The Nutcracker in 3D as conceptualized by Andrey Konchaloskiy is a rather strange beast indeed. It’s the kind of film that is impossible to stop watching because despite all that you might have to say against it there is some element of charm, ambition, and brashness that keeps your eyes glued to the screen. Perhaps it is a symptom of the era of filmmaking we are currently living in, there are far too many “play it safe” moves made in film today from sequels, to remakes and generic storytelling. Now granted The Nutcracker has been told over and over again, however, none of them ever quite like this and that’s what you end up taking away from this film, like it or not, is a bold attempt at doing something truly unique and different.
What makes this story, or this retelling thereof, so unique? It is the spin placed on everything in this tale. It becomes a historical mishmash in which suddenly Albert Einstein is the children’s uncle, there is talk of Freudian psychology and of course the Rat King and his Kingdom are none other than the Nazis. Yet flying in this face of this seemingly are exotic flying machines and other-worldly motorcycles. Just to have the audacity to go and mix things that ought not necessarily mix is one thing but it goes further.
To use Tchaikovsky’s music extensively is to be expected and nearly mandatory. Whether or not your interpretation involves any form of dance or not his music has become much more synonymous with this story than E.T.A. Hoffman’s writing ever was. However, to add lyrics to his music is a decision that is dubious at best. Hearing that it is Tim Rice writing those lyrics gives you some hope but sadly they are some of the poorest most trite I’ve heard him compose and furthermore they rarely really work. It’s difficult to shoehorn lyrics into a symphonic score and this proves it. What makes the musical experience of this film even more frustrating is that there are parts in which you see songs that do kind of work and you wonder why all can’t but what makes it more frustrating is it needn’t be. There’s just something about this story, told as it is, that doesn’t make it conducive to music.
The performances show the kind of inconsistency that marks this film. There are those who leave you scratching your head and those that make it worth it. Amongst the head-scratchers is Nathan Lane. Why he was needed to barely sing in in one of the worst accents I’ve ever heard is beyond me. In the middle of the road is Frances de la Tour as the Rat Queen, her over-the-top insanity does grow on you as the tone of this film makes itself known. Making the film stay afloat are Elle Fanning as Mary and Charlie Rowe as The Prince, who is all too frequently absent because as the Nutcracker he is replaced by the voice of Shirley Henderson, who is incapable of sounding like anything other than Moaning Myrtle frrom the Harry Potter films. Her inability to mimic a boy’s voice not only brings this casting decision in question but made those portions of the film hard to bear.
What must be pointed out is that in terms of practicality this film is fantastic meaning in as many places where it could get shot practically it is. The rat-people wore prosthetics, there were many sets built and extras. The only things which were computer generated was what absolutely had to be which was nice to see.
The CGI when used is very effective because it is given more of chance to thrive by being surrounded by mostly real elements, making blending easier. To continue the art direction theme the costuming was also great at being both historically accurate but creative where they were allowed to be which is a nice and rare mix.
It is not only the technical that works in this film, that is merely the most consistent element. As odd as the story is, even being rife with Nazi-symbolism, it does find an odd consistency in symbols and narrative flow such that production concerns and decisions in casting can be temporarily ignored and the story can hit you.
Perhaps the best example of this a scene where Max (Aaron Michael Drozin), the younger brother, discovers that despite being recruited by the Rat King (John Turturro) he doesn’t want to destroy toys anymore. He lets out one of the better and realistic cries you’re likely to hear. It’s like something out of Disney’s Robin Hood in its authenticity.
As for the 3D it falls this far down in the pecking order because it truly is one of the more ineffectual jobs I’ve seen since it came back in vogue. There is little to no value added due to the fact that it’s in 3D. The image is clearer and sharper than many but the trade off is that there isn’t a tremendous amount of depth outward or inward added.
It’s a film that always has a sense of humor about it despite that you can call some of its decisions into question. It is a film that absolutely screams to be seen because it refuses to conform and it is likely to leave very few on the fence and that’s the most we can ask for, and the best kind of movie whether you like it or not, and for that I thank the makers of The Nutcracker in 3D.