Jim Carrey’s A Christmas Carol (2009), three stars,

Reviewed December 22 2011

carey xmas

Retellings of this oft-told tale usually emphasize one ghost over the other, past, present and future, and one can read the tea leaves of the time and the movie’s fate, maybe, by that emphasis. The fact that this telling chose to emphasize to an astonishingly overthetop extent the doings of the ghost of the future, the ghost that traditionally makes Scrooge fear him most, says something.  This movie is another Zemekis attempt to make motion capture work, and failed to the extent that the studio that made it was shuttered. Its true, many of the faces are creepy, and then they turn a head or drop down a nose and seem so real as to make one step back, I think we are definitely in the uncanny valley in the movie. The movie then also exploited 3D to roller coaster its way through the airborne story, and while I was unable to bear watching this nauseating action in the theatre its acceptable online. But the opening sequence picks up on the flight of the ghost of Christmas past in former telling and, well, it takes us in over London, jumps us through Christmas wreathes, slips us through the fingers of chestnut sellers, I mean, what can follow that. Scrooge is rather too Jim Carreyish and my primary objection to the movie is that all of the ghosts that visit him are Carey incarnated or un-incarnated or incareynated differently suggesting the whole thing as a Scrooge dream (only problem with this idea is that I can think of no dream, in real life, except narcissistic reveries a ala Oscar Levant’s in American in Paris,  in which every character is played by oneself). Carrey as the ghosts of Christmas past and present is creepy,in different ways, no wonder it turned off the kiddies. In terms of running the paces around the usual bags the Marley doorknocker ghost is not that different, for all its 3D (but seeing Scrooge somersault back on his steps and peer up at in fear from under the top step is nice), Scrooge’s yawning red carpeted staircase and his vacant grey rooms are nicely done, but there is nothing particularly special about his rooms or the ringing bells or entry of the ghost. This version only ramps up the instrumentality when Scrooge is shown the ghosts wandering in the night as his chair is turned into a glowing ghostly chained thing too, which is neat. The only original but very gratuitous part of the whole visit of the ghost of the past, often the most heartwarming of tellings, is when at last he can take no more and goes to extinguish the light with that strange cone this causes him to be projectilely sent soaring up past the moon into high space, where he is then suspended in air, and catapults down to his bed again: bizarre. The room of the ghost of Christmas present is always a critical moment in any telling and in this case the soaring illuminated chamber lined with wreathes and littered with standing gold kunstkammer clocks is dazzling, as is the ghost sitting on what looks like a tree but which is in fact a tower of food and gifts, him perched way up top by the ceiling. The fact that with sparks from his cornucopia lantern he burns a hole of vision into the floor and with that in effect turns the room into a roving spy UFO  offering a gods eye view of London, with some dazzling tips of churchtop crosses and views of St Pauls, is also quite odd, but marvelous in its way, but then again once we make the dazzling transition to the next recognizable scene in the telling, Tiny Tim’s Cratchit household, its not that interestingly done.  By far the most gothic sequence of this rather gothic telling is when the ghost of the future shows up. It happens in a clocktower, with a broad wood floor. It is here that the Ghost of the Present, now grown old (only ever saw this before in the Muppets version), reveals the two odd imps, Want and Ignorance, under his skirts: its pretty scary, but then simply bizarre that they then come out and as they attack Scrooge the girl for example matures into a frantic boobed banshee whose final truly bizarre metamorphosis is into a straight jacketed being. The Ghost of Christmas present falls back on the wood floor and now quickly ages into grey and white and then as the transition begins he actually begins to disintegrate into a skeleton and then is blown to dust (a motif also seen in a bad trip in Russells Altered States), all of which is highly scary for the little ones. The ghost of the future then appears in shadow play form, that is, Scrooge’s shadow morphs into it (a shadow of Scrooge still eating as he looked about for the onset of ghosts earlier on was the first such shadow play, and the appearance of a coach and horses later continues the idea, linking the movie then to the shadow play in Whale’s original Old Dark House and again the shadow play in Coppola’s Dracula, it’s a horror technique, why is it here), which is very effective, and his fright at the appearance of this ghost causes him to fall out of the tower, tumble down the stairs of the stock exchange, there to overhear, lying on the bottom step, his former colleagues talk over his death, that’s when the haunted coach and horses appears, who manifest with red satanic eyes (this shows up in a donkey in Argento’s Mother of Tears, so another horror movie device), and then chases him down, rampaging through the From Hell streets of London with Scrooge running so fast that he awakens physiognomies of the poor and needy, peddlars, panhandlers, prostitutes, up from, made from the very cobblestone, all effective, all of which somehow ends up with Scrooge on his back rotating a large barrel on his feet. Then the chase becomes so frantic that he shrinks down to mouse size and comes through a pipe filled we hear with shit and so we find Scrooge, after he comes out the other side, in the improbably WTF position of standing below a curb and scaling mountains of cobblestone only to have the coach and horse recover his trail and come down on him with a no doubt 3D closeup of the black hoof, to crush him. But then death’s hand pushes him on, he sleds on a drunks empty up to the rooftops where he mows down a row of icicles before catapulting down, riding a broke off  icicle, until he lands still only mouse size to witness Old Joe the ragpicker take in his bed curtains. Old Joe then thinks he sees a rat and smashes a broom at Scrooge, chasing him out. We then somehow get to the scene where Scrooge has to view the body waked upon a table, and I have to say the way that the shadow of death creeps up on in rhyme to the form of the body under sheet is well done indeed, but then using again the shadow to open the wall to view happy debtors has a bit too much of the waters of Kar from the original Mummy in it and then we end up back at the Cratchits where here the story takes the liberty of having Tiny Tim still laid out in wake in an upper bedroom, and there are two things very  well done here, Cratchit having an intimation of his presence on the stair and staring Scrooge in the face, then Future’s skeletal hand appearing as a shadow on the stair then manifesting as an odd sort of bone coming out of the wall upstairs. The banister of the house is then smashed to smithereens and Scrooge rides that projectile down to land on his back in the snow in the cemetery, taking another impossibly hard fall, signifying it all as a dream, and here again Future manifest as a personification of a whirlwind snow storm and opening up the grave to a view of a coffin in red hell (echoing on Mickeys rarely seen now telling, but also Bill Murray’s time in the coffin in his version), with Scrooge hanging on to a root that then turns into Futures skeletal pointing finger, again, so much attention given to the wild polymorphous presence of the Future, its very compelling. The fact that we get Scrooges birth date on the stone, and it is the real birthday of Charles Dickens, February 7, perhaps again suggests this telling interprets it all as a dream, as is the finale of the dream when he seems to catapult headfirst into the hardwood top of the coffin only to close up on the eye knot of the wood of his bedroom floor, his eye directly  on it, him hanging from those bed curtains. And then the revelry of Christmas morning, pretty much most of it a misfire, which is also a serious imbalance, as that is supposed to be the catharsis (Finney’s Scrooge got this part right in spades) especially when he goes sledding on the back of a carriage in his nightshirt, making him look simply mad (picking up then on Sim’s version, but evne Alastair got dressed before going out). Nor is the ending at Freds or the resolution with Bob Cratchit that interesting, though stick around for Andrea Bocellli soar forth with a wonderful Christmas song over the final credits. Whew! It’s a wild roller coaster overly instrumentalized but here and there quite enthralling ride through the traditional story: why did it fail? Possibly because of the uncanny valley, probably because it did not do that much with the sentimental elements of the most popular tellings of the story, the past and present, and mainly because it focused with fierce intensity on the trials of the Ghost of Christmas future that must have been a downer for a country in 2009 distinctly worried about its economic future, and in a way that can hardly be considered satisfying to the little ones, as it in truth, in its visual vocabulary, turns into a kind of horror movie. While for horror movie fans like me, that’s fun, and Charles Dickens’ fixation with Christmas ghost stories is another thing to consider, how does this work as a kids movie?  Still, some wonderful things to be seen in this I predict someday appreciated as a perhaps overlooked movie at the time of its making.

 

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