Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A tale beautifully wrapped for Christmas




A Christmas Carol

Directed by Robert Zemeckis

Starring the voice talents of Jim Carrey, Steve Valentine, Daryl Sabara, Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Cary Elwes, Robin Wright Penn, Bob Hoskins

Like a pretty Christmas present, A Christmas Carol -- the classic Charles Dickens tale of the awakening of a cold human heart -- is beautifully wrapped around striking computer-generated visuals.

The tale is still the same, set in the industrial age which Dickens was not fond of for what that intensely capitalistic age did to people and their values, and director Robert Zemeckis’ deft screenplay adaptation keeps the issues that were raised by Dickens’ novel relevant for the times we live in now.

A Christmas Carol is a tale about the importance of putting people and kindness above materialism and central to conveying the film’s message is Scrooge (Jim Carrey), a mean old man who is so utterly driven by profit that he drives people away from him with his unkind words.

The story is set seven years after Scrooge’s equally mean and nasty business partner, Marley (Gary Oldman), dies. The ghost of Marley visits Scrooge on Christmas eve to warn him to mend his selfish ways or suffer a miserable existence of bearing heavy chains for eternity after death. To open Scrooge’s eyes, Marley explains, three ghosts will appear: the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet To Come.

Of course, prior to Marley’s creepy visit, audiences get to see ample display of Scrooge’s nasty side in his rude dealings with his employee Bob Cratchit (Oldman), his nephew Fred (Colin Firth), some fund raisers and Christmas carolers.

Besides Scrooge, Carrey, displaying a gluttony for roles, also voices the three Christmas ghosts as well as Scrooge when he was a young boy, teenager, and middle-aged.

The visits from the ghosts are self-explanatory by their very names. In the past, Scrooge is seen a little boy affected by a strict and almost-cruel father. Then, as a teenager, he displays sparks of interest in life and goodness. Later, as a young man, he works for a wonderful man, becomes very likeable and meets his lovely wife. However, by middle-age, Scrooge’s marriage falls apart when he starts obsessing about money and his path towards a hateful existence is well and truly on the way!

This being a Zemeckis film, the story packs quite a bit of wallop indeed, all the way from the stunning visuals (I hear Oscar bells ringing) to the delightfully punchy script.

Keeping to Zemeckis’s fascination with horror and dark things (he is, after all, the producer in films like The Frighteners, House on Haunted Hill, Thir13en Ghosts, Bordello of Blood and many television episodes of Tales from the Crypt), the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is depicted as a death spectre and the moody and dark visuals powerfully depict scenes of death and misery. This can be a tad scary for really young children watching this movie.

Thankfully, humour is used generously to balance the serious message of the film, albeit in a dark or grotesque manner. The opening scene where Scrooge is dealing with the undertaker, is wickedly funny as are his dealings with his housekeeper. His interactions with the ghosts of Christmas past and present are also infused with humour at times.

The movie showcases vintage Zemeckis filmmaking skills, from the way he tightly frames close-ups and in the way the camera is angled.

However, although the super-talented Zemeckis, who is famous for his cinematic masterpieces like Back to the Future trilogy (1985, ’89 & ’90); Death Becomes Her (1992); Forrest Gump (1994) and Cast Away (2000), has many fans, those tired of Carrey’s one-note performances will not be too impressed by the latter’s Scrooge or the first two ghosts (Christmasses past and present).

But, hey, it is the season to be jolly after all, and Disney’s A Christmas Carol is definitely worth catching. In 3D, too!


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