2009 will be remembered as the year that 3D went mainstream (see: My Bloody Valentine, Bolt, Monsters vs Aliens, Coraline, Ice Age 3, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, G-Force, Final Destination 4, Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs, Toy Story in 3D, Up and the forthcoming big dog “game-changer” Avatar). Sadly, A Christmas Carol won’t be remembered as one of the better examples.
The latest technology-based offering from the 80s great Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future/Who Framed Roger Rabbit), A Christmas Carol is yet another version of the Charles Dickens classic – Scrooge, ghosts and a change of heart. But really the story and setting don’t matter, because all Zemeckis cares about is showing off his new-fangled mo-cap technique for the third time after The Polar Express and Beowulf.
Unfortunately what worked in Beowulf because of the fantastical story, doesn’t work here because of the real-world setting: the green screen, motion tracking and OTT digital animation sit ill-at-ease with the “lived-in” hyperreal Dickensian world. So poorly do these two mix, in fact, that there is a distinct lack of emotional connection to Zemeckis’s Christmas Carol when it’s usually such an involving story.
The universally boss-eyed characters don’t help either. They’re neither cute nor realistic but creepy and displeasing, some weird pseudo-real somewhere between cartoon and live-action. Personally, I’d rather see one or the other, not some disconcerting cross-hybrid of the two.
Also just what’s the benefit of Jim Carrey and cast playing multiple characters? To give Carrey the opportunity to showcase some truly awful accents? Well, objective achieved! It just seems to be another gimmick in an already gimmicky film.
It’s also difficult to distinguish the peripheral characters from each other. The Bob Hoskins-looking Mr Fezziwig and Old Joe: what, they’re not the same character? Oh. They look the same. Like Bob Hoskins. The two Robin Wright Penn-looking women: who they? Same? Different? I dunno.
Confused? You will be. The shame of it all is that this had the potential to present a classic tale to kids and capture their imagination in a way that has never been done before. I guess it might do that thanks to the “groundbreaking” effects work alone (only time will tell), but was it really worth producing yet another version of this famous story that brings absolutely nothing new to the table? Well, except for some shonky, unconvincing animation techniques and some ill-fitting zany action sequences (Scrooge being chased through the snowy streets of London by the ghost of Christmas yet-to-come and his horse-drawn carriage particularly comes to mind).
Zemeckis has said that he won’t work in any other way now though. So we should get used to him trying to prove that this is a viable film-making technique and steamrolling over some classics in the process.