A Christmas Carol

Starring Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Bob Hoskins, Robin Wright Penn and Michael J. Fox. Directed by Robert Zemeckis.
Rated PG (mild themes and scary scenes). 96 mins.

Quite an exhilarating experience of Charles Dickens' classic tale of miser, Ebenezer Scrooge, his meanness to his clerk, Bob Cratchit, his unwillingness to celebrate Christmas with his nephew, Fred, and his miserable and lonely life.  We all remember that he encounters the ghost of his business partner, Jacob Marley, who warns him that he will see three more ghosts, The Ghost of Christmas Past, who takes him back to see his childhood, his young days and his love for Belle but his choice of a life for money; the Ghost of Christmas Present, a jovial ghost who takes him to see the happy meal at Fred's and Bob Cratchit's toast to Scrooge, despite his family's dislike of him, and Tiny Tim's, 'God bless us, everyone'; and the sinister, shadowy Ghost of Christmases to Come who reveals Scrooge's death to him, buried unloved, housekeeper and friend gossiping about him as they look through his things - and the revelation that Tiny Tim has died.

Needless to say, Scrooge is mightily relieved when he lands back in his room and it is Christmas morning.  He has a chance to save his life – which he does, to the full.

Though seen many times on screen, the story is always welcome.

What makes this version even more welcome is the amazing technology that has been used to bring Scrooge and Dickens' characters and fantasy to life.  The 3D version is well worth seeing for its animation and production designed to display the depth photography all the way through.

While the film stars Jim Carrey as Scrooge (as well as the three Ghosts), the technique used is that of 'Performance Capture' on which animation is built, using the performances of the cast (who do not have to don period costumes but can concentrate solely on acting, effects will do the rest).  This technique was used by Robert Zemeckis for The Polar Express and, sometimes disconcertingly, for his Beowulf.  Once one gets used to the idea and accepts it, it makes for a different kind of experience, having the benefit, not just of the voices of the cast, but their performances with added enormous visual flair for characters and backgrounds.

Carrey is very good as Scrooge (affecting an accent not unlike that of Alistair Sim in the classic version from the 1950s) but has moments of his familiar body agility and movements.  Colin Firth is Fred.  Gary Oldman is Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim (his Bob being animated as much shorter and plumper than Oldman himself, though audiences who know him will recognise him).  Cary Elwes, Robin Wright Penn and Bob Hoskins are amongst the other actors who take on multiple roles.

The version captures the mood of Dickensian London.  We are immersed in the life of the city as well as isolated in Scrooge's home and accompany him on his flying journeys into the past and into the future.  Small children may be alarmed at a number of the sequences which could be quite frightening (and make them fear Dickens for the future), especially a coffin and grave sequence which would be more than at home in a Tim Burton film.

Zemeckis' screenplay nicely reminds us of the Christian dimension of the feast of Christmas with images of churches and crosses and the singing of many carols.  And, of course, Scrooge's meanness reminds us that the celebration is not about money or commercialism – if only that were true these days.

Walt Disney Out November 5

Fr Peter Malone MSC directs the film desk of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic Communicators, and is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.


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