A Christmas Carol(2009)
- RatedPG /GenreAnimation, Drama, Fantasy
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Rating: 2.5 out of 5
Computers and advanced software have revolutionised filmmaking and opened the doors to storytelling possibilities that might have been unimaginable ten years ago. Of this, there can be no doubt.
However, the use of computer-generated imagery, or CGI, is more suitable for certain scenarios than others, depending on the story told.
Is it suitable, then, for a retelling of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, with the mischievous id of Jim Carrey providing much of the key characters' spark and personality? The answer is no. In fact, the case could be made that while 3D CGI offers more depth of field, as opposed to traditional 2D hand-drawn animation, it does not guarantee better storytelling or a better movie-going experience.
To be sure, there are intimate moments, sombre scenes filled with grim foreboding, that worked well within this medium. It was a wonder to behold the astonishing level of life-like detail (consider the colour and translucence of the skin) upon up-close inspection of the characters' faces.
But when the scenes involve more action, when the characters move more swiftly, particularly one crowded dance sequence that looked distinctly inauthentic, the verisimilitude is lost in an instant.
The animation team, also responsible for 2007's Beowulf, deserve plaudits for improving upon the techniques used in The Polar Express (2004), which had characters that some critics likened to reanimated corpses, in view of their strangely inhuman movements and morbid expressions.
Here, in this apparently faithful adaptation of Dickens' tale, famous for its stingy protagonist Ebenezer Scrooge and its warning that an uncharitable attitude may have more far-reaching repercussions than ruining Christmas for you, there is one corpse: that of Scrooge's dead business partner Jacob Marley, returning to warn him of the impending visitation by three ghosts.
And while the animation on a whole is adequate, the overall tone and direction of this film is puzzling. One is convinced that this film would definitely frighten children, especially those under ten, yet this film seems to be marketed as a family film. There are precious few moments of genuine warmth, empathy or humour, despite the best efforts of the filmmakers, and attempts at comedy also tend to fall short.
The early scene with Marley's corpse attempting to speak after dislocating his jaw struck me as more grotesque than darkly humorous.
It would not be fair to place blame on the film's ineffectualness squarely on the shoulders of Carrey. However, his brand of child-on-sugar-high comedy, when infused into Scrooge and the ghosts of Christmas past, present and yet to come, does not charm or elicit more than half-hearted laughs.
If possible in an animated film, Carrey and his considerable vocal talents have been miscast. Faring rather better are Gary Oldman as Scrooge's timid employee Cratchit and Colin Firth as the old miser's nephew Fred - both inject much-needed vim and vigour - in other words, life - into their screen surrogates.
To judge this film in a simpler way, one wonders if it manages to convey Dickens' central message when he wrote his classic novella in 1843. He had written the story as a cautionary tale, concerned with the growing commercialism of Christmas and capitalist society in general, and the indignities suffered by the less fortunate.
The cold film is certainly capable of causing fright and discomfort, but it does not bring with it much joy and Christmas spirit, no matter how many contorted faces and odd mannerisms Carrey's characters display, and no matter how many pointless flying sequences the audience is brought on.
When carefully considered, Zemeckis' film cannot justify its existence as a feature film. It really should just have been a shorter theme-park ride, for which 3D CGI is much more suited.
About Yong Shu Chiang
Yong Shu Chiang, otherwise known as SC, is a freelance editor and writer. He reviewed movies for Juice magazine when he was in college, and was the resident film reviewer for Today Newspaper from 2003 to 2005. He has also reviewed movies for Prime Time Morning on Channel NewsAsia.
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