Plot: You don’t know the plot to this story? How do you exist? No, no, no. I refuse to believe you’ve never seen anything A Christmas Carol related. Now go and watch either an adaptation of it or a parody and think about what you’ve done.
Breakdown: This is kinda weird for me to review. I mean, how do you review any adaptation of A Christmas Carol? There are just so many of them, and it’s pretty damn hard to mess it up. It’s such a simple structure. Jackass character hates Christmas, is haunted by three spirits representing Christmas past, present and yet to come, main character learns the error of his ways and becomes nicer as well as learns to appreciate and celebrate Christmas more. The End.
So if I can’t really analyze the story here, what can I analyze?
Well, I suppose we can start with Scrooge. It’s been my experience that most Scrooges are rather intimidating. While not being entirely scary, they do have a somewhat powerful air about them. They speak well, they have very straight posture and their voices are typically somewhat deep.
Jim Carrey’s Scrooge is very frail and has a much higher pitched and weak voice than I’m used to. His accent’s also somewhat questionable, though his old man voice is pretty good. He’s hunched over, he’s somewhat skeletal, he shakes frequently and he comes off as more of a grumpy old fart than a frightening man with power and money.
Also, despite the ‘elderly’ effects I can very clearly see Jim Carrey playing the character. It’s kinda distracting. Tom Hanks played several characters in The Polar Express and even though his voice was very obvious in most of the roles, I couldn’t really see Hanks in any of the characters except maybe the Hobo. Though, to be honest, this isn’t the role where Jim Carrey is most obvious.
Which brings us to the ghosts. First up is the ghost of Christmas past. This version’s Christmas past is supposedly one of the closest any adaptation has gotten to the Charles Dickens description. In the novel, the ghost of Christmas past is a, for lack of a better term, ghostly apparition of androgynous gender cloaked in a white robe. On its head is a flickering flame, like a candle, and he carries around a cap that looks very much like a metal candle snuffer.
Here, Past is basically a candle. His body is a white melting candle that eventually looks like a white robe. His head is a flame and he carries around the snuffer.
This is the role where you can clearly see Jim Carrey because they did really nothing to Carrey’s face when they plastered it onto the flame.
Look at that damn thing. It’s like they were going to shoot the scene for Past and forgot the trackers. Instead of waiting until they got them, they just shot the scene without them, cropped out everything but Carrey’s face and photoshopped it onto Past.
Not only that, but this thing acts like a psycho. He constantly sways back and forth like an idiot to make his flame waft in the wind and when he stands still he gets this like tic where he quickly twitches his head to the side, causing a lighter-like spark.
This thing is just a mess. What’s worse is that they just had a character with flame-like hair a minute ago as Marley was designed with hair flowing in that manner. Why couldn’t they have a regular head with fire hair instead of this?
Jim Carrey’s voice for this is also just weird. He’s constantly whispering and it’s a lot creepier than it should be.
As for the various sections, I tend to break up these segments into reflection, understanding and change respectively.
Reflection: This movie does follow every step that the first segment has. First his Christmas alone at a boarding school, then his sister, Fanny, announcing that his father has grown kinder and will allow him home for Christmas, then a dance with his fiancee, Belle, at a party his first boss and father figure Fezzwig was holding then his break up with her a couple Christmases later.
This section is fine, really, but it also starts to highlight a big problem as to why people find this one of the weakest A Christmas Carol adaptations.
Personally, my favorite is A Muppet Christmas Carol. Why do I bring that up? Because Muppets….are puppets. They don’t really have a lot of elbow room for emotional facial expressions. Yes, there are numerous human characters in the movie and Scrooge himself is played by Michael Caine, but most of the characters are muppets. They do a way better job of conveying emotion than this movie.
In The Polar Express, conveying emotion was a problem but because of the subject matter it wasn’t a huge problem. It was a movie meant to be a roller coaster ride that made you feel all Christmas-y inside, and it did achieve that. The emotional scenes were sparse and one worked pretty well mostly because of silence and directing not facial expressions and voice acting.
Here, you’re supposed to be taken on a bit of an emotional roller coaster. You’re supposed to be happy at Scrooge’s happier moments and feel for him when his life starts tumbling down, even if it is at his own hands. The fact that motion capture has big issues conveying emotion and has the trademark dead eyes makes movies like this a problem. I really believe this is one of the main reasons motion capture never caught on outside of video games and inserted CGI in live action movies. Outside of making pretty roller coasters, it can’t hold emotional impact very well.
It’s purely motion capture; not emotion capture.
Young Scrooge, despite being closely modeled after Carrey, is just awful. He looks like the action figure version of his character come to life. When he and Belle, a character who is actually very beautifully modeled, interact, I feel like a doll is having a conversation with a human person. It’s weird. It’s awkward. And because of this the scene loses 90% of the intended emotion.
I will say that the scene directly following the breakup where Past shifts his face quickly into the faces of those from his past is very effectively creepy. There. Motion capture is great for horror movies. Get on that.
Understanding: The Ghost of Christmas Present is basically exactly as he’s described in the novel, and I should point out that straying from the novel’s representations does not mark points off. All of the adaptations change the ghosts a little. It’s not what the design is changed to, it’s how good it looks and if it effectively conveys the feeling that it’s supposed to.
Present…is actually pretty well done in my opinion. Except his laughing gets on my nerves. I liked his segment….though it does further highlight the emotionless problem. Here is one of the most memorable parts of the story with Tiny Tim. Several characters are tearing up when thinking about his plight…..and I feel…..kinda bad I guess. I wouldn’t say I feel nothing, because the dialogue alone is kinda sad but the sad faces in motion capture….they just don’t do it for me. The tears look like glass, the facial expressions just seem weird; it just doesn’t work very well. The voice acting and dialogue are okay here which is really all that saves it.
However, Jim Carrey just cannot get emotion though Scrooge. He begs for Tiny Tim’s life and I feel like he’s asking for another slice of pizza.
Change: I really like the introduction to Yet to Come here. It’s in a dark wide open area, seemingly in a clock tower, and Yet to Come emerges through Scrooge’s shadow while Scrooge monologues accompanied by silence. Like practically every version of the story, including the original Dickens’ novel, this version of Yet to Come is basically the grim reaper. In this version, however, Yet to Come is almost always in shadow form, which is kinda cool.
Just when it seems like this one will be the most impacting and serious segment of all…..they completely ruin it. But I won’t explain how until later. Let’s just skip over that for a moment. Like the other segments, this one also explores the same beats as the novel. And just as the other two segments, the emotion problem is still present though, again, worse, because this is filled with death and tragedy.
When they show us Cratchit’s face with his eyes beet red from crying, all I could think of was that it looked like there was a bad rash around his eyes.
As for the rest of the movie, story-wise, it emits the most emotion, that which being fun. Probably because Carrey seems to actually be having fun with the finale. Plus, there’s a little bit more emotion than usual in his remorse.
With all of the story elements out of the way, it brings us to another of the worst problems in this movie. I’ve been deliberately dancing around these parts of the movie to focus on the story elements, but this movie, like The Polar Express….aims to be a visual 3D roller coaster, and spends quite a bit of time milking the pretty visuals and 3D effects.
A Christmas Carol is not a visual roller coaster. Sure, it has fantastical elements, but you’d be hardpressed to find someone who’ll say ‘Oh A Christmas Carol? I loved that action movie!’
In the first segment, I can be forgiving. The roller coaster aspect of Reflection was merely flying through the trees, which kinda did happen in the novel.
The second segment amps it up 1000 fold, however. Basically, Present uses the embers from his torch to turn the floor of the room into a viewing screen that seems to travel from location to location, so it’s like you’re flying around on a helicopter with a glass bottom that can see through ceilings. I will admit that this effect is pretty damn cool and I imagine it’s fantastic in 3D and IMAX….Too bad I’m watching this at home on my 30” TV screen. This scene, out of everything from The Polar Express through this movie seems like its the one that has the most effect outside of 3D and IMAX, but there’s no denying that it loses quite a bit of the impact without it.
While both of those segments had a point, the third is absolutely pointless and kinda stupid. In Change, Yet to Come chases around Scrooge through town on his shadowy carriage. Scrooge inexplicably shrinks down to mouse size in the middle of this chase scene and there’s more chasing but now in mini-form. Scrooge arrives at the second location of the third segment in mini-form as he lay across the stolen cloth that Mrs. Dilber took from his room after his death. He eventually grows back to normal size, but there is 100% no point in shrinking him to begin with.
Bottomline: So, basically, this movie’s a bit of a mess. While it is touted as being one of the most loyal adaptations of Dickens’ novel, and it even takes quite a bit of dialogue from it, it loses the emotion due to the motion capture and a good deal of the voice acting and it gains a bunch of action 3D stuff that just adds nothing to the story and doesn’t translate well to home viewing.
Unlike The Polar Express where I feel it’s more of an experience than it is a story, this is by nature supposed to be more of a story than an experience. Yes, it does the story just fine and it is a visual treat, again if you ignore the human characters, but without the emotion and feeling of Christmas spirit behind it, it just feels hollow.
It’s not a terrible movie, I wouldn’t even say it’s bad, but there are just a lot of problems with it and unlike The Polar Express, I’m not going to give it a big pass just because it’s Christmas. Watch on the biggest screen you can manage and try to get 3D, but there are just so many much better adaptations and even parodies of A Christmas Carol out there. I won’t be able to let motion capture die just yet, but can it please stay out of Christmas movies for now?
Recommended Audience: They do say ‘ass’ once, and there’s mentions of death. Plus, the final segment gets a bit dark-ish a little. 7+