A Christmas Carol (2009)

Director:  Robert Zemeckis
Jim CarreyGary Oldman, Colin Firth, Robin Wright

Plot:  An animated retelling of Charles Dickens' classic novel about a Victorian-era miser taken on a journey of self-redemption, courtesy of several mysterious Christmas apparitions.

Genre:  Animation / Drama / Family
Awards:  -
Runtime:  96min
Rating:  PG for scary sequences and images. 

Will Robert Zemeckis ever return to live-action filmmaking?  His recent animated features such as The Polar Express (2004) and Beowulf (2007) featuring the use of motion capture technology to create lifelike characters modeled after real actors have lost the magic and human touch of his earlier works like Back to the Future (1985), Forrest Gump (1994), and Contact (1997). 

The Oscar-winning director continues to rely on excessive technology, identifying it as the way ahead for the future of filmmaking.  His latest work, A Christmas Carol, fortunately meets expectations, even surpassing them on several occasions; it is a much better follow-up to the debacle that was Beowulf, and is on par with The Polar Express in terms of its focus in storytelling.

Zemeckis’ A Christmas Carol is perhaps the most faithful cinematic adaptation of the Charles Dickens novel ever made.  Its dialogue reads like classic literature – exaggerating and expressive like a theatrical play.  This is a film made for young teenagers in mind rather than kids, though the excellent visuals will keep the latter engrossed. 

The narrative is conventional but commits to detail the retelling of Dickens’ beloved tale in three major acts – Ghost of Christmas Past, Ghost of Christmas Present, and Ghost of Christmas Yet-To-Come – sharing an almost equal amount of emphasis.

In addition, the film captures the dark elements of its source both viscerally and atmospherically.  It contains numerous jump scenes and disturbing images which can be very frightening.  The mood it generates is also one of fear and unpredictability as experienced by Scrooge (Jim Carrey), the film’s main character. 

After all, besides being a tale of love and redemption, A Christmas Carol is also a terrifying ghost story, one in which Zemeckis ‘rubs it in’.  Once again, this picture is not quite suitable for younger audiences.

The camera is often moving, and moving at speed, following Scrooge as he finds himself trapped in a real nightmare along with spirits ‘hell-bent’ on forcing him to come into terms with his own existence.  Scrooge falls from the sky, ‘flies’ above and around his city, and runs away from the evil clutches of dark shadows. 

Because the film is made with 3D in mind, camera movements tend to be less direct and are more fanciful, capturing the tension and adrenaline of the moment.  Even in 2D, A Christmas Carol is an excellent thrill ride.

Unfortunately, as with Beowulf, Zemeckis still has not solved the ‘glass eye’ problem since The Polar Express in which the characters have eyes which look lifeless and hollow. The eye is perhaps the singular most important aspect of a character’s physical feature because emotions (many of them inferential) can be observed through it. 

It is not as much of a problem as compared to Beowulf due to Zemeckis’ full focus on the narrative here.  However, in some way or another, it still impedes the film from faring better emotionally.  A Christmas Carol signals a return to form for Zemeckis but there is a niggling feeling that he may have past his prime. 

GRADE: B (7.5/10 or 3.5 stars)

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