Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Christmas Carol: A Review

At it's core, A Christmas Carol has always been a story about redemption. A miserly, crotchety old man is forced to come to grips with his shortcomings with the help of three ghosts, conveniently representing his past, present and future. We all know this. We have seen the story told in so many incarnations and permutations over the years, that it is nearly impossible to fathom a new reimagining bringing anything new to the table. That was before IMAX 3D. As I addressed in great detail a few days ago, Robert Zemeckis is processing this familiar tale through his Motion-Capture meat grinder, hoping to enrich the story for a new generation as well as make an exorbitant amount of money. While I'm sure the latter will come to pass, I'm not so sure on the first point.

As I've said before, in order for a movie to be a success, it must tell it's story effectively. By borrowing from such inspired source material, this film is alloted a great head start, so long as it doesn't fall flat in the telling. Casting Jim Carrey as Mr. Scrooge is an obvious decision. Who better to play a rubber-faced looking character than the most famous rubber face in the industry? Credited with playing 8 parts on the IMDB page, he harumphs and scowls his way through each character (with the exception of the younger Scrooge), building the monster that is Ebenezer Scrooge before our very eyes. This is where motion capture as a film device shines. By slapping the rubberized, gruesome layer of motion capture detail over Jim Carrey's familiar mug, a new Scrooge is born. The familiar deadened, glossy eyes that come with Motion Capture somehow add to his character, extinguishing any semblance of humanity or compassion we would certainly see in a live-action rendition of the story. The story is also quite effective in it's action sequences, a portion of this is certainly due to the use of 3D, but credit should also be given to some inspired choreography and imaginative sequencing. Unfortunately, when the film attempts comedy or emotional gravitas, it feels slight.

This is the inherent problem with Motion-Capture technology. It looks too cartoonish to carry emotional weight, but at the same time too realistic for much of the physical comedy to hit home the way it wants to. This is a real problem when the third act of your film needs to pull at the heartstrings and you cast a master of physical comedy as your lead. The technology that was such a strength in painting Scrooge as a face of evil and establishing an eerie atmosphere, now makes the emotional scenes feel like watching wax museum mannequins try and perform Hamlet. Everything looks and sounds real from a distance, but loses credibility the closer you get.

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