenes that I think will scare the heck out of little kids. When his doorknob comes to life, that’s a heck of a scare and Marley’s jaw coming loose was worthy of a horror movie IMHO. Of course then they put a little “ha ha” moment on the end of that one, but by then your kids has had the poop scared out of them. Oh, and I have to mention the ghost of Christmas past – one of the most unexplainedly ridiculous characters I’ve ever seen on screen. Then again, maybe it’s me, some people were laughing at it, but frankly I was perplexed by the point of what is was doing and thought it was just plain stupid.

No doubt there will be comments below wittily calling me a Scrooge, but you’re too late, I did that in the opening paragraph. :) But seriously, as I said, I love this story – and I wish that Zemeckis had left the CGI behind and made it a live action film based on the classic tale.

Our Rating:

3 out of 5

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