Review: A Christmas Carol

I cannot remember not knowing the story of "A Christmas Carol," so naturally when I heard that Jim Carrey had been selected to portray Scrooge in an animated (horrors!) version of the holiday classic, I pretty much decided I’d rather be boiled in my own pudding (and buried with a stake of holly through my heart) than see my beloved story desecrated by Jim Carrey’s… Jim Carrey-ness.

But I found myself in need of some good old-fashioned holiday cheer on Friday and my parents, the very people who brought me to the Guthrie’s versions of the tale for more than 20 years, kindly invited me to go to the movie with them.

I wasn’t disappointed, although my expectations were, as I have said, very modest. Jim Carrey portrayed Scrooge as well as the ghosts, but he imparted very different characters to them. Scrooge sounded like Scrooge, even after his spirit-inspired transformation, and did not sound like Ace Ventura.

The Ghost of Christmas Past was, as in Charles Dickens’ text, candle-like, and though Carrey seemed to give him a weird Scottish or Irish accent, he also gave him a sputtering, sibilant voice that really did sound like a candle attempting to speak. The Ghost of Christmas Present began, as in the text, as a kindly Santa-like figure and ended up a dying, graying, senile old man cackling as he (it?) turned to dust (which I don’t remember being in the text).

And the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come was as scary as all hell, literally, given the totally not-in-the-text part where he was chasing Scrooge along with a pair of demonic horses and attempting to toss Scrooge into a fiery grave.

As you may have already suspected, this is not a movie for very young children.

Marley, portrayed by Gary Oldman (who also voiced Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim), was extremely scary.

I have never seen a production of this story in which Marley was not extremely scary. At the Guthrie, he inevitably came wailing out of a trapdoor in the floor that seemed to lead to hell or maybe somewhere worse, accompanied by smoke, the ghastly rattle of chains and the whimpering of the terrified Scrooge. In this movie, he came through the door, literally, bulging it out and dragging his ghostly chains along with him. And at one point, his jaw falls apart, which may be funny if you’re an adult but will give you a chill down your spine if you are a child or see the story through childhood’s lens (as I do).

The movie suffers a bit from the Uncanny Valley effect, which I will not attempt to describe here (click the link if you have no idea what I’m talking about), but it honestly suffers more because it was made to be viewed in 3-D. As such, it includes several lengthy scenes that weren’t in the book’s text at all or only comprised a few lines there: Scrooge attempting to escape the Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come, Scrooge flying all over the place doing heaven-knows-what and just generally, things poking out of the screen at you. I may have appreciated this more if I had seen the movie in 3-D. As it was, those parts of the film were a bit of a bore.

Several scenes were included which I had not seen before or else had seen them done differently: After Marley’s departure, Scrooge sees hundreds of other ghosts repenting of their heartlessness and flying around outside his window. It’s a chilling scene and one that’s difficult to do well on stage. The effect in the movie was marvelous. We also get to see one of the effects of Scrooge’s death that I had never seen before, and there is a moment of unexpected shared emotion between Scrooge and Bob Cratchit that was particularly appalling and very good.

Other scenes I found unexpectedly missing, only to find that they were not in the text. The Guthrie added a few scenes to its version of the tale: a scene in which Scrooge met the girl who later breaks their engagement. The scene illustrated how much Scrooge changed between childhood and adulthood, and I missed it, even if it wasn’t in the original text.

I also missed the Guthrie’s addition of some of Old Scrooge’s reactions to the breaking-up scene. Old Scrooge was a sort of stand in for the audience as he told the shadow of his younger self to go after the girl, railing against himself for his stupidity in letting her go. The anguished voice echoed the exact thoughts of the audience and I missed it, because you cannot shout "Go after her, you fool!" in a crowded theatre any more than you can shout "Fire!" albeit for rather different reasons.

The movie wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be, and in fact I found it to be a very faithful retelling of the classic Dickens tale, with only a few silly departures and nothing that pushed the watcher out of the story. It was worth seeing.

And so, as Tiny Tim observed, "God bless Us! Every One!"