Sunday, November 08, 2009

Christmas -- Live/Vid Game -- Carol

Critics are split pretty much down the middle over Robert Zemeckis's new rendering of the Dickens novella. Half like it:

... [T]he surprise of this movie — a welcome one — is that, in the midst of obeying the rules of modern-day spectacle, it sticks close to some of the sturdy virtues of the source material. Mr. Zemeckis’s script retains much of the flavor of Dickens’s prose — not just the catchphrases like “Bah, humbug” and “God bless us everyone,” but also the formal diction and the moral concern. The specters that pop out at poor Scrooge on his nightlong ordeal are certainly frightening (parents of young children, consider yourselves warned), but the dread derives much of its force from the cruelty and selfishness that define Scrooge’s world ...

And half (give or take) dislike it:

Zemeckis has taken a festive classic, tarnished it with his horrendously unattractive motion-capture animation, and increased the unsightliness tenfold with 3D sequences so distracting and persistent that the headache I endured post-viewing was nothing short of brutal ...

I saw the movie over the weekend, and taking it on its own terms, I think the feature works. But let me be, as R.M. Nixon used to say, perfectly clear: Ice Age, Finding Nemo, Lion King, Up and Aladdin it ain't. However, I don't think it's trying to be anything like those other kinds of entertainments.

When you look at CC, you have to get those traditionally-crafted animated features out of your head. You have to look at Christmas Carol for what it is: a retelling of a Dickensian classic as a live-action/ video game hybrid. Zemeckis knows the audience he's pitching this movie to, and it isn't middle-aged crapheads like me. He's going after teenagers who spend hours at video game consoles, who are comfortable with almost-human actors, who expect sweeping camera moves and epic grandeur and hell-for-leather chases.

All these things Zemeckis spins out in spades, and I think (by and large) he's successful. Sure, some of the supporting players and dress extras come across like dead-eyed automatons, and yes, the falls and flying through 1843 London come whisker-close to being overlong and overly repetitive. But Carrey's Scrooge comes across, the tension and basic tale remain in place, and much of Dickens' dialogue is intact (and in the Public Domain, too!).

You can call me wrong, but I got caught up in it. I found myself immersed in that world and enjoying the experience. Maybe it was the 3-D, maybe it was the sweep of the enterprise, maybe it was the underlying sturdiness of Dickens' story-telling. Who the hell knows?

Whatever the combination was, I think Zemeckis achieved the goal he set out for himself. (Others, of course, may disagree ... and disagree with my premise. That's what makes America great -- diversity of opinion.)

Whether CC makes any money, of course, is a separate question.


Anonymous said...

When Beowulf was being worked on I talked to a very close associate to Zemeckis and asked why does he and other big name directors continue to try to shoot movies like this?

The response was something to this effect:

The big directors are getting old and they don't want to have to fly around the world to shoot live-action movies in obsure locations away from family and friends.

Spielberg was able to finish principal shooting for Tintin in a few weeks at a mocap studio in LA.

Whether we like it or not, this is what the directors want to do. They can't handle live-action anymore.

Floyd Norman said...

Then, maybe it's time to hang it up.

I remember an aging Alfred Hitchcock directing "Family Plot" from the comfort of his automobile rather than step outside into the cold.

If you find the physical demands of directing all that difficult, then maybe it's time to gracefully step aside.

Anonymous said...

It's more of a question of directors wanting total control.

People in animation get uptight whenever mo-cap is brought up, but it's potentially more of a replacement for live-action than for animation. Probably not 20 years down the line... but in 50 years? Maybe.

And without needing to hire a full live action crew, construct sets, and shoot on location, mo-cap could eventually prove to be a huge savings in cost to the studios.

I think it's the live action people who should be worried.

Anonymous said...

Nice to hear Zemeckis has lowered his standards to the level of videogames because he's so lazy!

what? said...

Physical demands for directors???!?

Now I understand... said...

Hmm... when Spielberg made the original Raiders of the Lost Ark he filmed it all over the world. When he made Kingdom of the Crystal Skull he filmed it on L.A. sound stages augmented by greenscreen so he could stay closer to his family, too.

The results speak for themselves.

Anonymous said...

So are animators judging live action directors for not leaving the studio?

Our whole friggin' industry is filled with nerds who sit at desks all day.

Ya'll should be happy so many big directors are interested in your services.

I'm sure location scouts would be glad to get the work back from the art directors.

Anonymous said...

Animators dont have the same jobs as directors, doofus.

Anonymous said...

The doofus apparently doesn't see the problem with live action directors like Steven Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis and Wes Anderson being willing to spend money on animators.

Maybe someone can explain to him.

Anonymous said...

I can explain it.

Animators are only supposed to work on what other animators think is cool.

If you're out of work and your family needs health insurance, your supposed to tell your kids to not get sick. Because daddy is waiting on that phone call from John Lassiter.

Anonymous said...

If you're out of work and your family needs health insurance, your supposed to tell your kids to not get sick. Because daddy is waiting on that phone call from John Lassiter.

If you wish to work on a mo-cap movie, go ahead! No one's stopping you. And I'm sure it's a decent paycheck.

BUT...don't expect me to support that mo-cap film. I'm under no obligation to either say nice things about it, or to buy a ticket.

I accept that these films can provide paychecks to a limited crew of animators--at least until the work is outsourced. But I don't need to respect the film.

But as with everything in life, nothing is set in stone. I saw Monster House a while back, and liked the story.

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