Monday, November 23, 2009

A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol Movie Poster
A Christmas Carol Movie poster
This weekend my husband and I took our daughters, age 10 and 7, to see the new animated 3-D Christmas Carol movie starring Jim Carrey.

My family (husband and daughters) are most familiar with A Christmas Carol from watching the 1999 Patrick Stewart version annually. When my husband and I were dating, we had the audio cassette of Stewart's one-man show, and listened to it regularly during the holidays. About a week ago, we started reading the original Charles Dickens story aloud after dinner as our family book.

So it was a happy surprise to our daughters when we pulled up at the theater and received our 3D glasses. The experience that follows is mixed.

Visually, the action is impressive and at times stunning. While the characters appear a bit oddly porportioned, their facial expressions and "acting" are dead on and you almost, nearly, forget you're watching animation. I worried that Jim Carrey, as Scrooge, would come across too strongly, forcing more Carrey into the character. But only a few times in the movie did I "recognize" Carrey's signature physical and vocal stylings. (Most prominently when Scrooge realizes he hasn't missed Christmas.) Gary Oldman as Bob Cratchitt nailed the character and elicted the most emotion from his scenes regarding Tiny Tim.

The techniques employed to segue from Spirit to Spirit provide you with visuals of the city and a sweeping motion that carries off excitingly in 3D format. But here I must insert a warning to parents of children under the age of 8: the original title of this book is A Christmas Carol: Being a Ghost Story of Christmas, and the producers seem intent on including additional frightening elements not found in the original tale. These added effects appearing in 3D occasionally made me wonder whether the movie was more suitable for Halloween than Christmas. The Ghost of Christmas Present, who in the book simply ceases to exist at the stroke of midnight, perishes in the movie by clutching his chest in an apparant heart attack, falls down with cackling laughter and decomposes into a skeleton, skull still cackling, until the bones themselves disintegrate (reminiscent of one man's fate in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) until his dust blows over you in a shuddering manner. (3D remember...)

Another purely contrived lengthy special effects scene has the Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-Come relentlessly chasing Scrooge through the dark streets with a pair of terrifying black horses and their glowing red eyes and steamy breath reaching out to you. It would be scary to children without the 3D effect, but this one had both my daughters cowering and the 7 yr old pulled off her glasses quickly and hid her face.

Needless to say these moments, like a bit of sour milk, spoiled the overall taste of the movie for us. We expected there would be 3D scenes to make us jump--Marley's ghostly face in the doorknocker and his appearance and departure were deliciously perfect--but these later scenes were gratuitous at best.

The dialogue largely stayed true to the original text, though parts may be unfamiliar to those who haven't read the book or seen every version of the film and stage. I've read mixed reviews praising the film for including the religious songs "Adeste Fidelis" and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," and the camera lingered in a beautiful moment over a church steeple giving homage to reason for the season. However, there was one moment in the movie that pointedly derived from the original Dickens dialogue. I'm still turning it over and over in my mind what they truly mean to say with the insertion of one phrase (in italics below).

The Ghost of Christmas Present and Scrooge are observing people bringing their food to the bakery to be cooked. Scrooge says to the Ghost something close to, "You would deprive them of their means of dining every seventh day, often the only day on which they can be said to dine at all.” And in the movie, the ghost replies, There are some upon this earth of ours, so-called men of the cloth, who lay claim to know us, who are strange to us. Charge their doings on themselves, not us.”

The actual book reads:
"There are some upon this earth of ours,” returned the Spirit, “who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us.”

Another noticible departure from the original dialogue is Mrs. Cratchitt looking at the dinner goose and wistfully commenting how she wishes her children might one day taste turkey. That was a big "huh?" moment for me also.

Still, as families head to the theater for Thanksgiving weekend, rest assured the remainder of the film appears true to the tale, with Scrooge arriving at his resolution to keep Christmas in his heart and Tiny Tim ringing out, "God Bless Us, Everyone!"

1 comment:

  1. My take on the "men of the cloth" line was more that the writers intended to condemn those who call themselves Christian but don't act like it. I'm really just reading into it what I would like them to be saying - and I think given the original Dickens text it could be legitimately read that way - and I know they probably stuck that in as a gratuitous dig at the Church. A real shame.

    The turkey line - I could be really wrong, but I thought that turkey was more expensive than goose in the Victorian era. And if not, the line could be an attempt to modernize/Americanize the scene, since goose is not found on many holiday tables in this day and age stateside.

    Really enjoyed your review! We went to see it last Friday and enjoyed it quite a bit.

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