Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is quite the cinematic right of passage. Donald Duck has assumed the mantle, as have Laurence Olivier, Michael Caine and the Muppets. Heady names indeed when considering yet another remake. But the ambitious Robert Zemeckis has stepped up to the plate, with the ebullient Jim Carrey and British film gold Gary Oldman, Colin Firth and Bob Hoskins in toe. Trying his hand again at the painstaking performance capture animation, Zemeckis has jumped off The Polar Express and into Dickensian London (albeit one in 3D).

It feels as if Zemeckis has literally gone back to book, beginning as he does with the classic shot that delves into the pages of its source material. More so than previous adaptations, his film feels darker — literally and thematically — which probably aligns this version closer to its 1843 origins. Which is not to say A Christmas Carol has been stripped of its wry commentary nor its redemptive warmth. Though Jim Carrey mostly reigns himself in as the wizened Ebenezer Scrooge, there are still many comedic moments. In fact, he’s positively bizarre as the candle-shaped Ghost of Christmas Past.

And yet it somehow feels as if we spend too long in the darkness. Although the first act is conveyed with impressive precision, many sequences within it and the more adventurous second act are overly long. Granted this is a ghost story, but still there is little to entertain younger children, while the joyful ending seems rushed. Similarly the 3D too often falls back on finger pointing for thrills, paling in comparison with the glorious 3D artistry of Pixar’s Up.

For better or worse, this classic tale seems destined to be reinvented time and time again. Zemeckis’ attempt is certainly striking, bold and quite intense at times, but the dynamic cinematography combined with Carrey’s captivating portrayal of Scrooge make for another rewarding paring of Disney and Dickens.

Published on Concrete Playground.

Australian release date: 5 November 2009.

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