Award-winning director Robert Zemeckis (“Forrest Gump”) is a firm believer in “motion capture” technology. His last three films (“The Polar Express,” “Beowulf” and “A Christmas Carol”) have all been shot using this method.
“Motion capture” is a process where actors perform their roles against a blue or green screen with hundreds of dots pasted on their faces and bodies. Computers then ‘capture’ the dots’ location for use in recreating animated versions of the actors.
Maybe this technique will pay off someday, but as used in Zemeckis’ films, it still leaves much to be desired.
Zemeckis’ version of Dickens’ classic tale “A Christmas Carol” both benefits and suffers from the use if this high tech approach. The 3-D effects are stunning (especially in the snowfall scenes) and the visual sweep is often impressive.
But many of the facial expressions are still quite flat, displaying the emotional range of a marionette. In the case of some of the characters, the look is downright creepy.
Jim Carrey (”Yes Man”) is responsible for the role of literature’s greatest miser, Ebeneezer Scrooge. Carrey also portrays at least seven other roles, including The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet To Come.
The familiar story is given a “Reader’s Digest”-style condensed adaptation. We hear much of Dickens’ unmistakable dialogue, but the tragic back-story of Scrooge’s lost love is glossed over, sapping the story of much of its emotional impact.
In its place are ‘thrill ride’ moments intended to show off the 3-D process. During one unnecessarily prolonged action sequence, Scrooge is shrunk to the size of a mouse while being pursued by the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come and his team of scary, red-eyed horses. They chase him around rooms, down drainpipes and through the streets.
Carrey is quite good as Scrooge, and his facial expressions seem to have been given the full attention of the animators. It’s too bad that the same can’t be said for Bob Cratchett, played by Gary Oldman (“The Dark Knight”), Fred (Colin Firth from “Mamma Mia!”), Fezziwig (Bob Hoskins from “Mrs. Henderson Presents”) or Belle (Robin Wright Penn from “State of Play”).
While the intentions are good and it provides a visual feast, this version of “A Christmas Carol” offers an emotional famine. (PG) Rating: ***
* Avoid at all costs
** Only if you're bored
*** Good movie
**** Well worth your time
***** Be sure to see it