Monday, December 6, 2010

Disney’s A Christmas Carol 2D/3D Blu-ray Review

There have been countless movie versions of Charles Dickens’  A Christmas Carol and Disney has now been involved with three of them alone!  Their first one was with Mickey and the gang, then came The Muppet Christmas Carol with Michael Caine, and now this movie with Jim Carrey.  I can’t think of any other property that has received that many remakes!  This time around, it’s directed by Robert Zemeckis and all of the performances have been motion-captured which really offered some new possibilities for the filmmakers to expand the story and the scale of the movie, especially when you factor in the 3D experience.

Film (4 out of 5 stars)

The classic story about a miserly man who shuns Christmas and all forms of good cheer until he is shown the error of his ways, is one that has struck a chord with audiences everywhere which explains the longevity of it and the countless remakes of it.  It seems that everyone likes a story about redemption and forgiveness and this story is extremely well constructed to tap into that. It’s been filmed and staged many times before, but this is the first time that it was done using the motion-capture process which adds some new wrinkles to an old tale.

The movie starts out by showing what a grumpy curmudgeon Ebenezer Scrooge (Jim Carrey) has turned into in his later years.  He refuses to contribute to any charities and even mistreats his loyal assistant Bob Cratchit (Gary Oldman).  He doesn’t hesitate to harass a choir group singing Christmas songs and he’s also rude to passersby and even to his own housekeeper.

Scrooge wasn’t always this way.  Despite not having pleasant childhood, he still was able to have a good relationship with his sister and later on to find love with a young woman named Belle.  These scenes are crucial for Scrooge’s later redemption as we can see that he is capable of love and kindness but events in his life changed his outlook for the worse.  The loss of his sister and his obsession with money ends up driving Belle away, leaving him alone and bitter despite his nephew Fred’s (Colin Firth) efforts to get him to rejoin what’s left of the family.

Everything changes when the three Ghosts of Christmas come to remind Scrooge of what he has lost and what he is forfeiting by his choice of solitude.  The first warning he receives of what lessons lie ahead comes from his old business partner Marley (Gary Oldman) who warns him of the punishment that awaits all greedy people in death.  He tells Scrooge to await the spirits and to learn from the mistakes he made in life.  Soon enough, the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come all arrive to teach Scrooge the meaning of Christmas and what effect one man can have upon a many people and the restorative qualities that one gains from helping others.

While I didn’t care much for the character design choices, I really appreciated the artistry behind this movie because you can see the actor behind the character which is very impressive and a far cry from earlier efforts like The Polar Express.  The city of London looks amazing with a lot of attention to detail that really adds a lot to the movie and is really the best reason for making the movie in this process.  As Scrooge flies through time and space to learn his lessons we get to go along for the ride skimming over rooftops and through alleys in a dazzling display that couldn’t have been done using traditional film techniques.

Video (5 out of 5 stars)

2D Transfer - I love computer generated movies on Blu-ray since they always look flawless and really show off what a great format it is.  This movie is no different with a stellar 1080p 2:40:1 transfer that looks great.  Lately, all of Disney’s movies have had reference quality audio/visual presentations and this one does too.  For such a dark movie, this is important and fortunately, the black levels are deep but don’t overwhelm the subtle uses of color either.  While color is used sparingly in this movie, when it is used it looks great and there’s a high amount of detail as well.  From warm fireplaces to icy snow, this movie consistently looks wonderful.

3D Transfer – I didn’t get a chance to see this in the theaters in 3D but I can say that it’s the best 3D Bu-ray release I’ve seen so far. Most of the issues that plague 3D releases are because of ghosting (where objects overlap each other with a transparent identical image), and that does pop up for this disc as well but not enough to complain about.  There is a strong sense of depth to the movie and it’s obvious that a lot of care was taken to make the 3D experience as good as possible.  There’s some amazing detail as well and there are some points where it feels like you could reach out and touch the buildings.  Usually 3D makes the picture a lot darker than the 2D version but this one doesn’t seem to suffer from that.  This movie is generally a dark movie to begin with, but in the few instances of color, it comes through undiminished.  Scenes like Marley’s ghost with his chains and the flight through London especially lend themselves to 3D and I’ll wager that it will convert a lot of 3D nay-sayers.  I fully expect this Blu-ray to be the 3D demo disc this holiday season.

Audio (5 out of 5 stars)

The DTS-HD 5.1 surround mix is equally impressive and this is a fairly lively mix.  Throughout the movie, the sound levels will jump up or down depending on the desired result and combined with a well distributed mix between the speakers, that adds up to an enjoyably immersive track.  Dialgoue is clear and never washed out by the rest of channels and the satellite speakers are used well  especially during Fezziwig’s party where it sounds like you are in the center of the celebration as party-goes dance around you.  The sub-woofer gets it’s fun too when Scrooge tries to evade the undead horses and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

Special Features ( 4 out of 5 stars)

All of the following special features are in HD. The features on the 3D disc are in full 3D as well.

Blu-ray features include all of the DVD features plus:

Capturing Dickens: A Novel Retelling – A look at the motion-capture process used to create the movie.  It was interesting to see that the actors used some props and pretty much filmed this much like a live action movie except for motion-capture.  The actress hosting this segment was pretty annoying but it was still an interesting look into the methods used to create the movie.

On Set With Sammi – A look at the motion-capture process as one of the young actors takes us through the process of wearing the motion-capture and the how they computers tracked all of her movements and facial expressions through the use of the dots all over her body.  If you were ever interested in how the motion-capture suits work, then this one is for you.

Deleted Scenes – A total of six deleted scenes are included.  These are  only unfinished scenes and are only partially animated with the actors’ heads placed onto the CGI animation.  None of them are that interesting or relevant which explains why they were cut.

Countdown to Christmas Interactive Calendar –  A 25 day holiday countdown to Christmas with each door opened it makes the surrounding building more festive.  It will remember where you left off even if you take the disc out which will make it a lot easier for those that want to do this.

Discover Blu-ray 3D With Timon and Pumbaa – A promo for Blu-ray 3D Technology with Timon and Pumbaa from The Lion King as your hosts. It’s a basic review of what’s needed for the format and some upcoming 3D titles that will be released. Kind of cute but unnecessary.

Behind the Carol: The Full Motion Capture Experience – This is the best extra on the disc as it is a full length, picture in picture viewer that allows you to compare the final animated product to the motion-capture performances by the actors. You can toggle back and forth on which version you want to have on the main viewing box just as you can turn on or off the commentary with director Robert Zemeckis.  It’s fascinating to see the two versions side by side where you can see how much of the actor’s performances informed the final animation.   It really is uncanny but in a good way.  I also enjoyed listening to the director commentary where he relates his thoughts on the film and also the motion-capture process.

3D Disc features include:

Mr. Scrooge’s Wild Ride –  A short behind the scenes look at how the film was made.  It’s only about 3 minutes long but it’s interesting.

Disney Blu-ray 3D Sneak Peek A look at Disney’s upcoming 3D Blu-ray releases, including A Christmas Carol (for some reason) but also BoltAlice in WonderlandTron Legacy, and A Nightmare Before Christmas.  I think I am most excited about Tron Legacy.

DVD features include:
Capturing A Christmas Carol
On Set With Sammi
Deleted Scenes

Digital Copy DVD - A digital copy of the film to transfer to your computer or device.

Final Thoughts ( 4 out of 5 stars)

The motion-capture process allows limitless scale to the movie and also provides actors the opportunity to play roles they normally wouldn’t be considered for or the chance to play multiple ones like a lot of this cast did: Jim Carrey played eight roles, Cary Elwes played five roles, and Gary Oldman played three just to give you an example.  I wish I could have seen this in 3D as I”m sure it looked incredible but even in 2D I really enjoyed the movie and what the cast and crew brought to it.

Buy your copy today!

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