As you probably know, I have seen and heard, in my time, a great many versions of A Christmas Carol on stage, film, TV, radio and recordings: the much-lauded Alistair Sim movie; Patrick Stewart's one-man theatre show, Bill Murray's pastiche, Scrooged; musicals, operas and ballets; updated versions, Americanised versions, black, Jewish and female versions (the gay interpretation must be soon!); versions featuring the Muppets, the Flintstones and the Jetsons, Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Mr Magoo and even - heaven help me - Barbie!
I have even (modestly) added to the canon with a stage adaptation of my own, a radio programme and a book - A Christmas Carol: The Unsung Story - cataloguing the history of Dickens' little classic and what we have done with it since.
The only people who know as much as me about A Christmas Carol are my good friend Boll Weavil (who shares this seasonally adjusted obsession) and my long-suffering David who has loyally looked at and listened to most, if not all, of the versions in my not inconsiderable collection! In fact he once spent a car journey listening to Miriam Margolyes rattle through the unabridged text at a rate of knots (in order for it to be able to fit onto a double-cassette) while I slept though the entire performance in the passenger seat!
When you have experienced that much Humbugging, it's hard to be neutral about a new adaptation especially one that is created by Robert (Back to the Future/Who Framed Roger Rabbit/Forrest Gump) Zemeckis, using his now preferred medium of motion capture animation (as seen in Polar Express and Beowulf) as well as being projected in motion-sickness-inducing 3-D and with Jim Carrey playing Scrooge at various ages through his life and the three spirits who haunt his Christmas Eve.
I saw this new Carol - 'Disney's A Christmas Carol', by the way - at London's IMAX several weeks ago in very agreeable company (David, Irascian and Polkadotsoph) but felt it would be indecent to blog about such a totally Christmassy Christmas film before bonfire night and Poppy Day had been and gone... But, with just a little over two weeks to go to Christmas, I can put off the task no longer...
By now, you may well have read, heard or seen the fairly uniformly negative reviews of this movie and, indeed, it is not above criticism. Personally - apart from being something of a Carrey-phobe - I am not a lover of mo-cap other than as part of the creation of such characters as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings and find that when 'real' people are animated using this method they invariably tend to have the appearance of rather bad waxworks, so there is something creepy (presumably unintentionally) about Gary Oldman's not-quite-look-alike Bob Cratchit and (below) Colin Firth as Scrooge's genial nephew
I am reminded of some of those illustrators who slavishly base their pictures on photographs and, as a result, tend to produce something that looks neither illustrative or lifelike.
In the case of A Christmas Carol, it is, perhaps, ironic - for a process that seeks to replicate the human form - that it is the highly caricatured Scrooge that works best in terms of believability.
Perhaps we are so used to suspending our disbelief when watching animated films that they simply too disorientating when they stray too close to reality...
On the plus side, the film is - for the most part - extremely faithful to Dickens' text, to the extent of including scenes and dialogue usually stripped away by the dramatists and screenwriters intent on interpolating their own 'reading' of the characters.
But the heart of the story - the tale of one man's reformation from squeezing, wrenching, gasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner to a man born anew on Christmas morning - needs, in theatrical presentation, some sense of understanding of why Ebenezer Scrooge became the man that he was and why, in being shown ghosts of his past and shadows of the future (as well as the present being enjoyed and celebrated by others) he relents and mends his ways. That subtlety is unfortunately absent.
The trailer, as you can see here, suggests an 'all-action' movie, but then Hollywood expects nothing less...
In reality, much of the film is a series of static, wordy (often ponderous) tableaux infused with, by and large, a well-observed evocation of Victorian London - avoiding the over-tinseled Christmas embellishments of several film versions of the book - and interrupted by exhilarating (or nauseous-making, depending on your fondness for roller-coasters) episodes involving dizzying expeditions over the London rooftops: skimming church spires, chimney pots and weather vanes.
These sequences are staggeringly enhanced by the all-stops-out 3-D effects confirming that, for the foreseeable future, 3-D is not some passing a fad. Curiously, however, the single most effective moment was, perhaps, the simplest: the sense of being in the midst of falling snow.
All of that said, there are some wonderfully realised moments such as the arrival of the ghost of Jacob Marley, a lurid, icy green vision of terror that captures Dickens' taste for Grand Guignol.
So, it's another Scrooge for the book (if I ever get to update it) and whilst I still find digitally-created humans a tad too creepy to believe in, let alone like, I am sure that this form of animation will continue to be refined and developed so that, in years to come, people will look back at this Disney-Dickens version of A Christmas Carol as being another milestone in the refinement of a medium that - in over a hundred years - has never once stopped evolving.
You will find an interesting take on the moral taught by this new Christmas Carol on my friend John Wilkinson's website WalesHome.org.