Rewind Review: A Christmas Carol

When starting out a review of A Christmas Carol, a compulsory beginning should likely read that Robert Zemeckis is incredibly talented and has made many great films that you will never be able to take away from him. Amongst this critics favorites are Back to the Future parts I and II, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Forrest Gump and Contact. Now that list stops before the turn of the century. In the latter part of this decade it seems he’s been on a crusade, as a director, to be at the forefront of motion-capture technology.

Three films into this phase and the animation it seems is still not ready for primetime. The animation is not the only thing that lets the film down but it is a starting point and an important one. The fluidity of motion is just not there in the dance scene and it seems like a jittery video game rendition. The appearance of the characters is inconsistent. Bob Cratchit looks simian through most of his first scene. The characters look good with pronounced highlights or in scenes with very high contrast. Otherwise the artifice of it falls into an odd no-man’s land between live action and animation that isn’t very appealing. The technology has come quite a ways from The Polar Express but it’s not yet in its most desirable state.

The story at times takes a backseat to the technology, otherwise, why would you represent the Ghost of Christmas Past as a flame? It seemed like an overly-contrived way to experiment with lighting techniques in the new technology. Also, the technology allows you to use fewer actors because once you have a reading of their face you can manipulate it in post and have them interpret numerous roles none of which look anything alike.

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This, however, is a double-edged sword it can be incredibly liberating as an actor and the modern day equivalent of wearing a mask but it also means fewer actors were hired for this film to fill the roles. Another effect of the technology is that if you make a bad casting decision it could be amplified by many roles. Jim Carrey plays eight roles in this film and in two of them he was not a great fit. Unfortunately, those two were Ebenezer Scrooge, where he neither sounds all that British or all that curmudgeonly, and the Ghost of Christmas Present where he goes way over the top especially when he laughs which is almost all the time.

It seems like for every step forward this film took it took two back. For every new twist added cleverly because they could through the animation there was something extraneous like Scrooge being shot across the moonlit sky that just didn’t need to happen. I won’t even digress into his being shrunk and sliding down the rooftop except to mention it there.

All the charm, spirit and brilliance that does exist in this story can be directly attributed to Charles Dickens and is not really amplified in any way either by the production or the players, good as some of them were. It’s also a little disingenuous to see this branded as Disney’s a A Chrismas Carol in the opening credits when Disney in 1983 created a short called Mickey’s Christmas Carol that in 26 minutes managed to be ever so much more moving and effective than this film so much so that it was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Animated Short.

Disney's Eine Weihnachtsgeschichte

A case in point about the execution of this film: the effectiveness of the closing line of the tale is completely undercut because all of a sudden it was decided that it would be a good idea to have Cratchit talk to the audience and recite verbatim the closing paragraph and then have Tiny Tim say “God bless us everyone.” The film is not so long that you couldn’t have continued watching Scrooge going around doing his good deeds and allowing that to happen naturally and visually without the “cut to the chase” treatment. It kind of lets the wind out of the sails of an experience that wasn’t all that emotionally satisfying to begin with. Don’t change the nature of the tale and the tempo at the very end just because you don’t want to run anywhere near 100 minutes.

Those who are going to see the the story for the first time will likely enjoy it. I just stress that there are other better versions out there. The only serviceable thing this adaptation does is to reintroduce the tale and maybe it will be read by many for the first time- for as literature it is a masterpiece and this film is nowhere near close.

4/10

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Book Review- Asterix and Obelix: The Book of the Film

Asterix and the Vikings (M6 Films)

Whenever possible I always like to address what the grain of salt is that my reader should keep in mind when reading a piece. In this scenario the grain of salt is: I like reading but I don’t as much as I should, and it’s likely impossible for me to read as much as I want to. So my experience is a little lacking but there’s another caveat here and that is this: this is essentially a novelization with a twist.

Now, novelizations are a bit passé and if I recall correctly I’ve only ever read a few. What was interesting and irresistible here is: first, I was at Disney World when I spotted it. Second, it’s Asterix and an animated film, which I said is where the franchise should go (little did I know it had been there before).

Now, it’s a hand-drawn (in terms of style if not technique), 2D film and that’s fine with me. I’d still love to see these characters and others get the motion-capture treatment as Tintin truly was a huge step forward for the technology to me, far greater than Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

Regardless, the fact that this film is animated means there are stills and illustrations in the book and it gives you a fair glimpse of what the film is like and that’s the idea: to conquer viewers for the film through another medium and this film succeeds in that task.

The images are plentiful, fairly well-selected and importantly are chasing the text, so the pictures don’t forecast the text but reflect it an allow the book to tell the tale.

As with any Asterix title, there are laughs to be had but most of it does come through the prose, which is impressive since the pictographic nature of the usual tale Uderzo and Goscinny tell is somewhat altered here.

The story also runs about as long as a typical Asterix tale 45 pages or so, but the bonus is that there are character, sketches and other making of illustrations and text that give you insight into the making of this film.

It may not be available on region 1 DVD but where there’s a computer there’s a way and this book has certainly made me want to seek this film out. Mission accomplished.

Asterix & Obelix (Clement)

Review- Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Andy Serkis as Caesar and James Fanco in Rise of the Planet of the Apes (20th Century Fox)

So here we are again it’s time for another prequel, however, unlike most that have come along since it became a popular trend this one is quite good and valid at the same time. However, this is not one where I’d suggest you watch the prequel first. Therefore, if you, like many of those I watched this film with apparently, have not seen the original Planet of the Apes please do so before venturing to see Rise of the Planet of the Apes. As good as it is and it is pretty good it will ruin the experience of the first film for you because it is a classic that is spoiled entirely by the conception of this film.

Having said that if one has the knowledge of what occurs in the first series of films it is fascinating to watch this film and see how the blanks get filled in and they’re not done so in a thoughtless haphazard way but rather intelligently and interestingly as well.

What is also good to see is that the scope of the film is not too large. It is a rather focused story that seeks to tell only the very beginning, the rise as it were. Therefore, it’s not too sweeping and that focusing of the narrative allows for a greater identification with the plight of the characters involved and for us to watch in close quarters the world-changing events that will take place.

This is the kind of plot that is intriguing and detailed enough such that it doesn’t really hinge on the performances of its cast. Film is a strange medium in as much as a well-crafted, well told story need not have the most powerful acting to succeed whereas in a play that’s next to impossible. A prime example would be James Franco’s character, he’s not given much in the way of a character and doesn’t add a tremendous amount to it either. Where he brings me into the story is in the moral/ethical dilemmas of the testing in the lab and the moments with his father, played by John Lithgow. His interaction in scenes opposite motion-capture creations are less compelling. Freida Pinto similarly just seems to be there as a plot device and of significance to the protagonist but not truly present in the tale. Tom Felton’s first post-Harry Potter performance is a bit inconsistent and uncomfortable sadly, though it is a perfectly despicable villain hearkening back to the beginning of Malfoy’s arc where he was more vile and less ambivalent.

Then, of course, there’s the performance all are talking about which is that of Andy Serkis as Caesar. Having seen Serkis recently in Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll I was most impressed with his performance there. Here I was impressed by the combination of factors: how he in turn aided the CG artists to render a humanoid ape. I appreciate and admire the contribution he makes to this film and consider a success but any Oscar talk pre-Fall is always premature and for the time being any and all motion capture discussions of that nature are far-fetched.

As intimated prior the effects work is rather impressive throughout, however, as is the case in most films that use them so regularly some sequences are far stronger than others and the rendition is by no means perfect.

The climax of the film is truly great stuff and is the kind of sequence you head out to the movies for but don’t find nearly often enough. It’s a pretty huge and well-choreographed battle that the whole movie has been working towards.

While Rise of the Planet of the Apes does have a few failings it is a very solid piece of entertainment. Those who were, or still are, skeptical can rest easy: it’s a well done and worthy installment in the series.

8/10