Reading the Screen: A Christmas Carol
Posted by: David Pitt
Despite what some critics have said, I think the film’s visual style perfectly suits the material. Charles Dickens’ 1843 story is a fantasy about ghosts, time travel, and Christmas. It can be done as a live action movie, of course (the best film is still 1951′s Scrooge, with Alastair Sim), but Zemeckis’ computer-generated rendition very nicely captures the, um, spirit of the source material.
For example: this is the first adaptation I’ve seen in which the Ghost of Christmas Past looks like Dickens described him: as a child-like figure from whose head “there sprung a bright clear jet of light” and who had “a great extinguisher for a cap, which it now held under its arm.” (Let me know if there’s another one.)
Also, I don’t recall another filmed version of the story in which the jaw of Marley’s ghost separates from the head, nearly falls off entirely, but it does here, and it does in Dickens’ story (“its lower jaw dropped down upon its breast!”). Like Dickens’ creation, too, this movie’s spectral Marley fastens the jaw to its head by wrapping a bandage around it.
This is the first time, too, I’ve seen Scrooge look so much like my mental picture of the man: a skeletal creature, as thin and insubstantial as a ghost. (His hands, in particular, look more like a skeleton’s than a flesh-and-blood man’s.) Here’s a close-up of his face:
And here’s a look at Scrooge with the Ghost of Christmas Past. Check out Scrooge’s skeletal fingers:
Zemeckis’s screenplay follows Dickens’ narrative pretty closely, too, keeping scenes that many adaptations drop (although a key element of the frightening scene in the graveyard near the end of the movie appears to be a nod to Mickey’s Christmas Carol). Zemeckis frequently uses Dickens’ original dialogue, too, which I think is a very nice and respectful touch.
I do think the movie was mis-marketed. Commercials made it look like a romp, a lighthearted adventure, but the movie is actually dark and frightening, just the way Dickens meant it to be. If you haven’t seen it, you ought to.