Hello, friends in time, and welcome to a regular feature on Cinema 52 where I put my weekly viewing of Back to the Future on hold and watch another movie featuring time travel for comparison. It may not keep me sane, but it will probably always involve one guy shouting, “This doesn’t make any sense!” And that’s good enough for me.

[This article is part of Day Three of The Full Zemeckis.]

A CHRISTMAS CAROL (2009)

I’m not sure what I need to summarize here. This story is so well-known that I’ve never even celebrated Christmas and I’ve seen six other versions. Three ghosts, give your workers Jesus Day off, blah blah blah. Let me use this section to defend why this is the only version of A Christmas Carol I’ll be reviewing for Time Out. A) It’s technically time travel, but let’s not kid ourselves. It’s all magic and Scrooge never actually physically interacts with the past or the future. If Charles Dickens knew what Star Trek was, this could be alternately titled A Christmas Holodeck Simulation That Makes Really Good Guesses. B) There are way too many versions, and they’re all going to have the same basic plot, so they can’t be analyzed as time travel stories, just as adaptations. C) Cinemanaut John is actually thinking of watching one version of A Christmas Carol a week for a future Cinema 52 project, so tweet him right the hell now about how awesome a year of Christmas will be. D) It’s another time travel film by the same director as Back to the Future, so it’s the most relevant to my assignment. E) I don’t like Christmas. Bah, indeed.

THE STORY:
Guys, I have no idea what goes in which section. This is an 1) animated 2) adaptation in which 3) multiple roles are played by the same actor via 4) motion capture technology. So the special effects alter the story, and the acting can be tweaked by the special effects, etc.

Alright, the basic story is the same. This is a very faithful adaptation… technically. It hits all the plot points, but the presentation is where it deviates. The film starts off strong, with a very reserved take on Scrooge and Dickensian England, and it looks like it’s going to be a low-key affair for most of the first act. More Cast Away, less Polar Express. Maybe someone has finally decided to use motion capture for subtlety, and not to satiate the attention spans of today’s children. Could this be a new Christmas classic for both young and old to come together and–

Heyyyyy kids! My mouth’s broken! Look at it flappin’ around, all goofy wacky wheeeee!

As soon as Jacob Marley pointlessly breaks his jaw and puppeteers it around for some mutilation slapstick à la Death Becomes Her, I knew we we were back to middle period Zemeckis. Folks, this movie is charming and wonderful right until you hit this scene. Then it’s excuse after excuse to use some of that cuh-RAZY 3-D all the kiddies love.

“Three ghosts? Fuck you, THREE HUNDRED GHOSTS.” – Robert Zemeckis

In his defense, a couple of the sequences are pretty exhilarating, but the whole film has a similar “Christmas parade” mentality to The Polar Express, except there’s an actual story attached to the lights and noise this time. Still, Robert can’t take any credit for that story, right? It’s not like he wrote it… wait, yes, he did. This is his very first film where he’s the only credit on the screenplay. So anything too goofy in this adaptation is entirely his idea.

Oh, Bob. Well, we’ll talk about how he somehow managed to stay faithful in the worst possible ways when we get to the time travel methods in the special effects.

THE ACTING:
If this movie has one highlight, Jim Carrey is a perfect Scrooge. Honestly.

He is curmudgeoning his digital ass off.

This almost sold me on motion capture technology. Carrey really brings his all to the character of Scrooge, and plays him with a perfect blend of bitterness and pragmatism that never feels over-the-top. Turning Carrey into an old man might have been achieved with prosthetics a decade or two earlier, and it would have been distracting, but the CGI allows him to really become Scrooge. Which, again, I’ve jumped categories and I’m talking about special effects, but this performance just might be the perfect blend of acting and animation.

Until you meet all the other Jim Carreys.

AAAUUGH, get away, Rape Candle!

That’s the Ghost of Christmas Past, which Carrey tries to play with a child-like innocence, but there’s one problem… look at that face. That is Jim Carrey’s face. You can’t see it and not think of Jim Carrey. As much as he tries to make this soft-spoken spectre its own character, it’s the face of that crazy guy who screams, “Alrighty, then!” The presence of a big-name comedy star drains all the sincerity from his performance. Which, again, is that a special effects problem? Ugh.

Jim Carrey’s funny side is more well-suited to the Ghost of Christmas Present, which is still recognizable as Carrey, but that’s okay. I can take a jolly Jim.

“There are children under my man-skirt and I’m still less child-molesty than anything in The Polar Express!

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is just a shadow, so if Carrey played him, I don’t see the point. Also, when Scrooge goes full-tilt merry at the end (spoiler?), he gets just a little too close to turning into regular Jim Carrey, but again, it’s not nearly as bad as that Norman Bates candle.

“Back to you, fuckers!”

Oh, for all the weird points, Gary Oldman plays Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim. The hell? Tim clearly has a child’s voice, but there’s no credit indicating that Oldman only performed the body, so did they digitally manipulate recordings of Oldman? Agh, mocap is creepy.

Here’s Gary Oldman hugging Child Gary Oldman. How or why did they do this?

THE SPECIAL EFFECTS:
Hey, we get to talk time travel methods now! First of all, it’s magic. Satan’s answer to Lumière simply flies Scrooge through the air. That’s fun. That’s simple.

“REMEMBER ME???”

The Ghost of Christmas Present, however, has a giant flatscreen installed in his floor. Okay, not sure where we’re going with this…

“I beg of you, Spirit, do not cause me to miss this evening’s Mad Men.”

Then the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come chases Scrooge in a horse-drawn carriage and shrinks him to the size of a mouse for no reason.

Honey, I Fucking Hate This.

This is where the rage took over. I get they were trying to make the methods of looking through time a little more visually flashy, but why take a character whose whole deal is silently standing there, being ominous and shit, and turn him into some headless horseman wizard? I can see the script notes now: “We shrink Scrooge. That’ll be a fun sequence for the kids to enjoy.” No. Stop it. You’re done, Zemeckis. Everything showy in Back to the Future Part II looks like Shakespeare in comparison to this. It fails the “compelling reason for a special effect” test before “compelling” ever enters the equation. What is the reason?

OTHER STUFF:

  • At one point, Scrooge grabs onto the back of a carriage and rides behind it like Marty McFly in the opening of Back to the Future, prompting my viewing party to chuckle heartily. Robert Zemeckis claims this wasn’t intentional, so fine, don’t take credit for the one time we laughed.

“Don’t take money… I’m kidding, I take a lot of people’s money.”

THE “NONE OF THIS MAKES ANY SENSE!” MOMENT:
When Scrooge is faced with a vision of his future, he does a quick rule check with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, because he’s totally hip to immutable, mutable, and alternate timelines.

“Spirit! Before I draw nearer to that stone to which you point, answer me one question!
Are these the shadows of things that will be, or shadows of things that may be?”

FINAL THOUGHTS:
Call me a cynic, but I don’t even like A Christmas Carol, which is why I was especially disappointed by this version, because it was really starting to grow on me. I’m telling you, if you ever start watching it, it’s going to draw you in, but you mustn’t let it. Make this a shadow of things that most definitely will not be, and watch one of the 800 other adaptations of this timeless tale of tricking your employees into staying at your company with the simple bribery of paid holidays and bonuses.

[Did you come over from The Full Zemeckis? You can click here to jump back to Day Three.]

NEXT WEEK:
Peggy Sue Got Married (1986), Deja Vu (2006)

Want more time travel? Head on over to the Time Out archive.