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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Disney's A Christmas Carol

November 13th, 2010

Disney's A Christmas Carol - Buy from Amazon: DVD, or Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack, or 3D Blu-ray / Blu-ray / DVD / Digital Copy Combo Pack

Disney's A Christmas Carol opened in theaters at around this time last year, but it is only making its debut on the home market this week. While the normal window from theatrical debut to home market release usually ranges from about 10 weeks to a few months, the long delay makes perfect sense here, because this is a Christmas story. In fact, it is arguably one of the most famous Christmas stories of all time.

The Movie

Before I get to the plot, I would like to explore the popularity of this story. When it comes to Christmas, the character of Ebeneezer Scrooge is arguably the third most famous person associated with Christmas and the term "Scrooge" has entered the English lexicon describing anyone who is a miser. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is very possible that more people understand the term "Scrooge" than understand the term "Miser". As such, discussing the plot of the movie seems almost moot. It is so well known that merely stating that it is an accurate adaptation of the original story should be enough for most people.

For the rest...

Jim Carrey plays Ebenezer Scrooge, a moneylender with a reputation for being cruel, uncaring, and above all, cheap. It is a well-deserved reputation. The film starts on Christmas Eve, but before the business day is out, he insults his nephew, terrorizes some carolers, and bullies his poor employee. That night, however, he is visited by the ghost of his former partner, who now wears chains in the afterlife due the terrible way he lived. He also warns Ebenezer that if he doesn't change, he too will suffer the same fate, and to further persuade him, three ghosts will visit him that night. The first is the Ghost of Christmas Past, followed by the Ghost of Christmas Present, and finally the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, all of whom try and show him the error of his ways.

When reviewing this movie you have to look at two key points. Firstly, how well does this adaptation do justice to the emotional heart of the original story? Secondly, how far has the 3D technology come? Does it aide in the storytelling, or just distract?

As far as the first question goes, this is one of the better adaptations of the Dickens' story, with an excellent performance by Jim Carrey, who provides the voices, and the movement, for Ebenezer Scrooge and the three Christmas Ghosts. Granted, I'm not quite as glowing in my praise of the performance as the director is on the audio commentary track, but I'm still impressed. This is definitely Jim Carrey's film; while there is quite a large supporting cast, they are mostly relegated to roles that are too short to even consider a supporting role. Even Bob Cratchit is barely on the screen, which does take a toll on the film's emotional impact. Additionally, there are times when the action can overwhelm the emotions, but for the most part that is not an issue, or at the very least, the action does add more than it detracts. There are more than a few scenes where I really wish I had a 3D TV. (I'm not planning of making that leap in technology till 3D releases become commonplace, as in I get offers to review them at least once a month.) As for the motion capture technology, it's getting a lot better. One could argue that it is still stuck in the uncanny valley at times, but those are few and far between. Clearly the technology is is good enough to start climbing out the other side of that valley. There are some who will never like films made with motion capture, but I think this technology has some advantages over both live action and digitally animated movies. It also has kinks to work out, including a price that is beyond high.

Overall, it is better than its Tomatometer Score and it is definitely worth checking out.

The Extras

I only have the Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack, but assuming the DVD that comes with that is the same as the solo DVD, then that release has a 15-minute making of featurette, 2-minute behind-the-scenes featurette with Sammi Hanratty, plus a trio of deleted scenes in various stages of production. Quite frankly, seeing a live action face placed on a crudely animated body is freaky. This is not a bad selection of extras, but not great either. Call it a solid rental.

Over on the Blu-ray, we have all of those extras, plus a Picture-in-Picture track with audio commentary by the director and behind-the-scenes of the motion capture filming. Prepare to be told how Jim Carrey's performance was captured on screen and not animated over and over and over again. I get that Robert Zemeckis is impressed by this technology, and he should be, but he hammers the point home a little too much. There are also three additional deleted scenes, plus an interactive Christmas calendar.

As for the film's technical presentation, it is reference level material both in terms of video and audio. Amazing details, incredible colors, deep blacks, etc. The sound is immersive and will give your home theater a workout. Absolutely worth paying the extra $7 for the upgrade. However, the 3D Blu-ray / Blu-ray / DVD / Digital Copy Combo Pack costs just $4 more, and it comes with the 3D version and a Digital Copy, so if you are planning on making the leap to 3D, or have already made the leap, then this version is the best deal.

The Verdict

Disney's A Christmas Carol earned mixed reviews, but a substantial number of the complaints seemed to be about motion capture as a movie form, rather than the film itself. I agree with Robert Zemeckis that there are certain things you can do with this medium that you can't do with any other. Also, I believe the technology has matured enough to be capable of telling the stories without interfering with the stories. (There's no more glassy doll-eyed look, for instance.)

If you are a fan of the original novel, or of one of the many previous adaptations, then this film is worth checking out. The DVD is a solid rental, but the Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack is worth picking up. Meanwhile, if you have a 3D TV / player, or are planning on getting one sooner rather than later, then the 3D Blu-ray / Blu-ray / DVD / Digital Copy Combo Pack is the best deal of the three.


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