Yesterday we went to see Jim Carrey’s Christmas Carol. It was very disappointing. Given the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of a great book, and add something to the list of great movies that have already been made of this book, he chose instead to add one to the growing pile of cheesy renditions. This one was somewhere below the Muppet’s Christmas Carol, although probably above the Jetson’s Christmas Carol. Patrick Stewart is still by far the best.
When making a lengthy book into a movie, one has to adapt. That’s obvious, I suppose. But the art is in deciding what to cut, and what to leave in. This requires that you actually know the story, and know what really matters in it. Carrey left out several of the most significant moments of the story, and altered a few of the other ones to the point of their being far less meaningful.
Some film makers choose to add stuff in, such as a cute animal companion, or an extra Marley. Sometimes this works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Hint: It works when it’s clear from the start that you’re not trying to do a faithful rendition of the original.
This is where the Carrey version fails, and fails hard. It’s never completely clear whether he’s trying to do a faithful rendition. Some places, it seems that he is. The multiple faces of Christmas Past was not only well done, but really the first time that’s ever been done in a movie. The strict adherence to the script for the majority of the movie, occasionally translating phrases for an American audience, too, made it seem that he was indeed trying to be true to the book.
But then inserted here and there were things either wildly outside of the book – such as a lengthy chase scene, and a rocket trip to the moon. (Huh!?!) And also things were inserted that simply undermined the feeling that we were really visiting Scrooge’s past, such as Mrs. Fezziwig suddenly taking flight during the dance. It’s significant that the two scenes I hated the most from the movie are the ones most prominently featured in the trailers.
And the entire death scene of Christmas Present – well, I’m torn on that. It was a very interesting interpretation of something implied, not stated, in the book. Ignorance and Want were straight out of the 1938 Christmas Carol. But then it got positively weird.
Also missing: The scene where Christmas Present chastises Scrooge for presuming to judge who is the “surplus population.”
Altered: Christmas Present blames the church, rather than Parliament, for attempting to keep places of business closed on Sunday.
And, really, Christmas Present was just … creepy. In the book, Christmas Present is benevolent. Everything about him is benevolent. Yes, he laughs a lot, but it’s jolly, whereas in this movie Christmas Present is, for most of his time on screen, just creepy. He laughs far too much, and at all the wrong times, and is more hysterical than benevolent. To be fair, it’s hard to identify any movie that really gets Christmas Present right. Patrick Stewart does, and, strangely, the Muppet movie does.
While I was very pleased with the start of the movie – Marley was just about perfect – by about halfway through Christmas Past, I started feeling that this was just an opportunity to show off cool new technology. The technology (yes, the new 3D stuff is amazing) was the end, rather than a means to tell a classic story in a new way. And while I was initially fascinated with the rather unorthodox interpretation that the ghosts are just parts of Scrooge himself, this didn’t work for me, and made me feel like they did this just because it’s what they did in Polar Express.
I rather wish that we had gone to see it at the Movie Pub instead, so that instead of the gratuitous 3D, we could have enjoyed a meal.