Sunday, December 06, 2009

Three Cheers for the Undigested Bit of Beef

"You don't believe in me," observed the Ghost.
"I don't." said Scrooge.
"What evidence would you have of my reality, beyond that of your senses?"
"I don't know," said Scrooge.
"Why do you doubt your senses?"
"Because," said Scrooge, "a little thing affects them. A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheats.  You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato.  There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!"
It's an unusual day when I write about movies, because I just don't see that many. Even in my high school and college days when I worked at the movies I didn't see that many (criminal, really, considering they were free for employees) because who wants to go to "work" on a day off? Not I.

It's an even more unusual day when I write about a Jim Carrey movie, because I'm just not a huge fan. There have been a few that I have really liked (see: A Series of Unfortunate Events and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) but they were both a little on the bizarre side, script-wise, and none of them involved pets, masks, Batman, Cable-TV, liars or God.

But here I am, talking about a Jim Carrey movie. Today I went and saw Disney's Christmas Carol, and shockingly (happily so) I was blown away.  I went in with seriously low expectations.  Disney often means predictable, saccharine, silly, and dumbed down to the lowest common denominator.  I suppose I might say it was predictable because it was Dickens, but it wasn't predictable... because they kept it as Dickens.  The words were his, and there weren't any misguided attempts to modernize the language or change plot points.  It certainly wasn't saccharine, silly or dumbed-down.  The film was in turn frightening, surreal and compelling.

Part of the reason I was so astonished at the success of telling this particular story with this particular actor was that it managed to do it all within the realms of 3D motion capture animation.  I was pretty skeptical of the whole 3D deal too.  I've seen 3D films before with varying degrees of success, and none of it overwhelmingly positive.  Sometimes they trumpet the technology, up the price, pass out the dorky glasses, and then have one or two instances where something comes popping out of the screen.  Other times it's 3D everywhere at all time.  SNOW!  ELBOWS!  TRAINS!  You name it, it's JUMPING out at you.  The only thing not JUMPING out at you is the SCRIPT!  That part is often left out, as if it were that one extra piece of luggage nobody could afford to bring.  This, of course is a shame, because, call my silly, but I'm really here to get lost in a story, not in visual trickery.

This film was absolutely amazing.  Director Robert Zemeckis (whose previous Christmas 3D motion capture animation film, The Polar Express, I'm sorry to tell you, I didn't love...not one little bit) took the 3D technology and used it to help tell the story instead of using it to substitute for the lack of story.  And it worked.

Tonight I came home to read several external reviews and to be truthful they are decidedly mixed.  Some felt it was a stunning achievement.  Others felt it was still too much 3D gibberish that detracted from the story.  With the exception of one drawn out chase scene that I thought was superfluous to the story, I thought the 3D was genius and the motion-capture animation was spectacular.  To see the cinematic magic married to the visual artistry told by the voice of Dickens was precisely what I needed today.  There are lots of versions of good old Ebeneezer Scrooge floating around out there.  This one has instantly become one of my favorites.

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