A Christmas Carol
Robert Zemeckis revisits Dickens’ classic Christmas tale of paranormal redemption complete with state of the art 3D technology. In parts, this is a visually exhilarating and undeniably impressive film. However the director’s desire to showcase the advancements he has made with motion-capture technology become monotonous towards the end. You soon start to wish he had focused slightly more on injecting some warmth and emotional complexity into his renowned cast of festive characters.
This supernatural yuletide tale was designed by Dickens to promote the dwindling spirit of Christmas back into a society that he felt had lost it’s sense of caring for one’s fellow man.
Zemeckis’s version may not quite echo this lofty purpose, but it ranks fairly well when compared with the myriad of other cinematic adaptations that have been produced over the years.
The two exemplary and yet wildly contrasting cinematic versions for me are the dramatic and enduring 1951 Alistair Sim effort, and of course the madcap musical that is the Muppet’s Christmas Carol. The former perfectly encapsulating the grim realities of Victorian London and the latter focusing wisely on unabashed heartwarming family fun. Zemeckis’s version attempts a middle road between these two and ultimately falls ever so slightly short.
This is perhaps doing the film a slight injustice however as it definitely has much to offer, especially in terms of visual eye candy. The opening swoop across Victorian London’s rooftops sets out the film’s state of the art credentials right from the off. It is a trick repeated several times throughout the film and is exactly the type of shot that 3D technology was designed for. The camera dips, twists and plunges through the skyline as snow covered rooftops and the warm glow of oil lit street lamps fly by below. This thrilling experience is clearly a big selling point for the film, and in this respect it certainly deserves its plaudits.
The detailed cityscape itself is another significant visual achievement by the film’s production team. Throughout the film you are immersed into Victorian London in a manner which previous adaptation just cannot match. The 3D technology allows you to experience the cramped cobbled streets, the snow flecked shop fronts and tiny candle-lit houses like previous incarnations could never imagine.
As Scrooge’s ghostly visitors whirl him across time and space, the immense level of detail that has gone into designing the city below enables it to switch between being both warm and festive and yet also dark and unforgiving as the sight of merry Christmas revelling gives way to that of poor urchin’s begging for food.
So what of the film’s famous cast of characters? Whilst the Dickensian city that surrounds them is brilliantly layered and detailed, most of the inhabitants of Zemeckis’s London are disappointingly one-dimensional and poorly characterized.
Little time is spent outlining Bob Crachit’s kindly nature, Tiny Tim is barely seen on screen and the ghosts themselves (all played by Jim Carrey) are bland and often infuriating. The ghost of Christmas present, intended to be a jolly injection of festive cheer, is unfortunately here a guffawing giant who adds little except an annoyingly exaggerated hearty laugh.
The lack of character development is perhaps best illustrated by the rushed handling of Scrooge’s doomed romance with Belle. This tragic love story is central to Scrooge’s life of solitude and misery, yet it is skirted over here in a matter of minutes as the director seems to be in a rush to get to the next bravura showcase of 3D trickery.
The final big showpiece is an ill-advised chase scene where the spirit of Christmas yet to come stalks a terrified (and for some unexplained reason, shrinking) Scrooge through London’s back streets. Leaving aside the illogical nature of a powerful supernatural entity struggling to catch up with a decrepit elderly miser, this chase scene proves one swooping extravaganza too far. Overblown and unnecessary, it undeniably shows off the top notch technology on display, but after 80 or so minutes this has already been proven and smacks of overkill.
Overall however, the movie is enjoyable and certainly rises above many of its predecessors. At times Zemeckis’s effort is genuinely eerie and he pulls no punches in emphasising the more chilling elements of Dickens’s tale.
If we were to rank films purely on innovation and visual achievement, A Christmas Carol would undoubtedly be one of the best releases of the year. However, due to an obvious over-reliance on it’s 3D selling point, the film just falls short of reaching its full potential. Good enough to prove a genuine Christmas hit, but whether it takes its place amongst the list of all time festive greats remains to be seen.