A Christmas Carol (2009) Review

The immediate question for Disney’s 2009 adaptation of A Christmas Carol is the necessity of it all. With a bulging cost of $200 million dollars, is there a point in spending that much money to bring the same story to the screen, one which even Disney had done before with Mickey’s Christmas Carol? Not really.

With little doubt, the extravagant visuals are a feast for the eyes, Ebeneezer Scrooge (Jim Carrey in this and other roles) flies through the skies with the aid of the ghosts, looks down on the decrepit city, and of course is exposed to his own future in the grandest way possible. All of these scenes, created to take full advantage of the 3D element, reveal themselves for what they are at home, technical demonstrations that detract from the heart (and point) of the movie itself.

Spending $200 million on an effort like this makes you wonder if some exec even understands the point of the story in the first place, this simplistic tale needlessly recreated here with a number of useless, extravagant detours. None of these zipping, flying, or detailed action sequences exist for any other reason than to show off, the end result being a needlessly expensive affair that lacks real heart between those moments of complete accuracy.

It’s a shame that this is arguably the most accurate film adaptation to date, this following a number of others dating back to the 1930s. From the proper slang to the direct dialogue lifts, Christmas Carol is carefully planned out to keep the spirit of the story moving swiftly, interrupted by those oh so irritating special effects.

There is also the element of the motion capture itself, still not totally refined to be completely believable, existing in that place of unreality that is just enough to dilute those scenes where the proper emotion is meant to be generated. It’s all very impressive technically; it always has been since Polar Express. That doesn’t mean it helps or aids the narrative, and in a story of lost love, greed, and broken families, those robotic movements are more out of place than ever, much like the Ghost of Christmas Future barreling down on a miniaturized Scrooge.

Movie ★★★☆☆ 

All digitally captured of course, Disney’s AVC encode for A Christmas Carol is as visually striking as the animation and texturing itself. What’s impressive is how much of the latter there is, from stitching on hats, pajamas, and other clothing, down to the obvious virtual material used to creates rugs on the floor. There is even a striking level of facial detail, rendered pores on these motion captured actors visible in close or in the mid-range. Both remain dazzling.

This is a dark film for much of its running time, appropriate to the material, Scrooge’s home lit by a small fireplace, his office with only the overcast sky. Of critical importance are the black levels, here a true test for any display’s ability to display the deepest of shades. The end result is depth-filled perfection, not a single scene appearing murky or watered down. The same goes for the shadow detail, keeping the above mentioned textures alive in dim spaces.

Color wavers by scene, those meant to establish the depressing nature of Scrooge’s world grim and lifeless. Flesh tones are certainly pale, the meager browns of his wooden abode lacking any genuine luster. That changes when the ghosts begin to make their presence felt, Christmas Past a rather creepy-looking flame leaping off the screen with pure whites and saturated yellows. Christmas Present lights up the room with an incredible array of lights and brightly colored gifts, easily the most eye-popping segment of the film. Christmas Future, bathed in deep depressing blues and loaded with shades of black, are equally impressive in their own way.

Sharpness never falters, and the encode keeps up regardless of the action’s intensity. The image depth creates visuals that recreate the 3D experience the best way they can, even if the detail of it all can’t salvage their uselessness. Regardless, they stand as superior material to show off any equipment, the images flawless and clear enough to impress anyone.

Note: 3D equipment is not yet available here at DoBlu to evaluate the 3D version included inside this combo pack. This review only relates to the 2D edition.

Video ★★★★★ 

The audio is equally difficult to find fault with. The opening credits, aided by Alan Silvestri’s powerfully presented mash-up of Christmas themes is spectacular, filling the room with a proper, natural surround bleed and forceful fronts. Any catch on the low-end is natural and in perfect balance. Fidelity is of course flawless.

The real strength of this DTS-HD mix comes into play when the ghosts do, Marley’s initial appearance given heft by the weights tossed around. Prior, bells begin to chime on Scrooge’s door, the four of them spread across the soundfield (distinctly into the stereo channels) creating an atmospheric introduction. As Scrooge begins to be swept out into his time travels, the initial jolt gives the subwoofer plenty to work with, and the effects of passing objects travel smoothly front-to-back.

A sequence around 57:29 as Christmas Present’s magic swirls about the room captures laughs and other effects in a dizzying example of what surround audio can produce in its prime. The highlight of the entire mix though is that horse chase close to the end of the film, each hoof hammering the subwoofer and the driver’s whip lashing into the rears. Regardless of where it passes, the effect is seamless and natural, not to mention the balance of each element, Silvestri’s score rarely overshadowed with all of this intensity.

Audio ★★★★★ 

Getting into the best part of this bonus set, a picture-in-picture track reproduces all of the on-set work, complete with the goofy mo-cap suits and helmets while the finished product plays alongside. An optional commentary by director Robert Zemeckis references many shots and how they were put together. He also introduces a selection of six deleted scenes that run 8:39.

Capturing Dickens is an annoyingly upbeat promotional making-of, to the point where you half expect sugar plums to start dancing around the room. The enthusiasm is appreciated, but this is blatant. On the Set with Sammi looks at the typical day of young actress Sammi Hanratty as she prepares and finishes her day. An interactive calendar is best left undisturbed, and a 3D promo probably isn’t going to convince anyone to upgrade simply because Timon and Pumba said so.

Extras ★★★☆☆