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Christmas Countdown!! A Christmas Carol



Released:November 4th 2009 (UK)

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Stars:Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman

Certificate: PG (UK)

Reviewer: Robert Keeling

Robert Zemeckis revisits Dickens’ classic Christmas tale of paranormal redemption complete with state of the art 3D and motion capture technology.

This supernatural yuletide tale was designed by Dickens to promote the dwindling spirit of Christmas back into a society that he felt had lost its sense of caring for one’s fellow man. The was a rapidly expanding urban poor in Britain in the mid 19th Century and the Government’s answer was to build the brutal poor houses which merely prolonged the cycle of misery for many. Dickens’ wished to encourage those more well off to help the poor and not simply leave them to rot in London’s slums.

Zemeckis’s version does fairly well in capturing this noble purpose and overall it ranks fairly well when compared with the myriad of other cinematic adaptations of A Christmas Carol that have been produced over the years. There have been arguably more misses than hits with the bland Patrick Stewart version and the painfully saccharine Albert Finney version springing immediately to mind.

The two exemplary and yet wildly contrasting cinematic versions for me are the classic 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 heart-warming family fun. Zemeckis’s version attempts a middle road between these two and on the whole achieves its goal.

The film’s main strengths lie in its visuals. 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.The detailed cityscape itself is another significant visual achievement by the film’s production team. Throughout the film you are immersed into a beautifully rendered Victorian London complete with cramped cobbled streets, snow flecked shop fronts and tiny candle-lit houses. As Scrooge’s ghostly visitors whirl him across time and space, the incredible level of detail that has gone into designing the city below really stands out. The sights we see across the city switch between being warm and festive in certain areas and then dark and unforgiving in others as the glimpses of Christmas revelry give way to those of poor urchin’s begging for food.

Jim Carey takes on the role of not only Ebenezer Scrooge and also the three spirits who visit him during the night. He does so with mixed results. Carey’s Scrooge is a spindly and decrepit old miser and the actor does a good job of demonstrating Scrooge’s gradual thawing as the ghosts go about their work. His ghost of Christmas present however, intended to be a jolly injection of festive cheer, is unfortunately a guffawing giant who adds little except an annoyingly exaggerated hearty laugh. The rest of the cast all give solid mo-cap performances with Gary Oldman and Colin Firth particular highlights as Bob Cratchitt and Scrooge’s nephew Fred respectively.

The film itself is fairly loyal to the original text and key haunting moments from the book are used well. Jacob Marley’s ghost is a fiendish spectre and the moment he unties his neckerchief to allow his jaw to dislocate and drop before Ebenezer’s eyes is especially grim for a family Christmas film. Likewise, the demise of the Ghost of Christmas Present and his revelation of the twin personifications of ignorance and want is a particularly dark moment.

Where the film falls down slightly for me though is the director’s over-excitement to showcase 3D. 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 feeble old man, 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 now it just 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.

I first saw this at the cinema a few Christmases ago IN 2009 and wasn’t fully convinced it would become a recurring Christmas hit. Personally though, I have sought it out both years since and it holds up well on repeat viewings. It’s one of the stronger A Christmas Carol adaptations and will definitely get you into a festive mood.

And as Tiny Tim himself said, God bless us, every……. No. …..No, I won’t stoop that low.

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